User Onboarding: Complete Guide For Driving Product Growth

User Onboarding: Complete Guide For Driving Product Growth cover

User onboarding is one thing that can make or break your product. You get it right, and your customer base and revenue constantly grow. Get it wrong and your product will be plagued by churn, declining revenue, and poor customer reviews.

So how do you make sure how you provide an excellent onboarding experience to your customers?

That’s what we explore in this complete guide to user onboarding.

We discuss its stages, introduce the UI patterns you should use, best practices and common mistakes, benchmarks, and metrics. We also analyze successful onboarding flows and evaluate various tools that can help product managers, product marketers and UX designers deliver outstanding onboarding experiences.

As you can imagine, that’s a fair bit to go through, so let’s get straight to it.


User onboarding usually consists of a sequence of elements that complement each other to help the users reach the activation stage:

  • Sign-up pages are the first touchpoints on the user journey. That’s where the users create their accounts. Try to keep them as frictionless as possible to get users inside the product without delays.
  • In case the users drop off at this stage, send a welcome email to prompt them to reengage. Use the email to provide support resources and encourage users to complete the first step toward activation.
  • A welcome screen is the first thing users see while in the product. Always include a call to action prompting them to complete their first task.
  • Onboarding checklists are very powerful at driving activation because they appeal to our psychological need to see things through. Keep them short and focus on key tasks.
  • Interactive walkthroughs take users through the key functionality relevant to their use cases and prompt engagement.
  • Tooltips are small in-app patterns that can be used in interactive walkthroughs or independently to guide users and help them discover features.
  • Banners are notification bars either at the top or the bottom of the screen. They are great for announcing new features in an unobtrusive way.
  • Onboarding feedback surveys are essential to gauge how satisfied users are with their first-time experience and identify areas for improvement.
  • Celebration modals introduce elements of fun and gamification into the experience and reward users for completing major activation events.
  • Self-service automated help allows users to access assistance and guidance on their own terms – whenever and wherever they want.

Best practices, actionable tactics, and common mistakes

  • It’s good practice to personalize the onboarding experience to the unique needs of each user segment across all touchpoints in the customer journey.
  • Product tours are boring and often irrelevant because they provide the same experience to all users and as a result flood them with lots of irrelevant information.
  • Such a one-size-fits-all approach can be overwhelming and discouraging. It’s better to implement a progressive onboarding process where each step depends on previous user actions.
  • Using multiple UI patterns increases the chances that users will engage with the features you want them to adopt.
  • A/B testing takes out the guesswork from the design process and helps choose the most effective in-app onboarding experiences.
  • Product usage and customer behavior data will help you assess how user onboarding is going and identify points where users need extra help.
  • Minimum Viable Onboarding consists only of the basic experiences that are essential for users to experience product value.
  • Trigger tooltips and interactive walkthroughs contextually, that is at the time and place where users really need them. This approach is very effective for primary onboarding. After activation, use them to drive feature discovery and upsells.
  • Offering in-app help increases the chance that your users will complete their tasks. If you make them leave the app to look for help, they may never come back. To enhance the experience, use videos.
  • Keep collecting user feedback and acting on it. Even if you can accommodate user requests, always close the loop by acknowledging them.
  • To make sure you cover all bases when designing your onboarding experiences, use our comprehensive onboarding checklist.
  • Companies that have nailed their user onboarding include Userpilot, Airtable, and Slack.

Metrics and tools

  • Popular user onboarding metrics include feature adoption rate, product stickiness, churn rate, time to value, customer lifetime value, user activation rate, Product Engagement Score (PES), and user retention rate.
  • User activation rate is the percentage of users who completed key activation events.
  • Product Engagement Score (PES) combines adoption, stickiness, and growth rates into one metric.
  • User retention rate is the percentage of users who continue to use your product over a specific time period.
  • Pendo is a product adoption platform that offers advanced analytics. However, its onboarding features are limited and require coding skills for customization.
  • Appcues offers basic analytics and allows you to design a wide range of in-app experiences. However, it only offers linear tours and limited checklist customization.
  • Userpilot is a powerful onboarding platform that allows you to personalize and customize in-app experiences. You can trigger them contextually based on the information collected about users and their behavior data.

What is user onboarding?

User onboarding is the process of educating new users on how to best realize its value and achieve their goals successfully.

