Members vs. guests: how to label users on authenticated sites

Angie King

Recently, Brain Traffic Twitter friend Taj Moore (@tajmo) asked us for some advice about copy for authenticated websites, or websites that require registration in order to log in for firewalled content and/or functions.

 Taj wanted to know our thoughts on what to call members vs. non-members, and logged in members vs. non-logged in members. Taj’s question inspired quite the philosophical discussion around here. And by “philosophical discussion,” I mean: “really long email chain.” We like Amazon’s approach to labeling members.In short, we side with Amazon’s way of doing things. But, as it is with anything of value, it was the ride that mattered. Here’s how we came to our conclusion. @tajmo to @braintraffic Are there terms to diff. bw member logged in and member not logged in? "Guest" not useful bc conflates w/ non-member. ...Or another tack: how about a word for guest/visitor who is not a member? ...b.c. I am leaning toward "logged-in," "logged-out," & "non-member" but thought you might have better insight. Kristina: Let's discuss. Who wants to go first? Katie D.: Just call everyone Earthlings. We're all just people, after all. Christine A.: Is he asking about a user-facing label? I'd question whether there is any value in showing those terms to users. I like Amazon's approach. They use a cookie to identify users who have accounts, and ask them to log in only when they do something significant like go to their shopping cart.  Amazon doesn't tell people they're logged in, logged out, non-member, etc. They just put the person's name up there if the cookie is in place, or show a generic login link if it isn't. They don't need users to keep track of their own status. If he's asking about what the developers/UX people/etc should call it, it doesn't much matter as long as they're consistent and the labels identify clearly defined roles. Elizabeth (her email passing Christine’s on the information superhighway from NYC): I'd say, the first question is, how are these terms going to be used? Are they internal or user facing? If they're meant to be user-facing, they don't really seem necessary. If the user is logged in to the site, you'd address them by name. If they're not logged in, you'd probably call them a guest. If they're a member who isn't logged in, you can't really know that. Not sure why it'd be necessary to label each separately, unless he's talking about terms to be used internally … Angie K.: Whoa. It's like Elizabeth and Christine A. had a cross-country mind meld. Elizabeth:  We're Vulcans! Twitter says…@braintraffic to @tajmo Address logged in members by name. Everyone else, guest. Internally, use whatever labels you like. Just be consistent, please! Yeah, we heart Amazon. But nobody’s perfect.When not logged in, Amazon covers all of the bases—member, non-member, logged in, or not logged in. Check it out: 


  • Hello—greets the user, whether a member or not.
  • Sign in—invites members to log on.
  • Start here—gives non-members the opportunity to create an account.

 When you’re logged in, Amazon greets you by name and gives you the option to log off. Nice. 

 However, when I used our company’s login to do some office supply shopping the other day, “Not Brain?” had me giggling for hours.