Optimizing User Journeys: Exploring How Users Navigate Before Getting Activated

Optimizing User Journeys: Exploring How Users Navigate Before Getting Activated cover

In the article, we show product managers how to understand how users navigate before getting activated in a SaaS product, how to product analytics to choose the best path to activation, and share 8 tried-and-tested activation strategies.

All that is to help you optimize your user journey and boost product adoption.

Let’s dive right in!


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Understanding user navigation pre-activation

Before you start facilitating user activation inside the product, it’s essential to understand how exactly they navigate the product before getting to the activation stage.

Identifying common starting points

The first piece of the puzzle is where users begin their journey.

This could be from web pages, landing pages, marketing emails, blogs, paid ads, or social media posts.

How can you identify the starting points?

The reverse Path exploration report in Google Analytics is the tool you need. More about it in a moment.

Recognizing key events along the path

Apart from the user actions before users sign up, you also need to identify the main along the user journey.

While users can behave in various ways while using the app, these are the key actions needed to fulfill the purpose of the product.

For example, in Tinder, the popular dating app, the events include opening the app, swiping through the profiles of fellow daters, matching, bonding by engaging in a chat and arranging a date.

Key Steps in the Tinder Golden Path
Key Steps in the Tinder Golden Path.

Analyzing page-to-page flow

Finally, you also need to understand how the user navigates across the various product pages and screens.

Such insights are a foundation for any optimization efforts. If you don’t know how users progress from one page to another and the pain points they experience, you cannot do much to smoothen the path for them.

Again, this is done easily through path analysis which we’re looking into further down the text.

Path analysis to understand how users navigate before getting activated
Path analysis to understand how users navigate before getting activated.

How to choose the best navigation route for activation

An understanding of how users navigate the product is essential when it comes to identifying the most optimal route path for users to follow inside the product.

Map the activation journey

Mapping the activation journey is the first step to its optimization.

A journey map is a visualization of how users engage with the product at different stages of their relationship, from the moment they first use it until they activate.

The map normally contains information about:

  • Main stages of the journey.
  • User actions.
  • Customer thoughts and feelings at each stage.
  • Opportunities and challenges.

The user journey map guides the efforts of teams from across the organization by helping them gain a shared understanding of the user experience: their preferences, needs, and pain points.

How many user journey maps do you need to create? One for each user persona.

How Users Navigate Before Getting Activated: User journey map
User journey map.

Pinpoint critical customer touchpoints

Customer touchpoints are yet another thing to include in the journey map.

In short, these are parts of the product that users interact with, like the sign-up form or in-app survey.

Identifying the critical touchpoints as well as the associated user actions is essential for tracking user progress and measuring the impact of your optimization efforts.

Use a path exploration template

A path analysis or path exploration template which I briefly mentioned above, can help you map out the user journey accurately.

Google Analytics offers two default path exploration templates.

The first one maps out user actions following an event or page view. Once you define the starting point, it shows you what users did next – the events they completed or the pages they visited.

Path exploration template
Path exploration template.

The other template is the reverse path exploration. This one shows you what users do before completing an event or visiting a page.

Reverse path exploration template
Reverse path exploration template.

Leverage analytics to identify drop-offs and friction points

Path analysis is often used also to identify friction and drop-offs in the user journey.

The search normally starts with funnel analysis. This enables you to identify the stage in the user journey where users experience delays and roadblocks.

The funnel report provides you with valuable data about how many users complete the conversion event and progress to the next stage. If lots of them fail to convert, that’s where you look for friction.

You can do it by choosing the conversion event or the drop-off as the ending point in your path analysis report and visualizing all actions users completed up to this point.

Looped behaviors, where users go back and forth between 2 pages or screens, could indicate an issue.

How Users Navigate Before Getting Activated: Conversion funnel visualization
Conversion funnel visualization in Userpilot.

Track user navigation patterns

The insights from path analysis are still fairly general. You know the behavior pattern and where it occurs, but not why.

To answer the question, it may be necessary to study user navigation patterns in more detail with complementary data.

