App Onboarding: How to Do it Right?

Alex Danchenko

When it comes to developing a mobile app, one of the most important aspects is the onboarding process — how new users are introduced to the app and its features. If done well, onboarding can improve user retention and engagement; if done poorly, users will quickly abandon your app.

So, how can you ensure that your app’s onboarding process is up to par? Read on to find out what app onboarding is and how to nail it.

What Is Onboarding & Why Does It Matter? 

App onboarding creates the user’s first impression of the app. It is the process of optimizing the user experience that new users have with your application. Onboarding encompasses everything, from how users find it to their first-time use and beyond. 

The onboarding process is required because it demonstrates the benefits of the app, teaches about its features, and collects profile information so that users receive tailored content and notifications. The entirety of the process works to create a pleasant environment for users, which in turn results in greater acquisition and ongoing user engagement.

App onboarding matters because it can be the deciding factor between a user who loves your app and tells all their friends about it and a user who deletes it after a few frustrating minutes. A good app onboarding experience will make sure that users understand what your app does, why they should keep using it, and how to get the most out of it.

Some key advantages of good onboarding are: 

  • It can help reduce user frustration and confusion, leading to better reviews and word-of-mouth marketing for your app.
  • It can increase customer lifetime value by reducing churn rate and getting users to stick around (and keep using) your app for longer.
  • It can boost engagement and motivation by helping users understand the value your app can provide and how to get the most out of it. 

Types of Onboarding

Onboarding is a fundamental strategy for getting a user to understand your application. Depending on the applied approach, this can be divided into three categories. Here is a brief overview: 

  1. Progressive Onboarding 

Progressive onboarding is a method of gradually introducing new users to an app or service. The goal is to provide a smooth and seamless user experience that encourages continued use. This approach can be used for both digital and physical products. 

There are several benefits to progressive in-app onboarding. First, it allows you to assess how well the user understands your product before moving on to more complex features. This can help reduce the risk of user frustration and attrition. Second, it allows you to gently guide the user through the learning process, providing just enough information at each step. This helps keep the user engaged and motivated to continue using your app. 

You should keep in maind a few key things when designing a progressive onboarding experience: 

  • Start with the basics. Don’t overwhelm the user with too much information upfront. 
  • Provide just-in-time help. Only introduce new concepts when the user is ready to learn them. 
  • Use feedback loops to assess understanding and adjust the user onboarding experience accordingly. 

Progressive onboarding is an effective way to introduce new users to your product or service. By starting with the basics and gradually introducing more complex concepts, you can reduce user frustration and encourage continued use.

  1. Function-Oriented Onboarding 

Most popular mobile apps use a function-oriented onboarding flow. This type of onboarding introduces users to the app’s core features and functionality, usually through a series of short, interactive tutorials.

Function-oriented onboarding is effective for complex apps with many features or for apps that are used for specific tasks that require some training. It’s also a good choice if you want to give users the option to skip the onboarding process altogether.

The main advantages of this kind of onboarding are: 

  • It helps users learn how to use the app quickly and effectively.
  • It enables users to skip onboarding if they wish.
  • It’s ideal for complex apps with lots of features.

On the flip side, this type of experience is not ideal if your target demographic is not familiar with modern technology. 

To implement function-oriented onboarding in your app, start by identifying the core features that users need to be aware of. Then, create a series of short, interactive tutorials that teach users how to use those features. Be sure to give users the option of skipping the onboarding process if they wish.

Tutorials might make it seem like your app is cluttered with information. Thus, if your goal is to make an easy-to-use app with a simple UI, you should steer clear of function-oriented onboarding. 

  1. Benefits Onboarding

Benefits onboarding, also known as feature promotion, emphasizes the positive aspects of your app and the ways it can help users. 

The benefits approach can increase conversions by highlighting the positive outcomes of using your product or service. In addition to teaching new users the basics of the app’s interface, this style of onboarding lets you focus on explaining the app’s functionality.

In this case, you will need first to identify the key areas where you can benefit the user and what makes your platform different from the rest. Then, you can present a pitch and explain why continuing with your platform is beneficial to them. 

You could outline a series of long-term benefits and couple them with introductory offers that might prompt the users to use your app. 

App Onboarding Best Practices for 2023

Here are some app onboarding best practices for you to consider: 

Provide emphasis on user-friendliness 

Younger generations value ease of use. Overly complicated and lengthy virtual onboarding experiences are the worst kind since they actually discourage people from using an app simply because they need to invest more time.