We distinguish three types of user onboarding: primary, secondary, and tertiary. Each of the is relevant at different stages of the user journey.

What are the goals of user onboarding?

Initially, the goal of user onboarding is to ensure that the user realizes how valuable the product is (the Aha! moment) and experiences its value firsthand (activation). At later stages, onboarding aims to introduce users to more advanced functionality and maintain their engagement.

The ultimate goal is to retain users for as long as possible and turn them into product champions.

User onboarding vs product onboarding

User onboarding and product onboarding are often used interchangeably because they have the same product and business goals, and they rely on the same processes and tools.

The difference between them is in their focus.

As the name suggests, user onboarding concentrates on introducing new users to the product and guiding them through the initial stages necessary to start using the product efficiently and develop their proficiency.

Product onboarding, on the other hand, focuses on product features and functionality and introducing them to the users, both new and existing ones. Its aim is to educate users about the new features and showcase their benefits so that users get the best out of the product.

Why is user onboarding important?

There are a number of reasons why it’s worth investing in quality user onboarding.

Shortens time to value for new users

For starters, user onboarding helps users experience product value and activate in less time.

Why does it matter?

There is a clear correlation between customer activation and customer retention, which translates into higher revenue. Evidence from MarTech SaaS companies shows that 25% increase in user activation results in a 34% increase in Monthly Recurring Revenue (MRR).

activation impact on SaaS revenue
Activation impact on SaaS revenue.

Keeps users engaged and drives adoption

Experiencing value once is not enough though. Your users need to experience it again and again because it’s repeated product usage that drives adoption.

User onboarding is essential to keep users engaged and prompts them to engage with the product regularly.

Feature adoption funnel
Feature adoption funnel.

Enhances the user journey experience and drives growth

Personalized onboarding experiences, whether they are based on user needs, behavior, or stage in the user journey, enhance user experience.

They simply give them the information and guidance that they need exactly when they need it, without distracting them with unnecessary input. As a result, users can achieve their objectives more easily and without unintended friction.

This increases user stickiness which is beneficial for your business on many levels. Besides driving revenue, it feeds WOM marketing and fuels your business growth.

Increases customer satisfaction and drives product stickiness

Apart from user stickiness, user onboarding also drives product stickiness. That’s because it showcases the product features and presents the product value to the users.

The more often users engage with the product and the more value they get, the more content they are. Onboarding simply helps you increase customer satisfaction.

Important user onboarding benchmarks

Let’s look at some key statistics regarding user onboarding:

These numbers grow year on year, as companies realize the importance of user onboarding.

State of SaaS Onboarding 2021 key takeaways
State of SaaS Onboarding 2021 key takeaways.

What are the stages of the user onboarding process for new users?

User onboarding consists of 3 main stages which guide the user through the customer journey.

Customer journey stages
Customer journey stages.

Primary user onboarding experience

The aim of primary onboarding is to lead the user to the Aha! moment and activation point. We also call this the Minimum viable onboarding since without this, chances are users won’t stick around as they don’t get to experience value.

Aha! moment

The Aha! moment comes when the user realizes how valuable your product could be for their purposes.

There are different ways to make your users experience the Aha! moment. For example, it could happen when users engage with the demo content or complete a practice task.

Trading 212 allows their users to open a practice account with £50k so that they can build virtual wealth before they start investing for real, while Calendly gives you a chance to make an appointment with yourself.

The Aha! moment is not the same as user activation, but is an important prerequisite.

Activation point

The activation point is the stage when the users finally experience the value of the product themselves.

This means not only knowing how the core features work and how they can help but also putting them to use to their advantage.

In other words, we can start talking about activation only when the customer uses your product to solve their problem.

The secondary user onboarding experience

Once your users reach the activation stage, it’s time for secondary onboarding. This has two key objectives: showcasing the extra value that the product can offer and keeping users engaged.

Secondary feature discovery

Secondary user onboarding aims to drive the discovery of those features that may not be essential but dramatically increase the value of the product and delight the users.

This is important because these tend to be the features that differentiate your product from competitors and allow users to complete their tasks more efficiently.

Secondary onboarding.

Such features also keep users excited and engaged for longer.

Keeping users engaged

Secondary onboarding also keeps users engaged and drives repeated usage.

That’s essential because the more users engage with your product and the more value they experience, the less likely they are to wander off to your competitors.

