These 5 best practices create a smoother reader registration process

By Jodie Hopperton


Los Angeles, California, United States


More and more publishers see the need to register users and start building profiles for both subscription and advertising gains, not to mention the potential of personalisation. So what are some of the fundamentals we should be thinking about?

Greg Piechota (who leads the INMA Readers First Initiative) and Ariane Bernard (who leads the INMA Smart Data Initiative and has looked at this from multiple perspectives, including The New York Times) each gave me some pointers.

Media companies shouldn't create more than one to two clicks for a reader to become a registered user.
Media companies shouldn't create more than one to two clicks for a reader to become a registered user.

Here’s my TL;DR:

  • 1-2 clicks to create an account.

  • 2-5 sign-in options, including a single sign on (SSO) such as Google, Facebook, or Apple.

  • Be wary of having e-mail as a unique identifier.

  • Try magic linking (see below for more details).

  • Don’t build your own authenticator.

The best-in-class services use just one to two clicks to create an account and ask for a single data point. 

What should that data point be? Likely an e-mail or mobile phone number. Yes but e-mails can be transient: You are likely reading this newsletter through a company membership to INMA, so what happens if you leave? Plus people often have multiple e-mail addresses so you may refer to the same person thinking they are different. The solution is forming a Unique User ID (UUID), which acts as a three-way link up. 

As most of you will know, the Big Tech platforms offer single sign on (SSO) services. I am sure we have all signed in with Google, Facebook, Amazon, or Apple at some point in time. I use these almost every day. It cuts down on the number of passwords to remember and I love the ability to hide my e-mail address through Apple. This is with my user hat on. From a publishing point of view, they can create further reliance. And while the “hidden e-mail” from Apple means that we can still communicate with readers, they are fairly anonymous. And we may double count them as effectively we could have double counting for the same people.  

That’s a lot of options. And we know that limiting choice is usually a good thing to avoid analysis paralysis. Is there a magic number of options? At least two and less than five. Which options to choose will be market and platform dependent. Ariane believes including at least one SSO is a must. Greg adds that “some markets have more Apple users than Android others, and if a publisher gets most traffic in an app, it might be required to use “Sign in with Apple” (mandatory if you use any other SSO).  

According to this site, for example, “Sign in with Google” is the market leader, but interestingly more Web sites use “Sign in with Amazon today than “Sign in with Apple.”

INMA Researcher-in-Residence Greg Piechota shares a case study on Medium's use of magic linking.
INMA Researcher-in-Residence Greg Piechota shares a case study on Medium's use of magic linking.

How about magic linking (when a user is e-mailed a “magic link” that logs them on)? Yes is the short answer. It’s widely used in tech. is a great example. And The New York Times found that allowing users to login via clicking a link in an e-mail (“magic linking”) had a 2% lift in successful logins. Ariane also pointed to the fact that it can help keep your data up to date: You may have a far fresher database of e-mails since every log-in requires that you have current contact info.

A piece of product advice to leave you with. Ariane tells me: “Do NOT build your authenticator. Just don’t.” (She actually wrote this three times within four sentences, to give you an idea of how strongly she feels about this. And I trust her wholeheartedly). If you need an alternative, she recommends Firebase, which has the added benefit of being free.

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About Jodie Hopperton

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