10 App Onboarding Best Practices to Drive User Retention [+ Examples]
App onboarding best practices will boost your first impressions and show what your app can do for your users.
But how do you make sure that your users stick around and get the most value out of your product?
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution. That’s why you need to follow the best practices to design an engaging onboarding experience that retains users.
In this article, we’ll share 10 of our onboarding best practices that will help cultivate loyalty. As well as show you some real-life examples of companies that are doing it right.
- App onboarding is about educating new users on how to use your product.
- It includes resources such as tutorials, walkthroughs, and in-app guidance that help users achieve their first milestone fast and realize the value of your app.
- Onboarding tactics should vary based on the user’s context, whether they clicked on a free trial button on the website or downloaded the app from the store.
- There are different types of app onboarding that suit different types of apps and users, and they include:
- Progressive onboarding. It guides users through the app step by step as they engage with it, revealing only essential information at each stage.
- Function-oriented onboarding. Focuses on teaching the app’s core features and functionality, often, with one product tour.
- Benefits-oriented onboarding. Which gears toward communicating the value proposition and benefits of using the app to the user.
- If you want to implement an onboarding process that retains users, here are 10 best practices to make sure you’re not adding more friction to the customer experience.
- Create a frictionless signup process by asking for as little information as possible, allowing people to use their Google account, and offering SSO—like Figma.
- Take advantage of welcome surveys to collect data and segment users based on their needs, in-app behaviors, and product usage. Then personalize the onboarding process according to their use case, job to be done (JTBD), and their stage in the journey—like Kontentino.
- Personalize the onboarding screen with the data collected from welcome surveys—like Monday.
- Implement an onboarding checklist to guide users through the most important features and reach the activation stage—like Userpilot.
- Drive the user through their first steps before they can have access to the dashboard—like Slack.
- Implement interactive walkthroughs to hand-hold users across their app, remove friction, and onboard them contextually—like Kommunicate.
- Enable users to skip the onboarding steps such as tutorials, surveys, tooltips, and so on. Giving users the chance to do what they already plan to do right away if they can—like ClickUp.
- Use gamification elements such as badges, points, and levels to encourage users to fulfill their JTBDs—like Asana.
- Add an in-app help center to give users access to the knowledge base, tutorials, videos, and support tickets right from the product UI—like Userpilot.
- Introduce users to secondary features so they can unlock more value and achieve success with your product—like Userpilot webinars.
- Userpilot is a cost-efficient customer onboarding tool that enables onboarding flows with various UI patterns and personalized onboarding processes.
- So, instead of relying on the dev team to implement in-app experiences the way you want, why not try a Userpilot demo to see how you can improve adoption?
What is app onboarding?
App onboarding is the process of educating new users on how to best use your product. It uses tutorials, walkthroughs, and in-app guidance so users can achieve their first milestone fast and realize the value of your app.
The user onboarding process never ends. Depending on your onboarding strategy, you might need to provide additional value through self-service support, feature adoption tooltips, and high-touch customer success services.
Web vs mobile app onboarding
Depending on whether the user clicked on the “free trial” button on your website or downloaded your app from the store, your onboarding tactics can take different shapes to adapt to the user’s context.
Here’s what makes web and mobile onboarding different:
- Web app onboarding may have more flexibility in terms of design and layout, as it can adapt to different screen sizes and resolutions. While mobile has more layout limitations, as it has to follow the guidelines and constraints of the operating system.
- Browser onboarding has more options for user feedback and analytics, as it can leverage browser features such as cookies, pop-ups, and forms. Mobile, on the other hand, tends to have fewer options for user feedback and analytics, especially for getting permission from users to give your app access to their data.
- Web users expect apps to be more powerful, complex, and feature-rich than mobile apps. Whereas mobile users expect apps to have an easier and more convenient experience.
- Website visitors may have a lower attention span and a higher bounce rate. They can easily switch to another tab or website if they are not engaged or satisfied with the app. In contrast, mobile app users may have a higher commitment and a lower churn rate, as they have already invested time and space to download and install the app.
Therefore, web onboarding’s goal is to catch the user’s attention and interest quickly. You should highlight your unique value proposition, demonstrate your advanced features, and build credibility as fast as possible.
On the other hand, mobile app onboarding should focus on retaining the user’s loyalty and provide immediate gratification.
