Building a Sign up Page that Converts

How to build successful sign up pages and avoid common mistakes.

The sign up page is the “money page” for many sites and represents success or failure. An exit from the signup page is usually a loss and is often not recovered.

If we look at the total cost of marketing including: salaries, Paid Search Engine Listings, Search Engine Optimization, direct mail, print advertising, banner ads, and web site development; then divide that total by the number of conversions, the cost per conversion can be daunting. Costs can range into the hundreds of dollars per conversion, meaning every sign up will add hundreds of dollars to your net worth. Doesn’t it make sense to invest a significant amount of time improving the tool that gets these signups?

Many site designers treat the signup page as a last minute, end of project afterthought. Be sure yours is as effective as it can be by beginning a regular effort to review and improve your signup page.

Conversion analysts have studied signup pages for years trying to get it right. The first formal study I saw was done in 1999 by Georgia Tech. It measured the drop off rates for each element in a signup form. Web behaviors have remained consistent enough to indicate that these rates are still valid today. As a few examples, they found: nearly 13% dropped off because the address was required, 12% because it required too much time, and 17% because they didn’t trust the site.

If you don’t bring them to the signup page in the right mind set, equipped with the right information and compelled to commit, no sign up page will save you. The focus of this article however is not these lead in pages and how to motivate the buyer; it is solely the signup page. We’ll assume you have motivated the users to give you information. If you have them ready to engage but make significant mistakes on the forms page, you will lose a surprising number of signup’s. If your form breaks, you have lost. My testing still shows a surprising number of forms breaking for simple reasons such as: pop up issues, field format issues, the entire form emptying completely due to one missing or incorrect value, and confirmations failing to appear. It only takes minutes to test your forms and we will tell you how.

While we have a good idea about what works, we are often surprised by what we continue to learn. I have seen or been a part of a wide variety of signup page tests and have observed pages a group of experts thought were excellent get a 20% lift by the change of a background colors and minor layout changes. No text, font, or fields were changed. We all thought it had been optimized. It is a mistake to believe we know it all and ongoing testing is essential.

Let’s summarize some of what is known:

Keep the form simple, and then make it simpler. You need a very good reason for every field on the page and management’s curiosity for metrics is not a valid reason. You must fight to keep every possible required field off this form. You must fight to keep every optional field off this form. Try for email address only with name optional. Plan to collect more information after you have engaged them in the signup. When marketing resists, explain the drop off rates for each field, the cost per conversion and the potential lost ROI for each lost signup.

  • Clearly mark required fields with an asterisk, a yellow background in the field box and possibly even a red field label. If you use an asterisk make sure that you have, in red at the top of the form “* indicates required field.”
  • Put a simple dark border around the entire signup form and make the background color slightly different to distinguish it from the rest of the page. This change identifies the size and (lack of complexity) of the form, which is reassuring.
  • Avoid offensively “loud” colors. I am honestly not exactly sure why but I do know from our personality profiling research that certain strong colors are “confrontational” to groups of people and I suspect it relates to this issue.
  • Use common web conventions such as blue underlines for hyperlinks etc. This is not the place for eccentricities, unusual field names, or strange icons to identify fields (not that it is anywhere on most sites for that matter.)
  • The lack of a policy statement is one of the largest factor in drop offs. Link to a policies page but also try to offer a strong clear statement like: “we will not release your information to any other company.” On the policy page, prominently note your signup policies regarding how their information will be used. If you see a lot of traffic to the policies page, where page durations exceed 10 – 20 seconds; consider better addressing your credibility in the sales funnel. Don’t obsess on this since other factors may be at play and start by testing your brand perception and content effectiveness.
  • Repeat the benefit of signing up in one or two sentences right in the initial eye path, and bold the key words. If they are signing up for a newsletter, mention frequency and link to examples. If they are getting an email, explain what they will get and when to expect it.
  • Make sure that the form remains on your domain and follows the look and feel of your site so it is clearly identifiable as your page. Maintain navigational consistency with nav bars etc. I believe that a forms page with no navigation options makes people nervous, even more so if it has jumped to a new domain. Users may decide they want to check something one more time before signing up. Some conversion experts feel that the signup form should have limited navigation. I recommend offering navigation options in case someone has come directly to this page from a referral and will need to research the offer before signing.
  • Offer a less demanding engagement option then full sign up. If they aren’t ready to sign up for a direct contact offer then suggest a newsletter, link them to some past issues, reinforce the sales element and try to get them to come back. Offer them an email link for more information.
  • Make sure they understand that there is a clean and simple unsubscribe option. Reinforce that they are under no other obligations if they sign up (unless of course they are, in which case make that clear as well).
  • Research shows that except in rare cases, a form that takes more then two minutes will lose a huge amount of signups.
  • Provide friendly, helpful correction error messages when they fail to fill out the form completely. An error message “Missing required field” is not acceptable. Statements like, “Sorry we are unable to complete the form without your X information” are gentler and not annoying. We have all dropped off sign up forms which were cumbersome and insulting. Don’t let yours be one.
  • Be sure to test the procedure on up to 5 people. Bring them to the site and ask them to review the information, find the signup page and fill it out. As you observe them, probe for an understanding of their “feelings” about the process. Make sure this is done on a computer with different pop up settings, outside your network and on differing browsers.
  • Consider the possibility that visitors may be interested in forwarding your product or offering information it to a friend. The signup page is often the last chance to make this happen. We all know that Word of Mouth is extremely powerful. Be sure to provide an easy option to do this but instead of forwarding the form alone, make sure you give them an easy way to deliver compelling, complete information with an easy link to the form. Build a document or landing page/path solely for referrals.
  • Lastly, deliver an exceptional thank you note and confirmation. If someone gave you a $50 dollar gift, you would certainly thank them very kindly. Consider each sign up as a $50 or in some cases $500 gift, consider their potential as a life long customer and deliver a clear expression of your appreciation promptly, personally and be as specific as you can. Sending an automated confirmation is adequate at best as an immediate response, but make sure that the first line indicates that a follow up email is coming and when. Follow the automated confirmation with a personal email and be sure to personalize it. I often ask a question to try to elicit a response. Any response will immediately give you significant personal information. The business lift from this simple step is enormous.

Finally after all this is done, once again test your “money” page with several layouts, options, word choices and schemes. If you want further help there are resources on the web or we are available for consultation, page development and multi variable testing. All the work and money you invest in: marketing, product development, infrastructure, outreach, and site design is worthless if your signup page isn’t working optimally!