11 Tips on Creating a Great User Onboarding Experience

11 Tips on Creating a Great User Onboarding Experience

Table of Contents

User onboarding is important and often ignored part of product strategy. Done right, it can help your product succeed, increase user activation, retention and engagement. Done wrong, it can cause a lot of damage. Use these 11 tips and create user onboarding experience that will improve your product and delight your users.

Why is user onboarding important?

First things first. Why is user onboarding important? Why should you care about it? The main reason is that good user onboarding process can help you activate your new users. It doesn’t matter if your product is easy, with only few actions to do. Or, if it is complex applications where new user can quickly get lost.

User onboarding helps with user activation

Think about it from the view of your users. They just started using your product. They do so because they believe it can help them solve a problem they have. Or, it can provide them with some value. It can fulfill one of their desires. This is why they chose your product instead of any other alternatives.

Now, it is your primary goal to quickly prove to them that they make the right decision. Meaning, you have to show them the shortest path to find what they are looking for. You could let this one their own, hoping they will somehow figure out everything by themselves. Unfortunately, this often doesn’t work.

Take yourself as an example. How many times did you register in some app and used it only once or twice, or not at all? This is the problem we are talking about. Registration is not the same as activation. It is not enough to get the user to register. The only thing that matters is activation. The user has to start using the product.

User onboarding is one tool that can help you with this. User onboarding helps you nudge the user to start using your product. This is especially true if user onboarding follows right after registration. Why wait until she activates her account. You need to nudge her to use your product as soon as possible. Otherwise, you may lose her forever.

User onboarding helps with user retention

The less the user knows how to use your product the more likely she is to stop using it and try something else. This is another reason why people often abandon products. They don’t understand how to use them. Think about yourself and your past experiences. Is there some product you stopped using because it was too complex or hard to understand?

Almost everyone has at least one such an experience. You found some product that looked promising. You tried to use a couple of times. The problem was that it was hard to figure out how to make it work. One would need a manual, and even then it would be rather a matter of trial and error and tone of luck. So, you decided to try some alternative.

This is one of the problems we have to deal with. Users have only limit amount of patience. It doesn’t matter how promising, amazing or innovative the product may be. They will give it only a handful of chances. If they can’t make it work? They will go somewhere else and they will never look back.

This is another problem user onboarding can help you with. User onboarding can help you educate your users. It can help your users learn everything they need to know in order to use your product. What’s more important, user onboarding can achieve that in an engaging and interesting way.

Not only your users will not get bored or annoyed. They may actually like your product even more, if you set up your user onboarding process right way. In sum, user onboarding can help you activate and also retain new users. The question is, how? Let’s take a look at a number of tips to create great user onboarding experience.

No.1: Identify the goal

User onboarding is, and always has to be, action-based. Yes, you want to help the user to learn how to user product. However, that is very vague. Your user onboarding process has to have one specific goal. There has to be one specific thing, or action, the user should do for the user onboarding process to be a success.

Think about what your product does. What is the job it is supposed to help the user to get done? For example, let’s say your product is a social media content manager. It helps the user share content on social media. Then, your user onboarding process could lead to creating a post and either sharing it or scheduling it.

Another example could be a cloud storage provider. In this case, your user onboarding process could help the user to upload his first document, or something else. One more example. Let’s say your product is a job board. Then, user onboarding could help the user to create her profile and send her first job application.

So, ask yourself, what is the number one thing users are supposed to use your product for? What is the job it is supposed to help them get done? Then, come up with a way to make that thing, that action, the goal of your user onboarding process.

No.2: Analyze actions of your users

The best way to create great user onboarding experience is by analyzing actions and usage patterns of your current users. There is a difference between how you think your users will use your product and how they will really use it. Then, there is also the problem with your expertise. You know the product too well, especially if you built it.

These two issues may prevent you from creating perfect user onboarding process. You can overcome both these issues by basically letting your users create the user onboarding process for you. Implement analytics and create event-based funnels. This will help you find out where your users are facing some obstacles and where they may need some help.

Then, use this information to create user onboarding process that will help your users deal with those obstacles. Remember that your current users can often be a priceless source of information you can tap into.

