I just finished looking through a fascinating presentation from online design guru Joshua Porter. While the presentation is focused on social media sites, I think there are some good and useful lessons in here for data publishers as well.

Joshua kicks off the presentation with a challenging comment: the online behavior you are seeing is the online behavior you designed for (intentional or not). Stated another way, your results can't be better than the tools you use to achieve those results. It's hard enough to get visitor sign-ups, even for free products and services, so make sure you're not erecting inadvertent hurdles that will encourage people not to sign-up. When I talk to publishers who are having trouble getting sign-ups for free trials, for example, there is usually an implicit "What's wrong with people?" hiding in the conversation. Come at the problem this way, and you're not likely to ask the more productive question "Am I doing everything I can on my site to encourage sign-ups?"

And just how do you optimize your site to maximize sign-ups? Joshua's presentation provides some great, concrete ideas:

- Recognize that there are usually multiple user mindsets, and make sure your site provides for them -- one registration page does not necessarily fit all.

- Put some of the most length and onerous parts of your sign-up process at the back-end, not the front. In other words, get them online fast and collect a lot of your sign-up information later.

- Do A/B tests of the copy on your site. In many respects, copy matters more now than ever, right down to the buttons that users click.

- The real works starts after the sign-up. True user engagement just doesn't happen.
There's lots more in this presentation, and it's well worth taking the time to spin through it. As with everything, the devil is in the details.