6 Tips To Create The Perfect Product Onboarding Checklist

When it comes to improving product adoption, a product onboarding checklist is one of the most effective tools for PMs. A great checklist guides your users through various tasks. It helps them identify key features of your product, and it means they start getting value from it right away.

Building a checklist is easy. Tools like Userpilot can help you implement one into your product in no time at all (and without code).

Building a checklist that is effective, however, can be a little trickier.

Here are some tips to use when building your user onboarding checklist:

Tip #1: Keep Your Product Onboarding Checklists Simple

The whole point of a checklist is that it takes a fairly complicated and drawn-out concept and then breaks it down into a series of simple tasks.

For an email newsletter tool, for example, the checklist may help guide users towards sending their first email. This can be a fairly complex task if you’re new to the product.

A checklist would break it down into different mini-tasks. You’d end up with something like this:

By breaking large goals into manageable tasks, you make it easier for your users to follow the steps.

It’s also worth remembering that your user doesn’t have much experience with your product at this early stage. That makes it even more important that you keep it simple.

In this example from GrowthMentor, you can see how each of the items on the checklist is simple and straightforward.

user-onboarding-checklistAdded together, however, the items combine to help the user fill out their profile and get started with the platform.

Asking users to “Fill out their profile.” and leaving it at that wouldn’t be as effective.

Breaking it down into simple tasks helps the user understand what they need to do, and also makes it seem much more manageable as a result.

Tip #2: Give Your Users A Headstart

There’s an old joke that you should start every to-do list you make with “Create to-do list.” That way you’ve already made progress.

Well, it turns out there’s some truth to that joke.

There’s a psychological phenomenon called the “Endowed Progress Effect”. In simple terms, it means people are more likely to complete a task (or series of tasks) if they feel they’ve already made progress.

This presents an opportunity for a great little hack you can use to enhance your user onboarding checklist.

Simply checking off the first item on the list is enough to motivate users to take the next step.

A famous example of this in action is when you receive one of those stamp cards from coffee shops. You get a stamp every time you buy a coffee. Ten stamps and you get a drink for free.

I’ve got plenty of unfinished cards like this lying around. Turns out I would be much more likely to collect those stamps if I’d be given a couple up-front.

That’s an example of endowed progress. It makes you feel like you’ve already made progress towards your goal.

Here’s an example more relevant to SaaS products:

user-onboarding-checklistWhen you first sign up to PayPal, that first “Account created” step will already be checked off.

Even though that first step is literally just creating the account, it’s enough to motivate you onwards to step 2.

If you’re going to use a progress bar (see “Measure Your User’s Progress”) then that provides another chance to use endowed progress in your user onboarding checklist.

Simply make sure the bar starts part-way along, say 10%, so that your user feels they’ve already made progress.

Kickstarter use this to great effect, showing a progress bar towards a project’s funding goal.

user-onboarding-checklistIf somebody sees that the bar is already close to the end, they’re more likely to invest in the project.

Endowed progress is a powerful way of improving the effectiveness of your user onboarding checklist.

[For more psychology hacks you can use in your onboarding, check out this article.]

Tip #3: Adding A Progress Bar To Your Product Onboarding Checklist

If you have a lot of items on your user onboarding checklist, it can be a little overwhelming for your users.

This can often lead to them simply ignoring the list altogether and that can have a fairly big impact on the success of your onboarding.

A good way to make things clearer for your users is to add a progress bar to your checklist. This provides a couple of benefits.

Firstly, it provides your users with a clear indication of how they’re getting on with your product. Seeing that you’ve completed 50% of the onboarding is far more enticing than seeing you’ve completed 5 out of 10 tasks.

Secondly, it provides further incentive. As that bar moves steadily closer to the end, it encourages your users to carry on. They see a direct change in response to their actions.

If, for example, one of the steps on your checklist was to add an email signature, the user wouldn’t actually gain any value from that until they came to send an email.

By moving the progress bar along once they complete that step, they can see that they’re on the right track. In this case, the value comes from seeing their progress, as opposed to the product.

A progress bar, therefore, works extremely well when your checklist is relatively long, or when the tasks don’t provide immediate value to the user.

This example from Storychief is great:

user-onboarding-checklistThe progress bar sits prominently above the checklist, and clearly shows the user’s progress. It also has an encouraging statement — “You are almost there!” — to help motivate the user further.

Progress bars enable your users to measure their progress, and inspire them to continue towards the goal.

Tip #4: Turn User Onboarding Into A Game

Everyone likes to feel like they’re playing a game, especially when they’re at work.

When a user starts trying out a new SaaS app, the last thing they want is a checklist of even more chores they need to get done.

