Onboarding UX Best Practices For SaaS Products
Getting new users signed up and beginning to get value from your product is a challenge many product managers will face: onboarding UX best practices can help you tackle it effectively.
In this article, we’ll break down exactly the tools, techniques, and tactics you can leverage in your product.
Ready to get into it? Let’s get started!
- Onboarding UX can be defined as the user experience you create – both within and outside your app – to welcome, familiarize, and get users up to speed with your product or service.
- When looking at onboarding new users to your product or service, it’s best to follow best practices. By providing a better first-time user experience, you’ll boost activation (where users start to experience value). The faster you help customers reach that activation point, the better your chances of retention.
- Start to encourage users by telling an effective story with your signup page: get it right, and you can have a big impact on user acquisition.
- Another good rule of thumb for effective user onboarding experiences: when it comes to building a signup form… keep it simple and seamless. Focus on gathering the absolute minimum amount of information required.
- For longer signup processes, use gamification to improve the UX and create fully engaged customers. Checklists with interesting visual prompts are a great way to encourage users to take the next actionable step.
- First impressions count. It’s so important to get the user onboarding flow off to a positive start. Your welcome screen can do just that: use it to gather valuable information that’ll help you target users with a more personalized experience later in the process.
- Another huge opportunity many people miss when designing an onboarding experience is not populating the ‘blank slate’. How many users enjoy being greeted by a blank screen? You’d imagine very few.
- User onboarding is complex and multi-faceted. You should create branched experiences – whether that’s dynamic (i.e. actions drive what the journey looks like), adapted to different user segments based on data, or driven by choice. It’s the best way to ensure onboarding is targeted and effective.
- Another important element of onboarding is ensuring users know how to use, interact with, and get value from your product. Most people’s minds leap straight to product tours, but interactive walkthroughs are a far more practical tool.
- What you might not realize is that you can deploy checklists multiple times – for different purposes – throughout the onboarding experience. For example, one checklist might focus primarily on activation – another could be more geared toward the discovery of secondary features.
- It’s all well and good building an effective onboarding flow. But you need to put an equal focus on understanding areas of frustration, friction, and inefficiency. User interviews are a great way to build that insight.
- Remember to stick to a design framework: it’ll help improve the overall aesthetic, look, and feel of your onboarding. That extends to error messaging – the more info you can give your users, the better.
- The interesting thing about onboarding? It never stops! It’s a continuous and evolving process: you should constantly focus on how to adapt, iterate and improve your flows to create loyal users.
- Need an onboarding tool to help drive growth? Book a Userpilot demo and see how it can help you.
What is onboarding UX?
Onboarding UX is a broad term, but it can be defined as the user experience you create – both within and outside your app – to welcome, familiarize, and get users up to speed with your product or service.
Within a user onboarding flow, you’ll need to think about structure, patterns, content, objectives, user needs, tactics, and tooling.
It’s certainly a complex area!
Why should you follow onboarding UX best practices?
Given all that complexity, why is it important to follow user onboarding best practices? Simply put, it gives you the best chance of getting it right – and unlocking all the benefits that bring.
Typically, that route to value has two steps.
- Better first-time user experience. An effective user onboarding process helps new users land smoothly and seamlessly into your application. That initial experience is vital if you want to avoid users ‘bouncing’ straight back out!
- Faster activation. Building on that strong welcome experience, a positive onboarding process is proven to boost activation (the point that users start to experience value). The faster you help customers reach that activation point, the better your chances of retention.
You can see the impact of activation on a range of pivotal product metrics below.
Next, we’ll explore some of those best practices – with examples – to help inspire your onboarding process.
Use product storytelling for the WOW moment
“Stories constitute the single most powerful weapon in a leader’s arsenal.”
Any effective product manager should be well-versed in the power of storytelling. Use your product to craft a powerful narrative that helps enthrall your customers.
That can begin from the moment a user enters your app: utilize your landing page.
That might involve working on your copy to attract customers and create a positive emotional connection. It could mean including a positive review to help build trust with some social proof.
Simply put, telling a story with your signup page matters: get it right, and you can have a big impact on user acquisition.
Simplify the signup form for better engagement
A key part of the user onboarding journey is to ensure users are successfully able to sign up for an account. Without that, they’re not going to be able to use your product. Here’s a useful rule of thumb when it comes to building a signup form: the simpler, the better.
Focus on gathering the absolute minimum amount of information required for account creation. It’s the best way to avoid unnecessary friction. Nobody wants to waste their time trudging through a million irrelevant fields!
Miro’s signup flow is a great example of a frictionless SSO experience.
Once a customer has successfully reached the milestone of account creation during user onboarding, then they start to gather supplementary information (which they can successfully use to craft a more personalized user onboarding experience).
Gamify longer signup onboarding experiences
There’s an enormous trend around the concept of gamification in the SaaS world – and for very good reason. It’s a proven strategy for driving engagement and interest and can pay dividends regardless of the industry you operate in.
One of the simplest ways to implement gamification is using a neat little UX pattern: a visual progress bar.
Use them to motivate and inspire users to drive forward with a particular flow or journey. It’s amazing how much joy a little dopamine hit can bring!
Explore different options (like animations) to further enhance the experience.
Start the user onboarding experience with a welcome message
First impressions count. It’s so important for you to set the tone, get the user onboarding flow off to a positive start, and lay the foundations for engagement, activation, and retention.
Your product welcome message should always do at least a couple of things well:
- Welcome users to your product and reassure them they are in the right place.
- Prompt the next actionable step they need to take to move their user onboarding forward.
The user persona JTBD welcome screen for collecting user data
Savvy product managers can also leverage some extra value from the welcome screen: understanding why a user wants to use the product in the first place.
A short, simple welcome survey can help add to a good first impression.
