In-App Guidance for SaaS: Best Practices, Examples and Tools [UPDATED for 2023]
In-app guidance is the part of your user onboarding that happens within your product.
In-app guidance prompts guide your users through your product, showing them how it can solve their specific pain points, with the aim of activating your users (at the new user onboarding stage) or helping them discover new features, unlock more value and drive expansion revenue (at later stages in the user journeys).
Interactive walkthroughs prompt actions rather than just showing off features – so they “teach the users by doing.” Thus, they help solve specific pain points of specific users way more effectively than linear product tours.
In this post, we’ll go over the different types of in-app guidance, show examples of each type, best tools, and how you can use Userpilot to easily create effective in-app guides for onboarding your users and helping your target audience find more value in your product.
TL;DR – How guide users in-app without boring them?
- In-app guidance is used for user onboarding within your app. It can be used for both new users (to drive user activation) and advanced users (to drive user engagement and user adoption.)
- App guidance has a positive impact on all user metrics across the entire user journey.
- In-app guidance takes the form of Product Tours, interactive walkthroughs, tooltips, checklists or a Resource Center – ideally a combination of each of these UI patterns!
- Good in-app guides should be interactive, personalized and contextual. Avoid front-loading information with boring tours! Always guide users in the context of the goal they need to achieve at a specific stage in their user journey.
- You should use a product adoption platform for building in-app guidance rather than hard-coding it yourself from scratch. This will save you a ton of money in development resources, give you flexibility to change and A/B test your guides at will.
- The best in-app guidance tools are Userpilot (best for value for money and functionality) and Appcues. Other good choices (albeit with limited functionality) include Intercom, Userflow and Userguiding.
Book a free in-app guidance consultation for your SaaS!
What are in-app guides in SaaS?
An in-app guidance prompt offers contextual support to your users using short messages that drive user engagement within your product and lead to product adoption.
There are multiple types of in-app messages (UI patterns) you can combine to create in-app guidance inside your software. That is what good in-app marketing guidance is all about.
Now that we know what it is, let’s see the different types of in-app guidance prompts and how to build them!
Type 1: Product Tours
Let’s start by clarifying exactly what a product tour is and its role during the user onboarding process, and why app tours don’t offer a proper in-app guidance prompt.
A product tour shows a sequence of messages to new users about the various features of your product so that they know where to find them.
But do end users actually need to see all the features at once? And how much will they actually remember after a tour like that?
Once the product tour is over, end users are essentially left on their own with no contextual help or in-app support messages.
And here’s where the problem lies.
Product tours have a number of issues that impact the user experience:
- They are boring – who likes clicking on all these ‘next’ buttons, seeing all the irrelevant features? This works horribly for user engagement and user adoption.
- They ‘frontload’ information – instead of ‘teaching by doing’, they show all the features that you may not even need until much later in your user journey. This goes against the “just-in-time” user behavior psychology.
- They only touch the surface – showing you “what”, but not “why” and “who”
- They don’t drive you on the path to user adoption
- They don’t provide contextual guidance adapted to the stage in your user journey
- They are not personalized to the user’s needs – typically they are a “one-size-fits” all and are not responsive or interactive – the next step doesn’t change based on what you did in the previous step.And people often simply hate them…
That’s why fewer and fewer product teams include product tours as part of their onboarding. In fact, in our State of SaaS Onboarding report we found that less than a third used a product tour.
Creating walkthrough guides instead can make a huge difference to your digital adoption process.
Examples of Product Tours
Just look at the examples of linear product tours to see what I mean:
If product tours are so ineffective, what’s the alternative? Let’s see why interactive walkthroughs are better!
Type 2: Interactive Walkthroughs
An interactive walkthrough is similar to a product tour, but with one key difference.
While product tours are passive, the walkthroughs require action from the user after showing them each step and don’t progress until the user actually takes the action, making them a more effective UI pattern in the user onboarding process.
And with only a quarter of SaaS companies using interactive in-app walkthroughs at the moment, it presents a great opportunity to one-up your competitors, improve your onboarding process, and provide training without developing comprehensive training webinars.
Why are interactive walkthroughs more effective than product tours?
Since people learn better if they learn by doing, walkthroughs have a lot of advantages over linear product guides:
- Interactive walkthroughs are far more engaging because the user has to act. They have to click certain buttons, or enter text, to proceed. They are not shown step 4 before they completed steps 1, 2, and 3.
- App Walkthroughs provide value upfront – they drive users to perform actions that show them the value of your product for them (the key activation points) – and experience the Aha! Moment.
- Product walkthroughs increase user engagement by actively involving each person in learning new features.
Proof that interactive walkthroughs are more effective than product tours
Take a look at this data from one of our customers:
The black rectangle is highlighting a product tour. Less than half of the users who were shown the product tour went on to complete it.
The red rectangles are showing you the interactive walkthroughs. The difference here is clear.
With in-app guidance messages, roughly two-thirds of users continue to the end and engage with your software in a way that they understand the value.
