How to Use In-App Tutorials to Educate your Users and Increase Product Adoption

in app tutorials

When a user goes into your product for the first time, chances are they won’t really know where to start. That’s why it’s essential that you educate them or onboard them in some way. And in this article, we’re going to talk about why in-app tutorials are the best way to do that.

Sure, you have other options open to you. You could provide detailed help docs, or you could send out an email course to new users. You could even have your CS team manually teach every new user how to use your product. But let’s face it, those approaches either ask too much of your users, or too much of your poor CS managers.

In-app tutorials, however, enable you to teach your users how to use your product from within your product. This makes a massive difference, it’s so much more effective at increasing product adoption.

Further down in the article I’ll show you how you can start adding in-app tutorials to your product, sharing some fantastic examples along the way.

The TL;DR is that you can do everything we’re mentioning below, code-free with Userpilot. Book a demo and we’ll show you how!


How in-app tutorials can increase product adoption

Product adoption is one of the most important milestones for your users to reach. If they get to that point of adoption, chances are they’ll be sticking around for a while. That’s the ultimate goal, right?

Now, in order to reach that point of adoption, your users need to get some kind of value from your product, and quick. That’s what keeps them coming back for more.

The only way they can get any value from your product is if they know how to use it. That’s where in-app tutorials come in.

What is an in-app tutorial?

An in-app tutorial is a tutorial that takes place within your product.

It teaches new users how to use your product, highlighting key features, and helping them get value from it.

In-app tutorials can take on a few different forms depending on your product. Two of the most common options you have are product tours or interactive walkthroughs.

In our state of SaaS onboarding research, we found that just over half of the products we tested contained one of those two options. There are, however, other options open to you.

You could show videos of your product on a pop-up modal. You could use tooltips to explain various parts of your product. You could offer a chatbot widget that’s on hand to answer your users’ questions.

This will all become clearer as we go on, and the examples I’ve chosen show off the various in-app tutorial options open to you.

For now, all you really need to know is that an in-app tutorial is designed to educate your users.

Why are in-app tutorials important?

Well, they’re important for one key reason: They drive product adoption. In fact, they’re one of the biggest drivers of product adoption.

Let’s look at a common user journey for SaaS products:

in-app tutorial user journey

We can cross “Purchase” off because if you’re thinking about in-app tutorials, then chances are that purchase decision has already been made.

That means the next step is “Adoption”. As you can see from the user journey, if the user doesn’t reach the “Adoption” step, then they’ll never reach retention, expansion, or advocacy. In other words, they’re a churned user waiting to happen.

That means you need to do everything you can to onboard your users and get them to that adoption step. In-app tutorials play a massive part, for three reasons:

In-app tutorials provide value

I talk a lot about providing value to users as quickly as possible – by leading them to the ‘key activation points’. It’s why your product’s Aha! Moment is so crucial. The sooner a user experiences value from your product, the more likely they are to stick around.

key activation points

Those ‘key activation points’ are the moments when your user adopts these key features without which they will not see the value of your product. To give you an example: let’s take a simple social media scheduling app. The key activation points for its users are a) connecting the social media accounts and b) scheduling the first post.

postfity in-app tutorial

Postfity’s in-app tutorial helps the users get to these points.

The great thing about in-app tutorials is that they provide value from the moment your user signs in for the first time.

They show the user how to get started. If the user follows the steps in the in-app tutorial, then value will be right around the corner.

Not only that, but in-app tutorials can even provide value themselves. You’re actually teaching your users. If you can teach them something really useful, then you’re already providing value.

In-app tutorials encourage engagement

Engagement is everything when it comes to convincing a new user to stay. If they simply stare at the first screen they see, then they won’t last very long. You need them to click, to scroll, to type — to interact in some way.

A good in-app tutorial encourages those interactions. It prompts users to do something, and means they’re more likely to actually do it.

Clicking on the items on this checklist, for instance, triggers specific experiences that lead to the key activation points:

Postfity checklist

This is far more effective than leaving them to their own devices which, in most cases, ends up with them signing out of your product and wondering why they even bothered.

In-app tutorials develop relationships

It might sound weird, but sometimes it’s useful to think of the dynamic between your users and your product as a relationship.

Users develop a kind-of relationship with your product. It’s why we grow attached to certain products, even though there might be better alternatives out there.

These relationships can be invaluable, especially when it comes to developing advocacy later on in the user journey.

In-app tutorials can establish a good working relationship between your users and your product from day one. Your product becomes the “expert”, or the “teacher”, and they become the “student”. That shifts the balance in your favor.

How to make your in-app tutorials more effective

So hopefully now you understand why in-app tutorials are so crucial when it comes to driving product adoption.

But what makes a good in-app tutorial? How do you make it as effective as possible?

That’s what we’re going to look at now.

Here’s what you need to consider:

  • Don’t overwhelm your users
  • Tailor in-app tutorials to use cases
  • Explain the benefits
  • Make it interactive
  • Use contextual learning

I’ll take each of these in turn, and share some examples as I go so you see what I mean…

Newsletter – email course:


Don’t overwhelm your users

When a user signs in to your product for the first time, they’re looking for guidance. But that doesn’t mean you can bombard them with lots of different messages.

If you do that, they won’t know where to look. Their attention will be scattered in different directions. Ultimately, you won’t have their attention at all and they’ll end up missing key information.

So how do you avoid overwhelming your users with in-app tutorials?

One way is to simply limit information. You should only tell them what they really need to know at this point in time.

That’s why it’s good practice to focus on your product’s Aha! Moment. Your onboarding and in-app tutorials need to focus on driving users towards that moment.

