Getting people to sign up from Joshua Porter at Web 2.0 Expo

Joshua Porter ( gave a great presentation this morning at the Web 2.0 Expo in New York today.

Getting people to sign up on a site or app is difficult - there's a natural 'friction' that keeps people from signing up.

Real sign-up numbers from real companies:

  • 8.0%
  • 6.76%
  • 4.7%
  • 16.0%
  • 0.003%

Usability is of course one of the main factors affecting the sign-up rate.  Gmail for instance has correct tab order, they end with "" so it's clear to the user what they're creating with a login name.  Checking availability is also possible without a full submit.  The password box tells the restrictions (6 characters) and check immediately.  Security questions can be a real burden for people who are new to sign ups.  Other questions like location also deter.  "Letters are case sensitive" means very little to the common user.  In other words, Gmail does a great job but not a perfect job. forces one to fill out virtually all fields.  They do tell you what to do right on the page but the number of unnecessary data points becomes a burden - people don't want to put in what their job is just to get the paper.  Instead of saying to the user, "We are using this info to customize the paper/ads for you", they say nothing.  Even after all that, they want the user to sign up for newsletters and then for information from advertisers.

Improving the use of forms involves

  • Reduce number of fields
  • Pre-submit username check
  • Password security right on the password input box
  • Following conventions like having 'sign-in' on top right of screen
  • Have a clear privacy policy

But ... These issues are not 'sign-up'.  Sign up is in the mind.  Apathy is what drives people to not sign up.  Are they motivated enough by what you're offering to care about filling out the form?  "If ease of use were the only requirement, we would all be riding tricycles" (couldn't read the author).

"Eager Sellers, Stony Buyers" is a great article on buying.  If you are a current user of software, you typically overvalue it by a factor of 3.  If you are software maker trying to sell software by a factor of 3.  They actually think it's 3 times better than it actually is.  This is called the 9x effect whereby somebody who is already bought-in will experience a 9x overvaluation of the product when the seller is presenting it to them.

What we're asking of the user with sign-up isn't just to fill out a form, it's also asking somebody to change their behavior, give up accepted practices, jump into the unknown, trade known quantity for an unknown, and a "shift from potential to kinetic energy".

  • Motivation trumps the ease of use of the form. 
  • We need to analyze what happens before the form.
  • Product research
  • Considering the alternative
  • Learning about the product
  • Comparison with existing products
  • The user's current situation

When you are the product creator or represent that company, you know much more about the product than the user who you're attempting to convince.  We need to design for 3 visitor types.

  • I know I want to sign up (get out of the way).
  • I want to make sure this is for me (Reiterate basic value proposition).
  • I'm skeptical (convince with more thorough information).  has a great signup by having the user put the father's name and mother's name right into the signup form (they're a geneaology site).  Immediately, this explains the purpose of the information and gets buy-in. is another site.  If you haven't been there before (no cookie), you'll get an intro right off the bat.  If you've been cookied (but not a member), you'll get more of the end information without the intro information.  Another concept is that once you've created a page, there is a sign that says, "Don't lose your page, become a member now."  That is superior to just 'Sign Up'.

Instant engagement is the first and most important thing.  Show them what they're getting, don't describe or tell them.

Netflix is another great example.  The main page tells you everything right there.  "Sign up today and try Netflix for FREE!" with a whole bunch of other follow-up content and the form is right there.  In addtion, at the bottom, they give 4 tiles with the entire process of dealing with the company: Pick movies, get movies in mail, no late fees, drop movie in the mailbox.  This simple explanation is critical.  The copy uses words like "your" to show that this is how you deal with the system and "we" so it's clear who is responsible for what.  If none of that works, in the lower right there's a phone number and chat link for people that want more information.

Tripit also has a 3 pane design showing how it works.  They don't even ask for people to sign up off the bat.  Just have people forward the emails from Orbitz and that's how they start the sign-in process.  Movies and screencasts are also available - another great design element for this issue.

I won't go into the details about these sites that are poorly done:  In a redesign, it's even worse.  The login is right on the home page but people who don't know how to get a login or what the site does don't know what to do.  The login is best put in the top right.  Also, the copy is really miserable - "Get a free email ..."  The visual hierarchy is completely wrong., which does essentially the same thing has a much better sign up page (I think I'll have to check them out for invoicing).  

Social Influence is the final piece of the sign up process.  Basecamp does a great job with tons of testimonials from large brand publications and tastemakers and 'normal' people.  Jaiku and Twitter make it real obvious that the whole world is on this, now, using it.  Get press coverage on the web site.  

In fine, motivation is everything.