The tertiary user onboarding experience

Tertiary user onboarding is essential for the long-term success of your product because it helps you promote the product and drives account expansion.

Advocacy and WOM

Once your users engage with your product regularly and see your product as a natural solution to their problems, it’s time to turn them into loyal advocates of your product.

If you manage to achieve this, they will not only keep subscribing to your product by actively promoting through referrals and word-of-mouth marketing. And we all know that these are by far the most effective ways of acquiring new customers.

The best thing is that your users won’t mind. When they are satisfied with the product and the user experience it offers, your advocates will be more than happy to spread the good word about it.

Account expansion through upgrades

Tertiary onboarding also drives growth by selling more to your existing customers.

Once your users get familiar with your product through regular engagement, they may also start noticing the limitations of the plans they are on. For example, the data allowance within their free plan may not be sufficient.

That’s when you get the opportunity to sell them upgrades or add-ons to drive account expansion. This is the ultimate objective of SaaS businesses because it brings recurring revenue and increases customer lifetime value (LTV).

Contextual Account Expansion
Contextual Account Expansion.

What are the essential elements of a successful user onboarding flow?

Successful onboarding experiences that activate customers and turn them into advocates consist of various elements:

Let’s explore them all, one by one.

Customer onboarding process elements.

The signup form

The signup form is necessary for users to create their accounts and start using the product.

It’s also your chance to collect essential customer data. The key word here is essential.

Every question you ask delays the moment your users get inside the product and start using it. That’s why keep the sign-up form simple and quick to complete.

Delaying email confirmation and offering single sign-on (SSO) are also two techniques that remove any unnecessary friction from the sign-up process.

Loom sign-up page
Loom sign-up page.

Onboarding welcome email

Once your users complete the frictionless sign-up process, there’s a big chance that they’re already inside and having a rave. However, in case they didn’t log in straightaway, a welcome email can bring them back and set them on track to adoption.

What should the email contain?

Apart from making your users feel welcome, show them what they need to do to start using the product. Top it all up with links to relevant support materials, like video tutorials or guides, and it’s all set.

A welcome email
A welcome email.

Welcome screen

Welcome screens are the first thing users see when they log into the product, so they are a great opportunity to get them going.

That’s why apart from the welcome message, they usually contain a CTA prompting users to make the first step.

Alternatively, you can use the welcome screen to launch a microsurvey to collect all the essential details about your users to personalize their onboarding experience.

What kind of information should you collect?

It depends on the product, but it’s a good idea to find out about their company role and their JTBDs. Again, resist the temptation to ask about anything that isn’t absolutely essential not to discourage your users and slow their activation.

Onboarding welcome screen
Onboarding welcome screen.

User onboarding checklists

User onboarding checklist is another element that you may want to include in your welcome screen.

These are extremely powerful tools because they rely on strong psychological mechanisms. Human beings are wired to follow checklists, and the more items they tick off, the stronger the urge to carry on. Visual elements like a progress bar only reinforce it.

Effective checklists are usually simple and include a small number of easily achievable tasks. They often give users a headstart by adding a task they’ve already completed, like creating the account, and include elements of gamification, like badges.

User onboarding checklist.

Interactive Walkthroughs

Interactive walkthroughs guide users to activation step by step.

They are used for both primary and secondary onboarding and consist of in-app messages and UI patterns like tooltips to highlight the features that are relevant to customers’ use cases.

The important thing about walkthroughs is the interactive bit. Users need to engage with the UI patterns to move on.

Interactive onboarding walkthrough
Interactive onboarding walkthrough.

User onboarding tooltips

A tooltip is a text box that contains information about a feature and usually prompts engagement with a call to action (CTA). They are not as disruptive as some of the other UI patterns and provide contextual guidance to drive feature adoption.

You can use tooltips for user onboarding either as a part of interactive walkthroughs or on their own. For example, you can trigger them to drive engagement with a particular feature. Teams also use them to announce new features and drive upsells.

Onboarding tooltip
Onboarding tooltip.


Banners are small in-app notification bars that appear either at the bottom or top of the screen.

They are a great way to share urgent information and important announcements in a non-intrusive way. That’s as long as you add that cross in the corner that allows users to dismiss them easily.

It’s also good practice to keep your banner copy short and stick to a couple of CTA buttons only.

Onboarding banner
An onboarding banner.

