Optimizing your customer sign-up and sign-in experience

Last updated January 16, 2024

Avatar Photo of Colin Sidoti
Colin Sidoti

Colin Sidoti is the cofounder and CEO of Clerk, a service that helps developers build sign-up and sign-in flows and manage user accounts.

  1. Introduction
  2. Optimize your funnel first, then your sign-up
  3. Familiar patterns yield the highest sign-up conversion
  4. Limit sign-up requirements, but don’t compromise your product
    1. 1. Offer “Sign up with Google”
    2. 2. Defer requirements until strictly necessary
  5. Measure the performance of your sign-up
  6. Optimize your sign-in for speed
  7. The fastest sign-in is the one users never see
  8. Conclusion

Have you ever found yourself frustrated by a company’s sign-up page? You’re not alone.

Cumbersome sign-up flows are common and can cause a direct impact to your business’s bottom line. While many customers are willing to push to the end, others can get frustrated and leave for good—without ever seeing, trying, or buying your product.

The same is true for your sign-in flow. When a sign-in is hard to complete, your existing customers may be less likely to renew their subscription.

At Clerk, we’ve facilitated over 100 million sign-ups and sign-ins across thousands of applications. In the process, we’ve learned that the best sign-up and sign-in flows come from optimizing them separately, with different goals for each. Thankfully, these optimizations are straightforward, and they can be incorporated from the beginning, so you don’t risk losing customers over solved problems.

Optimize your funnel first, then your sign-up

Sign-up is part of a broader funnel that is responsible for converting leads into customers. Before you optimize your sign-up, you first need to decide where it belongs within that funnel.

This decision usually depends on how your business “qualifies” a lead. In other words, how your business evaluates a potential customer’s value and spends resources trying to close the sale. Consider two examples:

  1. Imagine a service that requires a high-touch sale. The business has a sales team that might spend months nurturing a lead until it finally closes. Then, the sales team approves sign-ups one by one, after the team receives an initial payment and takes the customer through a guided onboarding.
  2. Imagine a service that doesn’t have a sales team. Instead, the business offers a free trial and tries to provide enough value during the trial period that customers will begin paying when the trial ends. The sign-up is completely public or self-serve to encourage as many trials as possible.

Both approaches are completely viable and exist at opposite ends of a spectrum, with many options in between. Choosing the right approach for your business often takes many iterations while searching for product-market fit. But getting the steps of your funnel right is key, and it will have much greater impact than just optimizing the sign-up by itself. Make sure you’re confident in your decided approach before continuing on.

Familiar patterns yield the highest sign-up conversion

The golden rule for sign-ups is that familiar patterns yield the highest conversion. With so many applications available today, customers have developed expectations for how a sign-up should work, and they convert fastest when a flow feels familiar.

The easiest way to determine familiar patterns is to brainstorm the top 5 to 10 companies in the same industry, then see how their sign-up flows work. There will be similarities across each, and these similarities are the patterns that will be familiar to your customers.

Although unique solutions can be exciting, they usually lead to worse conversion. In some cases this is intentional, but there should be a clear motivation for diverting. For example, you may be confident that users who fail to convert would have been bad customers, so you’re intentionally working to filter them out during the sign-up flow.

Limit sign-up requirements, but don’t compromise your product

Every extra sign-up requirement will lower your conversion rate, so it’s tempting to pare down to the bare minimum.

But the bare minimum is not enough for many products today. Email is such a powerful tool for marketing—can your product succeed without it as a way to contact your customers? Can you imagine starting a new social network without requiring a profile photo?

There are two common strategies to minimizing sign-up requirements without compromising your product:

1. Offer “Sign up with Google”

Google returns expanded profile data by default, including full name, email, and a profile picture. Clerk’s data shows that, when available, ”Sign up with Google” is selected by over 65% of users today, and that number continues to grow every year. Amazingly, users convert through Google 2.3 times faster than they do through form fields using email and password.

