Onboarding is essential for one of the biggest metrics in startup land: User Retention. And yet, so many companies do not put the necessary time and resources into creating a great onboarding experience. However, lucky for us, there is never a better time to start than the present! But first, what is this “onboarding” I speak of?
Onboarding = Tights + Spandex + Cape
Some companies think that creating a great onboarding experience for their users is about showing them a carousel with some graphics or text about the cool stuff their app does. But onboarding isn’t about showing off all the features your product has, onboarding is about communicating with your user how you are going to turn her into a better version of herself.
To me, the graphic above that Samuel Hulick created is the best demonstration of comparing a feature-based onboarding experience to a benefit-based one. We all don’t care about the magic Fire Flower. We care about the badass it turns us into. Onboarding is about helping users realize how they can become an awesome fire throwing super human by using your product. In more professional speak, onboarding is about creating more value for your first-time user by showing her how your product can make her life better.
Before we start talking about the steps you can take to create a better onboarding experience, I want to preface things by saying that your product needs to be solving an actual problem. If you haven’t done the research to uncover your users’ problems and tested a solution with them, the greatest onboarding experience in the world isn’t going to save you.
Find the Path to Success
The first thing that you need to do is figure out your user’s path to success. Take a look at your current users (either by studying the data or getting out there and watching them use your product), and find out what tasks are essential for getting those users to come back. What is the “aha moment” that a user realizes that your product is going to take them from being boring Clark Kent to being the amazing Superman!
For example, in the case of Facebook, adding friends is an essential part of the Facebook onboarding experience. The people who add friends are going to receive more value out of Facebook because their timeline will be populated with a bunch of interesting content. And adding friends sets them up to return because they get a notification inviting them back when someone accepts their request (I see you triggers!). By coming back to Facebook and seeing what their new friend is posting about, those users begins to realize how Facebook is a great way to stay connected to their friends and family.
Once you figure out how a user will succeed using your product and therefore become a super version of themselves, you can start optimizing for that path to success.
Clear the Path
When you know what the meaningful tasks are that your users need to complete, start by reminding them what superhuman they are going to turn into by using your product. Then you want to get every obstacle out of their way and help them along the path to greatness.
Clearing the path to a better version of themselves could mean cutting down on your sign-up process so your users get to use your product even sooner. Or it could mean reducing the amount of confusion by adding an extra step that helps show them the benefit your product brings them. Twitter famously added one more screen to their sign-up process and increased conversions 29%. By finding out what topics people were interested in, Twitter helped their users realize how much more super Twitter could make their lives.
Ask for the right information at the right time
Often times, the business side of us wants to gather as much information as we can about our users, but we have to weigh the pros and cons of doing so. Sometimes asking for non-essential information slows down the user, and she ends up never completing your sign-up process. Sometimes asking for a certain piece of information might improve the overall experience for your user (think the Twitter example above). Another thing to consider is if you can delay asking for certain information until a later point. For example, don’t ask for location permissions the first time a user opens your app. Wait until the exact point in time that you need it — such as when a user is looking for locations nearby. Plus you’re more likely to be successful that way!
Duolingo does a fabulous job of getting their user’s to find value right away. Before they even ask you to create an account, you pick a language you want to learn and start on your first lesson. By the end, you already know a few new words. It is a beautiful thing when someone can see how a product makes her life better before she ever has to set up a profile.
There are a plethora of great onboarding tactics out there like tours, tooltips, progressive onboarding, dummy data, etc. and since discussing them all would be a blog post on its own (or seven), I just want to say that you should pick a tactic that allows you to easily get your users to realize the benefit your product brings them (AKA the “aha moment”).
Another, important thing to think about when figuring out how to onboarding your users is to make sure to not overload them with too much information at once. People process and remember information better when it is presented in small chunks at a time. This is the main reason that coach marks don’t work and why people don’t remember things after long product tours (plus ain’t nobody got time for that!). So keep that in mind when choosing a certain onboarding tactic.
Remember, Onboarding is Everywhere
One of the biggest mistakes I see companies make is thinking that onboarding only takes place within their app. All of the touch points that a user has with your brand — even before they start using your product — can be instrumental in teaching her how you’re going to turn her into a superhuman!
Your promotional materials. Your website. Your App Store page. The emails you send out. All of the places that a user interacts with your brand are a part of your onboarding experience. Throughout those touch points, you need to be showing off the value that your product brings to the user and how you will make their life better.
Lastly, when a user starts using your app, please please please don’t forget about the power of emails! Emails can be a powerful tool to help your users better use your product by providing help, explanations, and encouragement all at very appropriate points in time. If a user hasn’t uploaded a profile picture, and you know how important that is for her success on your dating app, then an email is a great way to remind her to add that perfectly groomed picture of herself. There is a reason the authority on onboarding, Samuel Hulick, calls lifecycle emails “Magic Pixie Dust for User Onboarding”.
Keep Them Coming Back
User retention is all about delivering value. While it is crucial to make sure your product delivers value by solving a real problem, unfortunately, you can’t stop there. To keep users coming back, you have to show them how your product will make their lives better. And after that, you have to hold their hand while they realize it for themselves.
By creating a great onboarding experience at all the different touchpoints a user has with your brand, you are going to keep that user coming back. Why? Because you communicated and showed them how your product is going to turn them into a better version of themselves. And who doesn’t want to be a fireball throwing, superhuman?