How to Increase Product Engagement through User Onboarding

12 min read
Frank L.
Frank L.
Published August 6, 2021 Updated March 27, 2024

With so many products being developed every day, it's unlikely that new users will take the time to learn the ins-and-outs of each without any walk-throughs. User onboarding is the first impression you make on your users, and it helps them discover the value of your product quickly.

A well-defined onboarding process helps users navigate the early product usage phases, increasing their likelihood of becoming paying customers.

In this guide to user onboarding, we'll explain user onboarding and why it's important. We'll also cover the importance and best practices for onboarding users and show you how to measure user onboarding engagement.

What Is User Onboarding? 

User onboarding refers to guiding new users to find a product's value. It usually involves walking users through the product's first steps, demonstrating key features, and explaining what value they'll get from the product or service.

User onboarding often starts when a user downloads or signs up for the product. For example, TikTok's onboarding process begins with new users selecting their preferences to personalize their feed. Once completed, they can start interacting with content without needing to sign up or log in. However, users still need to make an account if they want to share or like other people's videos.

The goal of user onboarding is to boost user activation and customer retention. An effective onboarding process ensures that users have a clear understanding of your product's value.

Why Is User Onboarding So Important? 

User onboarding sets the tone for the user's overall interaction with the product or service throughout the customer journey. A good onboarding process can lower churn rates by helping users realize the product's benefits early on.

Many new users often want to know how useful your product is before they spend time learning how to use it. With many options, consumers have become accustomed to good user onboarding practices and expect excellent user experience.

Thus, taking the time to craft a well-thought-out onboarding process improves customer satisfaction and loyalty. Customers who quickly find and understand your product's core value are more likely to become active users down the line.

Furthermore, with optimal user onboarding tools, you can easily collect valuable user information, which you can use to personalize experiences and improve product usage.

Approximately 67% of product managers and digital experience teams say it's easier to understand their users' behavior on web products compared to mobile platforms. Notably, regardless of the product platform your team should continually think of ways to understand user behavior to reduce churn rates.

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 potential customers decide whether they want to continue using your solution in the future. Here, we outline nine ways to optimize your user onboarding process.

9 User Onboarding Best Practices You Should Try 

An effective user onboarding strategy can speed up product adoption, increase user engagement, and improve customer loyalty. So, what are some of the best practices you can follow to optimize your onboarding process?

Let's take a closer look.

1. Eliminate Unnecessary Friction During Sign-up

Across the board, from well-known brands to small-to-midsize businesses (SMBs), the average conversion rate ranges from 2--5%. With such metrics, it's clear that 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 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 through social media, email, or other accounts. This lets users create a new account without manually entering their information and creating a new password.

Take this example from the 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. 

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 features. From there, they go from being just a dabbling prospect to an enthusiastic, loyal user.

Let's look at the example of 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 realizes 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 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

(Image Source)

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 common 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're into so they can personalize onboarding for them.

Tumblr User Onboarding Example

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Eighty-six percent of customers are more likely to make a purchase if businesses understand their goals. 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

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 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. Seventy-nine percent of businesses say offering live chat has had a positive impact on revenue and customer loyalty.

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

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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

(Image Source)

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

(Image Source)

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. Adopt a Multi-Channel Onboarding Experience

Embracing a multi-channel onboarding experience allows you to leverage the entire user journey fully. You can break the user onboarding experience down into small steps through consistent and synchronized efforts.

Your multi-channel approach can include:

For example, the popular team communication platform Slack provides a multi-channel onboarding experience with video tutorials, a help center, articles, guided tours, in-app tutorials, and even a community forum.

Additionally, Shopify, a platform for online retailers, offers merchants a multi-channel onboarding experience through its mobile app, website, and support channels.

In an omnichannel onboarding strategy, emphasizing thoughtful and personalized messaging across every touchpoint improves product engagement. You can create personalized onboarding experiences by segmenting your users based on their unique preferences. 

For instance, sending personalized emails to new users during the initial onboarding stages helps keep your product top in mind as they move forward.

On top of that, make sure that the onboarding tasks you use are accessible and consistent to avoid confusion among your users. Additionally, keep an eye on critical performance indicators to monitor your customer retention rates.

How To Measure User Onboarding Engagement 

Since your product evolves and your users' requirements expand, so should your user onboarding strategy. To meet changing user needs, you first need to monitor, measure, and optimize user 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.

You can use various metrics to identify the strengths and weaknesses of your user onboarding journey. These include:


Time-to-value is how long it takes for new users to see value or have their first "aha" moment. When crafting a user onboarding experience, you want people to have their "aha" moment as quickly as possible.

New users are less likely to choose your platform if they have a difficult time getting started. In fact, users who don't see the value in your product features will likely look elsewhere for a better, quicker solution. Offering a quick onboarding checklist can help reduce time-to-value and help you retain more active users.

Completion Rate and User Progress

You need to note the user progress and completion rate for each onboarding step. Start by tracking how long it takes users to finish the onboarding tasks to see where they might be having trouble.

Additionally, you should keep an eye on feature adoption. Observe how engaged your users are with your product by tracking how they use key features introduced during onboarding.

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

Free Trial to Paid Conversion

Set clear criteria for what user actions define a free trial to paid conversion. For example, this could be when users enter billing information or make payments. Moreover, compare the behavior of users who convert to those who don't. Observe how they use your product during onboarding to see if there are any trends or variations.

Number of Customer Tickets 

One way to gauge the efficacy of your onboarding process is to track the number of customer tickets generated throughout the signup process. Too many tickets show that user onboarding is too confusing. Also look at ticket opening ‌trends over time to see if any patterns match with certain onboarding steps or product updates.

Adoption Rates

The initial impressions of a product are crucial to its eventual adoption. Adoption rates help identify where new users are dropping off, learn what they value, and identify where to provide more guidance.

You can set milestones for the overall signup process to track the customers' activation progress and goal attainment. Additionally, you can also track the most efficient onboarding patterns and use them more to guide and retain new signups.

Activation Rates

Your product's activation rate is the percentage of registered users who actually experienced the promised value of your product.

The top activation metrics to look out for when checking adoption rates include:

  • Product stickiness

  • Visitor-to-sign-up 

  • Trial-to-paid conversion

  • Feature adoption

For better activation rates, it's essential to optimize onboarding through a smooth signup process, checklists, and interactive walkthroughs. Make it a priority to introduce users to important features early on to reduce the learning curve.

Improve Your App's Conversion Rate With User Onboarding

In a market where consumers have many options, standing out from the crowd means showing your new users your product's core value early. Indeed, the onboarding process allows you to emphasize the value of your product to fuel ongoing user engagement.

A successful user onboarding process guides new customers in integrating the product into their existing processes to get the most value. Therefore, if you can provide genuine value to potential users during the onboarding process, there's a greater likelihood that they'll convert into regular users.

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