A Quick Guide to User Onboarding

What is Onboarding?

Purchase online onboarding app screens Vector illustration.

When users first step into a product, they are bombarded with new functions. The services you offer may seem obvious to you. However, users with no knowledge of the process will have difficulty understanding your intentions. This is where user onboarding comes into play. Onboarding is the form of actively guiding users to find a new value to your product. Products with a successful onboarding experience have a better chance of keeping users and turning them into raving fans.

Why is it So Important?

Onboarding is a crucial step for your user to connect with your product. A good user onboarding experience should allow users to feel engaged and valued, while handling the learning curve. In the case of Cuepath, support calls were reduced by 72% by implementing a good self-serve user onboarding. By developing their onboarding process to their customer base, users were able to navigate the product on their own.

Before Constructing Your Onboarding Plan – Consider These Points.

Identify Your Target Audience

Needless to say, understanding your target market is crucial. Everyone learns in a different way, and you have to design the elements of your product according to your target market. But user onboarding is not just for incoming users. It’s also for existing users. The first step of the onboarding plan should be working out how new and existing users use your product. You will need to tailor your onboarding according to your user’s goals, which will be different for each type of user.

Introduce the “Aha!” Moment

Once your users are categorized (generally non-users, first time users, and existing users), introduce the “aha!” moment. This is the part where your user internalizes the value of your product.  It could happen while showing the core value of the product to new users or showing important updates to existing users. You should come up with specific strategies to get your users to these points.

Good User Experience

To keep users on your product, you have to keep them engaged. Good UX should be throughout the website and not just the onboarding – which will convince users that your product is as good as you say.

Good UI

First impressions always matter – if a user is not satisfied on the first sight, they are less likely to stick around. There are many ways to make user onboarding interesting, engaging, and delightful. Some of these options include a progress indicator, contextual pop-ups, and modals. All of these are great options, but may act less functional depending on your users. Therefore, make sure to test the designs!

progress bar example
Bearapp’s use of empty space
modal example
Zapier using a modal
contextual pop-up example
Hubspot using a contextual pop-up
kompassify progress bar


The Essentials

Now that you have a basis for who you are onboarding, and what they should see and interact with, here are some essentials that will help you answer how to onboard the users.

Motivate Users to Reach their Goals

It’s important to support your users from the very start of their journey. Studies show that 86%of people say they’re more likely to stay loyal to a business that invests in onboarding content when it welcomes and educates them after they’ve bought it. The product should show the users the various tools they can use to complete their goals from the beginning. In this way, they can stay engaged and confident to use the tools to personalize their experience.

Educate users how you could solve their problem

A “product tour” educates the user about how the product functions. The tour can come in the form of an interactive walkthrough of the product or a video. Keep in mind what information is important to the user, and how they can utilize a particular area of the product. While video guides may need updates with every change or iteration to a product, it is recommended and preferred for first time users. Ideally, this is where the “aha!” moment happens.

Guide users to a meaningful action

Seeing information about the value of the product is great. However, actually using the product makes it more engaging for the user. We suggest conducting a “Learn-by-doing” demo, where the user’s goals and tasks can be turned into challenges.

Help out the user with light-weight visual cues to guide the user’s eye. Rather than force the user to focus on following the guide, a light visual cue will draw attention without overwhelming them. Users will feel more in control of their experience rather than forced to carry out these tasks. When in control, they will personalize how they use the product and feel catered to.

This step should bring your user closer to the core value of the product, and essentially have them experience the ‘aha’ moment while allowing them to feel valued.

Best Practices

Keep it Simple

Front-loading your onboarding process can be overwhelming. If you ask a user to sit in a long and explanation-heavy session, it’s unlikely they will memorize all the features upon sight-unseen. They will not remember what part of the product will meet their specific needs. It’s a pretty nasty situation to put users in. See how you can break down the work. Instead of putting all the information in a carousel before reaching the home page, try having tool-tips on a per-action basis. As much as we want the users to understand everything about the app, we shouldn’t front-load information in a small amount of time and expect users to understand or remember. Try to minimize your onboarding steps as much as possible.

Always Have a Progress Bar

People are more inclined to increase their efforts when their goal is nearby. This is called the Goal Gradient Effect. A progress bar is a visual way to convey to users how close they are to their goals, which stimulates the user’s goal gradient behavior. Increasing user satisfaction during onboarding will decrease boredom and frustration. Incentivizing learning in this small way helps the user retain the information.

Leave the Door Open

Similar to the front-loading dilemma, narrowing the choices that users can make leads to frustration. Note that users might make poor choices on key questions if they are not aware that they can edit those choices later on. Avoid making the users answer narrow or exclusive choices before getting engaged with the product. Leave the door open by letting them know it’s okay to change or make mistakes. Open door error-prevention can come in the form of messages like “You can edit this information later”. This will release users from a sense of urgency and give them freedom to experiment with all the tools. Your users will feel their autonomy is valued. Allowing room for users to grow or change the more they use the product increases it’s longevity. Users should be able to access relevant information or seek support whenever it becomes necessary.

In Conclusion

User onboarding is a major component of a successful product. When executed well, your users will feel more engaged and catered to. Ultimately, showing them the tools available to them will allow them to feel more independent. When users feel independent, they have the control to fit the product to suit their needs. Both the users goals and yours can be met.

Lastly, here are two good reads to find out more:

See the 8 different types of user onboarding categories that work well – really well.

Options for SaaS User Onboarding Tools

Onboarding new users after a redesign — Tips and techniques