Download Best Practices, Part 3

Here's a "best practice" that is a source of never-ending debate: Should we require login/registration in order to download our products? There is no right answer, but there are plenty of pros and cons.

Sometimes, we have no choice but to require login in order to comply with government export regulations. (For example, if a product contains some types of strong encryption, we must keep a record of who has obtained it.) An obvious reason in favor is that knowing who downloads our software is of great value in follow up marketing initiatives as well as demographic analysis of our customer base. It's not all a one-sided equation though. For our customers who login first, we offer a useful download history function, and we also automatically provision our My Sun Connection portal with a list of products of interest to you. (This automatic portal provisioning is set up for many, though not all, of our downloads.) It's very handy, as you can click on product names and quickly see a valuable list of related resources and information. (I encourage you to check out the portal if you're not familiar with it. Once there, be sure to click the "My Products" tab to see how we aggregate product information from many resources in one place!)

The other side of the coin is that requiring login or registration before downloading definitely hurts the conversion rate. Using our web analytics, you can see users drop off with every extra click, and the largest abandonment is at the login/registration step. In many cases, the value of getting our software into the hands of our (often first-time) customers as quickly and with as few roadblocks as possible trumps the value of collecting user information, so we do not require registration. 

With such conflicting agendas, you must be wondering by now what I'm going to recommend as the best practice? Well, that's easy, don't use either -- use optional registration! This feature provides a middle ground that works for most products -- just give customers the choice. If they want to login to gain the benefits offered, we welcome and appreciate it and believe it's worthwhile. And if the customer just wants the software as quickly as possible, there's no need to register, just click Continue. Here's what you'll see when you request an "opt reg" product on Sun Download Center:

optional registration interface

For those who do choose to login first, we find a better quality of data since they are doing so of their own volition, and it allows us to build a stronger relationship with the customer. Of course, we have to face the facts -- a majority of customers will skip the login step and click Continue. For that reason, we highly recommend building optional product registration into the product's installer as well. Once you have committed to installing the product, there's an even stronger opportunity to build the relationship and help support the software on your system.

Fortunately we built our download system to support all three options (required, optional, none) easily, so we can meet whatever the product team wants with the flip of a bit in the product database. However, our recommendation remains to use optional registration whenever possible.

This is the third in a series of download best practice posts.

Comments:

Hi,

Just run into this post, wanted to share our experience. We package software for a range of companies, in particular a lot of commercial open source companies are our customers (including Sun/MySQL ! :) and they share the same set of challenges. A few things that have worked for us have been:

- Add optional registration on the installer (as you mention)
- Add optional registration \*after\* the download has started. "While you wait for the download, consider signing up for this newsletter..."
- Offer something in return for the sign-up or login. In you case may be a "download history" feature. For some of our customers is the ability to be notified of new releases or access to a plugin that offers additional functionality

In any case, getting developers to sign-up or log-in for anything is always tricky so we let people easily skip any pre-registration screen.

Posted by Daniel on February 04, 2009 at 05:59 PM PST #

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About

I helped design, build, and manage download systems at Sun for many years. Recently I've focused on web eMarketing systems. Occasionally, I write about other interests, such as holography and jazz guitar. Follow me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/garyzel

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