Onboarding feedback surveys

Onboarding surveys are simple questionnaires used to collect customer feedback and requests. Product teams use them to collect both quantitative data, like NPS, CSAT and PMF scores, or qualitative insights.

There are two main reasons to include surveys in your onboarding process.

First, you want to make sure that your customers are getting the best experience possible. If your product doesn’t live up to users’ expectations, feedback insights allow you to rectify any issues before users churn.

New users’ feedback is also incredibly valuable because they bring a fresh perspective on the product. They may be able to point out things that you weren’t aware of before or suggest ways to improve your product.

Onboarding survey
Onboarding survey.

Celebration modals

Celebration modals are UI elements that appear when the user reaches an important activation milestone.

They often include elements of gamification and use emotional design principles to reward users for their efforts. They also inject a bit of fun into the onboarding process, and most importantly keep users engaged and motivated.

Celebration modal
Celebration modal.

Self-service automated help

Self-service resource centers allow users to access the help they need without leaving the app and more importantly, without contacting human agents. They are available 24/7 and apart from text, they can include visuals and videos to make them more engaging.

Evidence shows that the majority of users these days prefer to access support in this way.


Best practices for creating a good user onboarding experience

What do excellent user onboarding experiences have in common? Let’s look at a few user onboarding best practices.

Personalize the experience for each persona at every stage of the onboarding journey

For users to reach activation quickly and easily, we need to personalize the onboarding journey to their needs. This is to avoid unnecessary steps and avoid overloading users with either irrelevant or excessive information.

How will you know what to include?

You can segment your users based on the information you’ve collected on the sign-up and develop a unique flow for each user persona. Alternatively, you can create branched onboarding flows where users can choose how to progress themselves.

Use surveys to personalize the onboarding experience
Use surveys to personalize the onboarding experience.

Replace product tours and switch to a progressive onboarding process

Product tours used to be the thing to do but are kind of passe these days. That’s because they don’t differentiate between user personas. Instead of providing a personalized experience, they dump on users tons of information that is not important for their use cases.

What’s the solution?

Instead of a long 12-tooltip-long tour that walks the user around the entire product, use a progressive approach. Show your users only the next step and prompt engagement, for example using a checklist for steps or a walkthrough to guide them step by step.

The important thing about progressive onboarding is that each next step depends on previous user action.

Again, successful progressive onboarding requires effective product usage segmentation.

User segmentation for effective onboarding
User segmentation for effective onboarding.

Use multiple UI onboarding patterns

All the different UI onboarding patterns have their unique strengths and limitations which make them suitable for some tasks more than others.

If you’re announcing a small improvement, a banner or a tooltip might be the best tool for the job. For big announcements, like a completely new feature that’s going to make your rivals quake in their boots, go big and choose a modal.

Ideally, use a range of different UI patterns at different stages and in different places, so that users don’t miss the update. If you see that engagement is limited, adapt to the situation and use different patterns.

Onboarding UI patterns
Onboarding UI patterns.

A/B test different in-app onboarding experiences

A/B testing is an easy way to test which in-app experiences drive the best results.

For example, let’s say you want to test if adding an onboarding checklist will drive more users to reach activation or not.

You will need to set up your checklist and define the goal (in this scenario, the goal will be for users to reach the activation point). Then run an A/B test to test the hypothesis.

When using onboarding tools like Userpilot you will be able to do this automatically when setting up your in-app experience (the checklist for example).

A/B test your onboarding experiences
A/B test your onboarding experiences.

Use data to improve your user onboarding process

Collecting and analyzing product usage and customer behavior data can help you make more informed decisions when designing your user onboarding processes.

What sort of data should you be looking at?

Tracking users’ progress along the customer journey is the obvious thing to do. It allows you to see how your users are moving from one activation point to the other. If they drop off or slow down in a particular place, they may be encountering friction, so that’s where you should focus.

Use data to inform the onboarding process design
Use data to inform the onboarding process design.

During the secondary onboarding stage, tracking feature engagement could provide valuable insights. If you know that a particular user persona needs a specific feature to achieve their goals but they don’t use it, use in-app prompts to help them discover the functionality.

For best results, it’s best to cross-reference data with survey results, so that you can get a deeper understanding of what your users do and why they do it.

With the right tools, it’s easy to automate feedback collection. You can trigger surveys when your users achieve a major milestone in their journey or engage with a feature you’ve just launched.

