Do you need a confirm email field in your sign-up form?

Aug 10, 2015

Short answer: Probably not. There’s little evidence they work and there’s better ways to make sure people type their email correctly.

Longer answer: Read on.

The confirm email field used to be part of every sign up form on the web. Now it seems like many apps are abandoning them. How do you figure out if you need one in your form?

Don’t make the user do unnecessary work

The most important rule of form design is every additional field adds friction. So if we’re going to add a field, there has to be a good reason for it.

The idea for the confirm email field was that adding it would reduce the number of errors when a user enters their email. So do they work?

Does having a confirm email field help reduce errors?

Unfortunately, there’s very little public data on the effectiveness of using a confirm email field in sign up forms.

The most notable research study was conducted by The Baymard Institute in their study of the usability of ecommerce sites.

60% of the test subjects consistently copy/pasted their e-mail address when they had to retype it in a confirmation field. They simply didn’t think they would misspell their own e-mail (“only other people do that”) or just couldn’t be bothered typing it twice, even if they realized the possibility of their e-mail address being wrong.

As one test subject explained while working through an e-mail confirmation field: “So I was about to invent a point of view that went along the lines of ‘I think this confirmation is excessive and I wonder how many errors they actually have like this’, but now I can see that I’ve actually written my own e-mail address incorrectly up here.”

Ouch. Assuming the number of people who mistype their email is evenly distributed between those who copy/paste and those who don’t, including a confirm email field would only catch 40% of mistakes. Not a very strong case for including it.

Reasons not to have a confirm email field

The pros of the confirm field are shaky at best. Now here are some reasons why you would want to get rid of it.

It’s more work. Like I said in the beginning of the post, removing fields from a form will lower the amount of fiction to complete the form. And with more people using mobile, the level of difficulty only increases.

It assumes the worst of your users. As the quote from Baymard’s user testing showed, no one likes to think they’re the type of person who mistypes their email. When people see they need to type their email again, they’re often annoyed (or even offended) that it’s assumed they can’t type their own email. Not the best way to start a relationship.

But what about Amazon/Google/Twitter/Facebook?

When looking at how the Big Kids are handling email, we see things are divided.

Amazon is the interesting one out of the group. When signing up on Amazon.com on desktop, users are asked to confirm their email. But recently, Amazon has invested a lot of time into improving their mobile designs. In both their mobile app and the mobile version of the site, email is asked for only once.

Better ways to confirm email

If the goal is to make sure we get a real, working email, there’s a few solutions that will probably work better than a confirm email field.

Repeat the email field somewhere else. Rather than making the user enter their email twice, repeat the email somewhere they’re sure to see it. One solution is repeating it next to the submit button.

Confirm email example

This solution gives the user another chance to look over their email before hitting submit. If they entered it wrong, it’s easy to go back and correct it.

Send a confirmation email. If getting a working email is absolutely critical, one solution is to include a confirmation email in the signup process.

Medium uses this strategy for their new accounts. If you opt to create an account with an email, you’re only prompted to enter your email.

Confirm email example

After submitting an email address, a confirmation email is sent with a link to continue the signup process.

Medium confirm email

The problem with a solution like this is users have to switch from your app to their email and back again to your app just to sign up. This can be especially cumbersome on mobile. If getting a working is critical, it’s one tradeoff to consider.

Simply don’t confirm email. It seems the most common pattern among web apps is to simply take whatever email was entered and trust that it works. In most cases, the percentage of signups with an incorrect email is extremely low. If an incorrect email was entered, the user can either create a new account or contact support to recover the account.

Other ways to reduce errors

Make the email input clear and legible. Use large, clear type. Don’t decrease letter spacing or use fonts that are hard to read. Use good contrast. Make sure users can clearly see what they’re typing.

Validate inline. Let the user know their entry isn’t a valid email immediately after they enter it.

Medium confirm email

What do you think? Seen a better way to confirm emails? Let me know on Twitter.

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