The Problem: improve sign up conversion ahead of major marketing push

Streetlife bill themselves as The Local Social Network and their business was entering a phase of massive growth. Being a network effect business, the early days had been slow going and they brought me in when they had developed a repeatable method of generating leads by direct mail. They planned to massively ramp up their direct marketing volume to expand from a few pockets of London across the whole country. Given this scale, any improvements in online conversion rate had the potential to meaningfully reduce their cost per acquisition.

They suspected their sign up process could be better and had tried some split testing themselves with no success. Everything they'd tried had led to no change or a reduction in leads.

 

The Process: diagnose, understand, treat

For me, CRO is a branch of UX. It’s driven by empathy: by understanding things from the prospect’s point of view. You have to understand why they aren’t converting before you can hope to know what to do about it.

Otherwise, you’re just chucking spaghetti at a wall.

I started my investigation before I even joined Streetlife by Method Marketing the business. I became a prospect myself and recorded my experience and thoughts as I went through the landing page and sign up process. It's a form of expert evaluation where the expert resists falling back on their standard toolbox of fixes, focusing instead on empathising with others in the same situation.

Next, I dug into their analytics and set up an A/A funnel test with the split testing software. This both confirmed correct set up and gave me a clearer picture of their sign up conversion funnel. Major bottlenecks included the landing page and the form on the following page.

A few tools helped to diagnose the underlying reasons: Qualaroo, CrazyEgg and ethn.io.

Some of the major issues I identified included:

  • What's in it for me?” wasn't answered. The biggest challenge the business faces is that nobody truly understands what Streetlife is about until they’ve used it for a while. This problem is endemic to social networks because the value they deliver is emotional and vague. Could anyone really get Twitter or Facebook without using them?
  • Form fear: “Why do you need all this information? And why are you trying so hard to reassure me? I wasn’t even thinking about data theft … I am now.”
  • Onboarding: “OK I’m in. Now what do I do?”

To cut a long story short, common treatments like changing headlines and calls to action on the landing page didn’t move the needle in a positive direction. We had to go a little deeper.

The first win came from simplifying the form on the second page of the flow. We removed as much of the “this is safe, honest!” text as possible and altered the design to bring the form to the forefront and make it look less taxing.

Tip: avoid investing in significant cosmetic changes when you're testing your hypothesis. Here, I simply stripped away as much copy as possible, made the form less daunting, and adjusted copy for the headline and call to action. Using follow up tests, we could identify the critical elements.

Tip: avoid investing in significant cosmetic changes when you're testing your hypothesis. Here, I simply stripped away as much copy as possible, made the form less daunting, and adjusted copy for the headline and call to action. Using follow up tests, we could identify the critical elements.

 

The big win came when we reassessed what signing up meant.

In order for a new member to be signed up, Streetlife only need their postcode and email address. The original sign up asked only for a postcode in the first step, collecting the email address as one of many details in the second step.

The original sign up step 1 asked you only for your postcode. Even though this is not a dangerous piece of information to share, a surprising number of people I tested with were reluctant. 

The original sign up step 1 asked you only for your postcode. Even though this is not a dangerous piece of information to share, a surprising number of people I tested with were reluctant. 

This was a double conversion blocker. 

Firstly, some were reluctant to give their postcode because they didn’t understand that Streetlife actually needed it to connect them with the correct area. And worse still, those who gave their postcode expected to be “in” after that. When they were presented with a form asking for several more personal details, many abandoned.

The answer? Ask for both postcode and email address on the first step.

It's counter-intuitive to increase conversion by making a form longer, and I expected that this would lower the conversion rate from step 1 to step 2. But I believed we could increase conversion rates overall because we could email the partial sign ups. Remember, the hardest part was getting people to try Streetlife. If we had their post code and email address, we could deliver a digest of all the news from their area and they would be able to experience the value first hand. Then they would only need to add the rest of their details when they wanted to post or comment.

Moving the email address field to the landing page sounds easy but — as is so often the case — had significant technical implications. Fortunately, my front-end developer was able to implement a workaround so we could test the hypothesis quickly. 

Asking for both postcode and email address up front increased successful sign ups by around 19%. Also note that we added in a reason why we needed each piece of personal information.

Asking for both postcode and email address up front increased successful sign ups by around 19%. Also note that we added in a reason why we needed each piece of personal information.

 

The Result: 

The new sign up flow was 100% likely to beat the control. During the test, it showed an increase in successful sign ups of 19%. If that continued (with all else being the same) it would mean a 16% reduction in member acquisition cost.

So my hypothesis had been proven wrong in the best possible way. Moving the email address to the first step actually lifted the conversion rate for that step. And once we implemented the changes properly, it almost completely eliminated drop outs on step 2. 

In total, this change caused a 40% reduction in the cost of acquiring new members. This led to a saving of around £1 million in marketing costs to achieve that year's targets.

This work paved the way for us to revise both steps further as part of an on-boarding initiative.

Having validated the hypothesis, we knew it was worth spending more time evolving the sign up flow. This shows the first two steps in my most recent winning design iteration. The forms have been simplified and redesigned even further.  

Having validated the hypothesis, we knew it was worth spending more time evolving the sign up flow. This shows the first two steps in my most recent winning design iteration. The forms have been simplified and redesigned even further.  

 

Final Thoughts

Note: as with all case studies, I've presented this as a simple linear story of learning and testing. But as with the history of any type science, there was a lot of stumbling around just trying stuff. The important thing was that I kept forming hypotheses and recording the results and conclusions as I went along. 

Insights don't arrive on a platter. They come from painstakingly piecing together all the clues from analytics, user research and split testing.

So don't worry if your split testing program doesn't look like the clear, simple win reports that you read online. The dirty little secret of all split-testers is nor does theirs.

 

If you'd like me to help you out with UX research or split testing, drop me a line. Or simply...