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Rational Growth An introduction to growing user signups via data and analytical thinking By Sandi IVIaCPherson Via interviews with Andrew Chen Kindly sponsored by a jeAPPSUMO Rational Growth We live in world where it s easy to write code but still hard to get the code into the hands of customers and users Luckily the same skills that make technology products possible the analytical thinking that drives the engineering skills for product development can be applied to engineering the growth of your users as well The foundation of this thinking is to build a spreadsheet that models out how people discover and sign up to your product By refining this model with real life data you can to simulate different scenarios and to prioritize product changes Finally by deploying this code to real life and observing its effects you can then further refine your model to make better changes in the future This eBook will focus on thinking about your signup flow which is often the highest point of leverage in your product Products often lose 8090 of their users within the first couple screens and the first couple minutes of their experience Improving this is key to having a successful product But the ideas explained here can be applied anywhere whether you re trying to encourage more inviting sharing or more This is an introduction to the topic there is much more literature out there but I hope this is a good starting point to learn to think analytically about growth Written by Sandi MacPherson sandimac Based on interviews with Andrew Chen andrewchen From Visual to Spreadsheet All models are flawed but some are useful George Box Statistician 1979 Before you can start this eBook you need a product And you need some users who are signing up to your product even a small trickle will do If you haven t done this yet no optimization process will help you So start there first Even better is a product that has deeply engaging usage and a vibrant community around it even if the userbase is small An optimization process will turn good products with small audiences into good products with big audiences But rarely will it turn a bad product into a good one Once you have some data on signups and growth the first step in thinking analytically about your signup process is to create your first model The goal is to reduce the complexity of your product down to a simpler abstract spreadsheetbased representation This lets us examine each variable in more depth and see how they interact with each other This offers clues for what you can optimize Usually this kind of model works by breaking down a signup process into a row byrow representation of what percentage of users finish each step This lets you identify bottlenecks and then brainstorm ideas for how to fill in these gaps Roughly here s your plan of attack Map out the major steps within your signup process Enter baseline data into a growth model Come up with hypotheses for how to increase the s Examine their impact by altering the growth model to see the potential effects Prioritize the potential hypotheses based your calculations Execute the best idea N9Q WWE Repeat from step 2 Your Signup Flow One of the foundational elements in crafting an accurate growth model is to think about your product as a stepbystep funnel from the standpoint of the user rather than a content hierarchy Rather than the homepage to start think about what a new user experiences first often some kind of profile page or detail page What does your signup flow look like What are the different actions that are required for a new user to signup to your website What are your completion rates at each step Here s an example signup flow Confirmed new user Profile setup Landing Tutorial Based on this flow and the s you could reduce this to a spreadsheet model with something like below with a few distinct steps Page Acuon Landing Signups 30 Profile setup Ask for name bio etc 60 Tutorial View tutorial on homepage 80 Total users signed up 144 Each page in any signup design has at least one action for the user to complete eg enter details confirm account etc The clickthrough rate CTR is the percentage of users that complete that action and continue to the next page Build Your Spreadsheet Model Creating a spreadsheet model is a great tool to simulate potential changes to your signup flow allowing you to get an understanding of how those changes will affect the number of users you re able to sign up and for what cost Modeling your signup flows like this isn t intended to give you the answer to what you should do Instead it s a forecasting tool and a different way of thinking that gives you some quantitative output in addition to the qualitative decisionmaking that you re already used to Here are two example signup designs to demonstrate this thinking both products are made up but include some rough mockups so that you can understand the details 1 DailyDiary will show a website that has a long signup process versus a website with a similar signup design with fewer pages and will estimate changes in both Customer Acquisition Cost CAC and converted users 2 TeamShare will compare a signup design that requires payment versus one that offers a free trial Baseline example Let s say you have a new diary website called DailyDiary lt3 1quot X G l j C Signup for Dailmery Your full name I l wd l mu l 439 DailyDiary lt3 1quot X G l j C A few more details My Dailyoiary address I httpyourpagedailydiarycom I WW I make my diary public 5 email me when i get a message U I accept the DailyDiary terms of service E 439 DailyDiary lt3 1quot X G l j 0 Welcome to DailyDiary Kitties and Puppies Dark Night Picnic Train station Spring Morning m quot quot 9 quot 439 1 On the landing page the user is prompted for their full name a password and email Often landing