12 ways to improve sign up conversion

Sign up button

The Sign up process is pretty damn important. It’s a fork in the road moment. If the user turns left and fails to sign up, it might well lead to a dead end for both the user and for your product. If on the other hand the user turns right and signs up, then happy days, your epic user experience road trip can begin. With this in mind here are 12 ways to improve sign up conversion so that you can get as many website visitors as possible signing up for your product or service.

1. Provide a tantalising glimpse without sign up

I know that going to a physical shop is so last century, but just try to remember the last time you visited one. Got it? Ok. Did you have to fill out a form to get in the front door? No? What, you mean that you were able to take a look at their goods without ‘signing up’. As the French might say, Sacrebleu!

Just as shops let people take a look at a product without signing up, so should you. Provide users with a tantalising glimpse of what they can have, if only they give you their juicy personal details. Balsamiq (an online wireframing and UI sketching tool) is a great example of this. They allow users to launch a demo version (which is limited to less than an hour’s use) without signing up to anything. LinkedIn also provide a glimpse of what you can get with no sign up in sight. They allow you to search for people in their member directory and then cleverly prompt you to sign up to be able to view more details about someone.

Balsamiq signup screenshot

Balsamiq allow users to launch a demo version of their UI sketching app without having to sign up to anything

2. Give users compelling reasons to sign up

It’s an obvious piece of advice, but then the best advice so often is: Give users compelling reasons to sign up. Answer that little question that users will invariably have rattling around their head: What’s in it for me?

Outline the benefits of signing up and do so from the user’s perspective. In other words, sell the benefits, not the features. Also don’t try to frog march users to the sign up desk the instant they visit the site, no one likes being pounced on. Let users explore your product or service and find out what the benefits of signing up are before you put any sign up road blocks in their way. Evernote do a really nice job of introducing their product (an online workspace) and whilst their sign up form is front and centre on their homepage, it’s certainly not too in your face.

Evernote product overview screenshot

Evernote do a good job of outlining the benefits of signing up

3. If sign up is free, make this very clear

If users can sign up for a product or service for free, even if it’s just for a trial period then make this very clear. I won’t get into the rights and wrongs of offering everything online for free, but I will say that it’s a no brainer when it comes to sign up. Trello (an online task and project management tool) do a great job of reinforcing the fact that you can sign up for free. They even ditch the usual ‘Sign up’ button label for the slightly less catchy, but arguably more persuasive ‘Sign Up – It’s Free’.

Tello signup screenshot

Trello do a good job of reinforcing the fact that you can sign up for free

4. Aim for a quick 1 step sign up process

Less is very much more when it comes to a sign up process. The fewer hoops that you make users jump through, the greater the chance that they’ll successfully make it through your sign up obstacle course. Ideally you should aim for a simple 1 step process like the tumblr example below. If this isn’t possible then certainly keep the steps to a minimum, and don’t forget to set user expectations up front, for example by outlining that this is step 1 of 2.

tumblr signup screenshot

Tumblr have a very quick 1 step sign up process (even if white text on a photo is not ideal)

5. Set expectations up front

If you’ve ever been to a theme park and waited in line for a ride, you’ll have no doubt have noticed that more often than not there’s a sign telling you how long you’re likely to have to wait for. Why do theme parks do this? Well highlighting that it’s going to take 3 hours of waiting-in-line-purgatory before your next roller coaster fix doesn’t seem like a great idea, but in actual fact it is, because there is something deeply unnerving about the unknown. Telling people that they have 3 hours to wait sets their expectations, so at least they know what they’re letting themselves in for.

Like those little theme park signs it’s a good idea to set sign up expectations upfront for your users. Outline how long sign up is likely to take, and what information will be required. If users expect to have to enter information (like credit card details) that in actual fact you don’t require, then it’s also a good idea to mention this. MailChimp (an online email marketing tool) not only outline that sign up should only take 30 seconds, but also address the expectation that credit card details might be required by clearly stating that no credit card is required to sign up.

MailChimp signup screenshot

MailChimp outline that no credit card is required for their sign up and that it will take just 30 seconds

6. Highlight how many other people have signed up   

A great way to encourage sign up is to highlight how many other people have signed up, especially if we’re talking nice big numbers. We are at heart herd creatures (some of us more than others) and it can be very powerful to show not only how many users have signed up, but also how recently. InVision (a prototyping, collaboration and workflow tool) do this rather nicely by outlining that over a whopping 1 million designers are already using InVision.