In this way, you can track user sentiment and gather insights in real-time, when the experience is still fresh in their minds.

Actionable tactics to improve the user onboarding experience

As you already know what user onboarding is about and know the best practices, here are a few tactics that you can start using immediately to enhance the onboarding experience for your users.

Don’t skip the minimal user onboarding experience

Start guiding your users down the activation funnel with minimum viable onboarding.

What’s this?

It’s a concept inspired by the minimum viable product idea. The key principle is that you want your users to get to the activation point with the least use of resources possible.

This, however, doesn’t mean skimping on onboarding. Instead, you want to make data-driven decisions to design onboarding experiences tailored to the needs of specific user segments. This helps them experience the value of the core features with less effort.

Designing your minimum viable onboarding experiences starts by defining the key activation points.

Next, you need to segment your users based on their JTBDs and map out the best route to activation for each of them. Lean into product usage and behavior tracking to inform the process. Finally, customize the onboarding flows for each of them.

Minimum viable onboarding

Use interactive product walkthroughs contextually

As mentioned, product tours are a bit out of favor these days because of limited personalization (or complete lack of it in some cases).

Instead of them, it’s a much better idea to design interactive walkthroughs. Make them short and specific to your user needs. Guide your users step by step and help them discover all the core features that they need. And nothing else.

Interactive walkthroughs vs Product Tours for SaaS.

Help users discover relevant features with contextual tooltips

To drive feature discovery and adoption, use contextual tooltips.

Let’s imagine that your users are not engaging with a feature that you think could improve their experience. Or you’ve just released new functionality that your users have requested.

With a tooltip, you can attract your user’s attention to the feature without interfering with their experience. Even better when you can trigger them at the moment when your users might need the feature the most. Such contextuality is the key to their effectiveness.

Contextual tooltip to drive new feature discovery
Contextual tooltip to drive new feature discovery.

Offer in-app help to assist new users

In-app help is all the contextual tips and guidance that your users get while interacting with the product.

They help new users get familiar with the product functionality and UI and get answers to the questions they might have. When they face barriers or get stuck, they help them move in the right direction.

In this way, they make the experience of using a new product less overwhelming and help them get the best value out of it.

You can provide in-app help in various forms. This could be a help button that takes them to the support chat or the resource center.

When designing and developing your in-app help, make them engaging. Don’t rely on text only. Add images and gifs to help users connect the dots.

Better yet, embed videos. These could be short mini-tutorials or slightly more extensive demos. You can record such videos yourself or generate them with AI tools like Synthesia.

In-app resource center
In-app resource center.

Collect feedback and close the loop

Collecting user feedback is essential to make sure you’re satisfying user needs. It helps you not only improve the user onboarding experience but the product as a whole.

When collecting feedback, make sure to diversify it. For example, when running a customer satisfaction survey, don’t focus just on the quantitative scores but ask follow-up questions to collect qualitative insights as well.

Apart from contextually triggered surveys, for example, when users engage with a feature or complete an activation event, collect passive feedback as well.

Your users may not always be in the mood to respond to the survey that pops up on the screen when they’re in a rush to complete a task. However, they may be happy to share their thoughts about their experience when they’re less stretched, so embed a feedback widget into your UI.

Collecting the feedback is just a start though. Everything depends on what you do with the feedback. Make sure to act on the feedback and close the feedback loop. It doesn’t mean realizing every customer’s wish, but analyzing it and acknowledging their input.

Otherwise, you’ll be wasting a lot of effort on both sides and signaling to your users that you don’t care about their opinions that much after all.

Feedback loop
Feedback loop.

Prompt contextual upsells to turn first-time users into advocates

Controversial as it may sound, upselling serves both the company and the customers.

For your business, this means greater customer loyalty and retention, and higher MRR. For users, it’s a chance to get access to functionality that will help them achieve their goals more easily. That’s often at a discounted price.

Contextual prompts are one of the easiest and most effective ways to drive upsells.

That’s because they give users a chance to upgrade to a better plan at the exact moment they experience the need. For example, a tooltip can pop up at the moment when users have exhausted their free allowance.

Ahrefs contextual upsell tooltip
Ahrefs contextual upsell tooltip.

The best user onboarding examples that boosted adoption and retention

We’ve now discussed the best onboarding practices and tactics you can leverage to improve your user activation and product adoption, so why don’t we look at a few examples of companies that are known for offering great user onboarding experiences?