What are the different types of app onboarding?
Not every onboarding process is created equal. There are different types of onboarding that suit different types of apps and users, and they include:
- Progressive onboarding. It guides users through the app step by step, revealing only the essential information and actions at each stage. It avoids overwhelming or confusing the user with too many interfaces and features, while also creating a sense of achievement and curiosity as users unlock new features throughout the app.
- Function-oriented onboarding. Focuses on teaching the app’s core features and functionality, often, with one product tour. It can be used for simple apps that have a clear use case or problem to solve, but it’s often considered more annoying than progressive onboarding processes.
- Benefits-oriented onboarding. It helps users understand why they should use the app and what they can achieve with it. And involves connecting with customers through a strong emotional appeal, a social impact, or a long-term commitment to give a higher purpose to the product.
Understanding what type of onboarding fits your business can have an impact on your success. But that’s not all, you also need to follow good tactics.
10 app onboarding best practices for retaining users
Sure, a well-designed app onboarding experience can become a great competitive advantage. But how are you supposed to know what the “right” message and the “right” time are for a specific user?
If you want to implement an onboarding process that retains users, these 10 best practices will help you reduce friction to the customer experience.
Create a frictionless signup process
To start removing friction during onboarding, begin with optimizing your signup page.
For this, don’t ask for too much information upfront.
Making users verify their email or share their credit card information right away adds a lot more friction—which could drive potential users away before they even get started.
Figma’s frictionless signup flow
Figma, for example, understands the importance of having an effortless signup process, which is why you can easily sign up with your Google account, single sign-on (SSO), or plain email and password.
They also built their signup page with a clean and eye-appealing design to make the signup experience more pleasant.
Segment users to personalize app onboarding process
A personalized onboarding experience is required to build rapport early and engage customers with your product.
For this, you can take advantage of welcome surveys to collect data and segment users based on their needs, in-app behaviors, NPS responses, and product usage.
With that info, you can provide a more relevant onboarding process based on your customer’s use case, job to be done (JTBD), and their stage in the journey.
Kontentino’s welcome survey for personalizing user onboarding flow
For example, Kontetino’s welcome survey asks you about your goal (e.g., content approval, scheduling) and the type of company (e.g., agency, or brand) so it can segment new users based on the customer’s business model and use cases.
This way, it can personalize the onboarding process and introduce you to the most relevant features for your job.
Fill the user onboarding screen with relevant data
After getting users’ data during signup, how can you solve the empty state without overwhelming them?
One way is to personalize the onboarding screen with the data collected from welcome surveys. For example, you can:
- Show relevant tips based on the user’s level of expertise and familiarity with the product.
- Highlight features and benefits that match the user’s goals and pain points.
- Suggest actions and tasks that help the user achieve quick wins and value from the product.
Monday fills onboarding screens with board templates
For instance, see how Monday fills the empty state with a basic template called “your first board”. It includes a few items and formats so you can get started with no friction:
Help users reach activation with an onboarding checklist
You should help users engage with your product’s core features so they can experience its value as quickly as possible and reach the activation stage.
For this, you can implement an onboarding checklist to guide users through the most important features right from the beginning.
Userpilot’s onboarding checklist for user activation
For example, instead of leaving the user to their luck, Userpilot guides them with a small checklist that includes the most important steps to reach the activation stage.
As you can see, the checklist is designed with a progress bar and dummy tasks so engaged users can know where they are and move closer to their goals—making success as easy as possible.
Focus on one onboarding task at a time
With so much going on during onboarding, you risk overwhelming users with too much information.
So, in order to focus user attention on one task at a time, drive the user through their first steps before they can have access to the dashboard—focusing on one task at a time.
Slack asks users to create a workspace to get started
An example is how Slack makes you create a workspace before you can do anything else, giving you no chance to deviate from the main process and mess with your account.
This way, you can follow the best possible path to success and understand the core features of the platform in the most digestible way.
Make the onboarding process contextual
Another tactic is to use in-app guidance to onboard users contextually—making it intuitive for users to understand what they have to do.
One way is to implement interactive walkthroughs, as they are more engaging and useful in helping users reach the activation stage. And unlike generic product tours, they respond to in-app behavior in real time and trigger tooltips when the user is more likely to need them.
