Membrane protrusions at the leading edge of cells, known as lamellipodia, drive cell migration in many normal and pathological situations. Lamellipodial protrusion is powered by actin polymerization, which is mediated by the actin-related protein 2/3 (ARP2/3)-induced nucleation of branched actin networks and the elongation of actin filaments. Recently, advances have been made in our understanding of positive and negative ARP2/3 regulators (such as the SCAR/WAVE (SCAR/WASP family verprolin-homologous protein) complex and Arpin, respectively) and of proteins that control actin branch stability (such as glial maturation factor (GMF)) or actin filament elongation (such as ENA/VASP proteins) in lamellipodium dynamics and cell migration. This Review highlights how the balance between actin filament branching and elongation, and between the positive and negative feedback loops that regulate these activities, determines lamellipodial persistence. Importantly, directional persistence, which results from lamellipodial persistence, emerges as a critical factor in steering cell migration.