How we doubled our email sign-up rate by reducing friction

We’re proud of how the Quartz Daily Brief has grown and evolved, now publishing six days a week in three time zones around the world. And our readers seem to love it, too. But our subscriber list wasn’t growing quite as fast as we hoped, and there was one major reason why: the signup process had way too much friction.

Version 1

When we launched Quartz in 2012, we wanted to build an account framework that could handle all our future aspirations—personalization, geolocation, read-it-later, offline mode, annotations, user settings, and a variety of email subscriptions. We tossed out a lot of ideas, some of which we planned to pursue immediately and others we said we’d do later.

As we set out to build the account system, it only made sense to make creating an account a requirement for email signup. If we were going to eventually build in other functionality centered around a specific user, it made sense to have everything tied together, right? 

This is probably the way most people get to such a problem: planning so much for what you might want to build down the line that you instead make the user experience less appealing for the functionality you have available right nowIn reality, requiring accounts just slowed down the Daily Brief signup process for a lot of people, frustrated others, and turned many off from signing up entirely.

Near the end of 2013, we decided to redesign the email signup and account registration flows in an effort to make them more appealing. But it quickly became obvious that the problem was not about the aesthetics. If we wanted more email subscribers, we’d have to make it easier for people to subscribe.

Version 2

As with architecting any registration system from scratch, it’s easy to fall into the user flow trap very quickly—that is, feeling obligated to account for every possible edge case a user may find themselves in, rather than designing a few common flows simple enough that users don’t find themselves wandering off the path.

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We agreed that we would break off the email signup process from accounts entirely. Accounts would now govern our annotations product and any other features down the road that truly demand an account.

This resulted in three major changes for email signups:

  • Require only an email address for signup
  • Move from a double opt-in (requires users to click a link in an email to fully activate a subscription) to opt-out (subscriptions are automatically active unless a user reverses the action)
  • Allow for optional marketing fields that add no friction to the conversion process

The results

imageSince we rolled out the new system on February 19, our daily subscriber rate has doubled, even on weekends when activity dips considerably. Users can now sign up via “in-stream units” (pictured above) or through the Daily Brief landing page. Of the people that view that page, a full 60% of them now go on to subscribe. In the chart below, you can see the noticeable effects these small tweaks have made to our growth.

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If you aren’t already a subscriber, you can click here to now easily sign up for the Daily Brief.