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Tips to successfully onboard new users

Having worked on ‘User Growth’ of a few B2C mobile applications, I have always been interested in the strategies used by different apps for a successful new user onboarding.

While the approach used by each app is unique in multiple aspects, there are definitely a few common patterns in apps belonging to a specific industry. For example, social media apps such as TikTok make the user see value in the app without any significant user input, whereas most of the apps in health industry seek personal information (such as age, height and weight) to understand the user goal first and personalize the experience accordingly.

In this article, I’ll be sharing my learnings on ‘new user onboarding’ that I believe can help to create a quick, easy and hassle-free experience.

First of all, what is new user onboarding?

It is simply the process of introducing new users to your product and helping them get the most out of it.

Secondly, why is it important?

Ever heard the importance of the first date? :D First impression is important, otherwise if there isn’t enough of a spark to pursue a second date (in product terms, the ‘aha’ moment did not happen), the person might not ever come back. All that effort to get that ‘right swipe’ goes in vain (ouch!). In terms of a product, all the effort you had put in to make that user install the app could go waste if the user does not see any value in the product while experiencing it for the first time.

Below are a few important things to keep in mind while defining the onboarding experience for your users:

1) Define the goal of onboarding experience:

First of all, what does a successful onboarding journey mean? The exact definition is unique to your product and you need to find it out to ensure that you are not shooting in the dark.

Goal of the onboarding experience can be defined based on your understanding of users as well as data analysis of the current user journey. For data analysis, you can do cohort analysis to find the action that makes users keep using the app. Cohort analysis is simply grouping the users based on some common traits and understanding their actions. For example, for an app such as Facebook, data might show that users who follow at least x number of friends tend to have high engagement and retention. So, in this case, the goal of onboarding journey could be to make the user follow x friends.

2) Select the type of onboarding experience:

There are multiple types on onboarding flows used by different teams and it is important to select the one that works for you. One point to keep in mind while selecting the type of flow is to focus on the user goal and not product goals (this is a very common mistake). It is easy to get biased and start focusing on that feature which is very close to your heart and was so hard to implement (guilty :P). User does not care about your latest fancy feature if there isn’t a clarity on how the app is going to help to solve his/her problems.

Rather than following a single approach, most of the apps use a combination of the below approaches:

Benefits approach: This approach focuses on showing the benefit/value of the app to the user. This is one of the most successful approaches used by multiple apps. The language used to convey this to the user should be spot on and easy to understand. This is mainly to convince the user to complete the sign up process and hence, reduce the drop-offs in the sign-up funnel.

LinkedIn focusing on conveying the value it brings to the user (Source: LinkedIn)

Features approach: This approach focuses on informing the users about the features of the app. It is important to use this approach very carefully. There are a few apps which use multiple tooltips to explain every little detail about the app in the first go itself. There is a high probability that either the user will ignore all the tooltips or will simply drop off at that point because of high cognitive load. In my opinion, this approach should be used only for 1–2 features that are important for a new user to understand, and are not very obvious even after making all the relevant design changes to make them intuitive.

MyFitnessPal mobile app using tooltips to explain one of the features (Source: MyFitnessPal)

Action-focused approach: This approach focuses on nudging the user to take an action rather than just reading about the benefits and features. The actions used in onboarding journey should be very simple to complete. This can be a very powerful technique if used correctly as it can enable the user to realize the value of the product very quickly.

Google Pay asking the new user to make the payment (Source: Google Pay)

Profile/account setup approach: This approach focuses on asking the new user to create an account/profile before proceeding to rest of the features. This is used mostly to give the user a personalized experience. While this seems like a no-brainer and is being used by a lot of apps in combination with the other approaches, it is important to give a careful thought about whether this is required in the onboarding journey itself or not. The goal is for the user to reach the ‘aha’ moment as soon as possible. If a profile is not required for this, you can always nudge the user to create a profile afterwards.

3) Keep it short

Try to keep the onboarding journey as short as possible. Break it down into smaller steps, use separate onboarding processes for complex features and request only mandatory information. It’s important to not fall into the trap of wanting to tell users everything about all the product features.

4) Human touch

Finally, do not forget to go to the extra mile to add that human touch. It is easy to miss this one when we are focusing on functionality of the features. Use personalized welcome messages, cute illustrations, gamified elements, congratulate the user on completing different onboarding steps, and do whatever it takes to make the whole experience enjoyable for the user!

Duolingo uses such illustrations to keep the user engaged (Source: Duolingo)

Last but not the least, even if you do everything right, there is always a scope of improvement. Keeping all of the above in consideration definitely reduces the probability of mistakes, but each product is unique and sometimes, users can act in unexpected ways. I would suggest to keep measuring the onboarding funnel metrics and revise the onboarding processes accordingly. There might be a surprise waiting for you!

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