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Jorge Piñon

Registration should be easy #

August 4, 2013

Onboarding in web and software design jargon refers to the process of converting casual visitors into registered accounts. There is more focus on this part of the user experience than any other (with perhaps the possible exception of the e-commerce checkout process) because acquisition is seen as vitally important to any software, especially by the tech press, the venture capitalists, and the tech-press-venture-capitalsts.

I think too much is spent on aquisition, at the expense of top user tasks. There should be at least as much effort in keeping your loyal users satisfied and happy as in attracting new ones. If you can turn your loyal users into ambassadors, acquisition takes care of itself.

But there's one part of the acquisition process that often wastes all the effort spent on marketing and copywriting. Just when a visitor has made the decision to create an account, the actual registration process is unnecessarily complex and even silly.

I'm sure everyone will agree that an app's registration process should be as easy as possible, but the obstacles that get in the way of that are often too much to overcome. Especially in larger organizations. These obstacles are internal requirements, entrenched traditions, marketing “needs”, or simple corporate politics.

Email verification or it didn’t happen #

One of the most pernicious registration obstacles is email verification. Too many web apps make you go to your email to find the link they sent (you know, like it's fun). Then click the link (which annoyingly opens another browser tab, maybe even in a different browser), which returns the message “Thank you for registering. You can now log in.”… Wha?! Log in? again?

All of which is only to satisfy either the IT person who needs to make sure evil robots are not signing up, or the Marketing VP that wants to make sure they have our “real” email addresses. I don’t have to go back to the brick-and-mortar store metaphor, do I?

I started using Trello a few months ago and immediately felt good about using it when the sign up process involved (1) picking a username and password and (2) entering my email address... and using the app! No email to look for, no re-entering credentials. I was in.

I was surprised both at how easy it was, and how obviously bad it made traditional registration processes.

There are other common obstacles, but most are similar to email verification. Bad marketers don’t see users as customers but as things to be stripped for data. Any form, including and especially the sign-up form, is seen as an opportunity to get as much personal data as they can.

No doubt some of this data would be useful to improve the user experience of certain interaction flows, but don't litter your registration form. Ask only the bare minimum to sign-up and gather more info later if you must. Where I work we started using the Trello model. We let users in after completing the most basic form, and although we do ask for email address, we worry about verification later and explain the reason for it. It has worked very well.

Conclusion #

We need to root out each and every obstacle that gets in the way of easy sign-up, and kill them like mosquitos. Listen, when a visitor decides to sign up, use that momentum to pull them into your site/app as far as you can. Heck, if it's ecommerce, go for an actual purchase conversion. You may not get that kind of interest from them again.

Take a strong stance in your company about this. Advocate for users at every meeting. Don't let marketing tell you that gender has to be part of the registration form. Phone numbers and email address really don't either.

And fergoodnessake, never use the word “Submit” on any button, ever.