In a SaaS world where 30-50% of signups never come back, do you know what your business needs to do so it can have highly-engaged users that keep coming back?
The best way to address this industry-wide problem is to ensure that your product has an exceptional user onboarding experience.
What is User Onboarding?
User onboarding is the journey your new users go through from the moment they sign up to the moment they experience the value of your product.
If you’re not able to convince new users that you will guide them to their desired outcome, there's a very slim chance any of them will come back for a second visit, let alone stick with your product long-term.
To help you gain a better understanding of user onboarding and everything that's involved in providing a great first-time experience for your customers, we’ve put together a list of 27 resources that will teach you everything you need to know to create the best onboarding UX for your product. Let’s get started:
The Appcues User Onboarding Academy is one of the best places to start if you want to get an in-depth understanding of everything that’s involved in the user onboarding process.
This series will walk you through examples and best practices of how a good user onboarding process guides the user to their “Aha! Moment” and to the value of a product. You will also learn about user psychology and how to use emails to assist the users who are dropping off or abandoning the user onboarding flow.
Make sure you watch the whole thing before making any rash decision to your user onboarding. The lectures from the Academy cover multiple factors that influence the onboarding process.
Appcues also updates their blog regularly. Here are some of our favorite articles:
Intercom has established itself as a thought leader when it comes to delighting customers. They’ve published multiple books, and their latest one is “Intercom on Onboarding”.
User onboarding was and is the one truly universal problem every piece of software has. It’s the only one thing literally all your customers are going to do, and you’re guaranteed thousands of your users will run into some kind of difficulty with it.
It doesn’t matter if you’ve tried every marketing technique in the book, if your onboarding UX isn’t successful, then it counts for nothing. Why would you invest so much in trying to attract users, but not go the extra step to try and keep them?
Des Traynor Co-Founder, Intercom
Des makes it pretty clear that there’s no point in spending lots of money to acquire new users if you’re not able to make them stick around and actually use your product. This is a very valuable lesson that gets often overlooked by many SaaS companies.
Intercom takes a holistic approach towards the user onboarding process, they will show you how you need to think about it, and why it is the most important interaction that a new user will have with your product. A definite must-read for anyone involved in growing a SaaS product.
We also recommend you have a look at Intercom's other articles about user onboarding:
From signed-up to satisfied: satisfying your users' expectations can be a daunting task. It takes a lot of work, but focusing on high impact work is what worked for Intercom.
Strategies for onboarding new users: there is no particular onboarding strategy that works for every company. This post will show you a few places you could do research to understand what your users are looking for so that you'll be able to match their expectations.
Ways to think about customer onboarding: onboarding is more than just walking the user through your product's features. You need to design a journey in which the user will achieve their desired outcome.
I guess TIDAL's onboarding just became Jay Z's 100th problem
UserOnboard is the place where you will find the most detailed onboarding teardowns. Samuel Hulick’s onboarding teardowns have gained a lot of attention in the SaaS community for good reason.
Samuel walks you through every single aspect of user onboarding examples: design, copywriting, usability, among others.
The user onboarding teardowns are presented in a very entertaining fashion, and you will be able to see how the most popular apps guide their new users through their first experience with the product.
New teardowns are updated regularly so be sure to check back from time to time.
Samuel also wrote a powerful and comprehensive eBook on user onboarding called “The Elements of User Onboarding”, and even though it is a paid eBook it is worth every penny. He breaks down the most important aspects of user onboarding in a light and informative tone while guiding you through the process of improving the onboarding UX of your product.
Here at InnerTrends, we help SaaS companies fuel their growth by showing them what’s holding them back from successfully onboarding more users. We believe that the easiest way to hack your growth is to efficiently onboard more users.
You only have one first impression, make it count. If you invest a lot of money in user acquisition but you’re not able to onboard them, you’re just leaking money and it’s only a matter of time until your software’s growth will hit a plateau.
From what we’ve learned, multiple factors influence the user’s perception during the onboarding process. The promises you make on your SaaS landing page will set the expectations users will have from your software.
There are many things to consider, like the blank state page the user sees after the onboarding process, which will be his first interaction with your product. If the onboarding process has been awesome but this page is intimidating, it will add a lot of friction and the user will likely abandon the process.