No one enjoys digging through email inboxes or complex systems in quest of obscure information. The trick is to convey as much information as you can in as few words as possible.

Instead of relying on manual steps, you can use in-app messages or push notifications to guide the user on how they can make the best use of the platform. 

Inculcate Personalization

Nothing is more frustrating to a new user than being subjected to prompts that take a long time to fill out. Many of them might be asking themselves, “Why am I wasting my time with this?” as they show signs of disinterest.

In such a scenario, a customized approach with the user’s name and some personal information in place may save you. Adding a touch of personalization to the customer onboarding process will give the impression that your application is here to deliver value and is consumer-centric. 

Highlight Speed 

An app’s popularity increases proportionally to the speed with which its users can finish onboarding and join the community. You need to find a balance between delivering quality content and keeping the process short enough so as not to lose user attention. 

Ten Great Onboarding Examples You Can Learn From 

These ten examples of the onboarding process are some of the best ways to onboard new users.

  1. Grammarly

Grammarly teaches users how to use each basic feature with a by-doing approach as soon as they enter the platform. This app onboarding example encourages discovery and allows users to learn key features quickly. Along with this, they also send an onboarding email that includes a step-by-step guide to best use the application. 

  1. Slack

Slack lets you create custom channels for new members in your group, along with having a custom bot to give reminders or help users navigate through various channels. They have also integrated a feature called ‘onboarding buddy’ via which you can automatically brief a user whenever they join. 

onbording example from Slack
  1. Flipboard

Flipboard gives a series of prompts to better tailor the app to user needs through a splash screen. After this, they ask the user to follow their interests and complete the sign-up process, ending with the request for notification permission. This is a perfect example of an app with a simple yet elegant UI.

onbording example from Flipboard
  1. PlanetHS

Once the user visits the app, they first get a prompt to sign up, followed by getting access to a self-help knowledge base integrated with the interface. The platform takes each user through a tour, highlights all the core features, and then tells them how to use everything. 

  1. Evernote

This tool lets users organize their notes easily. They have a straightforward onboarding process which is very short. Users are first given a guided app tour, followed by promoting new features later on with in-app notifications and pop-ups. 

onbording example from Evernote
  1. Netflix

Netflix makes the best use of customization to provide users with a personalized experience when using their app. They first give a welcome prompt and specifically recommend shows and movies that are ideal for the user’s interests. Then users can head over to other sections of the app if they want to explore more. 

  1. Canva

This design platform follows a selective-guidance prompt based on the options you choose. Besides this, your onboarding experience will vary depending on your role (teacher, enterprise, student, etc.) 

  1. Duolingo

This fun app helps you learn multiple languages easily. They have designed an engaging green owl with glasses that takes you through the platform and collects the data for a personalized experience. 

  1. Box

Box is mainly used as a sharing and collaboration platform. They first make the user go through their prices and then give an option for a free trial. Box uses a Marketo form to collect user information and has an easy follow-through guide integrated into the UI.

  1. StoryChief

This platform keeps all your social media and content assets in one place. They showcase a customer testimonial with their sign-up process, which sets a positive tone for the user. After this, the user is taken to the dashboard, where they can check out the platform. 

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Creating the best onboarding experience is all about keeping the process short and easy to understand. Here are some mistakes that you should always avoid:

  1. Avoid a lengthy process. The purpose of mobile onboarding is to minimize the time users need to learn an app and not the opposite. Focus on simplicity and intuitive navigation.
  2. Forced calls to action. Asking users to create an account first might scare them off. Instead, give them a taste of what your platform delivers. Making a good impression and then asking for something is likely to improve your conversion rates. 
  3. The wrong emphasis. Many apps list myriads of features during customer onboarding and do not focus on value. Always remember that users don’t care what your app does; they only care about what it can do for them. 
  4. Setting extreme expectations. Instead of claiming unrealistic results to get them onboard, only promise things that you can actually deliver. 

Final Thoughts

Mobile app onboarding is the process of gradually introducing users to a product, teaching them how to use it, and getting them engaged. It’s one of the most crucial stages of the user experience because if you get it wrong, users can be quickly frustrated and abandon your app. This is where Reteno steps in, where instead of having to make campaigns and work on engagement, you can rely on experts to run ready-made omnichannel campaigns to help you win loyal customers.

Alexandr Anikienko


October 24, 2022

Vladyslav Pobyva


September 30, 2022

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