Teach while you preach

written by   Arvid Janson

A beautiful product image, four bullet points and a big Sign Up-button, right in the face when you land on the page. We’ve all seen these websites. Hell, I would bet that at least half of you reading this have built these websites. Well, let me tell you something: in many cases – they suck.

Can reducing signups be a good thing?

Yeah I know the drill; the huge, bright red, sign up button is great for conversion, which is great for business. Well, this may be true in some cases, but in many others I would suggest the exact opposite – reducing your “conversion” may actually be good for your business.

It may sound stupid at first, but take a second to think about it: do you really want all possible customers?

Launching Google+

Google+ started their roll out a few months ago. I was pretty psyched about this “brand new social network”, so I did my best to get an early invite. As it turns out, it wasn’t all that hard to get, which honestly felt kinda odd. Why roll out something as a closed beta, when you hardly do anything to control who gets in or not? Well, with Google’s track record for social services (hint: ~), this didn’t feel like much of a surprise, but I’ll leave that discussion for a later post.

What hit me as an even larger surprise though, was that once on the inside – I had absolutely no idea what to do there. Nada. Zip. Zilch. This was partly due to the fact that almost no one I knew was there, but even more due to the fact that the mighty G:men had spent all of their time telling me that I should join this wonderful new service, but almost no time talking about what I would do once I got in. I thought I knew–”hey, it’s social networking, right?”–but I didn’t.

Leverage the unknown

As human beings we tend to be intrigued by what we do not know. We like to believe that people that we do not know are more alike us than they actually are, and services we encounter may be a better solution to our problems then they actually end up to be.

While this may sound like a wonderful trait–a positive outlook on life–it also means that we are disappointed much more often than we should be. If we keep expecting an eighth, once we actually get to know the unknown, even the average five is going to look disappointing.

Even though this may be somewhat of a problem, it also gives us an unique possibility to leverage this unwarranted spark of interest, this brief moment of intriguing uncertainty. But make sure to use this time wisely: not only to convince the user of that they should use your service, but also to teach them about how and why they should be using it. Beautiful design may be enough to spark interest, but it takes really good design to actually convert people into active users.

Convincing people is not just about them signing up

The purpose of a really effective sign up page is not just to make people sign up, but to get people ready to sign up. In some cases–especially for complex products–this takes both time and effort, so try to design your landing page to support this process, to prepare your user to become active as soon as they sign up. Because, while converting active users to power users is done on the inside, I’m pretty sure that converting a new user to an active user is actually done on the outside.

Tutorials on the inside can only get you so far; if the user don’t know what to expect, even the tutorial will seem unfamiliar.

The truth of the matter is that I signed up for Google+ even though I wasn’t really ready to join. I had an idea of what it should do, but none of what it actually did or how I could use it – probably the worst possible customer anyone can have.

During the next couple of weeks following my sign up I kept reading the super impressive adoption figures that Google presented, but all I could think was: “How many of these signups have actually signed in more than once?”. I know that Google+ have some good things to offer, but at the same time, I do not care. I gave it a shot, but I doubt that I’ll be returning.

It’s our job as designers to both create and manage expectations, but also to educate the user. Let them know what they can expect, even before they get in, so they can become active the second they get into the system. I can’t stress this enough: teach while you preach. Or you will end up with dead accounts.