Userpilot – user onboarding experience example

Userpilot’s user onboarding starts with a simple signup flow. Users can either enter their details manually or use enterprise SSO.

Userpilot onboarding sign-up screen
Userpilot onboarding sign-up screen.

The next step is all about personalization of the user experience. The users are asked for their company and industry details, which allows the team to customize the onboarding experience for their use cases.

What’s more, users can choose their color patterns to match their branding or the native UI of their product.

Userpilot onboarding experience customization
Userpilot onboarding experience customization,

Once users are inside the product, they are greeted with a welcome message from the Userpilot co-founder, which gives it a more personal touch and helps establish a relationship between users and the company.

In addition, the message briefly highlights the key benefits of the product.

Finally, at the bottom, we have the CTA button which encourages users to complete the first step towards activation: installing the Chrome extension, which is essential to start using the product.

Userpilot onboarding welcome screen
Userpilot onboarding welcome screen.

As an onboarding tool, Userpilot recognizes how handy checklists are and uses them also in their own onboarding. It consists of 4 tasks, one of them already complete, and the second one is installing the Chrome extension.

Why bring it up again? It’s not possible to do anything with Userpilot without the extension, and there’s a risk that the users dismiss the welcome screen.


Userpilot uses this approach regularly. For example, when the company introduced the new webhook functionality, they first announced it with a banner.


When the users click on the banner CTA, they are taken to the integrations page where a tooltip offered extra information about the feature and guidance. They have the option to access a step-by-step in-app guide or book a call with a customer success manager.


Pros and Cons of Userpilot’s user onboarding experience:

Here’s what’s great about Userpilot onboarding and what could be improved:

  • ✅ collecting data for later personalization
  • ✅ a checklist to prompt next steps after the initial welcome screen that prompts users to install the Chrome extension
  • ✅ a range of UI patterns to aid feature discovery
  • ❌ a microsurvey directly on the welcome screen would shorten the signup flow

Airtbale user onboarding experience example

To avoid overwhelming users, the Airtable sign-up flow is broken down into several screens, and a progress bar shows how many are left.

It asks users for information that helps set up the product for their needs. This includes the option of importing user data from a third-party document like a Google sheet.

Airtable onboarding sign-up
Airtable onboarding sign-up.

Once the user completes the sign-up, a slideout with a welcome message appears on the screen. Its main role is to encourage users to take part in the product tour.

Airtable onboarding product tour slideout
Airtable onboarding product tour slideout.

Clicking on the CTA triggers a sequence of in-app messages that showcase different elements of the UI. It’s not limited to tooltips but also slideouts and hotspots, which makes it less repetitive.

When it comes to in-app guidance, Airtable puts tooltips to good use. They appear when you hover over different dashboard elements.

Airtable onboarding tooltip
Airtable onboarding tooltip.

Pros and cons of Airtable’s user onboarding experience.

Overall, Airtable offers a solid onboarding experience. Here’s what we think is great and what could be better:

  • ✅ simple sign-up flow with the SSO option
  • ✅ range of interactive UI patterns to make the product tour more engaging
  • ✅ good use of the empty state real estate to prompt engagement with CTAs
  • ❌ lack of customization – all users experience the same tour

Slack user onboarding experience example

Slack onboarding starts with a frictionless sign-up. The sign-up page is minimalistic and it gives users either the option to join with either their email address or use their Google/Apple accounts.

Slack onboarding signup
Slack onboarding signup.

Next comes the welcome screen. It’s aesthetically pleasing, highlights the benefits of using slack as a work communication tool, and prompts users to create a workspace, which is their first key activation milestone.

Slack onboarding welcome screen
Slack onboarding welcome screen.

To personalize the workspace, Slack takes you through a quick survey where they collect information about your company and goals.

It also allows you to invite your teammates. If you decide to skip the last stage, get ready for a tooltip that will prompt you to do it again. That’s because you can’t realize the full value of Slack if you’re there alone, talking to yourself.

Slack onboarding survey
Slack onboarding survey.

Teammates invited or not, next comes the product tour. It starts with a modal that welcomes you to your new channel, reiterates the benefits of Slack, and gives you a nudge to carry on with the tour to explore the key features and UI elements.

Slack onboarding tour start
Slack onboarding tour start.

