Killing Sign Up Forms

by October 19, 2010

In my recent Sign Up Forms Must Die presentation, I outlined a few solutions for getting people engaged with digital services without asking them to fill in a bunch of input fields up front. In case you are interested in trying one of these alternatives to sign-up forms, here are some resources to get you started.

Gradual Engagement

Gradual engagement is the process of moving a user through an application or service – actually engaging with it, and seeing it's benefits. With gradual engagement, new users are not just presented with a registration form and then dropped off a cliff (typical process in many Web applications). Instead, registration is either postponed, or handled behind the scenes and the first time experience is focused on giving people an understanding of how they can use a service and why they should care to.

  • What is gradual engagement and how does it work? Here's a compilation of my thoughts on the topic.
  • Twitter recently redesigned their sign-up process using gradual engagement. Though the new sign-up process added one more screen, conversions went up 29%.
  • In my Sign Up Forms Must Die article on A List Apart, I highlighted a few examples of gradual engagement across the Web.

Web Services

Web services allow people to log-in to a new service using their profile and contact information from other Web sites. The idea here is to make use of information people have already provided elsewhere instead of having them fill it all in again on your sign-up form.

  • My Web Forms for People article illustrates two examples of Web applications that use Web services to reflect their service’s core purpose through a few lightweight interactions, and make people instantly successful without lengthy sign-up forms.
  • Facebook provides the most popular of these solutions. The number of people actively using Facebook on third party sites has more than doubled (60M to 150M) in the past ten months and the percent of Facebook's total audience actively using Facebook on third party sites has nearly doubled.

Communication Tools

Traditionally, if we wanted get people to sign up for our site, we needed to get them to our site, to our form, have them fill in our input fields and hit a Submit button. Now sites like Posterous, which is a blogging service, let you write a blog post in your email, attach a photo, send it over to Posterous, and they'll essentially publish that whole thing for you, no need to ever get out of your email client. People spend countless hours, probably [laughs] per week, if not per day, inside their email inbox. So it's a great opportunity to start capturing some input there.

The idea is that input can come from anywhere. You can use your email client to provide input. You can use your IM client to provide input. You can use Twitter, or you can use your calendar. You can use bookmarklets or browser extensions.

  • My Input: Moving Beyond Forms presentation from the Web App Master Tours outlines several approaches for using external tools (including communication tools) to capture input from users.

Mad Lib Forms

Mad Libs forms ask people the same questions found in typical sign-up forms in a narrative format. They present input fields to people as blanks within sentences (Mad Libs-style, if you will). Though not technically "removing" sign-up forms, Mad Lib forms make the presentation inviting and fun.

  • I was curious how it would perform against a traditional form. Would people be more inclined to complete it because of the narrative format? The team at ran some A/B testing online that found Mad Libs style forms increased conversion across the board by 25-40%.


If you're interested in more detail on killing sign-up forms, you can download slides and watch video (starts at 21:45) from my Sign Up Forms Must Die! presentation.