Good sources of insights include heatmaps and session recordings.

A heatmap is a color-coded overlay that shows user engagement with the page or screen elements. The warmer the color, the higher the engagement.

Feature heatmap example from Userpilot.

We distinguish various types of heatmaps:

  • Click maps visually display where users click on a webpage, highlighting areas of high and low engagement.
  • Move maps track the movement of the user’s cursor on a webpage, indicating areas where they hover or move their mouse frequently.
  • Rage click maps identify areas on a webpage where users repeatedly click in frustration.

Session recordings are video recordings of user interactions with a website or application, capturing everything from clicks and scrolls to typing and page transitions.

By watching real users navigate through the site or app, they can provide direct insights into where users experience confusion, delays, or obstacles.

Interpret user engagement metrics

As you’re gathering data about user engagement, there are a few metrics that are particularly important to track:

  • User activation rate measures the percentage of users who take a desired action after signing up, highlighting the effectiveness of the onboarding process and initial user engagement.
  • Stickiness calculates how often users return to a product or service over a specific period, indicating the product’s value and appeal in keeping users engaged over time.
  • Retention rate tracks the percentage of users who continue to use a product or service over time, essential for understanding long-term user satisfaction and loyalty.
  • Drop-off rate identifies the percentage of users who abandon a process like an onboarding flow, pinpointing areas where the user experience may be causing frustration or confusion.
  • Conversion rate measures the percentage of users who complete a desired action (like making a purchase or signing up for a newsletter), essential for evaluating the effectiveness of specific elements in guiding users toward key product goals.
  • CSAT (Customer Satisfaction Score) gauges immediate user satisfaction with a product, service, or specific interaction, helping identify areas that delight users or need improvement.
  • CES (Customer Effort Score) measures the ease of user interaction with a product or service, crucial for identifying how frictionless experiences contribute to overall user satisfaction and loyalty.

Apply insights to improve user journeys

After analyzing user engagement at different touchpoints in the activation process, it’s time to act on the insights to optimize them.

How you do it depends on the issues you’ve diagnosed. For example, if your users drop off during the onboarding process, you may need to tweak it and run experiments to choose a more effective approach.

In the next section, we look at a few strategies to increase user activation.

8 Activation strategies to encourage users to activate

Let’s finish the practical part of the article with 8 bulletproof strategies to boost user activation.

1. Showcase immediate value with a sign-up flow

Getting users to the stage when they’re ready to sign up for the product takes a lot of effort and can be expensive, so you don’t want to lose them at this point.

That’s why make sure the sign-up process is as smooth as possible. Remove all unnecessary steps, like the email confirmation, and consider enabling SSO so that they can use their existing social media or email account to sign in.

Besides that, you can show immediate value by showcasing how your product works in the sign-up flow like Drift did below:

How Users Navigate Before Getting Activated: Sign-up page
Sign-up page example showcasing value.

2. Personalize the user journey

Another way to reduce the time value is by personalizing the path to activation for main user personas.

Why does it matter?

Each of them has different needs and so they perceive value in different ways. For example, an accountant is going to use an accounting application like Quickbooks in different ways from a small business owner or freelancer.

How do you tailor the user experience to individual needs?

Use the insights from user journey mapping to design bespoke onboarding flows helping users to discover the features relevant to their use cases.

When new users join, trigger a welcome survey to gather data needed for their profiling.

Welcome survey
Welcome survey example created with Userpilot.

Next, use the insights to segment users and trigger the right onboarding flow.

User segmentation in Userpilot
User segmentation in Userpilot.

Another common example is personalizing the product dashboard for different user personas based on their use cases, just like Canva does.

3. Use the empty state to prompt action

Imagine logging into a new product for the first time and seeing a blank screen. No guidance, no information, no prompts. Just a white screen.

Pretty overwhelming, isn’t it?

The welcome screen is a valuable real estate, so use it to kickstart activation.

Trigger a welcome message and include a CTA that will start the onboarding process.

Welcome message instead of an empty state
Welcome message instead of an empty state.