How much friction can your users afford depends on your product’s reputation. If your app is well-established, maybe you can afford to ask your users to provide more information upfront, maybe even ask for their credit card. If that’s not the case and you’re an up & coming SaaS looking to design their first onboarding process, you might want to read our Growth Hacker’s Guide to Onboarding Your First 100 Users.
In their short series about user onboarding, InVision talks about how the onboarding process is often overlooked when it comes to software design.
The designers and developers who create digital products have discovered, explored, and defined problems and best practices for a variety of digital experiences. But there’s an element of web and mobile app design that’s still in its (relative) infancy: user onboarding.
Alex Fedorov, Co-founder of Fresh Tilled Soil
This generates frustration for the users, who can’t help but give up when they can’t understand how the app works. The blame for this is often passed around inside the companies. This relates a lot to what we found out while trying to help companies optimize their user onboarding process.
InVision’s intro to user onboarding emphasizes why it’s important for your users to understand how your product works.
Part of the problem could be that you just dropped them into the SaaS app, and hoped they’d figure it out for themselves. Or, maybe you did do some onboarding UX but failed to deliver the “Wow” experience that your marketing sold them on.
Much of this can be solved by creating a solid customer onboarding flow & a compelling first-run experience.
Tommy Walker, ConversionXL
If you want to find out what’s driving users away from your app, breaking the user onboarding process into smaller steps will make your job a lot easier. Start tracking their interactions and look for opportunities to make it more comfortable for them to understand the value of your app.
Another great resource from ConversionXl is their 6 User Onboarding Flow Examples (With Critiques): Shanelle Mullin breaks down six onboarding flows and analyzes every step of their user onboarding process. If you want to get a deeper understanding of the thought process that should be put behind your user onboarding strategy, then this article is a must-read.
The “Wow!” or “Aha! Moment” happens when a user suddenly clearly understands the main value they can get out of a product, you will hear them say “Aha! I get it” or “Wow! That’s what it does”.
Identifying your product’s “Wow!” or “Aha! Moment” might not be so easy as it seems. What you consider to be the “Wow!” moment might not generate the same excitement for your user. This detail is often overlooked, but it’s one of the most important aspects of the user onboarding process.
After you identify your user’s “Wow!” moment, you will have to find the shortest path to take them there. It’s your job to guide them on this journey as quickly as possible, and also reduce the effort they have to put in to get there.
David Skok’s article provides a great template for which you can use to identify the “Wow!” moment, track it, and then optimize it based on the data you collect.
The users sign up expecting to reach a certain outcome. Each step they have to take to get to that outcome will increase the friction and it makes them less likely to move on to the next step. After they jump through all the hoops, if they don’t experience what was promised, the user is sure to leave and never come back.
Michael Probert analyzed 50 user onboarding flows and published his findings on the pilot.co blog, these user onboarding examples are great sources of information worth checking out.
Onboarding is your first date with your user — you don’t want to talk their ear off and you want to be as charming as possible. Simply put: tell the user only what they need to know, in as few words as you can, to make them like you. And be as witty or delightful as you can while doing it.
Your customer takes a risk when he decides to sign up and pay for your product. Does your product have what it takes to provide an amazing onboarding UX and make that customer return?
Vinay Koshy of WPCurve shares a framework SaaS companies can use to make their product so sticky that customers won’t even think about leaving.
Done right, customer onboarding can resolve the issue of new users not coming back. It starts when a user signs up and receives their welcome email, and can continue for a period until the customer is acquainted with how to use the product or service and the benefits of doing so. The goal is to help customers by:
Explaining what some or all features do
Provide insight into the functionality of the product/service
Guide the user through using the product/service effectively
Avoiding these five common mistakes could literally save you thousands of dollars.
Another powerful article in this blog is “User Onboarding Isn’t a Feature”. There are companies out there who treat user onboarding as a feature of their product, a thing that they plan to work on sometime in the future. This is a huge mistake. Your user onboarding process should constantly evolve as your product changes.
If you roll out fundamental changes to your product, maybe you should also have a look at your onboarding UX and see if it needs to be adjusted accordingly.
Groove’s Len Markidan shows you why user onboarding is a journey, and it’s not just about the product or service you provide. It’s about the whole experience your customer goes through while using your product:
You might deliver the best customer service in the world, but if your customer never has the chance to find out, how will they know?
