User Onboarding

Car industry hasn’t changed in decades, everyone knows the process of buying a car. You enter a dealer, wait for someone to ask if they can help you then you choose the car and you pay for it. Your parents did that, your grand-parents too and even your grand-grand-parents.

The software industry is still young and far from that. You used to get a user manual ten years ago while buying the new version of Photoshop. This is now pretty inconceivable as people get more and more frustrated as soon as a bug appears in your app or the flow they’re in is too complicated.

User onboarding is there to help users enter and get familiar with an app. Lots of onboarding techniques exist and work together to make things smooth for users.

Why is user onboarding important?

User onboarding is helpful not only to explain new users how your app is working, but also to guide recurring users through new features and flows.

You can use onboarding techniques to guide users trying out your product, to get them set-up for success, to buy an article, to upgrade their account, to teach them changes in your app,…

Here are come classic goals that user onboarding helps you to achieve:

  • decrease drop-off after sign-up
  • increase retention
  • speed-up trail period to paid subscription
  • reduce non-renewals
  • improve user engagement
  • increase paid conversions

User onboarding techniques

User onboarding is a big term and actually consists of a multitude of techniques that can be combined in order to achieve your goals.

1. Coach screens

Quite common to onboard users in a new feature or during a sign-up flow, coach screens are also pretty easy to design and implement.


  • User are already used to it
  • Are quite brief
  • Reinforce your value proposition


  • Easy to skip
  • Pay attention to content length
  • User may think they can interact with the screens


  • 3 to 4 screens maximum
  • Make them visually appealing
  • Write about the benefits and not the features
  • Use little copy
  • Make CTA obvious and clear

2. Tooltips

Handy when it comes to explain a new interface in an efficient way, tooltips are also pretty common and easy to skip.


  • Appears in context
  • Capture the attention of users
  • Effective to explain complex features


  • Overwhelming if you show too many of them
  • Can become an excuse for bad UX


  • Timing is everything
  • One tip at a time
  • Option to hide/show tooltips

3. Progress bar

Reduce users anxiety by showing them where they are in a flow and how much effort they still have to make to achieve it.


  • Sense of reward
  • Shows a light at the end of the tunnel
  • Increase conversion


  • Pay attention to not let users with partially-completed bars that can be frustrating eventually
  • Users get discouraged if you ask for too many actions


  • One goal/step
  • Show real progress between two steps
  • Show an ideal time frame

4. Interactive prototype

Harder to design and develop, interactive prototypes are great to guide a new user in the main feature of an app.


  • Learn by doing
  • Single workflow
  • Don’t require a lot of copy


  • Can become frustrating
  • Can get too complicated
  • Chances are users will make mistakes


  • Provide an option to skip
  • Don’t try to cover all the features
  • Make undoing an action easy in case of mistakes

5. Training videos

What’s best than a short video tutorial you can watch anytime?


  • Ideal for complex apps such as CRM’s
  • Get more in-depth on a particular feature
  • Videos are available anytime


  • Often outside of the app or the flow
  • Slow internet connection may not render them well
  • Expensive and time-consuming to produce


  • Don’t try to show everything in one video
  • Videos should help users that are stuck, they should not be mandatory to watch
  • Make mobile-friendly videos (short and containing subtitles)

6. Email lessons


  • Good to introduce easy features that are hard to master
  • Keep your app in users’ head
  • Address pain points as users master the learning curve
  • Build relationship with the right tone and content


  • Not everyone opens and reads emails
  • Too many emails is overwhelming
  • Planning, writing, editing and setting up emails is time-consuming


  • Don’t rely only on emails
  • Pay attention to the cadence
  • Identify parts of your product that are particularly difficult to master

General tips

Personalise the visitor experience

By using custom content such as the name of your users and their profile picture, they will feel more engaged in your product. Make your content even more relevant based on their activities.


By including challenges in your onboarding experience, your process will seem more enjoyable and engaging.

There are four types of gamers:

  • The achiever: Gain points, treasures and bonus
  • The killer: Defeat others
  • The explorer: Seek new experiences, use less-taken paths
  • The socialiser: Play with others, build relationships

Killers and explorers are difficult to integrate to an onboarding experience so let’s focus on the other ones.

Achievers and socialisers are indeed a good fit for onboarding. LinkedIn for example takes good advantage of it to encourage users completing their profile by make them win badges and push their progress bar forward.

Socialisers are motivated by interactions with others, show them how users use your platform and make them alive with quotes and testimonials.

Social media

Use social media login to show that you’re connected and available. If you need more info than an email, just ask for it afterwards. Also, do not publish junk on users behalf, never.

Human support

Show your users that you’re their if they need help. By making someone available for them, you will not only earn their trust but also create a relationship.

Talk to your users

Ask them what they love about your product or what is the feature they use the most. It is also good to know against which competitors they’re comparing your app and why they decided to use yours.

Think about the WOW moment

The WOW moment takes place when a user understand the value your app proposes. It is not a feature but what your product makes possible and is best demonstrated when you make the user do it himself. Remember Do is greater than Show that is better than Tell.


Finally, tracking key data will help you design a better onboarding experience as you’ll be able to see where users are stuck.

Of course you should get enough data before assuming something but cohort engagement or A/B testing are good ways to validate your design decisions.

Also, define a WOW moment and measure data around it to see how users respond to it.