Death to the Stock Photo

The Best Practices for User Onboarding

First impressions are everything.

As you may have learned previously in the analytics chapter of Kiip’s Developer Success Guide, mobile users focus on one activity at a time. As a developer, there are good and bad sides to this. On the plus side, mobile users may be more tolerant of long load times or technical issues in apps than on desktops. However, because of the limited screen real estate on smartphones and greater degree of immersion in mobile sessions, mobile users pay attention to all the little things. You won’t be able to conceal visual blemishes or technical issues on mobile apps.

A recent study by Localytics, an app analytics tool, showed that 20% of apps are only used once — not a promising statistic. In markets as competitive as the App Store and Google Play, you want to make the best first impression you possibly can. And that starts with onboarding.

User onboarding is the process in which you orient a first-time user of your app into an engaged, active and repeat user during their first interaction. Good user onboarding provides a strong first impression for your app and a solid understanding of how apps can service user needs. User onboarding should be visually captivating, but also simplistic and intuitive. The copy that goes along with user onboarding should be concise for users to not feel overwhelmed, yet descriptive enough to educate them.

Like with many things regarding design, it’s easier said than done. To help, we’ve assembled a general list of features that we’ve noticed over time which have proven successful in user onboarding.

Show users the app’s benefits, not features

We’ve all become used to the speed and convenience of information in the Digital Age. We expect things to be explained to us step-by-step yet are often impatient when it comes to trying new things. Thus, with user onboarding, don’t spend limited screen space on text explaining the features of your app. Instead, word your copy to explain how your app directly benefits users. A user who immediately understands and finds value in your app will become an active and engaged user.

Simplify login

If users need to create an account to use your app, social login is a great way to simplify the process. Just ask them to link their account to Facebook or Twitter and they can connect in seconds, rather than spending five minutes manually typing their full name, email and other data.

If there are even more actions to creating an account, such as picking interests á la Quora, reveal the number of steps to completion. This way, users know how long the process will take and won’t feel frustrated if they have to complete five steps and still haven’t finished.

After the account has been created, set up a welcome screen. This should include a link to a FAQ section or additional tutorials that the user has the option of clicking on and that aren’t mandatory.

Understand user intuition

User onboarding can take on many different forms, and depends greatly on the genre of your app. Apps with less intuitive designs — such as difficult navigation or complex gestures — typically require some form of user onboarding. For gaming apps, an easy first level could serve as user onboarding. For service, e-commerce or m-commerce apps, a tutorial can be helpful for users.

Three rules for creating a tutorial:

  1. Keep it short. Users should be able to figure out how to handle the app in less than a minute.
  2. Place it in an easy-to-reference location.
  3. The last step should drop users off on the page where they’ll be most engaged. This may not be the app homescreen, but instead a page where they will take action, like updating a status, taking a photo or creating a character.

Use colors to guide users

Colors play a crucial role in user onboarding. You should still follow the color scheme you created when you began designing your app, but use higher contrast hues and bright colors against empty space to draw attention to where users should navigate (especially on the homescreen). This will keep users visually engaged, while emphasizing actions they should take. With some simple rearranging and color hierarchy, you can “recommend” to users which option is best without ever explicitly stating it or taking up more space on the screen.

Less is more

Not every app needs a set user onboarding process. Some apps are simple enough that they doesn’t require an explanation. That’s a good thing. There is no evidence states that every successful app has user onboarding flow. Users don’t want to be pampered with onboarding if it’s already things that they can learn on their own. Ultimately, it’s up to you as the developer and designer as to whether or not your app needs user onboarding.

As with most practices, it’s important to continually test and improve user onboarding. Here at Kiip, one of our favorite sites to check out for user onboarding is UserOnboard.com. With an archive of various user onboarding teardowns of both websites and mobile apps, this content is not only a joy to read, but also educational.

We wish you all the best in your monetization efforts. If you’d like to learn how Kiip can personally help you with your monetization efforts, check out this post and more on Kiip’s Developer Success Guide. Or feel free to contact us at success@kiip.me.