Getting Users to Sign Up: Factors in Design and Content

Getting Users to Sign Up: Factors in Design and Content

Conversions can be tricky to accomplish on any website. A conversion could mean more sales, more registered users or simply more engaged users. Having a great product and delivering value to the user are obviously the factors to focus on when you want to increase your conversion rate. But a conversion rate can also be increased with smart design and strong content.

In this article, we’ll discuss how to improve design and content for one type of website conversion: getting users to sign up on your website, whether it’s registering an account for your web app, for an email newsletter, your RSS feed, etc. We’ll go over some design trends and practices that have been proven to improve conversion rates.

Everyone Wants Something for Nothing

Let’s say you’ve stumbled on a website that you know nothing about. Perhaps you were intrigued by an ad banner that pointed to the site. Maybe you read a post on your favorite blog about it and decided to check it out. Or perhaps you landed on the site because of a search query on Google.

You’d like to investigate further to see if you want to sign up. What do you do first?

Naturally, you want to try it out right away! Trying it out is the only way to truly know whether it is worth your time and commitment.

Trials are a strong selling point for increasing conversion rates. Your interest is already piqued; if you try it and it meets your standards, you’ll likely sign up.

For example, one of the top premium WordPress theme sellers, WooThemes, releases a few free themes so that you can get a good look at the quality of their products before signing up for the premium service.

The key is to get new visitors to try out the service, product or community in some way. What are some ways to do this? Some methods may be more effective than others. Here are a few ways:

Some site owners may want to follow an established business model in their niche, while others may want to try a few methods and test their effectiveness. Before settling on one, track your current conversion rate metrics:

Then, implement the method you’d like to try out, and test the conversion rate for the same timeframe.

Should It Say, "Buy Today" or "Buy Now"?

Some web designers have dabbled in web copywriting. Whether you have or not, we should all pay some attention to the copy on the website we’re working on and be able to tell which content will be effective at increasing conversion rates.

Professional copywriters know how certain words can get more sign-ups, how certain paragraph lengths are more persuasive, and how the writing style and level can be tailored to get the best results.

You could always hire a professional copywriter, but designers should still know the basics. We’re still responsible for the call-to-action elements, even if we’re not actually writing the content. We need to know what will increase conversion rates.

How should a button or link be worded? Should you use "Log in," "Login," "Sign in" or something else? Studies show that consistency and various other factors affect conversion rates. Do you know how to make these decisions?

Introductory sentences, calls to action, sign-up and log-in links, featured content: all of these and more are critical to websites. Even page titles are essential. Anyone who has run a blog knows how changing the title of a post can increase the number of page views dramatically.

So how to you go about figuring out what copy sells? The tricky thing is that it can be different for every website!

One approach is to view trends in your niche. At the very least, this contributes to consistency in style within the niche, which helps usability and findability.

However, a stronger approach is to perform an A/B testing study.

A/B Testing

A/B testing (also referred to as split testing) is a simple yet effective user interface testing technique that can profoundly influence design and content decisions.

The idea is to use two designs (A and B) that have one minor difference: the item to be tested.

Let’s say you have to design a call to action button to get visitors to sign up. Many decisions need to be made:

Some designers might conduct A/B testing for a number of these factors, but that’s not always necessary. The two most important elements are probably the color (or other means of distinction) and wording. Two simple tests can be done to determine what would lead to the biggest increase in the conversion rate, and further tests can be done later on if desired.

After creating two mockups with these minor differences, one can use testing software or even do an in-person test to see which is preferred.

Live testing on a launched website can bring even better results and can be a part of an iterative web design process, although it’s not always an option, such as when the scope of the project ends after the website is live. Some designers might prefer to test the current call-to-action button, modify the design, and then test it again to see if there is an improvement.

Some A/B testing tools:

Images and Icons

Images and icons are a big part of most designs. Beyond adding visual interest, imagery can bring benefits at the psychological level. Icons create points of interest and help to organize and explain features. Photography and illustrations can bring life and personality to a website, making it more relatable. Users are more inclined to sign up on a website if they feel connected to it.

Look at the imagery on any website that requires registration, whether a web app or social network. How is it used? It may be minimal, but it probably still reinforces the tone and feeling of the website. Icons improve user interfaces and help to brand websites. Most importantly, icons and images help to convince new users to become members.

One effective way to promote registration is to explain the process visually with illustrations or photos. The images could either be integral to the demonstration or simply be a visual aid. For example, the illustrations at the top of Basecamp‘s page lead to the call-to-action button.