In some cases, a checklist might even put your users off. They might see the tasks and immediately decide that it can wait for another day.

Sometimes those users don’t ever come back.

To combat this, you can use gamification to turn even the most mundane checklist into something fun for your users.

Gamification is, as the name suggests, the process of turning something into a game.

You can do this in several different ways.

One way is to literally turn your app into a game. Habitica does this perfectly. It may seem like your standard task manager app, helping you to form good habits.

Under the surface, however, is a role-playing game where users can collect items like armor or gold to level up and become more powerful.

user-onboarding-checklistUsers obtain these items by completing real-world tasks, and by engaging with the app. This is a great example of how gamification can influence your users’ behavior.

The other, more commonly used, way is to gamify your user onboarding checklist.

You can do this by adding badges, points, or even cold hard cash to each task. When a user completes a task, they get a prize.

Here’s an example from Khan Academy:

user-onboarding-checklistThe folks at Khan Academy want people to continue learning through their product, so they’ve included a range of badges you can unlock.

The more you use Khan Academy, the more badges you get, and the better your profile looks to visitors. People love to show off, so any way you can help them do that will work wonders.

Another way is by enabling users to level up as they use the app, as Databox does in this example:

user-onboarding-checklistEveryone likes the idea of levelling up, and this is a great way of tying personal development into prolonged use of the product.

The example from Databox is also a great illustration of using progress bars (see “Measure Your Users’ Progress).

Turning your user onboarding checklist into a game is a fantastic way of encouraging your users to work through the tasks.

Tip #5: Provide A Quick Win

How many times do you put off a task, only to find out it wasn’t actually that difficult in the first place?

If you’re anything like me, you do it far too often.

People often have trouble starting new tasks or projects, because they think it’s going to be hard, take a long time, or because they can’t see the value in it.

Your user onboarding checklist is no different. A lot of users will take one look at it and think, “There’s no way I’m doing that now!”. Then they log off and never return.

Checklists can be overwhelming, especially with more complex products. That’s why it’s best to provide your users with a quick win upfront.

This provides the momentum your users need to carry on working through the rest of the tasks on the checklist. It also utilizes the endowed progress effect (see “Give Your Users A Headstart”).

If you can, make the quick win something that is integral to your product.

Evernote, for example, have “Create your first note” as the first item on the checklist.

They then make it incredibly easy to do exactly that.

user-onboarding-checklistThis provides Evernote users with an instant win, plus introduces them to the primary feature of the app — note taking.

Giving your users a quick win helps provide them with the motivation they need to carry on working through your user onboarding checklist.

Tip #6: Use The Right Words On Your Product Onboarding Checklist

The copy you use on your user onboarding checklist is one of the most important aspects to consider.

It needs to do several things all at once, and you don’t have much space to play around with.

Firstly, it needs to focus on an action. The whole point is that your users take action when they work through the checklist, so you need to be clear about what you want them to do.

If you want them to add a profile picture, then don’t beat around the bush and say something like: “Customize your profile.” That doesn’t really mean anything.

It’s far better to be specific and say something like: “Add a profile picture.” That way your user knows exactly what they’re supposed to do.

Secondly, you need to provide a reason why. If you simply ask your users to do something without explaining how it helps, they’ll be less motivated to do it.

Let’s continue with the profile picture example from above.

Adding a profile picture might not be very important to our users. So, we need to explain why adding a photo is a good idea.

We might say: “Add a profile picture. Profiles with a picture receive 30% more engagement.

This way our users will understand how completing the task will help them.

Finally, your user onboarding checklist copy needs to reflect your brand’s personality.

Sounding like a robot isn’t going to work. Unless that’s the look you’re going for, of course.

Don’t be afraid to use informal language, or even emojis, to help make your checklist as user-friendly as possible.

Here’s a fantastic example from Skedsocial:

user-onboarding-checklistTheir target users are Instagram influencers, so they have a fun, light-hearted tone of voice. You can see how they use emoji to inject a bit of fun into their checklist.

Use your words wisely, and your checklist will be much more effective.

The Perfect Product Onboarding Checklist

A great user onboarding checklist guides the user through the key parts of the product, providing value along the way.

The tips I covered in this article will help maximize the effectiveness of your checklist.

To recap, they are:

  1. Keep it simple.
  2. Give your users a headstart.
  3. Measure your users’ progress.
  4. Turn onboarding into a game.
  5. Provide a quick win.
  6. Use the right words.

If you need help actually creating and implementing your user onboarding checklist, then why not book a demo with Userpilot and get started right away?

Got any other tips or tricks to help improve user onboarding checklists? Let me know in the comments.

About the Author

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.


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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.