Best Practices Guide to Creating a Successful Onboarding Tutorial for SaaS

Best Practices Guide to Creating a Successful Onboarding Tutorial for SaaS cover

Helping your users to experience value should be your primary objective as a SaaS owner or a product manager: creating an onboarding tutorial can be one of the most effective tools to help you get the job done.

In this comprehensive walkthrough, we’re going to unpack the best practices for creating an effective onboarding tutorial within your own SaaS. Get it right, and you’ll transform the user onboarding experience for your customers.

Ready to get started? Let’s get right into it!


  • User onboarding is a multi-faceted, multi-dimensional process designed to drive customer success throughout the entire customer lifecycle. Crucially, onboarding users is not a ‘once and done’ activity.
  • An onboarding tutorial is, in essence, a series of structured steps in the user onboarding flow that help explain how to utilize your product and its core features.
  • Web and mobile onboarding tutorials are pretty much the same thing. You might want to use them for different elements of the onboarding flow, but the goal is the same: helping your users experience value quickly.
  • You should absolutely consider building a user onboarding tutorial for a few key reasons: to improve the entire onboarding experience, increase the activation rate, and keep hold of your existing users by improving the retention rate.
  • There are a huge array of techniques and tactics to draw from when creating an onboarding tutorial within your own application. You could start things off with a welcome survey to gather valuable customer insight (and use that to personalize onboarding). Populate empty states to get them off to a fast start, etc.
  • Of course, none of this is possible without the right tool for the job. Userpilot is a powerful platform that enables you to easily build personalized, contextually relevant in-app experiences – with multiple onboarding patterns to choose from.

What is user onboarding?

User onboarding is a critical concept to grasp for any professional product person.

But it’s far more complex than you might think: it’s not just about helping first-time users learn how to use your product.

It’s a multi-faceted, multi-dimensional process designed to drive customer success throughout the entire customer lifecycle. Crucially, user onboarding is not a ‘once and done’ activity.

What is an onboarding tutorial?

An onboarding tutorial is an important part of any onboarding flow.

You can think of it as a way to help your customers nail their onboarding and experience value from the very start of their experience – a series of structured steps in the user onboarding process that help explain how to utilize your product and its core features.

Web app onboarding tutorial vs mobile app onboarding tutorial

You might have heard these terms described in different contexts. But for all intents and purposes, these are exactly the same.

They are simply variations of different app onboarding tutorials… One focused primarily on the onboarding UX within your web app itself, and the other is usually a supplement launched via mobile.

One key difference to bear in mind: mobile users typically don’t have the same patience (or ability to complete complex actions). You should design your user onboarding experience (and subsequent onboarding screens) accordingly. With that in mind, the mobile onboarding process should be as simple as possible.

Why do you need an onboarding tutorial for your SaaS?

Now, you might be thinking… why should you bother creating an onboarding tutorial within your SaaS? We’ll explore exactly how onboarding drives value below.

Improve user onboarding experience

First, and perhaps most obviously, an onboarding tutorial will drastically improve the overall user onboarding experience.

A carefully structured ‘path to value’ means you reduce the risk of users landing in your app, then struggling to figure out what to do next. You want to avoid that stuck feeling at all costs… and meet user needs as quickly as possible.

A stuck user means friction, and friction can lead to churn.

Increase activation rate

Next, a successful onboarding can help drive up the activation rate. The user activation rate (sometimes known as the product activation rate) is a vital metric that will help you understand the proportion of users who’ve reached a specific activation milestone.

An engaging onboarding tutorial that shows people exactly how to experience value within your product will absolutely drive them toward activation sooner.

Improve user retention

Increasing activation is fantastic – but it’ll all be for nothing if you fail to keep hold of your users. Customer retention rates will help you understand how effectively you’re maintaining your user base.

Your ultimate goal should be this: you want your customers to feel like they’re experiencing enough value from your product to keep paying for it long into the future.

Onboarding sets them firmly on that path.

Best practices when creating an onboarding tutorial for first-time users

Next up, we’re going to analyze the most effective tactics you can deploy when building a user onboarding tutorial for the first time. Apply them to your own onboarding UX, and you’ll easily be able to create an experience that delights your users.

Use a welcome survey to collect customer data and personalize the onboarding process

The first impression always counts: particularly in the SaaS world.

A welcome survey is a fantastic way to greet your users and land them smoothly in your app. If you’re clever about it though, welcome surveys are a double-edged sword: they’ll also help you to gather valuable customer data.

You can use those insights to tailor and personalize the onboarding flow for each individual user segment (and improve the experience for each new user).

Screenshot of Userpilot
A progress bar can make checklists even more effective.

Use an onboarding checklist to prompt micro conversions

You’re probably familiar with checklists: maybe you even use one to keep track of your priorities as part of your daily to-do list.

These sorts of powerful onboarding UX patterns can absolutely transform user onboarding. All of a sudden, you’ve created a dynamic, engaging way to interact with your product and figure out how to get value from your core features.

Why are onboarding checklists so effective?

  1. They provide a clear mechanism for your users to engage with the features you classify as most fundamental to product success.
  2. By forcing interaction, they stimulate new users to take the next actionable step.
  3. Ticking off individual items helps build a sense of satisfaction and completion: by the end of a checklist, a user should be well-equipped to get the most from all your product features.
Screenshot of Userpilot interface
Encourage your users with interactive checklists.