InVision signup screenshot

InVision encourage sign up by highlighting that over 1 million designers already use it

7. Ask for the absolute minimum information

You can always tell when a sign up process has been hijacked by the guerrilla division of the marketing department (mark my words, every marketing department has one). Users are forced to enter reams of information that marketers swear are like ‘gold dust’ just in order to sign up. Of course whilst the marketing department are kept happy, it’s the sign up conversion rate that ultimately suffers.

Rather than asking for lots of information upfront, it’s better to ask for the absolute minimum information (usually an email address and password) and then ask for further details as part of the account set-up process. In fact, like Slack (a team communication and messaging tool) you might even just ask for an email address and then get the user to set-up their password upon verifying their email address.

Slack signup sceenshot

Slack just asks for an email address and gets users to set-up a password upon verifying their email address

8. Don’t ask for the same information twice

When you’re meeting a new acquaintance do you always ask them to repeat their name? Perhaps if it’s an unusual name, or you didn’t hear it properly first time, but it would be pretty odd to do this as a matter of course wouldn’t it?

Hi my name’s Neil.

Nice to meet you Neil. What’s your name again?

Neil, my name is Neil. You just bloody called me Neil.

This would be pretty weird in conversation, yet it’s very frequently the case during sign up. Users are asked to enter their email address twice, or their password twice, or worse still their email address and password twice.

Rather than asking users to re-enter the same information that they just entered, it’s better just to ask for that information once. But won’t users accidently enter the wrong details? How can we verify their email address and double check their password? Easy. You can verify their email address by sending them an email with a verification link (no doubt you’ll be doing this anyway to check that it’s a real email address). For passwords you can give users the option of unmasking their password via a ‘Show password’ checkbox (see the MailChimp example above) or simply accept that if a user has mistyped their password they can always just request to change it upon verifying their email address.

Twitter signup screenshot

Twitter only makes users enter their details once for sign up

9. Allow sign up with an external account

A great way to make sign up quicker and easier for many users is to allow them to sign up using an external account, such as a GoogleTwitterLinkedInPayPal or Facebook account. This not only makes login easier once users have signed up (as they can use a login that they use day in, day out), but also makes the sign up process very quick and easy. Ocado (an online Supermarket) sensibly let their users sign up by entering their details or by using either their PayPal or Facebook account.

Ocado signup screenshot

Ocado customers can sign up using their PayPal or Facebook accounts if they want to

10. Reassure users during sign up

Trust is a massive factor in whether a user will sign up for a product or service. Can I trust this company with my details? Do I even trust this company full stop? With hackers increasingly targeting customer details online, it’s important to reassure users during sign up and to put any concerns that they might have at rest. These are likely to include concerns about how their details will be used, along with concerns about who their details will be shared with (no-one else, hopefully).

SurveyMonkey (an online survey tool) recognise this and reassure users that if they sign up with a Google or Facebook account their data will still be completely private.

Survey Monkey signup screenshot

SurveyMonkey allays likely concerns by stating out that when using a Google or Facebook account your data will still be completely private

11. Don’t make users check a terms and conditions box

We all love terms and conditions don’t we? I for one can’t think of a better way to spend a Saturday night than reading through the 46 A4 pages (yes, 46 pages – over 20,000 words) of Apple’s online terms and conditions. It certainly beats counting sheep to get to sleep.

Sadly terms and conditions are a necessary evil, but rather than making users check a little box to say that they’ve read and agree to yours (which is a whopper of a lie anyway – who actually reads the terms and conditions?), it’s better to make agreement part of the sign up process. Pinterest for example state that by creating an account you’re agreeing that you’re OK with Pinterest’s terms of service, privacy policy and cookie use.

Pinterest signup screenshot

Pinterest avoid the usual terms and conditions checkbox by stating that by creating an account you’re agreeing that you’re OK with their terms and conditions

12. Don’t ask for payment details upfront

A 30 day free trial is expected these days for most online products, at least for those that are not free forever. If your product or service falls into this 30 day free trial category then it can be tempting to ask for payment details upfront. This can make the transition from trial account to paid account that bit smoother, not to mention cream some money off those poor suckers that forget to cancel their account in time. Whilst this tactic is employed by some of the big brands like Apple Music, in my opinion it’s always better to get payment details during or after the trial period. This makes sign up much easier and prevents any fall out from angry customers telling their friends and family how they were tricked into paying for your ‘free’ product or service.

VWO (an A/B testing tool) recognise the importance of not asking for payment details upfront as they clearly outline that no credit card is required for their free trial.

VWO signup screenshot

VWO make it clear that no payment details are taken for their free trial

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