Best practice: zip-code prompt

Written by Adrian Holovaty on July 2, 2003

I've complained before that news-site registration forms don't give users an incentive to give accurate demographic information. Here's proof that it can be done well. is an outstanding example of how to gather user zip codes more reliably and less annoyingly than similar implementations (e.g. and Although Edmunds isn't a typical media site -- it provides car-buying information -- news site operators can learn a lot from it.

To see what I mean, visit the site's new cars or used cars section. You'll see this screen before you can access the content:

Screenshot, with 'please enter your zip code' prompt

Why do I like this so much?

  1. It gives me a reason to provide a valid zip code. The "benefits of providing your Zip Code" are spelled out for me clearly and succinctly.
  2. It doesn't require me to give a zip code. The "Continue without providing Zip Code" link is right in front, as if to say, "We know some of you aren't comfortable giving away this information, and that's fine." That wins the site some extra credibility points.

The benefit for users: No hassle, and a better, more targeted browsing experience. The benefit for Edmunds: More accurate zip-code demographics. (Why take the time to enter bogus info when you can click a link to skip the form entirely?) And credibility/good vibes.

My only beef is that the site's privacy policy isn't linked-to from this page.


Posted by Jon Gales on July 2, 2003, at 7:41 a.m.:

I'm one of those people that fills in the information exactly the same as the examples... For instance on with their "quick registration" that really isn't a registration (it's like's). I wish they would just let me register once and for all.

Posted by Jim on July 2, 2003, at 12:26 p.m.:

Talking about usability and, I recently visited for the first time in ages. All I wanted to do was listen to a couple of tracks from this one particular band.

It asked me to register. "Fine," I thought. I'm already registered, I'll just log in. There was no login form. There was no login link. There was no "forgotten password" link. I couldn't see anywhere to log in at all, after scanning the various areas of the page.

I went to the main front page. Still nothing. There was a link to some other feature, but it said "members-only". I figured that there had to be a login option there, so I clicked on it, only to be transported to another domain, with a different login scheme.

I went back, convinced I had missed something obvious. Looked around the page. Clicked on virtually every link (there are a hell of a lot on the front page). I couldn't log in!

Finally, I remembered from registering ages ago that they called it "my". So I tried

Success! I finally managed to get into the site by *guessing* a hostname! They are constantly going on about how many members they have on the site - I wonder if it's because everybody has to register multiple times?

(Side note: the first thing I saw when I logged in was "my favourite bands" or something. Now, since I'd only added a couple previously, and there were about half a dozen listed, I'd imagine that they filled in the blank genres with popular artists. The only trouble is, they listed them as my *favourites*, and included artists that I *can't stand*. Way to alienate me!)

Posted by Steven on July 2, 2003, at 5:17 p.m.:

Of course, when a news site collects a ZIP code, what IS is the benefit to the user? The benefit to's users are clear, but unless a news site presents different information to the user based upon the provided ZIP code, how does it benefit the news site user to take the time to enter her ZIP code and not just click the link to continue without doing so?

Posted by Nathan Ashby-Kuhlman on July 2, 2003, at 7:30 p.m.:

Steven, I think you're right -- benefit to the user from entering a ZIP code is the exact question. Some news sites do try to offer that different information based on the user's location -- a customized mix of local and national news. Very few pull it off very well, though. And when others limit their personalization to weather, I agree -- why bother?

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