by Aaron Fries
The sign-up form is one of the most critical points in the process of users developing a relationship with your site. It’s also the point where a flaw in the interaction can be the difference between a user becoming a new customer or becoming a bounce statistic on your web analytics. While many things can be wrong with a sign-up form, here are the top seven mistakes (in no particular order) we think are critical flaws that are guaranteed to frustrate users and likely to drive them away.
1. Benefits of signing up not being clear or not stated at all
Ideally, a user will know why they want to sign up when they do. However many sites that offer a lot of content pre-login will interrupt a user’s experience with a sign-up requirement, but not explicitly state why the user needs to register. Do not assume that the user remembers or understands why they should sign up. The benefits of a site are far too often left to the user to discover on their own, yet it costs nothing to remind them with concisely worded text.
If a user is not motivated to sign up, they are going to be a lot less tolerant of any issues they run into elsewhere on the page. For example, Going.com is a great concept, but makes a big assumption that users know why they need to sign up, running the risk of turning off users who haven’t bought into the idea yet. Simply writing a benefit tag-line at the top can remedy this issue. “By signing up you can quickly let others know what’s going on in a city”.
2. Requiring too much information with no benefit to the user
Sign-up seems like the perfect opportunity to get all kinds of information about your user. A few straight forward things like gender and birthday are good for marketing segmentation, but at what point does a form get too intrusive? The line is simple: when the information obtained does not benefit the user in any clear way.
Demographic considerations such as income, job title, browsing habits, are all nosy questions. Would you ask a person you just met on the street how much their household income is? No? That’s because we all know it’s rude. The same standard should apply on your site. The benefit of having some marketing data is never worth the very real risk of losing actual users who are ready and willing to continue with their experience on your site. Instead, make this information request clearly optional and people may actually provide it to you if you ask nicely and tell them why you would like to know.
3. Not pointing out where a user did not fill out a field correctly and/or erasing everything the user has already entered
We’ve probably all experienced this at least once, especially in earlier days on the web. Fortunately most major commercial sites are no longer committing this design sin. However, this problem still lurks throughout the web, most often on niche forums and government sites.
The biggest problem with this kind of flawed interaction is that it signals to the user that the site does not value their time at all and undermines a consumers’ confidence in what happens to the information they are sharing with you. Ensuring that the user’s hard work does not disappear and letting them know what needs to be fixed is not simply a “nice to have” anymore. It is a “must have ” that any professional site needs to implement if they expect users to register.
4. Username and passwords requirements being too stringent
Requiring passwords to have 6-10 characters that include letters numbers and special characters seems like it would add a level of security and build user trust. What tends to happen is that different sites have different combinations of these requirements: some have a range for character count while some simply have a minimum. Some require special characters and some don’t. Some want a number and some don’t. Some are case sensitive and some are not. The variations are endless.
Why is this an issue for a user signing up? People generally don’t keep distinct passwords for every site they use. Instead they rely on a single phrase that’s easy to remember. But with the proliferation of inconsistent password requirements across sites, the burden is now on the user to remember which site has which requirement. (Do I use “welcome”, “Welcome”, “welcome2009” or “welcome09$%”?) Having a slightly more secure password quickly stops being worth the cost of increased user frustration. Letting users know how strong or weak a password is without forcing anything on them is a great way to ensure passwords stay secure and that users stay in control.
5. Not explicitly indicating which fields are required or optional
Recently there’s been some research that suggests that most users are probably going to go ahead and fill everything out in a form. The best practice emerging from this finding is that it’s not actually necessary to put those little red asterisks on every single required field—it’s better to simply mark which fields are optional.
A good example of a site that has taken this to heart is Yahoo Mail’s sign-up form. While this leads to a visually cleaner form, what happens if all of the fields are required but there’s no indication one way or the other. Why should a user signing up for an email account assume that indicating their gender is required? Adding a simple message at the top of the form saying that each field is required is an easy, low cost enhancement that attentive users will appreciate.
6. Not explicitly indicating formats for dates, times, and phone numbers
While this type of information can be entered in a myriad of ways, a clear convention still has yet to emerge. Each sign-up form does this in a slightly different way with the result being that users are never quite sure how to enter time information on each site they visit that does not explicitly state a required format.
A clumsy (and unfortunately often used) solution is to use drop downs for month, day, and year. However users will often find frustration in having to scroll down through a dropdown for days like the 29th of 1969. Yahoo Mail has an elegant solution to this problem. They keep the dropdown for months since it’s a relatively short list, then simply have two separate open fields for Day and Year, indicated with grey background text.
7. Dumping the user back at the home page after signing up
Don’t assume that a user signs up before doing anything else. It’s far more likely that the user has browsed around and found value in something the site offers. From their perspective, sign-up is a hurdle they have to jump through to get what they want, not the first step of their intended task. If the flow of the site takes them back to the beginning, it will undermine any earlier efforts they have taken on your site. From a development perspective it does take a bit more work to ensure that the sign-up does not interfere with the task flow, but it is most certainly necessary to deliver a top-notch experience on your site, especially for new visitors.
What do you think? Are there any other critical mistakes in form design that are guaranteed to drive users away? Let us know!