pages are profile pages or detail pages not the homepage 2 Next the user is brought to a page asking for more details their notification schedule terms to accept and a CAPTCHA 3 The user is then asked to select what style of template they d like to use 4 Next the user is brought to their homepage and a tootip suggests that they write a new bog post lt3 gt X G I DailyDiary I 0 Ms Sue on DoilyDiory Make your rst posf le El XI E lZl MyPro le Mushy 439 MW 5 The new blog lt3 I XG39 IQ post page is simple with few actions and imposmue mom makes it very easy uh mim for the new user to create their first post 439 Welcome to DoilyDiory From welcomeCdailydiarycom To mspu yegnailxom Welcome 1390 DailyDiory Please click the link to con rm your new limodailydinryoomlijssknsnss Happy writing DailyDiory team account 6 A followup confirmation email is sent to the user after setting up their account After creating this visual flow the next step is to quantify the dropoff at each step To measure this you can use a funneltracking feature from a product like Mixpanel or Google Analytics or you can track this manually in your database For the sake of this conversation let s say you come up with the following Page Action CTR Landing Signup 25 Details More data and captcha 50 Template Choose template 75 Dashboard Follow tooltip 60 Post Create post 50 of new users who post 56 When multiplied together each step s completion rates gives a total conversion rate of 56 who ultimately write a post which you get from multiplying together the variables Looking at the model above you can tell exactly where people are dropping off This is the first step in trying to understand how to go from 56 to something better Question is how would you make this better How to Brainstorm About Growth Creativity combined with rapid iteration are the keys to making progress on user growth Remember that you can get to 10X growth by a combination of 2Xing a few different metrics hitting one out of the park or getting 10 increases across the board They all multiply together to be 10X If you can brainstorm a lot of ideas going for quantity over quality you ll have a lot of ideas to evaluate for impact versus cost A few tips on getting the most out of your ideas 0 Think about each step of your flow and come up with as many ways as possible to make that step better with a higher conversion 0 Try to shorten the flow What could you take out and ask the user to do later What s really required Try to make it possible to sign in with just the mouse and don t require anything on the keyboard 0 Try to rearrange the flow so that the highest value proposition for the user comes first nobody likes to start by giving their email address 0 Explore classic landing page techniques try very long pages or very short pages 0 Simplify each page removing navigation and distractions so that there s just a single call to action for what the user can do Don t encourage the user to explore the site get them to sign up first and foremost There are tons and tons of ideas out there and many I get out of inspiration from looking at other products Try out a lot of other welldesigned products and see what you can experiment with too Baseline example For the sake of this discussion let s take the classic method of trying to shorten the signup process and making it so that the user can do as little as possible to get started To see how the model plays out let s say you remove 2 pages from the flow to get the user to create a bog post It might look something like this Blog rnc gay 70 1 This landing page asks the user for their Sign for DailyDimY details and includes a CAPTCHA and terms of 39 quot quotquotquot 1 service The page is a lm 39quot quotm d39 quot39 bit cluttered so the I CTR of this page might mquot I drop versus the l previous simpler 531mmmwmmmmybog Ian page 1 lt gt x 4 W 7 Q 2 The new user is brought immediately My blog Make your rst post t0 their new dashboard A tootip X1 El XI E X shows them how to WW I create their first bog Wm post l o 10 lt gt x 4 1 Q IMiPosf Title I My Pro le BIQwiisilC DIEQ anme 439 3 The new blog post page is the same as the previous version and aims to get the new user to create their first post Also similar to the previous example but not shown here a confirmation email is sent to the new user to confirm their account In a typical situation you should make mockups of a simplified signup flow like this as well as complete your spreadsheet model to try to figure out what would happen When you do this it s hard to figure out what are realistic expectations for how your numbers would change but with experience you ll get better and better at simulating changes In this proposed set of changes you ve combined the first two pages of the original signup design into one page and have removed the Choose Template page You could guess as to what this might result in by removing and combining a few variables in your signup flow which might look something like this Page Ac on Landing Enter details and CAPTCHA 20 Dashboard Follow tooltip 80 Post Create post 50 of new users who post 800 11 This spreadsheet is now the basis of your forecast of what might happen when these changes are made The idea here would be to get from your original conversion rate of about 56 to something more like 8 which is a relative increase of about 40 Is this worth it Are there other product changes that might make a bigger impact This is the kind of thought process you can go through to figure out how to prioritize your growth projects Of course reality is what counts The next step would be to start implementing these changes on our website and track CTRs to see how our estimated data compares As you get more data from your own iterations and within the context of your product and audience you ll get more comfortable guesstimating in your