4. Guide users with an onboarding checklist

Checklists are a powerful onboarding tools because they lean into our hardwired need to see things through once we plan them.

This is particularly true when we’ve already made some progress. That’s why many checklists include tasks that the user has already completed. This gives them an extra boost, just as the progress bar does.

Just make sure not to include too many tasks. 4 is plenty, 7 is the absolute maximum. Otherwise, the checklist may seem like too much work and the users won’t bother to even start working through the tasks.

Onboarding checklist created in Userpilot
Onboarding checklist created in Userpilot.

5. Simplify the route to activation with interactive walkthroughs

Interactive walkthroughs are often used for user onboarding as they’re perfect for introducing the relevant functionality.

They normally consist of tooltips that guide users from one feature to another and showcase their benefits. They also contain CTA with links to additional resources in case users need more support.

Unlike product tours, walkthroughs aren’t linear. Users can choose to dismiss some of the guidance and come back to it when they’re ready for it. That’s how we learn most things in life.

Interactive walkhrough
Interactive walkthrough designed in Userpilot.

6. Offer self-service support to offer help when the user needs it

Let’s be honest: most users prefer to solve their problems independently without talking to customer support.

That’s why you need to give them access to self-support resources that can be accessed 24/7 whenever the user comes across an issue.

One way to do it is by creating a resource center with product documentation, how-to guides, or tutorials.

Self-service resources help you nip potential issues in the bud. Once they escalate and users have to resolve to reach out to customer service, their frustration levels may already be too high to retain them.

Userpilot Resource center
Create a similar resource center code-free with Userpilot.

7. A/B test different flows to see which one results in a higher user retention rate

Sometimes, a tiny tweak in the onboarding flow can make a massive impact on its performance. This makes designing them a pretty daunting task.

You can reduce the guesswork considerably by A/B testing the different versions of the flows before enabling them for all users.

In such a test, you launch two versions of the same flow, each to one-half of the test sample, and track their performance. As long as you change only one variable at a time, you can easily single out those versions that are most successful at driving user engagement and retention.

A/B and multivariate testing in Userpilot
A/B and multivariate testing in Userpilot.

8. Learn about customer pain points with in-app surveys and solve them

In addition to user analytics, make sure to gather qualitative customer feedback to inform your decisions.

In-app surveys are particularly effective at generating insights into user needs, wants, and pain points because they are triggered for active users at a time when they’re engaging with the product.

It’s also good practice to enable a feedback widget to collect passive feedback. In this way, you give users a chance to submit their requests when they feel the need to.

In-app survey built in Userpilot
In-app survey built in Userpilot.

How Userpilot can help you track user navigation before activation

Userpilot is a product growth platform with advanced analytics capabilities. Here’s how product managers can use them to better understand how users navigate inside the product before activating.

Track the activation path with path analysis

The Paths report is the equivalent of Path exploration in GA, and it allows you to analyze the various routes that users take to activation.

This functionality is useful for diagnosing issues but can also help you find the happy path to activation. You can then design your onboarding so that it leads users with similar use cases along the same route.

Path analysis in Userpilot
Path analysis in Userpilot.

Identify drop-off points in the journey with funnel analysis

With the Funnels report, you can track user conversions at key touchpoints in the journey.

It provides you access to metrics like conversion rate, drop-off rate, and time to convert so that you can easily identify the friction points.

Funnel analysis in Userpilot
Funnel analysis in Userpilot.

Monitor how users interact with your product with feature heatmaps

Userpilot is a no-code tool which means you can tag features to track from the front end.

This is not limited to clicks but also hovers and text inputs.

Once you do it, you can visualize the usage data in a graph or heatmap for easier analysis and interpretation.

Feature tagging in Userpilot’s Chrome extension
Feature tagging in Userpilot’s Chrome extension.


Understanding how users navigate before getting activated allows product teams to design in-app experiences that help users experience the product value in less time and with less effort.

If you want to learn more about Userpilot analytics and how to use them to optimize the user journey, book the demo!

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