When designing an onboarding system, this bit of research and market analysis upfront will save you lots of time and heartache.
Let’s dive into the best practices you should keep in mind when building your product onboarding process.
- Product onboarding is the ongoing process of educating your new users in getting the most out of your product.
- Following product onboarding best practices will have a huge impact on metrics like activation, retention, and feature usage.
- The most important best practice for onboarding is to segment your users and give an individualized experience to each segment.
- Define activation for each segment and build an interactive walkthrough that leads that user group towards activating.
- The copywriting throughout your walkthrough should be concise wherever possible.
- Look to reduce customer friction wherever possible, especially in the signup phase.
- Gamification can also help keep your users engaged.
- Use analytics software to measure whether your onboarding system hits your desired metrics, and then A/B test and iterate until your goals are reached.
- Userpilot can help you build your onboarding (no coding needed), analyze product usage and collect user feedback.
What is product onboarding?
You can think of product onboarding as the process of educating your customers on how to derive value from your product.
When most SaaS executives think of onboarding, they associate it with primary onboarding. That is to say: the customer education that takes place immediately after new users join your platform.
There is some truth to this, but this definition misses two key aspects:
The user onboarding experience is an ongoing process. Just because someone’s been using your product for 6 months, it doesn’t mean that they couldn’t benefit from further customer education.
Each onboarding flow is subjective. Different customers define value in different ways, so you’ll need to uncover what your users find valuable and give them that as efficiently as possible through different onboarding flows personalized for each use case.
Note that onboarding a user into your product is not the same as employee onboarding, so if you’re looking for content on the latter, try reading this article instead.
Why is product onboarding important for SaaS companies?
One of the most surprising things I learned when I started researching user onboarding best practices is just how many users companies tend to lose in the first 24 hours.
Research by Statista has found that the typical app only retains about 25% of its customers after the end of Day One.
If so many new users are leaving, it’s because they’ve not encountered something of value that makes them want to stay.
The great thing about a good user onboarding flow is that it’s explicitly designed to lead both new users and existing customers towards value, driving increased user retention in return.
Companies that invest in effective user onboarding tend to identify an Aha Moment and an activation point for each group of users, and then focus 100% of the initial user journey on achieving those milestones.
If a user reaches activation, then, by definition, they have experienced the value of your product, making them much less likely to want to churn.
Over time, this also means that activated users are likely to be retained for longer.
And the longer your customers are retained, the more monthly subscription payments you will earn.
If that’s not enough of a financial incentive to invest in building a good user onboarding process, consider also that it’s much cheaper to retain a long-term customer than it is to acquire a new one.
Put all that together, and you can see why understanding onboarding best practices are useful.
So what are these best practices?
Product onboarding best practices to follow for successful user onboarding experiences
Use segmentation during your user onboarding process
If I could recommend one thing to SaaS companies who want to onboard users effectively, it would be to invest time into segmenting your users.
By segmenting, I mean understanding the different reasons that different groups of customers want to use your product, and then grouping them accordingly.
For example, imagine you run a project management app. There are so many different types of customers you could have:
- A CEO who is interested in the big picture of their business
- A low-level employee who only cares about their personal deadlines
- A project manager who wants to make sure that everyone else gets their work done on time and on budget
- An accountant who is only interested in the financial side of things
Hopefully, you’ll agree with me that what’s of interest to one of these user groups would probably turn off a different type of user in two seconds flat!
There are dozens of ways you could hypothetically segment your customers, ranging from:
- Plan level
- Enterprise vs. non-enterprise
- Account age
- In-app behavior
The right user onboarding software will do a lot of the segmenting work for you.
Define the activation point
Once you’ve got your users segmented, another good practice is to work out what constitutes activation for each individual segment.
That way, you know that if you can bring users to the point of activation, they will have found value in your product and be unlikely to leave it.
Your value proposition is your first clue to working out what your activation point is. Why did you build your business in the first place? What problem were you trying to solve?
Next, look at your product analytics.
In particular, examine the difference in behavior between your churning users and your power users. Which features are always adopted by the power users, but never by the churning ones?
It’s likely that those features are the core of your product.
Understanding them will be the pathway to driving new users to their activation point by building a separate user onboarding experience for each segment.
Adopt a frictionless signup (most of the time)
Most businesses will benefit from keeping their signup process as quick and easy as possible as part of their onboarding experience.
The point here is to reduce Time to Value and get your customer using your product as efficiently as possible.
Classic ways of reducing signup friction include:
- Allowing customers to sign up via a third party, such as Gmail
- Enabling autocomplete to save customers from typing
- Adopting a minimalistic UI with as few elements as possible besides the sign-up CTA
- Asking your customers as few questions as possible during the signup phase
Airtable is legendary for its frictionless signup process. Just look at how lean this registration page is!
