How To Create Better Product Tours | Userpilot Blog

How to Stop Making Terrible Product Tours and Start Making Great Ones

There aren’t many people out there who would tell you that you DON’T need product tours for your SaaS.

But the phrase “product tours” covers a wide range of different onboarding and training mechanisms.

And in today’s SaaS environment – let’s be honest – some of them are pretty rubbish.

So when we talk about the best software for building better product tours, we’re going to be quite specific about what makes a product tour worthwhile and what features a tool needs to achieve those things.

Let’s dive in!

Why you need Product Tours

Nobody really questions the need for product tours, do they? This is real Product Management 101 stuff:

  • The goal of new user onboarding is to get them to experience the value of your product as quickly as possible
  • Most users – encountering your service for the first time – are not going to be able to immediately know how they can do that
  • So, you need to show them!

So product tours are aimed at:

  • Increasing user engagement so that they activate sooner
  • Decreasing the friction of the learning curve and simplifying the user experience
  • Demonstrating your value proposition at the most effective time

Of course, it’s possible to onboard new users one-on-one. For some high-ACV enterprise products, that approach still works. Not with self-serve, product led SaaS businesses with a lower ARPU though.

Forget about the added cost and the difficulties of scaling for rapid growth that this approach suffers from for a moment…

As early as 2013, surveys were showing that a lot more users prefer self-serve onboarding to speaking to a trainer!

Users prefer self-serve onboarding


So it’s not only more efficient and cost-effective to onboard and introduce new features using in-app experiences –

users actually prefer them!

For the same reason, you will probably want to pick the best software for building product tours from what’s available on the market.

You could build all the necessary features in-house from scratch, but who has the time or spare tech resources for that?

Most self-serve product tour tools will cost you less in a year than you’d pay a good developer in a month. And since good product onboarding never ends – you need to keep selling your users on the value of your product regardless of the stage in their user journey (that’s what Continuous Education Loop is all about!) – the development bill will run quite high if you try to build everything yourself. And what if your UI changes and you need to change the experience flow? All the dev time will go to waste and you’ll have start from scratch. And of course – pay for the reworks again.

On the other hand – if you choose ready-to-use onboarding software – many of the options require no coding whatsoever. Instead, they use easy-to-follow interfaces, like this:

Userpilot lets you build product tours without code


But let’s take a step back.

A few paragraphs ago we said that product tours need to achieve three things: increase engagement to drive activation, decrease the learning curve, and demonstrate the value at the right time.

A lot of product tours out there in SaaS-land don’t do these things well at all!

That’s why at Userpilot, we don’t like the term “product tour”.

It’s too passive. Too old-fashioned. Too closely tied up in people’s minds with the kind of 100-slide presentation you used to be forced to sit through before you were actually allowed to start using a new tool.

That’s why a lot of people hate them:

hate product tours


We much prefer the idea of Interactive Walkthroughs, for reasons that will become very clear in the next section.

What Product Tours Need to Do and to Include

Fogg Behavior Model shows what good product tours need to convey


The author and researcher BJ Fogg developed the model above, showing that getting somebody to carry out a desired action depends on three factors:

  1. Their Motivation to do it
  2. Their Ability to do it
  3. The nature of the Prompt given

One of Fogg’s key insights is that, time and again, not enough attention is paid to Motivation – the question of “why should I do it?” as opposed to “how should I do it?”

This gives us a handy framework for working out the features needed in the best product tours.

They should be:

  • Focused on value
  • Contextual – tied to what is important and familiar to the user at that moment
  • Clear on the next steps that need to be taken
  • Putting the user in control of their own experience
  • Relevant, to the point and take up as little of the user’s time as possible
  • Optimized for usability – that is sticky, memorable and user-friendly

Good product tours break down the onboarding experience into lots of small steps – each one focused on getting the user to expend the minimal effort to realize something of value.

If it’s too long, it will bore people and they’ll switch off.

If it covers too much ground, they’ll forget bits of it or find parts irrelevant to them.

Now, choosing these key steps depends on your user journey: what 2-3 key activation points must happen for your user to realize the value of your product?

AHA moment


These moments of realizationWe call them AHA moments!

Why do so many SaaS companies offer free trials?

Well, there are probably lots of reasons – but a big one has to be that people like to play with a software tool to see if it fits their needs before they commit to it.

And there is the psychological fact that the overwhelming majority of people learn best by doing things – rather than being told or shown.

Check out this learning pyramid for the evidence.

Users learn better by doing tasks than other methods

Source: National Training Laboratories, Bethel, Maine

“Knowledge is situated in practice”, say the academics.

We say: make sure your product tours are INTERACTIVE! Watch our YouTube video on the difference here.

Product Tour Types and their UI Components

Now that we’ve discussed the difference between the good, bad and the ugly product tours – let’s see what types are available out there! These are also all the factors you’ll need to bear in mind when choosing the best software for product tours.

In this section, we’re going to introduce the bits and pieces of UI you’ll want a tool to put at your disposal, and the types of tour you can build them into.

Linear Tours

This is the simplest type of product tour. It just consists of a series of informative steps, shown to users, in order.

The user doesn’t make any choices – and they only interact to click “Next” or to dismiss the tour.

If the tour has more than 5 steps – most (80%) of users actually dismiss it before they’re done. Needless to say – these tours are not very effective.

