image showing ways you can improve your signup form

How to improve your SaaS sign-up flow

The SaaS signup process is where your customer’s journey begins. This initial experience can make or break conversion rates and set expectations for the rest of their time with you. Getting it right is crucial!

A customer’s first interaction with your software is through your signup form. First impressions count, so making the process quick and painless is essential.

According to a report by HeapSaaS businesses can expect to see a drop-off of up to 64% on the signup form alone. That’s nuts! So, anything we can do to lower that number will be good news for your business.

Let’s look at some examples taken from real SaaS apps. We’ll discuss the pros and cons of each. I’m using wireframes to protect the innocent.

Example 1: The unified login and signup button.
Before you jump to the next block of text, look at the wireframe below and see if you can find the mistake(s).

image showing a wireframe of a login screen

OK. What’s happening with this ‘Signup’?

Adding social login

They give the user the option to sign up with Google. I, like millions of others, hate filling out forms. You’re already ahead of the curve if you can make it easier by adding the option to sign up with existing platforms. There is a tendency to think that signups who use Gmail, Yahoo, etc, are less serious in their intent, but we’re missing the point. As customers, we value our privacy and time, and using our day-to-day email addresses is often the preferred choice to check out a new piece of software. So, let’s give the option.

Misleading users

Even though the form is minimal, it’s misleading to potential customers. The customer clicked on ‘Join’ and was presented with a ‘Login’ modal. Confusing, right? They also changed the language from ‘Join‘ to ‘Signup‘. Consistency is one of the golden rules of UX. Say one thing and follow through.

Not using input labels

Another mistake is not using input labels. While the form is straightforward, labeling your forms is good practice. The customer may get side-tracked for a split second and think, “Did they want my email address here or my name“? They must delete what they’ve typed to check what the input placeholder says. You should label your forms for three reasons:

For improved usability
For improved accessibility
For consistency. Users will be asked to provide more information during the onboarding process. And in those forms, I imagine that you’ll use labels. Be consistent.

There are a couple of ways we can correct this real-world example (I won’t tell you which SaaS is currently using this signup form).

  1. Create separate ‘Login’ and ‘Signup’ buttons. This keeps things simple and is the preferred method. This is only a correction to the above example. Ideally, you should take your customer to a new and separate page to sign up.
  2. If you must use a single button, create a dropdown menu with both options, ‘Signup’ and ‘Login.’ Each will take the user to a separate page, but I recommend simplicity first.

You can see a couple of these improvements below.

image of a wireframe showing improvements to the original form

Asking for too much upfront.

Unbounce ran a study in which they reported the following:

Signup forms with 3 fields enjoyed a 25% signup rate.
Signup forms with 3 to 5 fields enjoyed a 20% signup rate.
Signup forms with 6 or more fields enjoyed a 15% signup rate.

While the length of a form will depend on the complexity of the software and the customer’s need, the data is significant. Keep it shorter where you can. 

Which of the two forms would you prefer to fill out?

graphic showing a wireframe of two signup forms, one with two fields and one with 4

While there are only 4 fields in the second version, I imagine you said number 1.

Remember that just because the first and more attractive form only has one field, it doesn’t mean you can’t ask for more information later. Get them into your software first.

Look at it this way: which of the information in the second form is necessary for your customer to be successful right now? More often than not, we ask for information we don’t need because it makes us (feel) successful. We can segment, have exciting data, and feel good knowing our newest customer is a Fortune 500. 

It bears repeating: if you need more data from your customer, ask for it later. First, get them through the door.

Social proof. It won’t kill you. 

Social proof can nudge your potential customers if they’re on the fence. While this isn’t strictly UX, it can affect your conversion rates. Including testimonials or a bragging board is a good use of space. They help potential customers feel more confident about giving your software a chance. Below, you can see examples of how simple this can be. Simple, yet effective. I should point out that some folks don’t give much stock to testimonials as “no one reads them.” This may be true (in some cases), but they serve as another string to your bow. Testimonials are very effective if the potential customer recognizes the author of the testimonial or their brand. 

graphic showing social proof on a signup page
graphic showing social proof on a signup page

A word on signup security

If you need to keep the bots at bay and think using a Captcha is the answer, please rethink your strategy. As a potential customer, I want to get into your app quickly. Don’t make me do a song and dance just for the privilege. A simple checkbox or email validation solution is enough. Skip the fire hydrants, lorries, boats, and post boxes!

graphic showing a wireframe of a captcha form

Asking for a phone number

Unless your business model can’t function without it, don’t ask for a phone number on the signup form. Requiring a phone number will affect your conversion rates and put the fear of God into potential customers. Many customers, myself included, will use a fake number to avoid annoying sales calls. Seriously, don’t call me!

Let’s sum up what we’ve learned so far.

Keep it short, sweet, and non-threatening.
Separate your ‘Login’ and ‘Signup’ buttons.
Let people sign up using existing platforms.
Don’t punish people for using Gmail and social signups
Make your captchas less annoying (or remove them altogether).
Include social proof.
Unless your business will go under tomorrow, avoid asking for phone numbers.

A quick look at forms

We might as well take a quick look at forms while discussing the signup process.
Love ’em or hate ’em, they’re everywhere. Given that they are so mundane, we should make them as easy to use as possible.

Keep your fields in one column. Straight up and down. While throwing in a second column can be tempting, it’s generally not a great idea. Users tend to miss fields. It’s better to split the form over a couple of screens than have massive multi-column forms. Also, our brains are much better at handling smaller chunks of data.

Put your labels above the input field, not on the left. It makes more sense when your customers are on mobile, and there is a greater chance that your customers will complete the form. Like any rule, they are made to be broken, but this is a great place to start.

Display inline error messages where the error occurs. I’m sure you’ve filled out a form only to receive a generic, ‘There is an error with the data in this form’ messageOK, great, show me where it is! Don’t make your customer search for something that should be obvious.

Don’t optimize for space by using placeholder text as labels. When your customer starts typing, they will immediately forget what field they were filling out. They’ll have to delete the text to double-check, which is not a good experience.

Language matters. Make your button text descriptive. Describe the action the customer is about to take.

Only use inline validation once the customer has finished filling out a field. There’s nothing more annoying than being told your email address isn’t valid. Let me finish first!

Distinguish between first and secondary actions. This can be done through the use of color and/or outlines.

Using Auth tokens

I’m sure you’ve experienced the pain of expired auth tokens: You log in to an app. You click around, go to perform an action, and suddenly, the app informs you that you aren’t logged in and kicks you out!

This is a frustrating experience. Either a user is logged in or out. There should be no half-measures. If an auth token expires, don’t let your users in; it will create resentment and frustration…and you know what happens if that continues…Goodbye SaaS, hello new SaaS!

The signup process for any SaaS is a challenge. It’s unique to your market, customers, price points, and many other factors. By using best practices, you improve your chances of success. But don’t forget, any rule can be broken if it has a positive impact.

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