In-App Guidance: How to Activate your Users Without Boring Them

in app walkthrough

Every aspect of your product’s onboarding should be aimed at achieving one thing: Activating your users. That’s the end goal.

If you’re currently struggling to activate users, then you may need to look at improving your in-app guidance.

In-app guidance is a fancy way of describing the onboarding that happens within your product.

In other words, it discounts any emails you send, or any kickoff calls you do. It focuses purely on what happens in-app.

Most in-app guidance takes one of two forms. Either it’ll be a product tour, or it’ll be an interactive walkthrough.

Both of these can help guide your users towards activation. However, in this article I’m going to argue that interactive walkthroughs are far more effective when it comes to in-app guidance.

I’ll explain where product tours fall short, and why interactive walkthroughs produce better results.

I’ll also show you some real-world examples of in-app guidance to give you some inspiration.

And then I’ll finish by explaining how you can use Userpilot to easily create effective in-app guidance for your users.

Ready to get started? Let’s dive in.

Why product tours don’t offer in-app guidance

Let’s start by clarifying exactly what a product tour is.

As the name suggests, a product tour is a brief overview of your product. It shows new users around the various features, so that they know where to find them once they get up and running.

in-app guidance slack

But do you actually need to see all the features all at once? And how much will you actually remember after a tour like that?

Once the product tour is over, users are essentially left to their own devices.

And there’s where the problem with product tours as a way of providing in-app guidance lies.

Product tours have a number of issues that impact the user experience and provide lacklustre in-app guidance.

  • They’re boring
  • They ‘frontload’ information – instead of ‘teaching by doing’
  • They only touch the surface

That’s why fewer SaaS companies are starting to include product tours as part of their onboarding. In fact, we found that less than a third used a product tour.

Product tours are boring

That first interaction a user has with your product is really important. This is the moment when they are most excited about using your product. You need to maintain that level of enthusiasm.

A long drawn-out product tour is likely going to do the exact opposite.

Users want to get started as soon as possible. They want to start experiencing value. That’s why we recommend driving users to your product’s Aha! Moment as soon as you can.

A product tour simply adds more friction, and increases the time-to-value. You’re asking excited new users to sit through a product tour before they can actually use your product.

Product tours ‘frontload’ information

There’s an important aspect of psychology involved with UX and onboarding called cognitive load. This refers to the amount of information given to a user.

The more you can do to reduce cognitive load, the better experience you’ll provide.

One issue with product tours is that they ‘frontload’ all the information. In other words, they provide the user with everything about the product right at the start – whether the user actually needs it or not. This drastically increases the cognitive load.

The result of this is that your in-app guidance actually serves to confuse your users even more, and may cause them to switch off completely.

Product tours only touch the surface

If you have a particularly complex product, then you should realize that it’s practically impossible to explain it with one product tour.

Most product tours only touch the surface level of a product. They don’t provide the detail needed for users to truly understand what to do and why they should do it.

As a result, users may finish the product tour and then be left wondering what to do next. If anything, they’ll need more in-app guidance to help them.

Why interactive walkthroughs are more effective for in-app guidance

If product tours are so ineffective at providing in-app guidance, what’s the alternative?

Well, an increasing number of SaaS products are using interactive walkthroughs to provide in-app guidance to new users.

An interactive walkthrough is similar to a product tour, but with one key difference:

While product tours are passive, interactive walkthroughs require action from the user.

This is an important distinction to make, as it forms the basis for why interactive walkthroughs are so much more effective.

in-app guidance stripo

There are several reasons why interactive walkthroughs are better at providing in-app guidance:

  • They help users learn by doing
  • They’re more engaging
  • They provide value upfront

And with only a quarter of SaaS companies using interactive walkthroughs at the moment, it presents a great opportunity to one-up your competitors.

Reason #1: Interactive walkthroughs help users learn by doing

If I explained how to ride a bike, do you think you could suddenly do it? Course not. The only way to learn is by doing it for yourself.

The same can be said for software products.

In fact, it’s been well-documented that people learn better if they learn by doing.

That’s what makes interactive walkthroughs so effective. They encourage users to actually use the product as part of their onboarding.

Actually carrying out the actions and tasks required helps users grasp your product quicker, and improves the in-app guidance.

Reason #2: Interactive walkthroughs are more engaging

Product tours are boring because they essentially force a user to sit and watch a video, or click through a series of tooltips.

Interactive walkthroughs are far more engaging because the user has to act. They have to click certain buttons, or enter text, to proceed through the in-app guidance.

As a result, they’re engaged from the very first moment they sign in to your product. This means they’re far more likely to see your in-app guidance through to the end, and thus are far more likely to be activated.

Reason #3: Interactive walkthroughs provide value upfront

As I mentioned earlier, it’s important to provide as much value as possible as quickly as possible. You want to drive users to perform actions that show them the value of your product for them (the key activation points) – and experience the Aha! Moment.

