Why ‘Sign Up’ and ‘Sign In’ Button Labels Confuse Users

by on 04/08/11 at 4:09 pm

How fast can you spot the difference between ‘sign up’ and ‘sign in’? Using these button labels together causes users to click the wrong button. But it’s not their fault. The mistake occurs because the labels are too similar.

This annoys users who sign in because they make the mistake the most. Signing in is a rote task that’s reinforced by repetition. Users shouldn’t have to always make a cognitive effort to distinguish the two buttons. It’s easy for them to get confused when both buttons use the same verb in their labels. This extra cognitive work they have to do creates a bad user experience.
signup-vs-signinIf you want to give users a faster login experience, avoid using ‘sign up’ and ‘sign in’ together. Instead, make the button labels distinct from each other by using different verbs.

There are alternative ways to say ‘sign up’ and ‘sign in’ that mean the same thing. A better way to say ‘sign in’ is ‘log in’. If you want to use ‘sign up’ as a button label, use ‘log in’ with it. The verbs are different and won’t cause confusion. But if you want to make your button labels more distinct than that, use a more specific label for ‘sign up’.

Some specific ways to say ‘sign up’ are:

  • Register
  • Join [Name of your site]
  • Create Account
  • Get Started
  • Subscribe

The verbs in ‘sign up’ and ‘log in’ are different. But the prepositions are similar and the syllables are the same. This can still cause confusion among users. By making ‘sign up’ more specific, you remove the preposition and change the syllables. This gives your button labels a different cadence and makes it even more clear to users.

Text labels aren’t the only way to make buttons distinct. To help users click the right button every time, give your buttons a different visual style as well. It’s important for users to find your ‘sign up’ when they first visit your site. You should give that button a high-contrast color that stands out from the background. The ‘sign in’ button should have a color that blends in with the background.

When the labels of your ‘sign up’ and ‘sign in’ buttons are distinct, users will make less mistakes. They won’t have to exert cognitive effort to distinguish between two similar buttons. Instead of clicking the wrong button, they’ll click the one that leads them to the result they expect.


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32 Responses to “Why ‘Sign Up’ and ‘Sign In’ Button Labels Confuse Users”

  1. Shilpa

    Apr 8th, 2011

    Or instead of Create an Account you could consider ‘Join Now’…

  2. Aymeric

    Apr 8th, 2011

    So true. I am French and I always have to pause and think before clicking Sign In or Sign Up.

    On my website http://taskarmy.com I use “Register” and “Log in” which are equivalent to what you are suggesting.


  3. cherouvim

    Apr 9th, 2011

    Great post as usual.

    What about “Log In” vs “Login”?
    Although Login is not a real word, it’s twice more used in the web and also Facebook uses it. So users are more likely to understand it.

    • Jordan

      Apr 9th, 2011

      I feel as though “log in” is a verb whereas “login” is a noun. Consider the following examples:

      “Use the form below to log in to your account”


      “Please provide us with your login and password”


      • anthony

        Apr 11th, 2011

        You are correct. ‘Login’ is a noun and ‘Log In’ is a verb.

        • Jeff

          Apr 11th, 2011

          Good point here — just off the top of my head, http://twitter.com/ does a good job of using the same terminology, but visually differentiating them well. They also do a good job of describing the instances as being wholly separate.

    • Christian Bundy

      Apr 9th, 2011

      “Log in” is essentially a verb, while “login” is a noun.

    • Aysar Khalid

      Apr 9th, 2011


      I use, Login and Sign up. Lots of sites use this, such as Facebook.

      • Rawr!

        Apr 10th, 2011

        Login is fine if used to describe the text box where the user’s login information goes.

        If it’s used to describe the action a user must take to log in, which is what Facebook does with their Login button, it’s wrong.

        • Ben Hamill

          Sep 10th, 2012

          You cannot conjugate “login”. Do you say, “Hold on a sec; I’m logining.”? Sounds very unnatural to my ear. Thus, “Hold on a sec; I’m logging in.”

