The Sign-up Hurdle
Once you have people interested, the next major challenge is to convince those interested people to actually sign up to use your software for the first time.
Figure 4.2 The hurdle of sign-up separates those interested in your software from those using it. This transition is marked by lots of questions and a need to clearly explain the benefits of use.
The importance of this step cannot be understated. It is crucial for several reasons:
- The first, and lasting, impression. The first impression someone has of your software is your best chance to start a person down the road of becoming a loyal user. If you lose someone in this initial transaction, they're very unlikely to return, having convinced themselves that your application isn't worth using.
- All questions, few answers. At this stage people have the most questions of all, and in answering those questions you can use the the opportunity to tell the story of your software.
- Potential to kinetic energy. At this stage people are getting ready to take their first actual steps in using your software. It's a big deal to change from the potential energy of being interested in software to the kinetic energy of actually using it.
- Critical choice. If you make a living through your web application (and many of us do), the choice people are making of whether or not to use your software is anything but trivial. They're choosing to either start a relationship with you or have it with someone else. This will undoubtedly affect your future in a big way. Therefore, it is serious business.
Different Strokes for Different Folks
Each person who visits your web application has their own agenda: they're trying to do something specific. While we don't always know what that something is, we can identify recurring roles that seem to crop up again and again. Here are some roles to watch out for:
- Ready to Go. This is the role most people design for. This is the role we hope for. These people are ready to start using your application. The key to designing for them is to get out of their way. They're already convinced your software is worth trying, so make it as easy as possible to sign up by eliminating usability problems and unnecessary friction in the interface.
- Interested but Unsure. These people are interested in your software but are unsure if it is for them. There are a lot of these people. They need to be reassured they're making the right decision in trying your software. They have specific questions about what your software can do. The key to designing for them is to provide multiple levels of detail (see section below) so that they can find appropriate answers to their questions.
- Fact-finders. These folks are doing reconnaissance and don't plan on using your software just yet. They want enough detail so they can report back to others (perhaps their colleagues, or perhaps their readership). Design for them by providing a solid summary and how-it-works information.
- Skeptical. These folks basically want to prove to themselves that your software isn't what they want. They want to find out that the software they're currently using is a better solution, so they don't have to go through the pain of switching. These folks present an interesting opportunity. Design for them by providing lots of evidence that other people are happy using your software.
Creating a Sign-up Framework
A sign-up framework is the set of information and resources we provide to people who are going to be signing up for our application. It may contain one or more of the following:
- An elevator pitch, a tagline, or some other pithy explanation of service
- Graphics or illustrations that show how your software works
- Carefully crafted copywriting that describes your software
- In-depth feature tour or feature pages
- Video or screencast showing actual use
- Get people started using the software as early as possible
- Evidence of other people using your software successfully
What a Good Sign-up Framework Does
The job of a sign-up framework is to help people make the jump from being interested in your software to being a first-time user.
A good sign-up framework maintains and hopefully increases any momentum a person brings with them to your application.
To maintain that momentum, a sign-up framework must do the following:
- Clearly communicate the capabilities of the software
- Allow a person to decide if the software is right for them
- Answer any outstanding questions people have about the software
- Confirm or refute any preconceptions people have about the application
- Get people actually using the application to get stuff done
- Let people connect with any other people who they might collaborate or work with
- Give people an idea of the type of relationship they'll have with you
The techniques below explain these issues in depth.