How to Increase Sign-ups by 200%

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Screengrab of Highrise homepage with an arrow pointing to signup button

When I had coffee with Jason Fried of 37signals after FOWA Miami, I asked him if he had learned anything about A/B testing that they hadn’t blogged about. And wow, did he have an amazing little tip to share …

Four Amazing Words

He said that they tested various phrases on the Highrise homepage for the call-to-action button. They originally had used various permutations of “Free Trial” and “Sign-up for Free Trial”. Then they tested the phrase:

“See Plans and Pricing”

This resulted in a 200% increase in sign-ups. That’s right. 200%.

He believes it’s because people are afraid if they click a link that says “Free Trial” then they’ll somehow automatically signup for something and be trapped. However, “See Plans and Pricing” encouraged them to explore, without the fear of commitment.

If that isn’t a case for conducting A/B Testing, then I don’t know what is.

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96 comments on “How to Increase Sign-ups by 200%

  1. Are we not talking here about basic marketing and sales promotion techniques – it’s one thing that’s still lacking online for both web sites and applications. Sadly we seem to focus on new visual styles and techniques rather than focusing on the core concept of delivering content and services to readers and users.

    This should prove the case to any business owner when considering employing a copywriter empowered to create engaging content for your website or application.

    • True Adam – this is probably ‘Marketing 101′, but it’s often overlooked in web copy. The common practice was to use the text “Free Trial”.

  2. Exactly! While I’m looking at anything containing word ‘free’ and ‘trial’ it always brings up spamming/registering to mind. But kind, and not commiting ‘see plans and pricing’ completely changes UX of this solution. Great stuff indeed.

  3. This is very interesting. I observed that when I browse through a commercial product site that have a “Sign up, it’s free” or “Try Our Free Trial” kind of call-to-action links, I usually hesitate for a moment, whether I really want to commit. Usually, that’s because most sites offer these links without presenting additional information on the product above that link, usually the features, benefits and whatnots can be found on the side or via a different page, which is cumbersome, given a user’s short attention span.

    With the way described above, I’m not given the impression that I have no options to inform myself before committing, but I’m asked to further inform myself. I think that is a significant part in the whole psychological process.

    Great article!

  4. It would have been nice to spend 5 words explaining what “A-B testing” means, because it’s not explained anywhere in this post or in the links (including the one title “A-B testing”) AFAICT.

  5. An interesting finding and a great example of the way a/b testing can give you a constant stream of incremental improvements to drive conversion rates up (be it sign ups or purchases). Google’s Website Optimizer has helped me make significant improvements to sites I’ve worked on, both in volume of leads and online purchases. Just by a/b testing – either through 2 totally different versions of the same page or with more subtle changes of 1 page with a multivariate experiment (like swapping buttons etc) – more info here –

    In this case I wonder whether a user would like to know the prices before the start any kind of free trial because a trial would be a waste of time if it was significantly more expensive than someones budget, so a clear call to action inviting a user to see the prices and then sign up for a free trial seems to make sense.

    The comment that using the term ‘FREE’ could have psychologically negative effects by associating with spammy e-marketing practices is a very good point. Good blog post.

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    • Michael, I’m glad you saw this post because I was about to send it to you. :-)

      Great little nugget of info for those of us with webapps. Thanks a bunch!

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  9. this is really interesting… part of the reason we offer a free trial with one of our subscription services is the fact that products like Basecamp have really paved the way. it’s surprising to find out that one of the key principals in their book may actually deter potential customers if the concept isn’t communicated properly.

    very helpful. thanks!

  10. This post is spot on – it’s something we know, but at the same time it’s amazing and somewhat perplexing how many companies still only have the “free-trial” as a sign-up, or main sign-up option.

    In addition to making potential customers feel like they will be locked in, my experience is that it removes perceived control from the customer. Most people like the feeling of being able to browse the various plan options and then decide for themselves which one they want to pick. By forcing customers to sign-up for the “free trial”, you are essentially giving them a diminished feeling of control. They are not sure which plan option the “free trial” will get them, how much effort it will take to convert to a fully functioning. This is not good in 2009…

  11. Interesting, but would be way better with some scale of values. 200% means nothing, does the change increased daily signups from 2 to 6?

