There are several different groups of words here. log in, sign in, login, log on, logon, authenticate. All of these words are more-or-less synonyms
Last year I found myself in an interesting conversation about which copy to use for a website’s sign up journey. And it wasn’t the first time. Often this devolves into an opinion-based discussion among stakeholders of the ‘what-I-like-based-on-no-evidence’ variety.
I ended up writing a small piece of best practice guidance, based on approximately 12 years’ experience of user testing private and public sector products.
(TLDR: yes, it depends)
The key to choosing terminology is intent — what are you communicating about the experience?
When you want to capture user data for the first time, the way you ask communicates what the website or app is for. This is because you are using words that the user will already associate with other experiences throughout their lives, not just digital products —so you need to be aware of the connotations and mental models that already exist.
Yes, you should do research to understand users and yes you should user test however there are also some patterns that I’ve seen over the years that can help you form your initial hypothesis:
Sign up — is pretty generic and appropriate for most products and services. The only time I’ve seen users hesitate on this phrase is when the website is super secure and ‘sign up’ has been perceived as slightly frivolous.
Register — is slightly more formal and potentially appropriate to a government website, for example you ‘register’ to vote. Users tend to associate this with an almost legal meaning. One person, one registration. It is a claiming of one’s own identity in relation to a product.
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