How to Optimize User Onboarding in 9 Steps

8 min read

If you want to retain more users, it’s not enough to create a great product. It all starts with a successful user onboarding process that showcases your product’s true value to customers.

Frank L.
Frank L.
Published August 6, 2021

It’s five to 25 times more expensive to acquire new users then to retain existing ones. So your product team should be continually thinking of ways to reduce churn rate and retain more users.

Keeping customers long-term starts with onboarding them correctly. The user onboarding process could make or break user retention, no matter how good your product is.

“Product people should not think that having the best product out there will automatically solve their user onboarding,” says Carlos Gonzales de Villaumbrosio, CEO of Product School. “It’s the other way around. No matter how much you invest in marketing or design, you will be wasting resources if your user’s first minutes with your product don’t contribute to your future growth.”

User onboarding influences your product’s first impression, and makes customers decide whether they want to continue using your solution in the future. Here, we outline nine ways you can ensure your user onboarding process is optimized.

1. Eliminate Unnecessary Friction During Sign-up

The average sign-up conversion rate for SaaS companies is only 36%. The sign-up process needs to have as few obstacles as possible so the user can feel comfortable taking the first step. The fewer barriers there are to registration, the more likely users are to sign up.

Obstacles during sign-up can include too many form fields and heavy text explanations about features. The key is not to overwhelm the new user at the first touchpoint, so they sign up for your platform and start using the product as soon as possible.

A great way to simplify the sign-up process is to include one-click sign-ups, which are becoming increasingly popular. They allow new users to instantly register for your product with their social media, email, or other accounts. This lets users create a new account without having to manually enter their information and come up with a new password.

Take this example from project management tool Trello:

Trello User Onboarding Example

Once the user decides to sign up, they can instantly create an account by using their Google, Microsoft, Apple, or Slack account. Then, with just one click, they can get started using Trello.

Another benefit of this approach is that it allows users in the future to sign back into your platform even if they forget their password by signing in with the apps they use the most. This is important because 92% of users will stop using a site if they don’t remember their account password.

2. Identify Your User’s “Aha” Moment

Your user’s “aha” moment is the moment in their product journey when they start realizing the value they can get out of your product. From there, they go from being just a dabbling prospect to an enthusiastic, loyal user.

Let’s look at the example Trainual, a training and knowledge base platform that helps businesses train their employees. According to Becky Winter, marketing manager at Trainual, their “aha” moment is when the user realizes how much more productive their employee training can be.

“Trainual’s 'Aha!' moment happens when a business owner or manager brings somebody new on the team and realize that because of Trainual, they can be nearly completely hands-off while that person gets up to speed and productive,” says Winter. “It’s the automation of the mundane parts of training, leaving more room for the company culture and human moments that matter.”

Knowing that, Trainual does everything to optimize the product journey and push users towards that “aha” moment. “Our dedicated team of Customer Success and process experts guide each and every new user through an activation journey that gets them set up for success and building a system they can scale on,” continues Winter.

Trainual User Onboarding Example

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If you’re not sure of what your product’s “aha” moment is, here are some tips you can apply to discover it:

  1. Identify patterns among your most loyal customers
  2. Talk to churning customers to understand their behavior
  3. Create a list of potential “aha” moments in the product experience
  4. Test out different onboarding flows

Once you identify what the “aha” moment is for your platform, find ways to lead the user to it as soon as possible during their onboarding process. It ensures that they see the value in your product and enter the retention phase quicker.

To learn more about understanding “aha” moments, check out this great article from Intercom.

3. Simplify Your Product Walkthrough

Along with reducing friction during sign-up, it’s also vital to cut your product tour to the absolute minimum while still showcasing your value. It saves time for the user and allows them to start using your product from the get-go.

ClearBrain is an analytics tool for marketers that helps them set up campaigns and make better predictions. Notice how they keep their product tour as simple as possible for users:

Clearbrain User Onboarding Example

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To get started with ClearBrain, the user only has to complete three steps in their onboarding process. It helps them instantly see the value in the platform and gets them up to speed quickly.

Even if you’re selling a complex service, take a look at your current product walkthroughs and identify ways to make them shorter. You can also make certain parts of onboarding skippable and let users go back to them at their leisure.

4. Segment the User Onboarding Process

A mistake that many companies make is to run the same onboarding process for each user. However, the reality is that each user has different expectations and could be using your product for various reasons, so personalizing the onboarding process is vital.