Examples of interactive walkthroughs:
It’s hard to capture interactive walkthroughs on a GIF because they require actions from the user to proceed, which makes them longer than the typical 15-second GIF frame. Here’s a video featuring an interactive walkthrough (compare it to a product tour from previous sections.):
Type 3: Native Tooltips
A native tooltip is a single prompt that helps your users gain a better understanding of a specific feature of your product. Typically you add docked prompts like that to a specific element on your UI that is not self-explanatory (like this Ahrefs example), pushing for deeper feature adoption:
Native tooltips are great for creating in-app guidance for the later stages of the customer’s journey – helping to foster adoption of more advanced product features.
You should also use native tooltips for product launches – whenever your product team launches a new functionality in your app, you should add prompts to it so the user who missed your announcement emails still gets a chance to adopt it! Native tooltips are great to drive new users to adopt a feature that you have launched in the past.
Examples of native tooltips
Here are a few more examples of how you can use native tooltips for in-app guidance:
All these tooltips were built and styled code-free in Userpilot.
How to build native tooltips for in-app guidance?
You can hard-code your native tooltips (which isn’t very scalable if you need to change them and takes up your development resources), or use a code-free digital adoption platform to quickly create them. See how easy it is to create native tooltips in Userpilot (took me 1:24 to build this!)
If you want to learn more about this type of in app guides – watch this YouTube video here:
Type 4: Onboarding Checklists
Onboarding checklists are especially effective in new user onboarding – they push the user to adopt certain features in a specific order – leading them to complete a set of actions.
You can also use them (sadly very few SaaS companies do that!) to help more advanced users adopt more feature of your app, thus driving product adoption. Nobody said you can have only one checklist- you could build one for every area of your product, and trigger them at different times – when your users are ready. In some digital adoption platforms, you
How to build checklists for in-app guidance?
Building checklists using a no-code digital adoption platform is super-easy and literally takes minutes:
- create a checklist widget (you can decide if it’s supposed to open automatically, or be triggered by the user manually)
- add tasks for the users to complete and link the respective interactive walkthroughs to them OR direct the user to a specific page
- you can then decide if you want the item to be ticked off once the user engages with a specific feature, OR when they complete a specific goal (by performing a certain tracked event – or even a combination of events, aka a custom event)
Type 5: Resource Center
Resource Center is a type of help hub with different resources that help users on demand, and allow your Customer Success team to educate users without real-time human invovement. If you’re using a digital adoption tool like Userpilot, you can easily restrict which segment sees what content.
You can add videos, whole interactive guides, help docs etc. to them. Your users can find them by simply searching for a relevant topic.
Resource Centers are proven to massively reduce the number support tickets you’ll be getting from your users. In our case studies, Osano managed to shave off 25% of their support tickets – while Growth Mentor reduced their support ticket volume by a whopping 87% after implementing our resource center!
How to build a Resource Center?
Again, if you’re using a product adoption platform, building a resource center literally takes minutes: you simply drag and drop content and in-app guidance into a pre-built widget. Then, you can fully customize the help widget to match the style of your app’s native UI:
See it in the video below:
Real-world examples of great in-app guides
It’s all well and good talking about how great in-app guidance can be, but I will illustrate my point with real-world examples.
Platformly is a marketing automation tool. The wide range of features could be overwhelming to new users, and so Platformly added in-app guidance with Userpilot.
Rather than simply showing users how to build a dashboard, it walks them through it step-by-step.
These interactive walkthroughs exist for each of Platformly’s main features, accessible at any time.
This led to completion rates of over 40%, which is exceptional for a complex SaaS product.
You can learn more about Plaformly’s onboarding here.
Twilio is a cloud communications platform for making calls and sending SMS messages.
The onboarding flow starts by asking various questions to ascertain each use case.
After that, users are shown a walkthrough that guides users toward activation.
The walkthrough is tailored to the use case determined by the introductory questions so that users will instantly get access to relevant information.
Twilio uses tooltips to point users towards relevant features and actions they need to carry out.
By the end of the first interactive walkthrough, users will have a dedicated phone number to use with the app.
Twilio then takes things further by introducing the next interactive walkthrough, again based on the individual’s use case.
By letting users learn by doing, Twilio ensures users get started on the right foot.
Hootsuite is a social media management tool. It offers a few different “wise guides”. These are essentially interactive walkthroughs, targeted around key features such as “adding a social network”.
Users can then choose which guides they want to engage with, based on what they’re trying to achieve.
The walkthroughs then guide and assist users, encouraging them to use the product in a natural way.
For example, rather than providing a direct link to the relevant page, Hootsuite shows them how to navigate to it using the menu.
This prepares them for future use of the product.
This is a great example of how in-app guidance can start delivering value to users right away.
Grammarly is a grammar-checking tool.
Once users signed up and installed the Chrome extension, they are shown the demo document. This document provides in-app guidance and is (purposefully) full of errors and typos.
Why? So new users can use Grammarly to correct it.
This way, users learn by doing.