No.3: Start small and escalate

User onboarding process is not a replacement for documentation for your product. Nor is it some kind of a library. So, don’t try to fit in everything your product can do. As we already discussed, user onboarding is and has to be action-based. What’s more important, there is always place only for one action, not more.

This means that you have to be very specific and precise. Design the whole onboarding process with a single goal in mind. One goal, one action, and nothing more. Save all other features and benefits for later. Remember that if you nail this right, you will have plenty of opportunities to show all the things your product can do.

No.4: Keep it short and clear

User onboarding is something the user should get through in a couple of seconds, or minutes at max. It should not take the whole afternoon, or even day. So, focus on creating a flow that is short and clear. Remember that your goal is to help users get past the beginning and start using your product, not to make them experts.

Some people think that long and detailed user onboarding process is good. The idea is that it will help introduce the product on a deeper level and educate the users more. Wrong. The longer the process is the lower the probability the user will get to the next step. Process that consists of too many steps can make users leave.

This is why user onboarding process has to be short and clear. Remember that learning to use anything for the first time is not an easy task. It can require a lot of cognitive effort and can be stressful. What’s more, your users have their own lives. They have to deal with number of other things, aside to learning how to use your product.

Acknowledge this and make you user onboarding process very selective. Keep in mind the one goal, one action, you want your users to achieve. Then, find the shortest path that leads to that goal. Limit the whole process to only a handful of screens, or popups. Make sure each screen, or popup, contains just one key message.

Remember that users’ attention as well as memory is limited. So, don’t try to force them to memorize a 20-page user guide. Instead, focus on the key points and limit the amount of information only to what is really necessary to know in order to get started. However, if your product is complex, this can be difficult.

In that case, consider splitting your user onboarding process into multiple phases. Then, you can use one phase for the initial onboarding and other phases just when they are needed. For example, you can show more advanced features in the second, or third, phase as users will be more familiar with the use of the product.

No.5: Be consistent

In design, consistency is a no-brainer. Unfortunately, we sometimes forget that this has to be true about user onboarding as well. Just like any elements you use across your entire product has to be consistent, your user onboarding process should follow the same visual design, and also the tone, as the rest of your product.

Think about your user onboarding as part of your branding and brand identity. The whole process has to invoke the same experience as the rest of your product. It has to have the same personality, so to speak. Remember that, during the user onboarding process, your users are meeting your product for the first time.

This means that they will also create a judgment about your product based on the impression it will make. Just like it works between people, first impression is very hard to change. So, you need to make sure that the first impression is as best as it can be and that it is congruent with the identity of your brand and your product.

So, pay attention to the language and tone you use in the copy of the onboarding process. Make sure that the visual components you use fit your branding and your product. In other words, make sure that the whole user onboarding process perfectly fits and represents your product, and brand. That it creates holistic experience.

No.6: Gamify it

No matter how short it is user onboarding process can seem boring to many users. Some users may be prone to either skip it or leave in the middle of it. Gamification is one good tool that can help you lower the chances any of those two things will happen. What’s even better is that implementing gamification is very easy.

The most basic elements of gamification are progress bars and checklists. You can implement all these elements in your user onboarding process a few minutes. The result can be significant. Just these two elements can help you make the process more engaging and interesting for your users. As a result, more users will finish it.

Another gamification elements you can use to enhance your user onboarding process are badges and other rewards. You can unlock some special features or give badges to users for each step in your user onboarding process, or if they finish it. For example, Dropbox gives users more free space if they finish user onboarding process.

When it comes to gamification, your creativity and imagination is the only limit. So, think about your product, what it does. What kind of reward could motivate your users to go through user onboarding? What kind of reward could be interesting for them?

No.7: Make it interactive

When it comes to educating your users, documentation rarely works. Videos are better, but only a bit. What works the best is material that is interactive. We learn the best by doing, by trying things on our own. This is how we learned almost everything when we were kids. Well, everything outside the school.

Apply this to your user onboarding process and make it interactive. Forget a lengthy, multi-step, slideshow-like, tutorial your users would have to click through. Instead, use your product itself as the learning tool. Let your users get their hands on it and try out some of the features of your product during the onboarding process.