Len Markidan, Marketing at Groove
15. Sixteen Ventures
The Secret to Successful Customer Onboarding - Don’t want to spoil it for you, but it’s really important to understand exactly what success means for your customer. Your customer’s definition of success might be totally different from yours.
That’s why it’s really important to find out exactly what is the desired outcome of your users. Otherwise, you might not be able to onboard them properly and you will end up losing a lot of business.
There’s a reason the customer signed up for your product. Focus on leading your customers to reach their desired outcome, and it’s a win-win.
If you like Lincoln Murphy’s approach to user onboarding, you’ll also enjoy:
5 Steps to Unstick Your User Onboarding Flow: oftentimes users get stuck during the onboarding process. Identifying the blockers and fixing them. The process might be a bit uncomfortable, but at the end of the day, you do have to help your users across the chasm.
If your conversion rates are low, upgrading the onboarding UX of your product is one of the best places to look at. It would be best to look at the data and see the actions the existing users perform before you start investing more in acquiring new users.
These 7 best practices will be useful to anyone who is looking at different ways to experiment with user onboarding optimization.
Are you trying to design your onboarding process but you find yourself needing some inspiration? Fear not, Zapier’s Danny Schreiber put together a list of web & mobile UI blogs that you can browse if you’re looking for some ideas to experiment with.
User Onboarding: More Than First User Experience: a different approach to the user onboarding process. Focusing on teaching your user how to use the product should translate into an increase in the adoption rate, which in turn will be reflected by an increase in the revenue.
Having a smooth onboarding UX is essential. Users will be looking to get to their “Aha! Moment” as quickly as possible. They want your product to be simple and they want their issue to be solved yesterday.
Your user onboarding process will never be perfect, but it’s important to always look for ways to optimize it and make it easier for customers to reach their desired outcome.
Richard Felix’s useful list of Strategies for Successful SaaS Customer Onboarding will give you great ideas you can experiment with.
A blog where Krystal Higgins shares a lot of her first user experiences. Be it good or bad, Krystal will walk us through and also tell us her insights about what’s working and what needs to be improved in the product she is testing out.
Krystal also delivered an amazing presentation about user onboarding: New users matter too! Designing better onboarding experiences (Webdagene 2015). There's a very small window during which you can delight your users, how can you make the most of it? Krystal believes that product teams don't focus enough on engineering the right experience for the user. The talk is a must-watch for anyone involved in UX:
ReallyGoodUX is a great place to go look at user onboarding examples, they will look in detail at a product and break down their entire onboarding UX highlighting the good and the not so good of each.
If you’re looking to get some inspiration for your own user onboarding process, this is a great place to explore because of the amount of user onboarding examples that they dive into. With well over 90 user onboarding examples, ReallyGoodUX does a great job a teaching user onboarding best practices.
While this might be an older resource, it is one of the most valuable ones. Kathy Sierra talks about a different approach to growth, instead of trying to outspend the competition like in the old days, she suggests a friendlier approach towards users.
Every web/product designer in the world should watch this single hour-long presentation.
Clayton Christensen’s revolutionary framework has had a huge influence on the software industry as a whole, your thinking around delivering value will completely change once you learn this framework.
Implementing Jobs-To-Be-Done into the core of your onboarding UX is highly recommended.
26. Extra Credits - Game Design Youtube Channel
This is a web series about video game design, but there is a LOT that can be applied directly to any interactive medium. A LOT. In fact, it’s hard to even narrow down the videos we recommend starting with.
Video Games were some of the first products to think about user onboarding, even when the term didn’t even exist. Here is a list of the videos with powerful insights that translate to user onboarding:
Josh Elman explains the secrets of successful user acquisition in this video. If you want to learn more about increasing user base with growth hacking, watch this video!
Josh Elman goes into detail about how he helped Twitter to massively grow through tweaks on the way users were onboarded to the app. This 30-minute talk will open your mind to finding the right leading indicator for your product so you can onboard users and get them to quickly experience the core value of your product.
These are our go-to resources on user onboarding. What’s your favorite place to learn more about onboarding? Let us know in the comments below if you think there's someone we missed.
Looking for deep insights into how your user onboard your product?
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Want to learn more about how we do this? Schedule a Demo with us and witness with your own eyes just how powerful InnerTrends can be.
This article was originally published October 2016 and was updated September 2020.