models You might wonder what s the point of this if you can t get exact numbers right away That s the point of modeling this out No one will have your particular audience product and signup flow so each set of numbers is entirely situational The most important thing is that this can help you think systematically about your decisions You can create conservative versus aggressive models and fill it in with any variables you do know and use that to figure out if it s worth it You ll never get a black and white answer for this but it s better than randomly adding product features based on the emotions and needs of the team While that s great for refining core product when it comes to systematically growing a user base a more scientific approach is warranted 12 Convert Now versus Free Trial Here s another scenario How would CAC and conversion rate compare between one website that requires new users to signup and pay immediately versus one that offers a free trial You re probably thinking that the free trial conversion rate would be higher but do you know by how much You can use the same approach as before to estimate the before and after CAC and conversion rates Let s start with your example TeamShare for team collaboration awning 1 The customer arrives at the landing page and is prompted to signup and purchase a plan lt3 CI X D lhttgl 7 Q TeamShare Why do these top companies trust TeamShare for their team management Why do over 100 Fortune 500 companies use TeamShare Signup and Plan Details l o AWebPage lt3 CI X D lhttgl 7 C 2 A plans and pricing page is displayed and the new user selects a TeamShare Plan A 10Imonth buy now and get 12 months for 100 Plan B 25month buy now and get 12 months for 240 Plan C 50month buy now and get 12 months for 3 00 Or contact one of our customer serv ice representatives to create your own personalize plan l o plan to continue Bundles are offered to encourage larger up front purchases 13 A Web Page lt3 Egt X D tittyI 7 Q TeamShare Create your new team managment solution in minutes Full Name Do you have a promo or discount code m 1 sword Credit card number 2 company I Wquot 1391 W W Create free Teamshere account I 1 A Web Page lt3 Egt X D tittyI 7 Q TeamShare Team A Project A Project 8 Project c 1 3 The customer is then prompted for their contact and payment information An optional promotional code allows for sales reps to encourage customers to signup to receive deals 4 The dashboard is presented and the customer can begin to use the full version of the website Before changing the signup design to one that offers a free trial you ll use a signup model to simulate the changes and estimate the resulting changes Having a model of your signup metrics based on actual or estimated data before making the changes versus making changes without first consulting one helps you forecast the potential impact and prioritization of this change Page Action CTR Landing Get more info 50 Planpricing Choose plan 20 Signup Userpayment details 3 Total paying users signed up 030 14 You ve estimated a current total conversion rate of paying users at 03 of those that visit the landing page which equates to a CAC of 20000 based on a CPC of 600 Let s adjust your model to simulate a signup design with a free trial You re going to estimate increases in CTR on both the PlanPricing and the Signup pages versus the original required payment signup design CTRs l Page Action CTR Landing Get more info 50 PlanPricing Choose plan 30 Signup and usage Lots of user activity 60 Freemium Payment details 15 Total free trial users signed up 135 Assuming that a large of users become engaged you might ultimately find that a large of users who sign up ultimately end up converting to a premium offering Your model of the free trial signup design gives you a much better conversion rate of 135 resulting in a CAC of 44 drastically lower than the original 20000 However keep in mind that this kind of model only suits specific kinds of products that have highretention and where users have a path to a freemium wall However this data is integral to your decision making process when considering whether or not to offer a free trial and the costs associated with doing so For completeness let s see what this new signup design might look like A Web Page lt gt x Q W 7 Q 1 The customer arrives at the landing page and is prompted to sign up for a free trial or to review the details of the paid plans TeamShare Why do these top companies trust TeamShare for their team management Find out why with a free 30day trial Signup and Plan Details l a 15 AWebPage lt3 12gt X Q httpl I Q TeamShare Plan A Plan 8 Plan c 10month 25month 50month sum nu ma I I Start Free TrialJ start Free TrialJ or bu now or buy now or buy now Or contact one of our customer service representatives to create your own personalize plan O A Web Page lt3 12gt X Q httpl I Q TeamShare Create your new team managmem solution in minutes m E m 1 mm ll comm l Create free Teamshare account O A Web Page lt3 12gt X Q httpl I Q TeamShare Your free trial of TeamShare expires in Sodays Purchase a plan Team A Project A ll Project 8 Project c O 2 A plans and pricing page is displayed and a free trial of a plan is selected The new user is expected to begin a free trial so that option is the most prevalent 3 The new user is then prompted for their personal and work details 4 The new user is brought to their dashboard A notice on the top of the page with a countdown clock shows how much time remains in their trial 16 Enjoy your free man from Teamsmre 5 A confirmation email is sent to ooomoooomooommoom remind the user about the length Tonanvmsmnwm of their trial and how to contact a Hope yoo ooooy your oooo ooooy mo onooosoooo re p re se ntat i ve if they re Izypseafull plan you can contact one ofour customersmiceremsenmives at interested in a plan