  12. Makes sense.

    With all the aggressive marketing found on the net, subtlety can go a long way.

    Real buyers aren’t looking for gimmicks.

  13. Great Post. I think that as well as taking away the potential misconception that a free trial might automatically sign you up and trap you, the words “See Plans and Pricing”, actually do more than meets the eye:

    Recently there has been a lot of talk about how we as an industry can undervalue ourselves / we create services and then give them away for free and in fact Jason’s post on “make money off your by-products” shows that really, we should not be afraid to charge for our products and services.

    By changing the wording from “free trial” to “see plans and pricing”, you’re automatically cutting to the chase without the messing around and marketing fads of “free trials”. This in turn raises the customers expectations that you are an honest company providing a decent service for a price. Which, gives you a better conversion rate on sign ups.

  14. Thanks for sharing this insight.

    By “200% increase in sign ups”, do you mean that sign-ups increased by 200% (i.e. tripled) or that they increased _to_ 200% of their prior count (i.e. doubled, 100% increase)? Either way, that’s powerful stuff.

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  18. Thank you for the info.I think another way to increase sign up is to make your site more popular is by posting in various high ranking site.

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  20. Interesting post. More fuel for the argument that there are no silver bullets when it comes to web design. Everything is context-specific and requires a good deal of thought.

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  22. This article simple but I thinks it helps a lot. Especially when it comes to buying some Diet plan, Diet pills, you have to test it first before availing the product, co’z it should be proven safe and effective.

    Thanks a lot! :)

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  24. Great tip !

    This is an example of how theory is usually beaten by on-field practical testing.

    Thank you for sharing this small but powerful piece of experience.

  25. The word ‘free’ does seem to put some people off, I tried with quite a bit of success a few years ago a call to action with the words ‘click here to try our system with absolutely no obligation’ :o)

    Bit of a mouthful but the button stood out and was much more successful than ‘free trial’.

  26. This is a simple but great tip for increasing sign-ups. I have a few projects that I’m going to try it out on!

  27. Hm, I am kind of joking, but, 200% is such a rooound number, it implies they had an increase from 1 new customer to 2 of them.

    Still a very usefull tip.

      • I’ve never quite got the “increased X%” thing either…

        My confusion stems more out of:

        If it increased BY 200% wouldn’t that mean they went from 1 to 3 signups? (200% being 2, 1+2=3).

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  32. Honestly calling something what it is, instead of trying to force a “call to action” through carefully crafted nonsense phrases? That could get you kicked out of most marketing associations.

    • I’d hardly call “See Plans and Pricing” a crafted nonsense phrase, as it’s exactly what you do when you click the button.

      And also, who cares about being part of marketing associations? Most of them are full of folks who still think banner ads are the answer to online marketing.

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  34. People seem genuinely amazed that a person who comes to a website might be interested in actual information rather than in being pushed to sign up for something. Speaking as a consumer, I actually want to know what it is you are trying to sell me. If you skimp on the information, try to dazzle me with marketing, and surround me with big buttons saying “Click Here!”, I take that as a sure sign there is nothing worth sticking around for.

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  37. Concise and informative article, and very helpful to us folks with no marketing background. I’m one of those who don’t click on anything tagged with “Free” online because I have a bad experience with them — spam galore.

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  43. I think this is really important. It’s about letting the user do what THEY WANT to do, instead of trying to make the user do what YOU WANT them to do.

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  48. Thanks for sharing. I can see how this might work in that the user still feels they have a choice after clicking. Its about being perceived as more honest and less pushy (regardless of the reality). Gonna give this a whirl and see what happens..

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  54. Thanks for the post. It seems so simple I dont know why I didn’t think of it. Whenever I see some “30 day Free Trial” offer I know that I will be slapped with Buy Now offers for the next 30 days.

  55. In short, we find that coercion, in money as in other matters, brings, not order, but conflict and chaos. ,

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  58. I agree with opinion saying free trials are not totally free as we are forced to enter our paypal or credit card number. For free means there is nothing to do with pay pal or credit card account.

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  60. This is very interesting but also for good coversion you need analyze more other things: color, people that comes on your site etc…

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