Simplify the Sign-Up Process

If you want users to sign up, don’t make it difficult for them. One-click registration has long been proven to promote usability and conversions. A long-winded process will frustrate users and make them stop partway, despite their initial interest. Keep forms to just a few fields if possible.

For example, Subernova requires only five fields to sign up, and then the user is given instant access, without even needing to confirm their email address.

While some would argue that email confirmation is essential for combating spam, the conversion rate increases when you lead users to the members section right away.

Instead, consider restricting certain areas or features until the contact information has been confirmed.

Below are some ways to simplify registration.

Make the Username the Person’s Email Address

Having to remember multiple user names is annoying. And any name that hasn’t already been taken will be harder to remember anyway. Because every email address is unique, why not just make that the username?

Let the User Choose Their Password

Don’t make password selection an arduous task. Some sites apply silly restrictions such as a password must be between 7-28 characters long, contain 3 numbers and a capital letter. This type of inflexibility just adds a potential exit point on your sign-up forms.

Require Only the Minimum Amount of Information

If more information is needed, then consider just giving the user the option to update their profile after creating the account.

Likewise, put any information the user will want to know right on the registration page. Tell them up front about the costs, core features and important terms. This will reassure them right on the sign-up page, and they won’t have to leave the page to find the information.

Allow Sign-in Using Popular Authentication APIs  

More and more web apps and websites have been allowing new users to sign in with their social media profile. The user’s profile information is automatically filled in, and the person is spared the hassle of having to create yet another account they have to manage and remember.

Using the APIs of these social platforms to allow people to sign in, you can get people started on your website quite easily.

Some popular authentication APIs are:

Many users may find this convenient because:

Another trend is that some applications and websites are using Twitter, Facebook and the like for initial sign-up, providing limited functionality, and then afterwards prompting the user to register for a permanent account in order to access all of the features.

Fortunately, implementing or integrating these web services into your sign-up process is easy, too. Below are a few tutorials to get you started:

By Popular Demand: Social Proof

Social proof is another way to increase site conversions. Who else is using this website or app? Who belongs to the community? Are any users famous or notable? How many satisfied members are there?

A website that looks lonely won’t get much attention. If the website is membership-based, why bother signing up if no one’s there? If an application is set up for viral growth but doesn’t have a lot of sign-ups, then visitors will wonder what’s wrong with it.

Be sure to mention popular brands affiliated with the product and famous users, or just mention the hundreds or thousands of satisfied members.

Basecamp is once again a great example. It mentions the millions of people using the tool, which creates strong social influence. It also uses this figure to lay claim to being the leading project management app.

Whether it meets the needs of all companies or individuals, this social proof makes Basecamp seem valuable and reputable.

What happens if you don’t have any big-name members or a large user base? If you’re just starting up, providing social proof can be difficult. Membership websites must start small and grow gradually in order to gain high-quality attention.

First, reach out to 15 to 20 people who might be interested in testing your website. Get valuable feedback this way before scaling up. This will also get those first few members interacting; if visitors see no interaction or content, they’ll wonder why they should sign up. Focus on launching small first. Then, try out a launch page or invite-only page for the first month or two.


Building up the membership base is a primary goal of many websites, and it’s the main goal of any website that has a community or that relies on sign-ups for profit. Increasing the conversion rate is essential, and there are a number of techniques for doing so. The most effective way is to measure your current conversion rate and then try different things to increase it, all the while measuring the changes.

The designer’s main goal is to combine design and content as efficiently as possible in order to entice visitors to sign up and become members. Mediocre design and poorly planned content is a recipe for disaster, even if the members area is up to standards.

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About the Author

Kayla Knight is a web designer and web developer who loves coding way too much for her own good. She does freelance design/development work and helps run the XHTML Shop. Connect with her by visiting her website and following her on Twitter @ KaylaMaeKnight.

This was published on Jun 9, 2011


novini Jun 09 2011

it’s true Basecamp is a useful social influence project. Kayla it’s great article thank you.

Tom Ross Jun 09 2011

Great post. I’m currently working on redesigning my members area, and some of these tips should definitely help our conversions. I really like the idea of using email as a username, as this is something I appreciate sites doing.

Marios Jun 09 2011

Kayla great article, testing and see what others are using is very important, I run my own wp theme shop, and over few months I learn many things about customers, and how they interact and make their decision about buying or joining.

