Why Less Isn’t Always More for SaaS Sites
Salesforce’s marketing has created the model for other SaaS companies to emulate over the years. You can watch a demo, launch a free trial, chat live with a sales person, or check out the company’s Youtube channel, all from the home page. There are 103 different options on its landing page alone.
The recent trend in consumer apps has gone in the complete opposite direction. Consumer apps today lean toward a minimal homepage and a single sign-up flow, which makes perfect sense. If you’ve built a consumer product like Facebook or Pinterest, you basically have a single goal for new website visitors—get them to sign-up and start trying your product. Everything else is extra fat.
SaaS and B2B companies often follow trends in the consumer product space. More and more SaaS companies are following the consumer model and streamlining their sign-up flow. But what works for consumer products doesn’t necessarily make sense in a B2B context.
I recently conducted a study of over 30 different SaaS websites in collaboration with UserTesting.com and Price Intelligently. We asked 90 different users to think out loud as they interacted with each site, totaling over 1,800 minutes of video. Three out of 30 eschewed traditional navigation bars, opting instead for a minimal landing page, a single sign-up flow, and linear website organization instead.
The Shift to Linear Organization
When you’re competing for limited attention spans, too much information will leave users feeling lost and confused. Linear organization is highly geared toward solving this problem, by driving users into a single flow. Linear organization typically looks something like homepage → sign-up page → user onboarding.
By limiting the amount of choice presented to website visitors, the idea is that more users will actually sign-up. In our user testing sessions, each linearly-organized site got at least one user to sign-up for a free trial during the user testing session.
It’s not just about the sign-ups, either. Users left linear websites more confident that they understood the product on offer, and they were more likely to recommend that product to a colleague or a friend than the average SaaS site. With less information, they did a better job of digesting what each company actually did.
The trade-off is that users weren’t able to explore the sites at their own pace. They often couldn’t accomplish basic navigational tasks, like finding a pricing page. When asked how easy it was to “find the information necessary to choose the best product or service,” these linearly organized sites like Buffer, Trello, and Slack were rated 3.3 out of 5 compared to an average of 4.
In our study, we identified these common pitfalls for linear websites:
- Failing to account for user expectations. Users expect your site to have basic navigation options and they don’t always like it when these expectations aren’t met. Searching for pricing on a linear site, one user said in frustration, “The main page doesn’t have a breakdown of the different packages. Nor is there really any indication that this service ever has any pricing structure until you look at the pricing page in particular.”
- Leaving users without navigation options. Without a navigation bar, users who got lost on linearly organized websites often stayed lost. Looking for more product information, one user said, “I’m going to try to see if there’s anything else on the homepage I can click on besides this button and it doesn’t look like it, except for the sign in but I don’t have an account yet.”
- Offering too little context and information. This meant that users often didn’t learn enough about a product to feel comfortable recommending it to a boss or colleague. One user said, “Well honestly it’s too difficult [to pick a plan], because I had to go through creating an account, and I just wanted to see pricing.
Linear organization isn’t a secret weapon that will immediately boost conversion. Because linear organization relies on a much simpler website than alternatives, it means that each element increases in importance.
Buffer: Give Users Context and Nix the Fine Print
At the time of user testing, Buffer’s marketing site was a clear example of this. Its landing page included a big blue free trial call-to-action at the center of the page, and a tiny banner reading “Try buffer for business” at the bottom. Users had no other navigation options.
When asked to find the pricing package best suited to their needs at work, users completely missed the “Buffer for business” banner at the bottom—which they had to click on to find Buffer’s pricing page. One user said “I don’t see anywhere I can learn [pricing] information on the page.”
Another repeatedly attempted clicking on Buffer’s logo, mistaking it for a sandwich navigation icon. All it did was refresh the page.
Users have basic expectations for the layout of a marketing site. They expect to see a navigation bar with a pricing page, product offerings, and maybe a FAQ. Linear organization throws these expectations out the window, and it’s often a frustrating experience.
Slack: Make Navigation Easier for Users
At the time of user testing, Slack’s navigation directed users linearly: landing page → product tour → free trial sign-up.
While users felt like they were able to understand Slack’s product through the streamlined product tour the majority still wanted more information. One user commented, “The layout and everything makes sense, but I wanted more information to make me more intrigued about what product [Slack is] offering.”
All of the users were frustrated by the lack of clear navigation options on Slack’s site. The product tour did a great job of familiarizing users with Slack’s product. But for them to recommend it to a boss, or actually try it out at work, they wanted to know more about Slack’s different pricing options.
One user felt like the difficulty to find pricing was deceptive. “I want to click on a menu to find products and services or basically some sort of information…that [Slack is] going to tell me if it’s free or if it costs money.” Because the user had to work to find the pricing plan, he left the site feeling like Slack was trying to force him to the free-trial.
Our user testing data showed that while minimal websites tended to rank lower for navigation, they actually were the best websites at communicating information. There’s a clear trade-off between how much stuff is on your website and how well users understand your product.
When you organize your marketing site linearly, you need to understand the following:
- What you think is intuitive often isn’t to users. Make sure you emphasize in-page navigation options clearly, and guide users at every step of the way. Linearly-organized websites contain a lot less, so each individual piece becomes much more important.
- With linear organization, onboarding replaces parts of the traditional marketing site. It’s therefore important to design the onboarding flow of your free trial to replace elements of the more traditional marketing site, like the product tour, so they don’t feel like they’re missing any information.
- It’s difficult to predict user interaction with your site. Make sure to test it. If going minimal and linear is meant to achieve a certain result, check to see whether that result is being achieved—and don’t be afraid to add more information back if you find that you’ve gone too minimal.
For freemium business models or simple products, linear organization is a great way to optimize your sign-up flow and get more people using your product. But linear organization isn’t a guaranteed way for you to convert website visitors into paying customers. Following the trend blindly and without conducting testing on your own is a surefire way of alienating your visitors.
Conventional startup wisdom tells you to always “reduce the number of steps for your users.” Linear website organization and a single sign-up flow shows us that this should be caveated heavily. “Always reduce the number of steps for your users, when it makes sense.”