All of these benefits make Google a wise choice to offer, even when expanded profile information isn’t needed. The only downside is that not every user has a Google account, so you’ll still need to offer an alternative pathway.

Although other social authentication strategies such as Facebook used to be popular, their usage has dramatically fallen in recent years. When available, less than 5% of customers will use them, leading most applications to omit them entirely.

2. Defer requirements until strictly necessary

Even if your product requires additional fields, it may be possible to defer collecting those fields until after the sign-up flow.

Let’s say you’re building a product that helps customers plan their retirement, and you need to know their birthday to develop a plan.

Instead of asking for their birthday as a sign-up requirement, it’s likely better to ask when they start to use the planning feature of your product. The idea is to defer the request for more information until strictly necessary, so customers can easily understand the benefit of providing that information.

Sometimes you can also loosen the requirement so that it’s easier for customers to fulfill while still providing substantial value. For example, you might be able to request the age of the customer, instead of their specific birthday.

Measure the performance of your sign-up

As a rule of thumb, if over 70% of the customers who start your sign-up flow create an account, then there is no cause for alarm. The exact number will fluctuate based on the audience, which changes quite frequently for startups. For example, a newsletter advertisement that brings traffic will yield a different audience than a Reddit post that brings traffic. This is expected to change your conversion rate.

But if the number is regularly below 70%, then it is likely your customers are getting stuck or confused somewhere, and you should work to figure out where. The issue will usually be something obvious. For example, your customers may be getting confused by the label for a form field, or a button doesn’t display properly in Safari but it does in Chrome.

You can also likely find the problem simply by asking 5 to 10 friends to share their screen while going through the flow. Alternatively, tools such as Hotjar, Crazy Egg, and FullStory provide user recordings that can reveal the problem.

Optimize your sign-in for speed

Now that you’ve optimized your sign-up, it’s time to shift attention to your sign-in.

While sign-up flows may have goals that are product-specific, the only important performance indicator for sign-in flows is speed. There is simply no benefit from slowing the path to your product for existing customers.

From Clerk’s dataset of over 100 million sign-ins, the most common strategies ranked from fastest to slowest are:

  • Social sign-in (e.g., Google)
  • SAML single sign-on (this is primarily used by employees of large enterprises)
  • Passwords
  • Email one-time password (six-digit code)
  • SMS one-time password
  • Email magic links

Different customers will have different preferences, so it’s important to offer a variety of strategies. Moreover, passwords are frequently forgotten, so a backup such as an email one-time password should be available.

When offering a variety of strategies, it is key to avoid creating dead ends for customers who change their preferred sign-in strategy. For example, if a customer originally signed up by manually entering an email and password, but then chose “Sign in with Google,” then they should be signed in to their existing account instead of being shown an error. Clerk’s data shows that over 30% of users have changed their preferred strategy at least once, so you’ll need to be able to handle this scenario seamlessly.

The fastest sign-in is the one users never see

Beyond the sign-in itself, it’s also important to think about session duration. If your application is not security-critical, consider keeping users signed in for longer so they encounter your sign-in less frequently.

Facebook, for example, never signs users out unless they specifically click the “Log Out” button. As a result, the sign-in flow is only seen when users are on a new device or in a new browser.

Conversely, most banks sign out users after just 10 minutes of inactivity, so the sign-in flow is seen often.

Conclusion

Optimizing your sign-up and sign-in is significant for digital success, and thankfully, it’s a very approachable problem.

For your sign-up flow, it is generally best to follow familiar patterns and limit the number of requirements, though some product-specific adjustments may be helpful. For your sign-in flow, it is best to optimize for speed. While the specific strategies you offer may change over time, these best practices will likely remain the same.

If you don’t have in-house resources to dedicate to these challenges, you can also outsource the problem to Clerk. We provide developers with prebuilt sign-up and sign-in flows that are customized to your brand and embedded in your application. Stripe Atlas customers receive 50% off any paid plan for three months. Learn more at Clerk.

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