Onboarding is a process that ensures that new users quickly learn and get used to a particular interface. In fact, onboarding translates the simplicity and intuitiveness of the created solution so that your target audience understands that they will be able to quickly and efficiently achieve their goals when using it.

When is onboarding needed? In most cases, when your website or application is different from what your users are used to. All in all, if your goal is to keep your target audience with a cool interface and keep them coming back to your product again and again, this article is for you!

Onboarding Principles

In essence, onboarding is your first encounter with a user. Therefore, you will have to be as charming as possible (of course, in the context of interacting with the user through the interface). In other words, tell users only what they need to know and in as few words as possible. And of course, be as witty and charming as possible – yes, it works with digital products too, just remember how Google Web Services behaves!

So what is the basis of good onboarding? In general, there are several principles:

  • beginners should always have the tools and knowledge at hand to achieve their goals;
  • the onboarding process is planned so that users are involuntarily “pushed” to perform targeted actions;
  • onboarding is segmented into groups of users, depending on their demographic and geographic characteristics;
  • UI/UX should be based on user feedback;
  • the number of steps leading to the implementation of the target action is minimal.

Onboarding Methods

All of the above principles can be interpreted into the following recommendations.

#1 – Organize a small introduction to your product

A product introduction is basically a demonstration of how your users can use your product. Here you need to briefly present the main functionality and how to handle it. The purpose of this is to reduce the risk that your users will get confused by existing features and fail to complete what they intended. In particular, this "intro" can be implemented through elements such as modals, slides, tooltips, and progress checklists.


#2 – Push your users to complete targeted actions

To encourage a user to take a particular action, you need to understand what event in your customer's journey within your product triggers a particular action. It’s also important for you to understand from what moment "familiarization" with the product turns into "active use". In this way, you will be able to provide an evenly low entry threshold for both beginners and users who regularly deal with your product.


#3 – Segment user groups

You need to understand that each of your new users has different expectations about how your interface works and how to use it. Perhaps some of them have already dealt with analogs, and some have no idea how to perform the target action. That's why it's so important to pre-segment user groups and provide a means of adaptation for beginners (and spare the learning curve for those users who already know how to handle most of the features).


#4 – Use feedback

Customer research is at the heart of any good onboarding. There is no need to rely on your intuitive feelings here – it will be much more effective to use data from surveys, interviews, and focus group tests. At the same time, to get the most accurate understanding of what features users are happy and dissatisfied with, and how this can be corrected, it’s very important to formulate the questions correctly.


#5 – Reduce the number of steps

Obviously, too many steps to complete the target action can cause an impatient target audience to refuse further use of your product. That’s why it makes sense to open some functionality gradually, as users deepen into the interface of your product.


Best Practices

After you understand the basic principles of onboarding, let's dive into how it is implemented in practice.

#1 – Get to know your users more and more

Try to analyze the users who have dealt with your product over the past few months. You will need to identify specific behavioral patterns and compare them with those that are typical for users who have left your product.

Also, personal interviews, as well as analysis of reviews, will help you in obtaining useful information. That's why it's so important to motivate users to leave reviews about your product, whether they like it or not.


#2 – Leave no space for users' own assumptions – create a user guide

To create an effective user guide, use clear guidelines (without specific terminology and slang), agree on instructions (you can’t write “button” in one instruction and “key” in the other if you mean the same thing), avoid passive voice (it needs more words), and ensure cross-platform (if your product will be used on both PC and smartphones, provide either two separate guides, or avoid wording related to using the touch keyboard).


#3 – Apply experiential learning

Learning is most effective when users have the opportunity to practice. This means that while introducing the users to the product and presenting its main features, you should offer them to perform a simple action to consolidate the acquired knowledge.


#4 – Use WOW and AHA effects

The WOW effect is to surprise the user. Thus, already at the stage of acquaintance, users fix a close emotional connection with the product, which stimulates them to use it later. As for the AHA effect, or the "Eureka" effect, it involves recreating that level of intuitiveness so that users think they "figured out" how to navigate through the interface and perform targeted actions using it.


#5 – Make user onboarding fun and humorous

Think of onboarding like a first date. Do you want users to agree to come to the second one as well? So, you will definitely need a sense of humor to make the onboarding process not just a necessity, but also fun entertainment for your users.


#6 – Test, improve, and test again

To confirm or refute your hypotheses, you will need to conduct in-depth testing of your product.

For example, if you decide that the main reason users don't return to the product is the complexity of some features, test this by interviewing focus group participants, providing some of them with the existing option and some of them with the option without those features. In this case, you will make informed decisions about what should or shouldn’t be fixed.


9 Types of Onboarding

Summing up the above, let’s distinguish eight main types of onboarding:

  1. a welcome message with a small presentation of the product;
  2. product overview with a short briefing on the main functions of the product;
  3. progress bars that show the speed of the user's progress through the functionality to perform the target action;
  4. checklists, which represent the sequence of tasks that the user must complete;
  5. hot spots that point to important features but don’t distract the user from the main process when dealing with the product;
  6. tooltips that explain how to interact with a particular function to perform a target action;
  7. push notifications that reveal new features of your product to users;
  8. no need to re-perform actions (registration, authentication, filling in input data) for the users who postponed the product for a while;
  9. personalization, ensuring that when returning to the product, the user doesn’t have to configure it again.

This doesn’t mean that all eight types of onboarding should be used in your product. However, implementing at least 2-3 items from this list will help you greatly simplify the adaptation of new users.

UX Onboarding Process

Finally, let's break down the four main steps of creating a user onboarding:

  • ensure the product is predisposed for onboarding. Some products are initially difficult to adapt for beginners. Therefore, before demonstrating all the features of your product, think about which of them your new users need to perform targeted actions, and only then expand their horizons within this product;
  • add new user interface elements where necessary. After you get user feedback, you will be able to understand which parts of your product are difficult to learn. In this way, you will receive a complete guide on what new UI elements should be added to ensure maximum intuitiveness;
  • direct your users. To make new users of your product permanent, you will have to interest them during the onboarding process. Analyze the user flow of newbies, and then suggest extensions to these features at later stages of the product introduction (for example, after the end of the trial);
  • test and fix. No matter how flawless the onboarding you create, the key to its success lies in constant optimization. That’s why it’s so important to test it regularly, for different focus groups, and optimize the product based on the feedback received.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, onboarding is an integral part of usability. This means that you will have to work hard to adapt new users to your product so that they return to it again and again. We hope that our guide will help you with this.