Use gamification elements to drive user engagement

Gamification is taking the SaaS world by storm: it’s a powerful tactic to leverage.

The crux of gamification in the onboarding process is adding a combination of interactive elements to the onboarding flow to increase a sense of fun, competition, or incentive.

Animation of engaging animation
Motivate your users to keep going.

All of these themes serve as powerful motivators that help drive your users toward the core tasks they need to complete (that they might otherwise dismiss as ‘boring’) to hit the activation point.

The greater the number of activated users – and the more effectively you meet their needs – the more successful your onboarding tutorial.

Use different onboarding UX patterns to guide users

Here’s another tactic to add to your toolkit: utilize the full range of onboarding UX patterns at your disposal.

A product team, SaaS owner, or group of UX designers that become too reliant on a particular set of UI patterns are shutting themselves off from an incredible amount of pent-up value.

There are so many types of onboarding UI patterns to pick from:

  • Tooltips help provide contextual information without cluttering the UI.
  • Banners provide a constant reminder of key information.
  • Hotspots engage your users with relevant information.
  • Pop-ups provide an instant way of drawing attention.
  • Slideouts are engaging and subtle without overwhelming.

Pick which pattern you deploy at different stages of your onboarding to guide, educate and inform your users.

Screenshot of Userpilot onboarding
Userpilot uses a modal/popup with an onboarding video that shows new users how to use the product.

Replace long product tours with interactive walkthroughs

Here’s a key tip for effective onboarding: you need to optimize for speed, and maximize the value you provide in as short a period of time as possible. Convey the essential information and vital points quickly.

An easy way to do that is to avoid spending ages on irrelevant information. You don’t need to set out in minute detail every element of the basic operations of your app.

An interactive, engaging walkthrough that provides contextually relevant information to your users is a far better way of building a user onboarding flow.

Animation of Userpilot walkthrough
Motivate your users to keep going with a walkthrough.

Take advantage of blank slates

In the world of SaaS, a blank slate is a missed opportunity. You should ensure your in-app experience makes the most of all the areas in your product that exhibit empty space.

You can personalize key elements, give your users a fast start, and in doing so drastically reduce time to value. Every action you take that helps reduce your user’s frustration is going to boost the retention rate. All of that means the user journey you create is far smoother.

Remove the fear of “white canvas”.

Use video tutorials to educate users

The data clearly shows that the vast majority of users benefit from visually driven learning. Video takes that to a whole other level: videos are proven to engage, inform and educate users far more effectively then forcing them to read big blocks of text.

Onboarding screens that encompass video can help dramatically improve your entire onboarding process. Placing yourself in the user’s mind, it’s also important to give them an element of choice: a self-directed tutorial gives them that freedom.

Loom uses onboarding videos.

Onboard users by prompting action

“It isn’t confidence that comes first, but taking action.”

Take the onboarding experience by the scruff of the neck: make sure you breathe life into your onboarding tutorials for the very first interaction they have with your product.

A checklist of tasks helps indicate the first few steps toward value a user needs to take: simply seeing functionality in operation can help prompt a technical realization.

Make sure you start on the right footing!

Screenshot of empty state population
A great example of generating quick insight for your users: populate the empty slate.

Create an onboarding tutorial with Userpilot

Of course, none of this is possible without the right tool or digital product for the job. Userpilot is a powerful platform that enables you to easily build personalized, contextually relevant in-app experiences tailored to different user segments.

Let’s explore how it can help you build onboarding tutorials below.

Create an onboarding flow with diverse onboarding UI patterns

One of the key benefits of Userpilot is the ability to deliver effective visual storytelling, with a variety of UX/UI onboarding patterns to choose from.

Pick the right combination of UI patterns to help you target your users needs more effectively with effective onboarding materials.

Screenshot of Userpilot UX patterns
Choose the right pattern for the situation.

UX research sciences demonstrate that motion makes interaction much simpler: a slideout or tooltip helps you drive the main point you’re trying to get across with ease.

Segment new users to deliver the right first impression

One of the fundamental yet simple rules of product management is to understand your users.

“Until you understand your customers – deeply and genuinely – you cannot truly serve them.”

That starts with realizing you shouldn’t treat them the same: you need to carefully think about how to tailor all your digital products (and the onboarding flow for each) so they land in a favorable way with your target audience.

Each onboarding tutorial should specifically meet the needs of a particular segment of your target audience. Luckily, Userpilot’s advanced segmentation options make that incredibly easy to realize.

You can create clear user groups by behavior, demographics, self-selected details, and a huge range of other information. That level of data will help you nail a personalized onboarding experience.

Screenshot of Userpilot interface
Segment and target carefully.

Prompt micro-conversions with goals setting

Setting clear goals is an important step toward driving product success.

With Userpilot, you can define specific and actionable goals for specific customer segments -linked to specific paths in the customer journey – to help you understand progress and the behavior of users coming into your app.

Set and track goals in Userpilot.

You can also trigger specific onboarding flows based on event occurrences.


We’ve covered a lot of ground!

Hopefully, you now understand exactly what it takes to build a punchy, effective onboarding tutorial that helps delight, engage, and inform users about how to get value from your product as quickly as possible.

So, if you want to get started with onboarding tutorials, get a Userpilot Demo – and see how you can craft experiences that help your users meet their product goals today.

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