Most linear tours will start with a modal.

Here’s how you would build a modal in a linear tour in Userpilot, for example.

Linear product tours are the simplest type


After that, users may see a succession of other modals – like a slideshow.

But there are other UI components that work well here:

  • Tooltips – add context by pointing out specifically where a feature can be accessed, along with a bit of explanatory text. Here’s an example from Airtable
Airtable uses tooltips as part of its product tours


  • Videos – if your software tool allows you to embed videos into tours, this can be a great way of making your onboarding content more accessible and engaging. Userpilot, for example, makes it super-easy to embed videos into your modals.
  • Hotspots – These are a bit more subtle and less intrusive than tooltips. They are little highlights that draw a user’s attention to a function but which need to be clicked on before they reveal any information. Already, you can begin to see elements of interactivity creeping into even the simplest kind of product tour! See below how we promoted our new NPS feature with a hotspot when we added it to Userpilot.
How Userpilot flagged our new NPS tool


Linear tours are most suitable for Proactive Onboarding (see my earlier blog for a definition of that term!) of a very simple, basic functionality.

For example:

  • Showing what the measures on a new dashboard mean
  • Finding different functions on the navigation panel
  • Changing a password

If you can just show a user something and be satisfied that it’s “mission accomplished” then a linear tour might be enough – especially as they are by far the simplest to design and deploy. Still, I would encourage you to use a different onboarding flow – that allows you to set goals, get your users to actually use the feature you want them to adopt, and measure your success rate.

Branching Tours

A branching tour is the next step up.

It’s like a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book – if you remember them!

That is, at certain points along the journey, the user can pick a direction to go, and the tour then continues reflecting that choice. So instead of one single line, there are multiple different paths that can be followed through the tour, ending at different places – but all set out and determined in advance.

welcome screen Userpilot


Its easy to turn linear product tours into branching ones in Userpilot. You just add extra options onto the desired steps as shown above and flesh out each branch from there.

A branching tour has some distinct advantages:

  • You can allow users to segment themselves by asking what they will be using the service for, and then giving them the tour that best fits that persona
  • You can allow users to choose their own priorities for which features they onboard first

But while branching tours add a little bit of interactivity, they still depend on learning by showing.

Interactive Tours or Interactive Walkthroughs

As the learning pyramid shows – if we want learnings to stick – people need to be performing the tasks as they learn.

Interactivity also helps weigh in against Fogg’s Motivation factor:

  • People are more engaged when they are doing something
  • You can even boost the motivation further by providing an incentive to complete them, e.g. a discount code
  • While learning, they are also getting closer to realizing value from your SaaS
  • Each step completed is a potential Aha! moment towards understanding the value proposition

An interactive tour depends on user inputs – rather than being observers in the onboarding process, they’re participants.

interactive walkthrough salesflare


The more complex your SaaS is – that is, the more steps the user has to take to get to first value – the more invaluable an interactive walkthrough is.

Salesflare (above), for example, is a CRM system that needs users to take 12 steps before they will start seeing benefits. They have a great interactive walkthrough which eases users into this complex process – and puts it all into context with a checklist showing what’s been finished and what is still to be done.

In fact, Salesflare have gamified their walkthrough to a certain extent. Every time a user ticks off a step, they get extra days added onto the duration of their free trial!

Salesflare's gamified walkthrough


At Userpilot, we’ve made it really easy to create interactive walkthroughs using our unique system of Driven Actions.

Driven actions in Userpilot


That is, at a certain point in the Experience you create as a part of your tour, you can set an action the user needs to take before they can proceed.

We have five different types of user actions you can set:

Driven Actions for use in Interactive Product Tours


When the Driven Action is taken, the next set of instructions will appear.

So once a user has been shown how to complete a task using Driven Actions, they’ve actually already completed it!

We’ve made a big deal out of learning by doing – and rightly so.

But now we need to look at WHEN learning should take place.

Because presenting a product tour – particularly an interactive one – at the wrong time can be a very disruptive and annoying experience for users, and counterproductive in terms of driving engagement and adoption.

Btw. if you want to dive deeper into how to improve your Product Adoption, sign up for our Product Adoption School!

Like we said earlier, you need a product tour software tools that lets you get CONTEXTUAL.

That is, you need to be able to anticipate at precisely which moments a user is going to want to learn how to use a feature – and provide that training right then and there.

To do this, you’ll need to define behavioral cues that trigger the appearance of the onboarding resources.

Contextual triggers for onboarding experiences


As you can see above, Userpilot gives you loads of options for defining who is going to see onboarding experiences when. For example:

  • Brand new users can be singled out for new user basic onboarding when they log in for the first time, which will not be shown to them again
  • Users who began but did not complete a task can be prompted to return to their saved progress when they return to your app
  • Users who are showing a pattern of dropping engagement can have features they haven’t used before flagged to them, to help them realize new sources of value
Segment users for customized product tours


  • Different segments of users can be defined to provide customized onboarding flows – even down to company name!

Contextual onboarding like this really taps into the Motivation aspect of Fogg’s equation: users are most likely to respond to your prompts at the moment when they are most motivated to get that value – when the “why do it?” is most auspicious!

Want to create better product tours with Userpilot?

Book a demo with us today!

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