On rare occasions, some businesses benefit from breaking this rule and intentionally extending their signup process.
For more information on that particular nuance, as well as more on signup best practices in general, this post is well worth a read.
Use effective copy
Great user onboarding experiences use copy that is short and on point so that the user understands your message fast.
If your modals are too long, your users will perceive them as even more disruptive than they already were.
If your tooltips are too long, they’ll obscure the rest of your UI.
If your checklists are too long, your customers will run out of energy before completing them.
And if your product tour is too long, there’s a good chance that it’s not laser-focused on achieving activation, which is a problem.
In all of these cases, keeping your copy as concise as possible is one of the user onboarding best practices you should strive towards.
I like looking at this from an essentialist perspective: strive for less, but better.
Use interactive walkthroughs, not linear product tours
The worst way to set up your product tour is to have it try to be all things to all people. This is a bit like the professor back in college who would lecture you in the same tedious manner each week, regardless of how engaged (or otherwise) the class seemed to be.
It is front-loading all the information, hoping your users will remember the 11-step guide.
Unsurprisingly, user onboarding experiences like this aren’t very popular:
So what’s the alternative?
Smart SaaS businesses walk their customers through only the small subset of features that the customers need to understand in order to activate.
Perhaps you can now start to see why segmentation and researching activation points were so important earlier in this process.
The term “interactive” is instructive here because the walkthrough should feel to the customer like an engaging two-way conversation.
In other words, your product onboarding system should respond to the in-app behavior of the user, in real-time.
Each step in their onboarding flow (or walkthrough) should be triggered by the required action from the previous step.
Don’t code your product onboarding from scratch
It’s much more time- and cash-efficient to build your onboarding system with the help of dedicated software than it is to code it all yourself.
If you don’t believe me, consider that the above screenshot is the amount of code it takes to build a simple tooltip from scratch.
Now consider that this tooltip might need to go through multiple rounds of revisions, redesigns, rebrands etc, all of which would also need to be coded.
Multiply that by all of the UI elements in your onboarding system, and you start to see the scale of the challenge, especially if your dev team is already overworked.
By contrast, if you use onboarding software like Userpilot, even your non-technical product managers will be able to design and edit UI elements in minutes. You’d save valuable time and dev resources while maintaining complete control over in-app experiences.
Include gamification elements in your onboarding flow
There’s perhaps no best practice that affects user engagement more profoundly than gamification. Ultimately, there’s a part of human nature that’s just naturally drawn to play.
Gamification means the addition of game-like elements to onboarding systems.
Some examples could be:
- A points system
- An onboarding checklist with dummy tasks (already completed tasks)
- A leaderboard
- Funny gifs and emojis
- Character avatars
- Progress bar
- Leveling up
In this example, an otherwise boring signup flow is turned into a playful character selection menu.
As a result, it feels less like business software, and more like World of Warcraft!
Select the right metrics
You can’t judge the success of any business process unless you find a quantifiable way to measure it, and onboarding is no different in this regard.
One of the most important metrics to keep track of is your Activation Rate, or the percentage of new users who make it through to activation. We previously covered how to optimize your activation rate here.
There’s a pretty strong correlation between the number of users you retain and how good your customer education is, so your retention rate is also a good indication of the quality of your onboarding systems. Check out this post for details on how to measure it.
If you use onboarding software like Userpilot, it will show you how many customers adopt individual product features over time. You just need to add tags to relevant features and then track the engagement of your existing users with those features.
This is a nice metric to look at if your aim is to onboard users into adopting one or more specific aspects of your product.
For more on Userpilot’s product analytics, this article is worth a read.
Test and iterate
Finally, it’s worth noting that no onboarding system is perfect the first time you construct it.
The best SaaS companies are therefore constantly tweaking their onboarding on the basis of customer feedback, thereby inching closer and closer to their desired outcome.
Again, the right onboarding software will help you a lot with this.
You could potentially build a checklist, measure how many users adopt it from each segment, and then tweak the colors and copywriting 5-6 times until you get what you want.
Userpilot could assist you with all of these tasks.
Another thing to look out for as you build a way to test and iterate your onboarding is software that helps you run A/B tests. Few analytics tools will give you more scientific results than one where you are directly comparing one input variable against another.
And you’ve guessed it: Userpilot offers that, too.
The simplest way to understand if a tooltip could increase feature discovery or not during the onboarding process is to test it. Create your onboarding experience and then test its impact against specific goals like activation with an A/B test.
All it takes to set this up in Userpilot is one click.
When you put all these best practices together, you’ll be able to create fantastic user onboarding experiences for your SaaS business.
If you’re looking for a tool to revolutionize your product onboarding, book a demo for Userpilot today!