Kommunicate uses interactive walkthroughs to guide users
For example, instead of overwhelming the user with information they won’t retain, Kommunicate implemented interactive walkthroughs to hand-hold users across their app.
It triggers short tooltips as the user interacts with each part of the feature, focusing their attention only on their next step. Which in turn makes them more likely to engage, finish the first phase of the onboarding, and reach activation.
It works because they only trigger one feature at a time, so the user can stay busy (in a productive way) without feeling overwhelmed with information.
Provide users with options to skip
Not everybody learns the same way or is a total beginner—some might even have experience with your product.
For this reason, there’s a high chance that you’ll eventually trigger your well-designed onboarding process to the wrong user.
That’s why you should enable users to skip the onboarding steps, such as tutorials, surveys, tooltips, and so on. This way, you’re providing users with the chance to do what they already plan to do right away if they want.
ClickUp uses dismissable in-app tutorials to onboard users
ClickUp is a great example, as they do have a wide range of onboarding resources you can consume to better understand the product.
However, the “skip video” button will always be present, so you can start working on your project without having to watch a bunch of redundant videos.
Celebrate user achievement with gamification
An engagement loop is an experience that motivates users to take action and provides positive reinforcement (celebrations) to incentivize them to repeat a task.
With gamification, you can celebrate user milestones by adding elements such as badges, points, and levels for a more engaging onboarding experience. Creating a positive loop in the user that encourages them to utilize and solve their JTBD with your product.
Asana Uses Gamification to celebrate user achievement
For example, Asana’s unicorn animation appears every time you complete a task, which reinforces a positive behavior with a dopamine hit, encourages repeated engagement with your app, and drives better onboarding.
Offer in-app self-service resources for 24/7 support
You can’t be there 24/7 to support any customer around the globe.
That’s why you need to offer self-service support, so users don’t have to leave your app, google your website, scroll down to find the support button, and browse messy documentation to find answers.
To solve this, add an in-app help center to give users access to the knowledge base, tutorials, videos, and support tickets right from the product UI. This way, users don’t have to leave your product or get in touch with a support agent to answer repetitive queries (saving time for your team).
Userpilot offers in-app guides with help content in various format
For example, Userpilot has an easily accessible resource center. With this, users can quickly browse the knowledge base to find articles, watch videos, sign up for a webinar, and contact customer support when needed.
Make your app onboarding a continual process
Onboarding doesn’t stop at the activation stage, as it’s a continuous process that never ends.
This means that once your users have adopted the core features of your products, you should keep introducing them to secondary and advanced features that can help them achieve success as well—and unlock even more value.
For example, you could host webinars to provide product training and introduce customers to new advanced features.
Userpilot uses in-app messages to announce new features
Userpilot, for instance, triggers in-app notifications to announce new features so our customers can try them right away.
However, the message also includes an invitation to a training webinar where we go over the new functionalities in detail. Giving users a chance to learn the feature and ask questions to the team during the event.
How to use Userpilot to enhance your app onboarding experiences?
You need tools to implement a great onboarding process, especially for all the tactics we’ve covered.
Thankfully (shameless promotion warning) Userpilot is honestly the most cost-efficient customer success software we know to apply these onboarding tactics without coding.
Create and customize in-app guides without coding
Userpilot can trigger UI patterns such as tooltips, slideouts, and modals based on the following:
- User segments
- In-app behavior and engagement
- User journey stage
- Specific events and the count of them using custom attributes
This way, you can make customized in-app messages with different UI patterns—just by creating an onboarding flow:
Personalize the user onboarding flow with segmentation
Additionally, you can hyper-target your onboarding flows thanks to the advanced segmentation features. Which can segment your users based on a wide range of attributes such as ID, roles, content engagement, feature usage, NPS response, and more.
Analyze user behavior to optimize app onboarding flow
Finally, Userpilot gives you access to advanced product analytics to monitor in-app behavior and product usage.
It includes plenty of functionalities, such as the ability to tag features, track feature usage, and visualize how users progress across different touchpoints throughout the customer journey:
In SaaS, following app onboarding best practices is as important as acquiring new customers.
With this guide, you can hopefully implement the tactics we explained to improve your user retention rates and product growth.
So, instead of relying on the dev team to implement in-app experiences the way you want, why not try a Userpilot demo to see how you can improve adoption?