The best way to lower your platform's signup friction

May 31, 2016 Saas & Platforms
Jeremy Milk
By Jeremy Milk, Head of Marketing
Jeremy Milk
By Jeremy Milk, Head of Marketing

Cubes with the message sign up

We’ve all had this experience. You hear about an awesome new software platform and you go to check it out. It seems great — it’s getting buzzed about in the press, it’s blowing up on ProductHunt, and all your friends seem to be trying it. You’re excited to see what it’s all about…

…And then you slam into the sign-up page with the force of Volkswagen fired from a crash test launcher.

Wait, there are how many form fields to fill out? They want my credit card number? What are they going to do with it? Do I even know my mother’s maiden name? No I will not spam everyone I know with invites. Ugh. Now I have to read this grainy captcha to prove I’m not a bot. No thank you. Abort.

A high-friction sign-up process is doubly bad for platforms compared with traditional cloud software. Since so much of the value of a platform comes from the value of the network that uses it, any friction on the sign-up not only hampers new user acquisition but decreases the potential value of the platform for the people that have already signed up.

So here’s the biggest thing you can do to make your platform’s signup process better today. Ready?

Make your platform’s signup form shorter

No, seriously.

It may seem like common sense, but it bears repeating anyway: the more information you ask for, the less signups you’ll actually get.

This has been studied at length. For example, Dan Zarella of HubSpot looked at over 40,000 contact forms powered by the company’s marketing software and found that there was a 50% increase in conversions just by taking the number of fields from 4 to 3. It’s also been proven out by efforts at real companies. Witness Expedia, which pulled in an extra $12 million in revenue when it eliminated a single question from its checkout form.

There’s a couple of reasons for this. The first, of course, is that people are afraid to give up so much personal information for an uncertain outcome. They don’t know what you’re going to do with it, and more importantly, they don’t know if what you’ll be providing in turn will be worth what they give up.

But there’s another concept from psychology that also has a role to play here: Decision Fatigue. Recent studies have shown that a willpower is a finite resource, and every decision, no matter how minor, comes with a slight willpower cost. Each form fields represent a choice (Do I answer, or don’t I? Which address do I give? Do I use my real name or make something up?). It may well be that your user becomes so exhausted by the end of a long form that they just can’t muster the effort to care enough to hit submit.

So how do you you do it? Here’s some ideas:

Focus on value to your user

Look at the data you’re asking for from a new user when they sign up. Make it into a list. Then ask yourself this question:

“If I created an account for this person, and I didn’t have this info, would I still be able to deliver a satisfactory experience for them?”

If the answer is no, it stays in the form. If the answer is yes, then you should seriously consider cutting it.

What you’ll probably find is that a lot of what you ask is just a “nice to have.” It may be it benefits you as the platform but doesn’t enable you to offer much more value to the user. Or it might allow you to provide some value at a later date, but the utility won’t be immediately apparent to a new user.

It’s up to you what you do with this info, but if you can cut it, you should cut it. The value you get from this information probably won’t equal the value lost to missed sign-up opportunities.

Gradual engagement

But what about the things you do need to have that users are reluctant to give up? You can probably think of a few off the top of your head — their bank information, their location, the email of five of their friends so you can send invites and increase your network.

It’s wise to follow a strategy of gradual engagement. Rather than asking for all this data up-front, delay asking about it until a later stage in sign-up or even omit it from sign-up entirely.

You might think that it’s better to just get everything out of the way, but there’s a good reason why it’s not: the so-called “foot-in-the-door” technique. Basically, the more you agree with someone or something, the easier it becomes to keep agreeing, even if the seriousness of what’s being asked increases. Salesmen use this principle by asking their prospects small, unimportant questions that get them saying yes before they move onto the big questions that close the sale. You can use the trechnique by delaying your big data asks until your prospective user has already invested themselves by providing less sensitive data.

Gradual engagement is an especially powerful strategy if you can delay the data ask until the moment it becomes most necessary. A good example of this is WePay’s partner FreshBooks, the leading cloud invoicing software for small businesses.

Freshbooks needs bank account information so it knows where to settle funds for its business users that collect electronic payments. Yet most people are reluctant to give up their bank account routing number.

FreshBooks solved this by asking for this number after an online payment was made. A person might balk at providing bank information before they start using an invoicing software and seeing value. But with a $500 payment from a client waiting to be delivered to them, suddenly they have much a much more tangible motivation.

Oauth2 sign-up

One way to eliminate the pain of providing data at sign-up is to use Oauth2 to get that data from another service the user is already active with. This is a common practice now — you’ve probably noticed buttons that let you “sign-in with Facebook” everywhere you go online, but all the major social networks and even Google also have a login button.

The benefit of this information is that you can lower the decision fatigue load of a long sign-up by reducing it to a single question: should I connect my other account? Social buttons tend to be most effective when you put them prominently at the top of the form for this reason — you don’t want to make people think.

The important thing to remember is that Oauth2 shouldn’t be the whole of your sign-up strategy. Not everyone is using every service, and some people have privacy concerns that keep them from wanting to connect every account together. You still want to provide the option of signing up for people that don’t want to make use of it.


There’s no real silver bullet solution for getting more people to sign up for your platform. But making the sign-up as short and frictionless as possible comes close. Focusing here is an excellent low-cost way to dramatically increase your conversions, and therefore your bottom line. And because the value of a platform for its users is dependent on the size of its network, it’s something that’s great for the people who are already signed up, too.
Know of any other strategies for making it easier to complete sign-up? Leave us a comment, because we’d love to hear about them.

About the author

Jeremy Milk

Jeremy Milk, Head of Marketing

Jeremy is WePay's head of marketing. Earlier, he held marketing and product leadership roles for Intuit QuickBooks, where he got hooked on fintech, and The Clorox Company. He's also a die-hard UNC basketball fan.

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