After all, people love sharing information about themselves.
But more importantly, you can use the information you gather about your customers and their goals to craft a more personalized experience.
The onboarding video product tour that prompts action
Another useful tactic is to deploy video to delight and attract users. The data shows there’s a huge boost in engagement when interacting with video content.
Just look at the massive success of YouTube and TikTok as forms of entertainment.
So utilize that to your advantage: embed a video into your welcome screen, perhaps with a short tour of your product’s primary functionality, and kickstart your user’s first in-app action.
Don’t leave the blank slate blank
Another huge opportunity many people miss when designing an onboarding experience is being satisfied with a ‘blank slate’. In essence, that’s the empty space users see once they’ve signed up for your product.
How do you make the most of it? Let’s explore.
The number one tip here is to personalize the onboarding experience using data you’ve collected when users sign up.
Rather than a soulless blank experience, they’ll see their details already populated in the product interface – and that’ll get them off to a fast start.
To-do list that showcases the product
We’ll explore a clever example from Notion: they use the key functionality of the product itself to demonstrate to customers how it works, provide a clear set of valuable onboarding steps, and showcase the product working in action.
Of course, there’s also the interactive element to consider. We’ve already discussed how checklists can help engage and drive your customers forward.
Use onboarding UX patterns to guide
There are a wealth of onboarding UX patterns to explore. Which you pick will depend enormously on the context, of course: you should pick a pattern based on the specific use case. To cover a few examples:
- Tooltips are excellent for providing contextual info without overwhelming the UI
- Modals are an eye-catching way of grabbing users’ attention
- Checklists serve as valuable interactive prompts
Create branched onboarding flows to reduce time to value
User onboarding is complex and multi-faceted. In this section of the article, we’re going to cover how branched onboarding flows can boost the effectiveness of your whole experience.
Use choose your own journey interactive videos
Self-determination is a powerful force. You can effectively let users choose what they want to learn about next – and that can be far more effective than trying to force them down a particular route.
To make it more engaging, use interactive videos like Tolstoy.
Try a personalized onboarding process based on data
Another tactic you can take is making your onboarding dynamic (i.e. it changes depending on the answers or selections a user makes).
The example from ConvertKit below demonstrates how this can help create a more targeted flow.
You can create a similar effect with effective user segmentation: target different experiences toward different jobs to be done.
Replace long product tours with different UI patterns that guide
Another important element of onboarding is ensuring users know how to use, interact with, and get value from your product. Most people’s minds leap straight to product tours – but you have other options to draw from.
Remember, above all else, you want to avoid unnecessary user anxiety: a good onboarding flow is gradual, personal, smooth, and focused.
Keep users engaged and improve user adoption with walkthroughs
Your best bet is interactive walkthroughs. They are a key element of good user onboarding: they help to avoid too much friction when a user engages with a feature for the first time.
So what is a product walkthrough? In essence, they are interactive guides often comprised of a series of tooltips triggered contextually (i.e. not until the user completes the previous step). That helps guide users to take the next relevant action and drive them forward.
Help users gradually discover relevant features with tooltips
Another fantastic alternative to an overwhelming product tour is targeted tooltips. They’ll help you effectively personalize the customer experience by showcasing the exact features of your interface you want.
Tooltips are proven to drive engagement – they’re even more effective if you can map them directly onto the ‘jobs to be done’ you’ve captured earlier in the onboarding process.
Use multiple checklists for different stages in the user journey
We’ve covered how effective checklists can be as an onboarding tool. What you might not realize is that you can deploy them multiple times – for different purposes – throughout the onboarding experience.
For example, one checklist might focus primarily on activation – another could be more geared toward the discovery of secondary features. They’re flexible: use them to tackle any milestone you need, and remember to keep them short to boost user engagement.
Celebrate success for better onboarding UX experiences
Throughout your onboarding flow, make sure you celebrate success. It’s a great way of ‘sneaking’ some elements of gamification into onboarding: even small wins (like completing an onboarding milestone) will feel motivating.
Understand friction with user interviews
It’s all well and good building an effective onboarding flow – but you need to put an equal focus on understanding areas of frustration, friction, and inefficiency.
Gather that insight directly from your users (interviews are a great way of doing that), review session recordings, and analyze feature usage to understand drop-offs… and the reason behind them.
Importantly, you’ll want to see exactly where users drop off the happy path – and use onboarding patterns to guide them back towards it.
Declutter the UI without compromising product education
An important element to remember throughout onboarding: don’t clutter your UI with an overload of messages. Keep it simple, stick to proven UX practices, and you’ll give your users the best chance to succeed.
Instead, combine all your guides, FAQs, walkthroughs, and more in a Resource Center – and rely on contextual help with tooltips in the rest of your product.
Drive user retention with a continuous user onboarding process for existing users
The interesting thing about onboarding? It never stops!
It’s a continuous and evolving process: you’ll need to guide and engage users from signup all the way through to cancellation, always helping them to discover new relevant features and get value from your product.
It also means all in-app announcements should be targeted and focused: don’t just slap a random banner at the top of your page when you launch a new feature and hope for the best.
Use design guidelines for your onboarding patterns
Look no further than an organization with one of the best design pedigrees in the world for inspiration here: Apple. They have strict brand design guidelines, frameworks, and templates to ensure consistency across all their products and services.
It’s not just for aesthetics: it drives a better user onboarding experience.
Make UI feedback part of the user onboarding experience
Treat your users like adults: give them as much information as possible (without overloading them). For example, a helpful loading message might benefit your customers by putting their minds at ease.
UX user onboarding best practices recap
Let’s wrap up. We’ve covered why onboarding is critically important, the benefits of getting it right, and exactly what goes into crafting an effective onboarding experience in your own product.
So what are you waiting for?
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