  4. Lydia Chicles

    Apr 9th, 2011

    nicely written, simple to the point comparison, thank you!
    Lydia Chicles

  5. Egypt Ernash

    Apr 9th, 2011

    Username [______________]
    Password [______________]

    (create account) (log in)

  6. Marcel

    Apr 9th, 2011

    Doesn’t “Both prepositions begin with a vowel” apply to all three examples?

  7. Tom van der Valk

    Apr 10th, 2011

    Incredible how little things like that can make a difference. I would vote for “Log in” and “Create Account”. You only create an account once, so I wouldn’t put that first.

  8. John S.

    Apr 10th, 2011

    Excellent article, Jordan. This is detail that most designers overlook. Some possible wordings to avoid what the article describes:

    **Create a new account wording:

    -Create an account
    -Create account
    -New user?
    -Sign up
    -Join us!
    -Become a member

    **Existing users:

    -Member login (never used in combo with Sign up”)
    -Log in (never used in combo with “Sign up”
    -Member access
    -Members only

    I agree that LOGIN is a noun, while LOG IN is an action.

  9. EugeneK

    Apr 11th, 2011

    Well done, totally agree with you. Even for web developer like me sometimes it is hard to recognize proper link name. Haven’t seen many of sign-in sign-up examples on the web but probably there are some.

    I use “Register” and “Login” for these cases. Names of operations you do like many things in computer world.

  10. Kelly Ryder

    Apr 11th, 2011

    Huh, I never thought of this. I guess it’s most convenient for those who don’t speak English as their primary language. But differentiating the two links like the third example really makes it obvious as to which link the visitor is meaning to click on. Great post!

  11. Gekkor McFadden

    Apr 11th, 2011

    I really like the background color of your webstation page. I think you should be encouraged, so keep up the good work. I think you are doing a good job helping people unfamiliar with computers like yourself to share their experiences and ideas.

  12. Mark S

    Apr 11th, 2011

    This article is very short sighted.

    Copy, like many other things, should never be considered on their own!

    http://carbonmade.com/ proves this perfectly, the sign up is a large call to action, while the sign in is a more neutral less visible item, with out copy surrounding them. Users revisiting will know where to look. New users will almost definitely notice the sign up first.

    The grand scheme is very important!

    • John S.

      Apr 14th, 2011


      You’re right, but very few sites employ this effective use of CONTRAST to distinguish between Sign Ups and Sign Ins.


  13. Igra

    Apr 13th, 2011

    In our site in spanish we use Regístrate = Sign up and Accede a tu cuenta = Log in

    • jACK

      May 16th, 2015

      Igra, you’re right ! I feel better! English is not my first language ,I thought I was the only one to be confused between ‘log in’ and ‘sign in’.

  14. Sim2K

    Apr 13th, 2011

    Register / Login …. That works for me.

  15. Patricia Carvalho

    Apr 26th, 2011

    I totally agree and even more when you are a foreign user and english is not your first language. I usually prefer “Log In” to enter and “Register” or a similar word to fill the form and make a new account.

  16. Hei olen Annes Org

    May 3rd, 2011

    Amazing article, but why don´t you have a Facebook LIKE button? I wanna like it! Sharing takes one more step and is pain in the ass.

    Also where is “Subscribe to Comments” checkbox? I wanna be part of discussion, but why do you make it so tough to me?


  17. Greg

    Jun 7th, 2011

    We use
    Sign In | Register

    Already registered users can then invite other users which automatically register them so they can sign in straight away.

    I like the idea of just entering your user name and password and the system simply registering you if you’ve not done so already or logging you in. Usability nightmare though!

  18. Obelisk

    Aug 3rd, 2011

    Adding some text below in order to make it clearer, I think.
    Something like :
    [Sign in] [Sign up]

  19. Jamila H.

    Apr 29th, 2012

    Does the existence of facebook/ twitter connect in some websites affects the chosen phrase, I think Log in is majorly used in those websites support the Fb/ twitter connect, or its just a coincidence ?

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