An interactive walkthrough helps to show the user the kind of value they can expect from your product. It actually provides value upfront because users are actually using the product.

You’re encouraging them to take their first steps with the product right away, while they’re most motivated to do so.

This means they’ll start moving closer to the Aha! Moment, and the point of activation.

Proof that interactive walkthroughs are more effective than product tours

Take a look at this data from one of our customers:

in-app guidance data

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 plain to see.

With in app guidance, roughly two-thirds of users continue to the end.

That means interactive walkthroughs are far more effective when it comes to in-app guidance and onboarding your customers.

Real-world examples of great in-app guidance

It’s all well and good having me drone on about how great in-app guidance can be, but I feel I can better illustrate my point with real-world examples.

Platformly’s in-app guidance

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.

platformly in-app guidance

As well as providing users with a checklist and utilizing the empty states, Platformly offers an interactive walkthrough to help users get started.

platformly onboarding

Rather than simply showing users how to create 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 in-app guidance 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’s in-app guidance

Twilio is a cloud communications platform for making calls and sending SMS messages.

The onboarding flow starts by asking various questions to ascertain each user’s use case.

twilio in-app guidance

After that, users are shown an interactive walkthrough that is geared towards activation.

The walkthrough is tailored to the use case determined by the introductory questions, so that users will instantly see value.

Twilio uses tooltips to point users towards relevant features and actions they need to carry out.

twilio onboarding

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.

twilio interactive walkthrough

By letting users learn by doing, Twilio ensures users complete the in-app guidance and get started on the right foot.

Hootsuite’s in-app guidance

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”.

hootsuite in-app guidance

Users can then choose which walkthroughs they want to complete, based on what they’re trying to achieve.

The walkthroughs then guide 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.

hootsuite onboarding

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, and point them towards the Aha! Moment.

Grammarly’s in-app guidance

Grammarly is a grammar-checking tool. In my opinion, they’ve got one of the best onboarding flows in the business.

Once they’ve signed up and installed the Chrome extension, users are shown the demo document. This document is going to provide the in-app guidance.

grammarly in-app guidance

This demo document is (purposefully) full or errors and typos. Why? So new users can use Grammarly to correct it.

This way, users learn by doing. They instantly see the value of using Grammarly for their own work.

It’s a really clever way of combining in-app guidance with the actual product, resulting in users who are ready to start using the product right away.

Humanity’s in-app guidance

Humanity is a tool designed to help business owners and managers keep track of their employees.

Humanity only works as a product if users add their employees to it. But with so many features, they may struggle to do so.

That’s where Humanity’s in-app guidance comes in.

It provides users with an interactive walkthrough to guide them towards getting their account set up.

humanity in-app guidance

It shows users how to add employees and set up their shifts.

humanity onboarding

But more importantly, it forces the user to actually do it for themselves. This way they learn by doing, AND get their account set up. It’s a win-win, and helps drive users towards activation.

Learn More About Creating In-app Guidance with Userpilot

Hopefully, you now have an idea of what you can achieve with in-app guidance.

Now let’s look at how you can use Userpilot to easily create interactive walkthroughs.

Start by creating a new experience.

Then choose your first step. Most interactive walkthroughs use a combination of tooltips and driven actions.

Driven actions are unique to Userpilot, and are what turns a product tour into an interactive walkthrough.

They force the user to actually engage with your product.

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.

userpilot in-app guidance

You can use this to encourage users to click through to different screens.

Be sure to use the tooltip to explain what a user needs to do, and why they should do it.

userpilot onboarding

You can then chain these driven actions and tooltips together to create your interactive walkthrough.

It’s best to approach this with a certain outcome in mind. For example, you might want your users to add a team member, or to connect to their social media account.

Then make sure your interactive walkthrough is focused on achieving that outcome for your users.

Keep it short and sweet, so that users don’t get bored, and you’re good to go.

Want to see this in action? Book a free demo with Userpilot today!

In-app guidance: Key takeaways

  • In-app guidance is a way of teaching users how to use your product, while they’re actually using it.
  • Product tours are ineffective, as they’re boring, increase cognitive load, don’t teach by doing and thus may provide irrelevant information, and only touch the surface of your product.
  • Interactive walkthroughs are more effective, as they are engaging, help users to learn by doing, and provide value upfront.
  • Userpilot’s “driven actions” enable you to quickly and easily add interactive walkthroughs and in-app guidance to your product.

About the author

Joe is a content writer, with several years of experience working with SaaS startups. He’s also the founder of Turing, a conversation design agency, making chatbots more human.

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Joe is a UX and content writer, with several years of experience working with SaaS startups. He's been working with SaaS startups that are focused towards product management and customer success for the past couple of years.