Quick summary: An increase in conversion is often better than an increase in user registrations, and the two can be at odds with each other. In the second part of this 3-part article we examine this idea and provide some suggestions for improving usability by simplifying registration.
In part 1 of this article we examined the problems that forced registration can cause. We also touched upon some of the reasons users shy away from websites that force them to register before accessing information or making a purchase.
Here we examine more usable alternatives. We’ll also look at the reasons reduced registration requirements can result in a better user experience, more conversions and more revenues.
We’ve looked at ways registration can be counterproductive to achieving conversion or sales goals. So what’s a better model? What’s the right balance between providing a simpler experience versus collecting useful information via registration?
There are a few approaches that seem to work well, but let’s start with one that usually doesn’t. Here’s an example of the type of barrier you don’t want to place between your users and completion of an e-commerce purchase:
Users have only two primary options here: they’ve already got an account or they’re forced to create one.
This limited set of choices slows new users down. On many websites registration forms take them away from the purchase process. Depending on how well the registration form is executed and how it handles errors the diversion may cause problems or even abandonment. This isn’t just speculation; I’ve seen it happen in countless user testing sessions.
Also note that in the example above there’s no messaging on the page that addresses why a user might wish to register – what tangible benefit it provides – and how the information will be used and safeguarded. As I mentioned in the first part of this article those are important issues to users. A lack of clear information at this point in a purchase process can cause unnecessary calls to customer service or result in abandonment. Here’s an example of a simple registration form that addresses benefits:
Let’s also consider the experience a consumer has when purchasing an item at a bricks-and-mortar retail store “in the real world”. They shop, take their purchases to the checkout, then pay. End of story. They’re generally not required to open a store account or divulge personal information. Even stores that ask for zip codes or telephone numbers will gladly complete the purchase if you decline to give it. Why should the online experience be substantially different from what your customers are already used to?
Think carefully whether an increase in conversion is better than an increase in user registrations, because often the two are at odds with each other. I’d argue that in most cases revenue is more important than building a database of customers who shopped but didn’t purchase, or purchased but won’t be coming back because the registration process was a nuisance.
Increasing conversion by reducing requirements
As I’ve already stated there are alternatives to requiring registration upfront. Which approach makes the most sense depends on your particular situation, but here are some starting points:
1. Integrate optional registration into checkout. For e-commerce websites an excellent approach is to integrate registration into the purchase process rather than requiring it at the start of the checkout process. In order to process a credit card and ship a physical item websites must collect a great deal of users’ personal information. Why not use this to simplify the user experience? Consider this simple wireframe example:
2. Require registration upfront but streamline it. A different approach is to require only minimal registration to enable users to get started (e.g. – just just an email address and password). While I personally advocate approach #1 above for most e-commerce websites, there are cases where this is a sensible approach. Assuming your website collects only minimal information up front, it makes sense to incentivise users to provide additional information after conversion has taken place – such as on the confirmation page or via a link an email follow-up. This approach works well for social networking sites like LinkedIn where users can create an account with relatively little information but are reminded how much of their profile remains to be completed. They’re also exposed to messaging that addresses the benefits of completing their profile.
3. Offer partial functionality with little or no upfront registration. Offering the equivalent of a free sample in return for minimal registration is another good model (e.g. – email and password only, then limited access to the product or service.) This is then followed up with messaging like, “Want full access? Just fill out this simple form.” Some special interest forums use this model, enabling users to search and read messages with no upfront registration, but requiring registration in order to access some sub-forums or view image attachments. This is a “win-win” because it means the forum is constantly showing off its wares and attracting new potential members. When users decide to register there’s a good chance they’re truly interested in the forum. This means they’ll help create a high quality member database for potential advertisers. Consider what happens if forum operators require users to complete a full registration just to access the smallest amount of content (and some do). They very likely end up with a poor quality member database, because some will have registered simply to determine whether or not the information was useful to them – and then decided it wasn’t. This can only result in the creation of accounts belonging to users who won’t be coming back. It’s not exactly the kind of targeted audience that drives advertisers to spend money supporting the forum.
In part three of this article we’ll wrap things up by examining some best practices for integrating sensible registration choices into your planning and development process.