Vikas Sabnani writes:

Since launching [our website] in private beta 8 days back, we have seen more than 100 [accounts] created but less than 5 have actually done anything after creating an account.

Since you offer a free basic version as well, I suspect you see the “Blank Page” problem as well. My question is – what is the best way to encourage / prod your customers to try the product out?

This reminds me of the old “hosting a party” metaphor for web apps. Just because you’ve invited someone over to your house/app, doesn’t mean your hosting duties are over. You still need to welcome your guests, show them around, offer some introductions, and make sure they get into the flow.

That’s why the blank slate, the first screen people see, is so key. If it’s unwelcoming, people may not stick around.

It’s easy to overlook the blank slate too. When you’re building an app, it’s natural to get hung up developing the best experience for power users. But for most people, getting started is the biggest obstacle. So step back every once in a while. Put yourself in the shoes of newbies and figure out the best way to welcome them into the fold.

37signals blank slates
We’ve begun using welcome tabs as a variation on the blank slate. These let people keep intro information nearby for quick reference or get rid of it when they’re ready. This tab also serves as a crude site map of admin features, help links, preferences, and more.

bp welcome Backpack

Our newest product, Highrise, has a bunch of different blank slate states, one for almost ever major feature and some special “almost-blank slates” for screen with just a little bit of data. Some blank slates go away instantly while others go away after you’ve done something three times.

hr welcome Highrise

Basecamp’s welcome screen offers a “Getting Started with Basecamp” video. The video demos how the Chicago Bulls might set up an account and walks you through it step by step. It’s time consuming to create videos like these, but they really do a great job guiding customers.

bc welcome

Blank slates in Getting Real
Getting Real has a chapter on blank slates that offers some good advice too.

Use it as an opportunity to insert quick tutorials and help blurbs.

Give a sample screenshot of the page populated with data so people know what to expect (and why they should stick around).

Explain how to get started, what the screen will eventually look like, etc.

Answer key questions that first-time viewers will ask: What is this page? What do I do now? How will this screen look once it’s full?

Set expectations and help reduce frustration, intimidation, and overall confusion.

Related SvN posts
A couple of previous posts discuss using email to reach new or inactive customers: Waking up the sleepers talks about “poking” dormant accounts. People don’t scroll…emails offers advice on welcome emails.

Got a question for us? Send it to svn [at] 37signals [dot] com and make sure the subject line reads “Ask 37signals.”