Quick summary: Many websites require new users to register before they can access information and services, or complete a transaction. But upfront registration can be counterproductive and can have a negative impact on conversion. In part 1 of this 3-part article we’ll look at why registration sometimes causes abandonment.
These days many e-commerce websites require registration as part of the purchase process, and many web applications require full registration upfront before users can demo a product or service. Does this paradigm really make sense? Or is it perhaps counterproductive?
Certainly it’s fair for companies to request at least some user information when there’s an exchange of value. And in some cases collecting personal information is necessary to delivery of the goods or service (for example you can’t offer a service based on users’ locations without requesting it).
The problem is that many companies assume they’ve done an adequate job of presenting their value proposition, and that users will register with little or no reservation. Unfortunately this often this isn’t the case; in my experience companies often fail to convince users that they should register.
It should come as no surprise that most users are extremely skeptical about registration until they:
- Clearly understand upfront what they’re getting in return
- Have reason to believe it’s of significant value to them
- Have a good sense for how their personal information will be used and/or safeguarded
Because users are skeptical and because companies often fail to present a compelling value proposition, registration can be a significant barrier to conversion. It can even cause some users to abandon a process or website entirely.
There are a few ways to address this – but first let’s understand the problem at a deeper level.
One of the issues here is that companies often don’t recognize the disconnect between the way they see the world and the way their users see it.
How companies see registration
Many companies start from the understandable but flawed viewpoint that it’s in their best interest to gather as much personal data as possible, and sometimes they also feel it should be gathered as early as possible in the customer relationship. They see their product or service as a value to users and conclude that users will see things the same way. These companies are often puzzled when they find users abandoning their website or process at the point where personal information is requested. They feel they’re providing a useful service or product, and that users have every reason to want it and to trust that they’ll use registration information in an appropriate manner.
How users see registration
Most users see registration from a very different perspective.
- Users come to your website with expectations and biases created from previous experiences.
- They’re often very skeptical about giving out personal information, especially to companies with whom they don’t already have a trusted relationship.
- Users naturally avoid situations they feel might compromise their privacy.
- Many users also avoid anything they perceive as likely to result in “yet more junk email”.
- Many users have difficulty managing the numerous ID/password combinations they already use – and they’re disinclined to create more.
In this context it’s not surprising that many users will avoid registering at a website if they can reasonably avoid it.
Here’s an example. Recently at a coffee shop I overheard the following comment from a woman sitting nearby, using her laptop:
“I hate it when they ask for your information, but they don’t quite tell you why they want your information.”
Clearly there was a disconnect between the expectations of this woman and those of the company with whom she was considering doing business. She’s not alone; her statement is a good example of what I’ve heard countless times in user testing sessions. Look at it this way: how would you feel if a total stranger asked for your home address? Your phone number? Your credit card number?
Even if users already have a trusted relationship with a company or website they may still wonder what becomes of their personal information. Will it result in a barrage of spam? Will it be sold to other companies? Is it safe from hackers?
It should surprise no one that users often find registration processes off-putting, annoying – even offensive.
So what’s the solution? Obviously for some products and services some type of personal information must be collected. And for some services it’s logical that users must have some type of account.
Still, there are cases where registration might not be necessary at all – or it may make sense to ask for only minimal information during the initial registration process, then collect more information gradually as the relationship between customer and company matures.
Here are four questions to consider when evaluating how registration should work for a given website or process:
- Is it necessary? Determine if you really need registration for your product or service, weighing the benefits of having more users versus having more information about fewer users.
- What information should be required and when? If you determine that registration is necessary, determine when it should best be presented – and importantly how much information you need from users. As we’ll discuss in Part 2 often “less is more”.
- Is the value proposition clear? Ensure that by the time users are asked to register they have a very strong sense for why they should, and what they’ll stand to gain from it.
- Is security & privacy addressed? As I mentioned above users will often walk away from a registration form or process if they’re not convinced their personal information will be handled appropriately.
In part 2 of this article we’ll get into the nitty-gritty of each of these points and we’ll look at some good and bad examples of registration processes.