Pros and cons of Slack’s user onboarding experience

Slack onboarding ticks all the boxes:

  • ✅ design that’s pleasing to the eye
  • ✅ a simple sign-up flow with single sign-on
  • ✅ personalized workspaces based on the initial survey
  • ✅ a range of UI patterns to engage users with key features
  • ❌ the minimalist design may be too spartan for some users

Essential user onboarding metrics to track your onboarding success

To evaluate how well your user onboarding works, you need to track the right metrics. The most relevant user onboarding metrics include:

  • Feature adoption rate: how widely a particular feature is used
  • DAU (Daily Active Users) to MAU (Monthly Active Users) ratio = product stickiness: how engaging the product is
  • Churn rate: how many users leave during the onboarding process
  • Time to value: how long it takes users to realize product value on average
  • Customer lifetime value: how much money you earn from one customer over the duration of your business relationship with them
  • User activation rate
  • Product Engagement Score
  • User retention rate

Let’s look at the last three a bit closer.

User activation rate

User activation rate is the number of users that activated, that is, performed completed the key activation events and reached the key activation points, divided by the total number of new sign-ups over a given period, times 100.

Tracking the activation rate allows you to assess how effective your user onboarding is and how valuable your users find the product.

Activation rate = (#of users who reached the activation milestone/# of users who signed up) x 100

User onboarding metrics: Activation Rate
User onboarding metrics: Activation Rate.

Product engagement score

Product Engagement Score (PES) is a metric that gives you insights into how users interact and engage with your product and helps you track engagement trends.

PES is a composite score made up of three different onboarding metrics: adoption, stickiness, and growth rates. To calculate it, add all three and divide them by 3.

PES = (Adoption Rate + Stickiness Rate + Growth Rate) /3

User onboarding metrics: Product Engagement Score (PES)
User onboarding metrics: Product Engagement Score (PES).

User retention rate

Retention rate is the percentage of users who continue to use your product over a specific time period.

It is an indication of how successful the product is and or how good you are at onboarding your users. A low retention rate may be a sign of a lack of user engagement or dissatisfaction with the product.

User Retention Rate = (# of paying customers at the end of the time period – # of users acquired during the time period/total # of paying users at the beginning of that period) x 100

User onboarding metrics: retention rate
User onboarding metrics: retention rate.

Mistakes to avoid while onboarding users

Nailing your user onboarding processes takes time and a lot of experimentation. However, avoiding these common mistakes will help you get the sooner rather than later:

  • overwhelming users with too much information
  • assuming the user onboarding process ends with user activation
  • following a one-size-fits-all approach to user onboarding
  • adding friction to the sign-up process
  • not providing contextual help
  • not collecting customer feedback from new users
  • forgetting about in-app help and customer success

Overwhelming users with too much information

There are limits to how much we can take in at one time. Overloading your users with information will have an effect that’s opposite to the intended.

Instead of educating them and helping them develop expertise in using the product, it will breed confusion and undermine their confidence. What’s worse, it will make users wonder whether it’s the right product for them.

To avoid the mistake, prompt your users to complete one action at a time and use checklists to give structure to their onboarding.

The Loom welcome screen is a good example. It contains video guides but there’s only one CTA. It prompts the user to send an invite because that’s the most important thing at this stage.

Loom welcome screen with onboarding resources
Loom welcome screen with onboarding resources.

Following a one-size-fits-all approach to user onboarding

Besides overloading users with information, you can also lose them by flooding them with information that they have no use for.

Your users will engage with the product differently depending on their role, JTBDs, their stage on the user journey, or their level of expertise.

If you don’t recognize this and don’t segment users based on it, you fail to offer personalized experiences and you’ll end up with lots of alienated and frustrated users.

Advanced user segmentation for contextual onboarding. Get a Userpilot demo.

Assuming the user onboarding process ends with user activation

As mentioned, user onboarding consists of three steps and goes way beyond activation. In fact, it never stops because your product keeps evolving, and so do the users.

Failing to recognize the importance of secondary and tertiary onboarding results in missed opportunities, which could have a long-term impact on your business goals.

That’s because it’s the two stages that drive the most value. That’s when users adopt and become loyal users, start recommending your product to mates, or upgrade.

Onboarding tooltip
Onboarding tooltip.

