Six signup form techniques to convert more customers

Forms are boring. I get it. They suck to design and they suck even more to fill out. No one thinks about forms more than they have to.

Forms are boring. I get it. They suck to design and they suck even more to fill out. No one thinks about forms more than they have to.

But if you’re designing a SaaS product, online store, or subscription service, getting more customers is probably your number one concern. For someone to become a customer, they first have to go through your signup form. And your signup form could be the thing keeping potential paying customers from ever giving your product an honest try.

The impact of signup forms in cold, hard data

If you do some digging, you’ll find story after story of companies fixing their signup forms and seeing huge results.

Stories like how Expedia removed one form field and increased their yearly revenue by $12 million.

Or how Phone Burner increased their paying customers by 77% by tweaking their signup form.

But the most infamous story (and my personal favorite) of a signup form impacting revenue is the story of Best Buy and how fixing their signup process made the company an extra $300m a year.

Best Buy’s $300 million button

Back in the day, Best Buy was trying to fix their abandonment rate on their checkout process. They hired Jared Spool and his team to figure out the problem and design a new solution.

They found the problem was one particular page.

So picture it: you’re casually shopping on and you decide to buy a cool new phone case. You add it to your cart and click “Check out”. Rather than taking you to the checkout process, it says you have to create an account. In order to do that, you have to fill out a form with a ton of personal information. That’s before you can even start the checkout process, which is even more forms and more personal information you have to fork over.

Yeah, no thanks. I don’t want a phone case that bad.

The design team saw the problem and decided to allow users to complete the checkout process without creating an account. They added one button to the page to allow users to skip the registration process and go straight to the checkout.

The result? A 45% increase in checkouts. For Best Buy, that translated to an extra $300 million in revenue the first year alone.

The psychological resistance

What’s going on with the above examples? How does adding one button translate to $300 million in revenue?

It comes down to psychology.

There’s two factors at play when it comes to a potential customer signing up for your product:

As much as you love your own product, to users, signing up feels like a risk. A risk to their time, to their energy, to their productivity, and maybe to their wallet. Even if you have a money back guarantee, they still have to invest time and mental energy to get that money back. People want to feel confident that using your product will help them and they won’t have to try out another solution a week from now.

Your marketing copy is your promise that your product will provide some kind of value. The better your marketing is, the less risky signing up for your product will feel.

Weak copy, the wrong features, and even the wrong aesthetic style all contribute to a low confidence that your product will help them.

When we look to improve signups, the first thing we need to consider is how we’re impacting the user’s confidence in our product.

The second factor is the user’s goodwill. One of my favorite design concepts is “the reservoir of goodwill” introduced by Steve Krug in his book Don’t Make Me Think!

The idea goes like this: imagine that your users have a reservoir of goodwill they can extend to your company. Do something useful, make it easy, make it fun, and more goodwill is added. Do something frustrating, confusing, or annoying and the goodwill levels go down. Screw up enough times and the reservoir gets depleted and they leave.

When we think about your signup form, any technique we try is going to do one of two things:

  1. It’s going to improve your value proposition to make your product feel like less of a risk and more of a sure thing.

  2. It’s going to plug the leaks so you’re draining less of your users’ goodwill.

With those goals in mind, let’s look at some of the techniques to improve your signup form.

1. Ask for as little information as possible

Few things drain a user’s goodwill like a wall of form fields. Statistically, the longer your signup form, the fewer signup you’ll get.

Hubspot looked at 40,000 landing pages from their customers and saw a decrease in conversions as the number of form fields increased.

Kevin Hale, the founder of Wufoo, said “At five questions, the drop-off rate is 2 percent; at 10 questions, 4 percent.”

Forms are work. And people hate doing work. Remember, at this step users are still deciding if you’re worth their time. They’re willing to invest a little time and effort to see what you offer, but abuse that goodwill by asking for a lot of information and you’re more likely to lose them.

Not only that, but with the growing amount of private information being bought and sold, people are getting more hesitant to share personal information with companies. A common remark I see in usability tests is testers asking “Why are they asking for this information? What are they going to do with it?”

Review every field in your signup form and ask “Do we really need to collect this information? Can we ask for it later? Or can we do without it?”

2. Show, don’t tell with “lazy registration”

Probably the most underutilized technique is “lazy registration.” In a nutshell, this technique is allowing users to use part of your product before asking for them to sign up.

Codepen is a great example of lazy registration. Codepen is a site for developers to test ideas and share code snippets by coding directly in the browser. On their homepage you can see the typical sign up button but you also can see a big colorful button that says “Start Coding”. Clicking on it takes you to the editor and you’re able to start coding immediately. It’s only after you’ve coded for a while does it ask you to sign up to save your progress.