It’s a really clever way of building an activation walkthrough, resulting in users who are ready to start using the product right away.
The tool is designed to help business owners and managers keep track of their employee’s schedules.
Humanity only works as a product if users add their employees to it.
That’s where in-app guidance comes in.
It guides managers towards getting their accounts set up, screen by screen.
It shows managers how to add employees and set up their shifts.
But more importantly, it forces the user to actually do it themselves.
Why should you use tools to create In-App Guidance?
Should you hard code your in-app guides, or use dedicated software for it? Defo the latter. Here are the key benefits of using tools for creating in-app guidance:
- they allow you to build beautiful in-app experiences without having to code everything from scratch
- you get admin panel, version control, A/B testing, team functionality
- they free up your engineering resources to do what really matters – working on building and improving your product.
- Most of them have in-built analytics so you can measure the users’ engagement with your onboarding, experiment, or quickly change it if needed.
- Some product guidance software offers the option to build tours on top of third-party apps – to foster employee productivity (e.g. build salesforce in-app guidance for the salesforce users among your new hires.)
Hopefully, this convinces you really need a tool to build your product tours, and that it’s a not a good idea to just ask your devs to build them from scratch
Best tools for creating in-app guides
We’ve covered the best tools for in-app guidance extensively in this post (with screenshot, so I will just summarize it here (and you can read the full comparison here ofc). P.S. I’m only mentioning tools for onboarding your users, not for onboarding your employees on third-party tools (e.g. building salesforce in app guidance for training purposes.)
Top 3 in-app guidance tools according to users (G2 and Capterra):
Userpilot offers all of the UI patterns needed to guide users through your app (product tours, walkthroughs, tooltips, checklist, resource center) without any limitations. It has easy to use interface and the most robust analytics from all software adoption platforms.
Userpilot costs only $249 in its lowest plan, and even its enterprise plan is very affordable ($1000 per month.) It also offers unlimited in app surveys included in the price! It may not be suitable if you need a native integration with your salesforce platform.
Appcues is often praised as the easiest-to-use platform for onboarding users. You can create flows in Appcues really fast, but the lack of a Resource Center and very limited analytics mean it’s not the best value for money (and it limits you to only one checklist and 5 user segments in its basic $299 plan!)
- IntercomIntercom is a popular tool used for support and to create product tours. It only allows you to create product tours that are linear (so no branched walkthroughs!) and as we already discussed – this is not the best way to drive user adoption! It’s limited analytics mean you won’t be able to understand your user behavior with Intercom.
Userflow allows you to build in app guides on its dashboard- but unlike Userpilot, Appcues, and Userguiding – it doesn’t have a Chrome Extension letting you build on top of your product.
Userflow has some good features such as version control, but it lacks a Resource Center and advanced analytics.
UserGuiding is a lower-cost, entry-level product adoption tool offering a range of features to help companies onboard new customers and boost product adoption. UserGuiding excels at building simple onboarding experiences for users. It includes a no-code builder, segmentation options, and easily added UI patterns like hotspots, tooltips, and modals.
Although it also has some other goodies like a resource center and analytics, the meat of this product is its onboarding flow builder. If all you’re looking for is a relatively easy way to build simple onboarding flows, this could be a great choice for you. However, people looking for more analytics, customization, or complex integrations should probably look elsewhere.
For more details, look at this comparison table:
Creating in-app guides with Userpilot
Hopefully, you now have an idea of what you can achieve with the in-app guidance feature.
Now let’s look at how you can use tools like Userpilot to easily provide in app guidance for the users of your web app.
Create an in-app new experience
In Userpilot, to build in-app guides you need to first create a new flow.
Driven actions are unique to Userpilot, and are what turn a product tour into an interactive walkthrough that is tailored to the user’s experience. That means you don’t have to think how to manage prompts permission or build custom permissions for new prompts – and can instead building experiences that drive adoption.
You can choose from different options, depending on what you want your user to do. You can have them click, hover, or drag and drop with a floating prompt or a docked prompt.
They force the user to actually engage with your product when the prompt appears. You can use this to encourage users to click through to the next screen.
Use the tooltip to explain what a user needs to do, and why they should do it.
You can then chain these driven actions and tooltips together to create your walkthrough.
Conclusion: How to create good in-app guidance?
Before we part ways, I wanted to leave you with a short summary of in-app guidance best practices:
- Always have a goal in mind – approach onboarding users with a certain outcome in mind. For example, you might want your users to add a team member, or to drive adoption of a new feature.
- Make it interactive – walk your users step by step, show them what they need to achieve their immediate goals, and avoid front-loading information (e.g. with lengthy step by step tours!)
- Offer in-app guidance to advanced users too – aka Continuous Onboarding – (e.g. a tooltip informing them about a new feature) not just flows for new users.
- make sure your interactive walkthroughs are focused on achieving the goal for your customers.
- Keep it short and sweet, so that users don’t get bored, and you’re good to go.
Want to drive users to adopt your product faster? Book a free demo with Userpilot today!