Here’s a great example from the invoice management platform Freshbooks. To customize the onboarding process and make it more relevant to the user, it asks several questions to the new user before onboarding to better understand their business and needs:

Freshbooks User Onboarding Example

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Another great example is the social network company Tumblr. Each time a new user signs up to their platform, they ask them which themes and topics they are into so they can personalize onboarding for them:

Tumblr User Onboarding Example

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According to Salesforce’s State of the Connected Customer, 76% of customers expect businesses to get a clear idea of their needs and expectations. By adapting onboarding to the needs of each individual user, you’re setting the stage for a more engaging and personalized product experience.

5. Celebrate Small Wins During Onboarding

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It’s the small things that count. Celebrating new wins during onboarding is an excellent way to motivate new subscribers to continue using your product.

A great example is Duolingo, a language learning app that celebrates small wins through gamification and engaging, cute animation in their messaging:

Duolingo User Onboarding Example

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Another company that does an excellent job of celebrating its users’ achievements is the grammar-checking tool Grammarly. They follow up with users each week with writing reports to show their progress and encourage them to continue using their platform:

Grammarly User Onboarding Example

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Create a list of possible small wins and find ways to congratulate your users for them. Early wins for the user during onboarding can include completing their first task, finishing a product tour, or adding their team members to your platform.

6. Always be There for Your User

During the user’s onboarding process, it’s important to provide them with all the support they need to understand your product. That comes in the form of exceptional customer service and educational content that helps them get the most out of your platform.

“When it comes to onboarding, we’ve found that the most important thing is to always be available,” says Teri Wilson, CEO at iDoneThis, a productivity tool. “Might sound like we’re trying to be your significant other, but we want to be your life partner at work. We want to make sure our users know not just our tool but that we can help them implement best practices within their team.”

One way to always be there for your customer is through routine check-ins (such as emails) to monitor their progress. You can also follow up by sending them app tutorials or guides that complement their product journey.

To answer any urgent questions or issues your user may have, implement live chat as part of onboarding. 41% of users prefer using live chat over any other channel to contact companies.

7. Show User Progress in Onboarding

Giving the user a clear idea of where they are in their onboarding process motivates them to go all the way in their product experience. You can track user progress by embedding navigation icons or progress bars on your platform dashboard.

A great example is LinkedIn, which allows users to go through onboarding at their own pace. New users get access to a progress bar, where they can get a clear idea of where they’re at in the onboarding process:

Linkedin User Onboarding Example

What’s great about LinkedIn’s approach is that they’re explaining the benefit behind each step. In the screenshot above, they remind the user that adding the school they went to helps them easily connect with past classmates.

Here’s another example of using progress bars during onboarding from StoryChief. The content marketing management platform uses a checklist to guide the user onboarding process, with a progress bar showcasing how much they have to complete:

StoryChief User Onboarding Example

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Notice the encouraging statement they include: “Road to Content Hero!” This kind of messaging encourages the user and pushes them to follow through with onboarding.

8. Include Rewards and Perks

Including rewards for signing up is an excellent tactic to build a relationship with new users and retain them in the long term. It makes users feel that you value them and helps them get more out of your product experience.

For example, you can include a referral program, where users can win perks for spreading the word about your product. Or, give them free credits each time they perform a specific action, such as completing their first task.

Dropbox offers new users free storage space by completing their “getting started” checklist, which involves basic actions such as installing Dropbox on their computer and taking their product tour:

Dropbox User Onboarding Example

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To win extra storage, users can also refer their friends to Dropbox or contribute to its community forum.

Another example of using incentives to engage new users is graphic design platform Canva. Through its affiliate program, users can earn $36 each time they refer a new user to its Canva Pro program:

Canva User Onboarding Example

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During user onboarding, remind each new sign-up about your referral or rewards program. It gives them an extra reason to keep exploring your product. If you want to learn more, check out HubSpot’s article on how to create a customer referral program.

9. Measure Onboarding Engagement

As you’re tweaking the user onboarding process, make sure to measure the results to see the impact of your changes on user engagement. That way, you can update your onboarding process until you generate the retention results you want.

There are various metrics you can use to identify the strengths and weaknesses of your user onboarding. These include:

  • Time-to-value
  • Completion rate and user progress
  • Free trial to paid conversion
  • Number of customer tickets (for example, too many tickets shows that user onboarding is too confusing)

You can use tools such as CleverTap and Amplitude to identify how users interact with your product and at which point of the onboarding process they lose interest.

Improving Retention Starts With a Better User Onboarding Process

Your product’s user onboarding process is your chance to get customers as excited about your product as you are. An intuitive onboarding experience encourages your user to play with your product, explore new features as you release them, and spread the word about your product to others.

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