Having sad that, make sure to include clues to what the user should do. Add tooltips or popups with instructions or short videos that will help users understand what to do and learn how to do it. You can also design your user onboarding process as learning by watching and then repeating. Meaning, use videos to show what to do and then let users do it.

This can help you with two things. First, you will provide your users with necessary information so they will always know what they are supposed to do at each step. Second, your user onboarding process will still remain interactive and engaging. So, how can you create user onboarding process that is educational, engaging and interactive?

No.8: Give the user free rein

Important attribute of well-designed user onboarding process is that it is that the user is always the one in control. It is also the user who should always set the pace of the process. This may sound counterintuitive. New users don’t know your product. So, why should you let them control the onboarding process?

This, the lack of experience, is exactly why it is necessary to give your users free rein. The thing is that everyone needs a different amount of time in order to learn something new. Some people can learn quickly while others slowly. Some may need to take their time and mess around with your product and explore it, others may not.

This is why trying to force everyone to do something in one way is not a good idea. It is actually a very bad one. It can lead to a feeling of frustration and even helplessness. Which can result in leaving the onboarding process as well as abandonment of your product. So, stop looking for one-size-fits-all solution.

Instead, let your users choose how quickly, or slowly, they want to get through the whole onboarding process. Let your users decide when it is the right time to proceed to the next step, or even to skip it. Remember that the most important element in the user onboarding process is the user. So, let also be the user the one who is in control.

No.9: Celebrate user’s achievements

For many people, learning how to use, and work with, new things can be difficult. It is an investment that requires time and effort to really become really proficient. This is why it is important to show appreciation when user finishes the user onboarding process. Not only that. It is a good idea to show appreciation for each step they finish.

In the end, this is what every finished step is. Every one of these steps is a small success. It is a stepping stone on the journey through the user onboarding process. The user should see it as such, not as yet another mundane task she should do, but as something that will make her feel proud, that she achieved something significant.

So, show that you appreciate the time and effort the user put in. Show that all that work is meaningful and not just waste of time and energy. Show that “human” and emotional side of your product. Celebrate each finished step, each small success, with the user.

No.10: Use follow-up emails

One thing that is often neglected are follow-up emails. These email can be especially handy if your product is more complex and you have than one onboarding process. You can use follow-up emails to offer in-depth information while not overwhelming the user, and overloading the initial onboarding process with too much detail.

Another use of these email can be something like a congratulation message to celebrate the completed process. Or, you can also use these emails as a gentle reminder if the user didn’t finish the process. Then, you may include a link so she can continue where she left. You can also ask her for feedback, the reason she didn’t finish.

Having said that, it is important to not to overdo it. Don’t try to bring users that haven’t finished the user onboarding process back by bombarding them with emails. One or two reminder emails are enough. If the users still hasn’t come back, it is okay. Provide your users with information and ways to learn, but don’t force them to do something.

No.11: Make it optional

It doesn’t matter how useful user onboarding may be, or how well you designed it. It should be always optional. You should never force your users to go through the onboarding process in order to start using the product. Doing so will not help you achieve anything. It will not increase your user activation or user retention. It can do the opposite.

When you force your users to go through the onboarding process you may lose some users who would not abandon your product otherwise. Remember that every person has her own style of learning. Some people prefer to follow guides, videos or interactive tutorials. Others prefer to jump into it and learn on the go. So, don’t make user onboarding mandatory.

Tell your users there is the option to learn how to use your product with the help of onboarding. Make sure this information, as well as the onboarding journey, is always somewhere within user’s reach. However, always let the user decide whether she wants to go through it or not.

Epilogue: Creating a Great User Onboarding Experience

Congratulations! You’ve just finished this article on how to create great user onboarding experience. Now, it is up to you to take those eleven tips you’ve learned about and apply it. In the end, it doesn’t matter how many tips you know, or much knowledge you have. You have to put it to use in practice. So, go and apply.

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By Alex Devero

I'm Founder/CEO of DEVERO Corporation. Entrepreneur, designer, developer. My mission and MTP is to accelerate the development of humankind through technology.

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