Getting New Users to Stick: Deconstructing how the best sites convert visitors to customers (Part 1 of 2)

I have recently analyzed more than two dozen web sites attempting to understand how the best ones convert first time visitors to new, loyal customers. The following two blog posts summarize my takeaways.

These two posts are only about the early portion of the visitor “funnel”: the first few actions that users take on a given web site.

(Image Credit: Modified from an image originally from

The Six Basic Actions

I analyzed what my colleagues and I subjectively consider the best sites for getting new users to stick. I was surprised to find two things:

  1. All the possible user actions presented on these sites fit neatly into six categories
  2. Most sites tended to focus on only one or two of these actions.


Some sites like Aardvark, Google’s recent acquisition, get users to stick by just getting them to use the full product.


Aardvark simply gets visitors to start using it: No detailed how-to guide. No explanation of how it works. Delayed registration.

It just gets visitors to use it, in this case, by asking a question:

The Sixty One is perhaps the most impressive example of a great “use” action. This Pandora-like streaming radio site presents a simple, elegant splash screen:

As you’re reading the three lines of text, it caches the audio stream and the beautiful background image so that when you click ‘ready’ it instantly begins playing music.

No sign up. No instructions. Not even a choice for what type of music you like. It just starts playing music, immediately.

Only after using the service, do you discover features which require registration, and more complex features which require explanation.


For other sites, registration is the most crucial barrier in converting visitors to new customers.


Mint has done an incredible job at making registration painless and easy. Amazingly, with Mint, it’s possible for a user to link all his financial accounts to Mint in under five minutes.


OkCupid limits each registration page to exactly three questions to keep visitors from feeling overwhelmed. Pre-populating answers is another great way to invite visitors to chug through the registration process. It can reduce the number of clicks necessary for a critical demographic of your visitors, in this case, single women. But it can also be psychologically compelling for other users to correct information about them that is incorrect.

Additionally, OkCupid dedicates half of the screen real estate to keeping users entertained with humorous or interesting facts as they register.


  1. There is a fairly simple taxonomy of user actions: Use, Register, Learn, Guide, Trial, and Contact.
  2. Getting new users to stick involves two difficult things: a) Knowing which of these actions is “sticky” for your users and b) Incentivizing users to perform those actions
  3. This is highly dependent on the nature of your product and who your users are. For example, “Register” would be ineffective for TheSixtyOne when visitors likely have little patience to register for yet another online radio service.
  4. Don’t think about your web site as a series of pages that visitors see. Think of it as a series of actions you want visitors to take.

See Part 2 of this post for more.

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