Strixy Jun 09 2011

“Naturally, you want to try it out right away!” That’s a little presumptuous, or as they say in logic class, it’s a-priori. I think you, myself and the majority of people reading Six Revisions are probably early adopters, but I think the statistics actually show this isn’t the case for the majority of site visitors.

I actually read somewhere that visitors won’t sign up on the first visit and that it actually takes X number of visits before they actually sign up. I think it was 4 visits, but I can’t recall the source. My apologies. Maybe someone else knows that number and/or source?

One of the things you could touch on in an article like this is conversion tracking tools and metrics. Just to see how well you’re doing before and after the A/B testing. Here is a SixRevisions article that kind of gets into it, but I wasn’t able to find anything more in depth.

My experience, anecdotal as it is, is that the majority of conversions come from the traditional email/password text entry fields and far too few come from single sign-on that it makes me wonder if it’s actually worth implementing.

When you say,”Tell them up front about the costs, core features and important terms”. I think you’ve hit the nail square on the head. I think you’ve got about 7 seconds to disseminate that information before you lose your chance to convert. I think this is even more important than a big green “sign up now” call to action or advertising 30 days free. I also think this speaks to the first point about why people are afraid to be early adopters and how you can work towards trying to convert that group.

sprise Jun 09 2011

I always appreciate sites using OAuth or Twitter authentication instead of their own login. That’s got to be one of the best big steps of late!

cystyle Jun 09 2011

Great post!

Hypesol Jun 09 2011

its a great article with true facts

While I use the social web, I am getting tired of it infecting every website I go on. I don’t really care if my friends “like” a website or not, they don’t share my tastes. I don’t really want to sign in to your site using facebook because then it will invariably ask for access to my page, no you cannot access my page.

Furthermore, I dislike the fact that FB and Twitter is sort of infecting themselves everywhere. This centralizes control into a singular website. What happens when some hacker takes down FB’s entire database, or some group of hacktivists gets tired of FB and decides it’s time to focus on it?

No offense aimed at you Kayla, I appreciate most of your work on SR and the other stuff I’ve read from you and as a web dev I really have little choice but to embrace this social revolution, I just don’t like where it’s going. It’s against the precepts of an open shared web of intelligence envisioned by the pioneers of the internet and www.

I think the best thing to do is make your call to actions obvious and up front… All call to actions have to be above the fold in web design. People just wont hang around long enough to search your site.

patricia canepa Jun 11 2011

Great article¡ Crisp and to the point. Thank you.

Samuel Lavoie @ Montreal Jun 12 2011

Good article Kayla I agree that testing should be part of every design process.

Prosunjit Biswas Jun 12 2011

This is a great article. I like it very much. But I am really looking for some paper/publication on sign-up or registration process’s ins and outs. If you know any publication please let me know.

PsdDude Jun 13 2011

very interesting article, thanks for the tips :)

Ricky Jun 13 2011

Thanks for Sharing! I like the social proof, its tried and trusted :)

ItsBuiltForYou Jun 13 2011

These are great tips and I will definitely be implementing them on our new site! Thanks!!!

Angelee Jun 15 2011

Great post, it makes me think seriously about conversion rate. More quality content is really what I need to have.

Jasmin Jun 15 2011

Great article. Learned something new.


John Fox Jun 16 2011

Have you also tested offering some kind of incentive along with your offer? Example: a free ebook (as long as it’s relevant).

I’ve been noticing more companies using this technique. For example, Citrix is using a book by Jill Konrath (a real, published book, in pdf format) as the incentive.


Simplification of the sign-up process is a major point. Quite a few sites make the mistake of complicating the sign-up process and demanding a mountain of information from the user. While this makes sense for a bank it’s not applicable to all and sundry.

PriyankaNM Jun 19 2011

Pretty interesting and informative post. Enjoyed your writing style. Specifically I give a plus one for the “Simplify the Sign-Up Process” section.

I personally get frustrated remembering so many usernames and passwords, get irritated when I have to create a new one again and that too after filling up a lo-o-o-o-ng form to see a small demo.

But on the same time “Rob”‘s concern mentioned above also bothers me in the back of my mind.

rai_g Jul 20 2011

been looking for some article like this, glad you’ve covered this. conversion optimization is a clearly one of the most important things to consider in designing a website or a landing page. the more the user feels that the site is trustworthy and not too complicated with the process on offerings or free trial signups, they are more likely to convert.

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