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Newsflash: Users are Lazy! Make Them Work at Your Peril

Published: October 20, 2007

Author: David Rodnitzky

As a big college football fan, I frequently visit Rivals.com to catch up on the latest news or chat with other fans on the message boards. Rivals.com is free for anyone to use (you don’t even have to register), but to chat you need a user account, and to access premium features (like recruiting news) you have to pay an annual fee.

I’m a registered member, but I let my paid subscription lapse a few months back. Last week when I tried to visit the site to read the message boards, I got an annoying jump page from Yahoo – Rival’s new owners. It basically asked me for my password and to accept the new terms and conditions of the site. Without assenting to these two requests, I could not access the site.

So what did I do? Rather than digging through my email accounts to find a password I haven’t needed in a year, I just left. I went to another sports site to get my college football fix.

I’m sure there are good legal reasons for this page, but I’m equally sure that there are good alternatives to forcing users to update their registration and consent information before they can access any part of the site (imagine if Google updated their Ts & Cs and they required every user to click “I agree” before they could do a search on Google).

The result: Yahoo’s lawyers are happy, but Rivals is probably losing users in droves, to the delight of their competitors. Rivals-Yahoo has violated a cardinal rule of Web sites – don’t put anything between a user and your site.

An even better example is Plaxo, the online Rolodex for your connections. A few years ago, Plaxo and LinkedIn were probably pretty even in terms of usage. But Plaxo requires you to download software to participate – and requires your contacts to also download software. All you need to do on LinkedIn is register online.

By forcing users to take the extra step of downloading an application, Plaxo made a big bet: once we get people to download our software, the switching costs are so high that we’ll have them as users for life. LinkedIn took the opposite approach: let’s make it as easy as possible for users to participate, knowing that we are also making it easier for users to switch to another service.

The results have clearly favored LinkedIn. As you can see from Google Trends, Plaxo is on the decline while LinkedIn is on fire. When you create extra work for users, in most cases they’ll just decide that your site is not really worth the effort.

Users are protective of their information and they are equally protective of their time. The moment you interrupt their surfing experience with an unnecessary user registration demand, software downloads, acceptance of Ts & Cs, or behavioral targeting surveys, you are giving consumers a reason to go somewhere else. Don’t let your greed prevent you from being successful.

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