Codepen’s “Start Coding” button is a good example of “lazy registration”
Codepen’s “Start Coding” button is a good example of “lazy registration”

Another example of lazy registration is Airbnb. On their homepage, you’ll notice that the primary call-to-action is not to create an account, it’s to start your search. Airbnb wants you to start investing in the process by finding a place and start day dreaming about how cool it will be to stay there. They let you get all the way to the booking process before you’re asked to create an account. By that time, the account creation process is a minor step because you’re already invested.

Airbnb focuses on searching for a place first, then asks you to create an account later.
Airbnb focuses on searching for a place first, then asks you to create an account later.

The goal is to demonstrate the value of your product as soon as possible. By getting users invested in the product, you can start showing the value you provide rather than relying completely on your copywriting and photos of your product.

Now, this is a specific technique and won’t work for everyone. For example, if you have a project management app, users won’t start getting value from the app until they’ve done a significant amount of setup and inputed a lot of data. I suggest using lazy registration for products where people can start seeing value within the first 5 minutes.

3. Use reinforcing messages around the signup form

The copy on your sales page should do the bulk of the lifting when it comes to convincing users why they should try your product. But there’s also a few areas where some well placed copy can communicate the value of your product and remove any lingering hesitations users might have.

There’s three places where well placed copy can improve your conversions:

  1. Introducing the form
  2. The button copy
  3. Text near the button

Introducing the form

Introducing the form with a headline allows you to either communicate what the user gets when they fill it out or squash fears about it being a long, drawn out process (remember the risk aversion we’re trying to avoid).

Examples of good intro copy:

Examples from RightMessage and Groove
Examples from RightMessage (left) and Groove (right)

Button copy

“Sign up” is lukewarm copy at best. If you want to improve conversions, try to make the button copy concrete and clear what the user is getting by clicking on it.

Examples of good button copy:

Basecamp signup form
Example from Basecamp

Text near the button

A little bit of microcopy immediately next to the button is great for addressing those last minute concerns people think of right before they sign up.

Right before your users click that sign up button, they’re thinking things like:

“Are they going to ask for a credit card as soon as I give them my email?”

“Do I have to call them to cancel?”

“What if I don’t like it?”

“What if I want a refund?”

“Is this going to be a pain in the ass to set up?”

So we want to include some copy that helps answer some of those questions. Some good examples:

Signup form for Shopify
Example from Shopify

4. Use a multi-page form

Although trimming the number of fields will improve conversions, sometimes you need to collect more information for your users to get a great first run experience.

When you have a lot of fields, break the signup process into multiple pages. This technique helps for a few reasons.

The first, and most important, is that it avoids the dreaded Wall of Form Fields. Nothing scares people away like a looming wall of fields they need to fill out. Remember, forms are work. We can help avoid it feeling like a lot of work by breaking it up into pages and giving users only a handful of fields at a time.

Using multiple pages also gives you more freedom to do more complicated functionality without the signup process feeling overwhelming. For example, say you wanted to have the user invite coworkers when they sign up. You can give them multiple options for how to do it like sending individual invites, an option to copy and paste a list of emails, or an option to import a CSV. By breaking the form up into multiple pages, you can incorporate all this functionality on this one page and not make the rest of the process feel overwhelming.

5. Start by only collecting email first

Signup form for Freshbooks
Example from Freshbooks

A good technique to use with a multi-page form is to only collect the user’s email as the first step in the signup process. There’s a few main benefits:

First, it gets the user committed. Once they take that first step to sign up, they’re more likely to keep going. By keeping the initial commitment very small, you can get more users started.

You can also verify a valid email as a first step. If email verification is something you need for your product, then collecting the email up front allows you to get it out of the way early in the process.

Another benefit is you can set up a reminder for abandoned signups. If a user starts the signup process and doesn’t finish, you can set up an automatic email to send an hour later with a link to pick back up where they left off. By collecting emails as the first step, you can have a way to reengage users who abandoned the signup process who might not have ever come back otherwise.

6. Provide feedback as they go

And the final technique: provide feedback through the signup process. Everyone loves instant gratification. By providing visual feedback, users can fill out the signup form quickly and correct feedback as they go.

Some techniques to try:

Hubspot is a good example of using feedback to show when fields are filled out correctly

There’s so much more to test

I’ve shared a few techniques worth testing on your signup form, but there’s a lot of different techniques worth trying.

So what are you going to try?