New user onboarding checklist template you can use to onboard new users

Want to make sure that you leave no stone unturned when designing the user onboarding process for your product? Our checklist template will take you through all the important aspects you need to cover at each of the three onboarding stages.

Userpilot user onboarding checklist
Userpilot user onboarding checklist.

GET your own copy of the new client onboarding checklist template.

Best user onboarding tools for SaaS companies

To deliver an outstanding user onboarding experience, you need a decent tool or two. Let’s have a look at some best onboarding tools that are currently available on the market.

Userpilot – the complete user onboarding tool for product teams

Userpilot is a product adoption platform that enables product managers, product marketing managers, and customer success teams to design comprehensive user onboarding experiences for every stage of the user journey.

Userpilot’s key features include:

  • User segmentation – you can use a range of criteria like demographics, user behavior, or survey results to group your users and personalize onboarding for each of them.
User Onboarding Tools: Userpilot segmentation
User onboarding tools: Userpilot segmentation.
  • Multiple user onboarding UI patterns – without coding, you can create tooltips, modals, slideouts, driven actions, banners, and hotspots. Each of them can be used individually or combined into a personalized onboarding experience.
User Onboarding Tools: UI patterns in Userpilot
User onboarding tools: UI patterns in Userpilot.
  • Analytics – you can track product usage, user behavior, and goals to analyze how they progress toward activation. The data updates in real-time so you can act on them immediately. For example, by triggering an in-app experience when an event happens.
User Onboarding Tools: Custom Events in Userpilot
User onboarding tools: Custom events in Userpilot.
  • Userpilot also offers checklist and resource center analytics so you can track how successful they are at onboarding and educating users. You can also run A/B tests to choose the best ways to engage and activate your users with UI patterns.

All this functionality is available in the Userpilot plan which starts at $249/mo if you’re happy to pay for the whole year in advance.

Pendo – for employee and user onboarding needs

Pendo is another digital adoption platform that is best known for its analytics.

Unlike Userpilot, you can use it also for employee onboarding, and you can use it for both web and mobile apps.

User Onboarding Tools: Pendo dashboard
User onboarding tools: Pendo dashboard.

Pendo’s key features include:

  • Product tours – called guides in Pendo, are mostly linear and tooltip-based.
  • UI patterns – include Lightbox, Banner, Tooltips, Polls, and Walkthroughs. You can create them using templates and a WYSIWYG editor, however, to fully customize them you need to know how to code.
  • Checklists – these are only available to through the resource center.
  • Resource center.
  • In-depth analytics – allow you to analyze user behavior and product engagement in great detail. Pendo has developed its proprietary metric, PES. However, the data is recorded with a delay so you can’t trigger in-app patterns in real-time.

When it comes to pricing, Pendo offers a free plan which enables you to create in-app guides. However, to access more advanced features and analytics, you need to upgrade to one of the paid plans. The Starter plan starts at $7000/year.

User Onboarding Tools: Pendo pricing
User onboarding tools: Pendo pricing.

Appcues – for creating mobile user onboarding experiences

Appcues is a no-code user onboarding tool that allows product and customer success managers to drive product engagement.

User Onboarding Tools: Appcues UI patterns
User onboarding tools: Appcues UI patterns.

The key features include:

  • UI patterns – you can create modals, slideouts, tooltips, and hotspots with their code-free editor.
  • Product tours – with Appcues flows, you can easily build linear tours that take users through different aspects of the product step-by-step.
  • Checklists – although they have limited customization options, you can still use them effectively to guide users toward activation.
  • User segmentation – to group users based on their properties as well as flows, events, and interactions.

The Appcues Essentials is similarly priced to Userpilot’s lowest Traction plan, but its functionality is limited. For example, to be able to create checklists or more than 5 segments, you need to upgrade to the Growth plan, which will set you back $879/month.

User Onboarding Tools: Appcues pricing
User onboarding tools: Appcues pricing.


Designing effective user onboarding requires collecting information about user needs, segmenting them, and designing personalized in-app experiences that will highlight the benefits of the product and help them achieve their goals.

It is a process that never ends. As your users start using your product, you need to track their behavior and collect feedback to help them discover more advanced functionality and fully realize the potential of your product.

If you do, you will increase not only customer satisfaction but also their retention and loyalty, and financial benefits will follow.

If you want to see how Userpilot can help you take your user onboarding to another level, book the demo!

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