This post refers to my work with a startup. Like with all work and consulting projects, I wait at least 6 months before writing/tweeting about them.
I’m not a fan of the usual sign-up flow that most web products & services employ. In its most primitive form, the the flow goes something like this:
- New user visits website
- Clicks ‘try/sign-up’ button; is asked to fill a form providing certain details1
- On successfully filling up the form, shown a message asking to verify email address
- User goes to their email, clicks on the link
- Shown a page saying email is verified. Asked to login to continue…
As a part-time marketer, more than as a user, I hate this flow. It is filled with user drop-off opportunities/hurdles (#2, #4, even #3 & #5 occasionally), and sacrifices quality for quantity (of captured user details).
Instead, here’s an alternate flow for an imaginary developer-focussed API service/platform:
- Visit the website
- Click ‘try/use’ button
- Go straight to new user’s custom dashboard (create a temporary random user id for them)
- Let the new user play around with the dashboard, with the api playground (similar to what google has) – get to know the platform
- When they want to generateanapi key for their apps, show them the simplest sign up form which gives them immediate accesstoapi keys (without email confirmation).
- Inform them on the page that they’ll need to confirm email within X days, or keys will be disabled.
- Separately, send them an email confirmation link saying they need to confirm email in x days, or keys will be disabled.
- As a precaution, set really low, check-features-out level api limit on the keys till email is confirmed.
- Even if users leave after playing with the dashboard, but without trying to create a key (and providing an email address), store a cookie in their browser with details of the temporary user id. So, if they come back, you can still let them continue from the same state they’d already explored instead of starting again.
Now, here are some benefits from the marketing perspective:
- Fewer / later hurdles for user, higher user engagement
Users get to experience a lot more of the product, and get engaged closely with it, even before they’re asked to do uncomfortable things like fill a form or confirm an email address. Playing with the dashboard, or creating API keys and testing the API also create a small lock-in for the user, by making them comfortable with your API.
- A lot more of the funnel becomes visible.
Instead of seeing a large set of users drop out without signing in, and wondering why, you’ll see some of them filtering in to later sections of checking out the dashboard, using api playground, and signing up for keys. This is valuable feedback in refining your product, as well as the sign-up funnel.
- Higher quality user data
The user data (mostly, email addresses) you’ve now gathered, are of users who checked out your product at a deeper level than just some marketing literature, and decided they wanted to play with it so needed the API keys. A much more relevant target audience to engage, and likely to upgrade, than the current one – where everyone who even wants to know what your product looks like has to first sign up. Also, no more dealing with lists of [email protected] email addresses.
If you’re using advertisements to increase sign-ups, Isn’t it even more imperative that you reduce all possible hurdles, and create all possible incentives for the new visitor to spend as long as possible on your product, sign-up and continue using your product? (Side note: Could I have created a longer sentence?)
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A few additional points:
- When asking the user to sign-up, irrespective where in the flow it is, ask for as little information as required.
If just the email address suffices, stay with that and a password. Or maybe, just a social login – facebook for a photo sharing service, and github/Google for a developer product.
- Complete the profile of signed-up users over time by prompting for more information as they use the product. Another option is to lock-in certain features till users provide more profile information. However, these should be advanced / hygiene features, and not the core product.
- Even when moving to the late-signup, direct-to-dashboard flow I listed above, do present the users your full onboarding process. Preferably twice – on first visit, and again on post-email-confirmation visit.
1 While you’re at it, might as well ask them for their credit card details as well. Before even letting them check whether your product is what they’re looking for. (Yes, it happens a log. There might even be valid reasons in certain, rare cases).