Thinking about it like this makes it easier for you to see which information is important. You’ll see that your users don’t need to know about those secondary features (at least not yet) and so you can make your in-app tutorial more focused.

Here’s how Docusign does it:

docusign in-app tutorial

This introductory modal contains just three simple points that encapsulate the entire product, or at least everything new users need to know.

Users are then shown a simple empty state:

docusign screenshot

Rather than giving new users all the information up-front, Docusign focuses on encouraging them to add their first document. This is the first step they need to take to reach the Aha! Moment, and by focusing on it exclusively, users are more likely to get there.

Remember, your users are only human. Give them too much information at once and they’ll end up more confused than they were in the first place. Keep your in-app tutorials simple and focused.

Tailor in-app tutorials to use cases

Most SaaS products will have a few different use cases or user personas. It’s safe to say that these use cases will often have different needs from your product. So giving everyone the same in-app tutorial is never going to work.

Instead, you should create a separate in-app tutorial for each and every use case. Then you just need to trigger the right one for each user that signs up to your product.

That might seem like more work, but the results will more than make up for it.

Of course, to do this you need to make sure you know which use case your users belong to. The best way to do that is to ask them.

Mediation app, Calm, uses this to great effect. First, new users are asked to choose which categories they belong to:

calm in-app tutorial example

Calm then uses the answer to this question to give users a good place to start:

calm onboarding

This is a really effective way of improving your in-app tutorial and driving product adoption.

Explain the benefits

Just because a new user has signed up to your product doesn’t mean you should stop selling to them.

In fact, you really need to do the opposite. You need to make sure new users are aware of the benefits your product provides.

If you’re trying to convince them to use a certain feature in your product, then you’re going to have to tell them why they should use it.

The best way to do this is to provide a bit of context when you introduce users to new features.

Obviously you don’t want to go overboard. This isn’t a sales pitch. But you do want to at least touch on some of the amazing benefits your product provides.

Here’s a great example of how you can sell benefits without coming across as overly-salesy:

etsy in-app tutorial

This is Etsy’s mobile app. A large part of driving adoption with mobile apps is to encourage users to enable push notifications.

Of course, most of us have too many notifications already and so we often need convincing.

Etsy’s modal does a great job of providing three compelling reasons users should turn notifications on. But more importantly, it does this without sounding like a sales pitch.

Here’s another example, this time from ClearBrain. As users work through the onboarding flow, they’re asked to set up their first funnel.

This is a fairly essential part of the onboarding process. If users don’t set up a funnel, they’ll never fully adopt the product.

That’s why ClearBrain provides users with this screen:

clearbrain in-app tutorial example

Here, users are told exactly why it’s important that they set up a funnel. It doesn’t try to sell it, it simply explains what a funnel provides. The feature effectively sells itself.

When you design your in-app tutorial, keep asking “Why?”. Why should users connect that account? Why do they need to set up that feature? Then make sure you provide an answer.

userpilot demo

Make it interactive

One of the biggest ongoing debates in the world of onboarding is whether your product should have a product tour or an interactive walkthrough.

Both are similar. Both walk new users around the product, highlighting various features. Both act as a useful in-app tutorial. But there’s a key difference: One lets users learn by doing.

We’ve written previously about why interactive walkthroughs are more effective than product tours.

Basically, the interactive nature means that users pay more attention, retain more of what they’ve learned, and start seeing value quicker.

The best part is that interactive walkthroughs are fairly easy to add to your product, especially with Userpilot.

Userpilot’s unique ‘driven actions’ are the key. These are essentially onboarding elements that force the user to interact, either through a click, a hover, or even a text input.

userpilot driven actions

You can easily combine these driven actions with tooltips and other elements to create a compelling interactive walkthrough that drives product adoption.

That’s exactly what Platformly did. They used Userpilot to create an interactive walkthrough and drive product adoption.

platformly in-app tutorial

As you can see from the screenshot above, the interactive walkthrough uses driven actions to prompt users to create their first dashboard – a key step on the way to product adoption.

If you need more inspiration for your interactive walkthrough, we’ve put together some great examples here.

Use contextual learning

One of the issues with front-loading information to new users is that they’re likely to forget it all within ten minutes of using your product.

That effectively means your onboarding was a waste of time, plus your users will still be in the dark when it comes to using your product.

The solution is to make your in-app tutorials more contextual. In other words, show users the right message at the right time.

What does that mean in practice? Well, it means that you should only tell a user about a particular feature of your product when they need to know about it.


In Userpilot, you can do this by using custom events and triggers. For example, you could set up an event so that when a user scrolls to a certain part of the screen it will trigger a tooltip.

One of the best examples of contextual onboarding comes from Trello:

trello onboarding

Rather than a tour or walkthrough, users are greeted with an actual Trello board, filled up with different onboarding messages.

Users can then complete the tasks in their own time, learning how to use Trello as they do so.

It’s important to make sure that your in-app tutorials don’t give irrelevant information. That will only serve to turn users off.

Contextual onboarding can make your in-app tutorials far more effective, and drive product adoption as a result.

Key takeaways

  • In-app tutorials are basically product tutorials that take place inside your app. Product tours or walkthroughs are the most common examples.
  • In-app tutorials are important because they provide value upfront, encourage engagement, and develop relationships.
  • To make your in-app tutorials more effective, you need to make sure you don’t overwhelm your users. Tailor tutorials to different use cases, explain the benefits, and make it interactive. Finally, make sure your in-app tutorial is contextual.

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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.