Trigger Forminrorm omvisvourmmsvnse emails will also be sent closer to anth the end of the trial date to encourage them to purchase a plan an important step in converting trial users into paying customers It s important to note that after you create this model and these mockups the next thing you have to do is to evaluate the ROI of the experiment versus the other ideas you have Then if it makes sense implement the experiment most likely in some kind of AB test check the resulting numbers against your forecast then keep going To reiterate this is all basic stuff but is really a different way of thinking about and assessing the impact of your features It s a more rational and more scientific way to measure the impact of signup and conversion rates so that you can spend your time working on projects that have high impact with low cost Combine this with a high iteration speed where your team can push out many of these experiments every week and you re well on your way to lOXing your growth rate Oftentimes you ll find that only 23 AB tests out of every 10 will perform better than your baseline case Given that you d have to run at least a half dozen per week to see a positive result on a regular basis If you only run 1 or 2 AB tests it s easy to get discouraged early 17 Other random notes on things to try Here are some other popular techniques that you can try to improve your completion rates and lower your customer acquisition costs 1 While a shorter signup flow can be a big help in raising conversion numbers it s not a cureall solution Some pages can become too cramped and are new users may find the discouraging As you saw in the blogging example 2 pages at 30 each will yield a 9 conversion rate at the end so if you can combine those 2 pages into one with a conversion rate greater than 9 do it 2 Any high value pages should be upfront as more people are present at the beginning of your signup flow than the end eg an invite friends page If you have multiple goals in your signup flow prioritize and move the important ones nearest to the beginning The same concept applies for high conversion rate pages If you can get more people through the beginning steps there ll be a higher chance that more of your signup goals will be completed 3 Try different registration types eg sign up with Facebook or Twitter The success of these will depend on your audience and could yield positive or negative results 4 Lazy registration is a technique used by some websites eg httpwwwgenicom httpwwwdoodlecom where the user experiences the product during the signup process Signing up for the site is an expected part of using the website itself This type of signup is very easy for the new user to complete but can only work with certain types of websites 5 With ecommerce sites the costs associated with acquiring a customer are not necessarily your only concern and you are more concerned about your overall ROI This means you must consider upsell and crosssell techniques to push the customer to purchase more items 6 Bundling is a common tactic with SaaS products You can increase the amount that your customers spend at one time by offering them a discount when they 18 spend more at one time If you set the price high enough you ll potentially be able to cover your CAC with one purchase versus trying to bring the customer back to your website multiple times to pay for separate chunks 7 Many SaaS products have begun offering a free trial which allows you to obtain the user s contact information to follow up with them if they don t initially make the purchase 8 For any type of website the payment step is often high churn This is a good page to experiment with to try to optimize for the highest possible CTR 9 It is always important to optimize your ads There s no point in paying for clicks that will never convert into users Great ads are key even a perfectly designed signup flow can t convert people who are uninterested 10There are many online resources about optimizing landing pages Read up on best practices see our Resources section later for suggestions and AB test them until you come up with a winner Remember that overall none of these specific techniques are guaranteed to improve your signup flow However with a growth spreadsheet you can now start to model changes to your signup flow and simulate what might happen helping you to make datadriven decisions 19 Conclusions and next steps This eBook primarily focused on the key step of signing users up but of course that s merely one step out of many The more important lesson is the process of mapping your product s UX into a spreadsheet simulating and prioritizing product changes and then running the experiment to validate your hypotheses You can take this rational approach to many other pivotal moments in the lifetime of your product as well including Activating users Increasing usage and activity Retaining and reengaging users Getting users to invite their friends Converting users from free to paid 9 9 9gt N and much much more Each one of these moments is just as important as a signup and each one can be broken down into a stepbystep funnel and optimized The same techniques as you can use for optimizing signups can also be used in these other activities just build your model put in baseline data try out a bunch of experiments then measure again to see if you ve improved things On a final note it s important not to go overboard on optimization New products are about providing deeply engaging experiences and optimizations can help you bring that to more people and make sure a larger percentage of new users have positive experiences Optimization won t help you fix something that s broken or get you out of a market that s too small Consider this just another tool in your tool belt to be used once a product is working well and just needs more growth 20