5 Tips for Effective User Onboarding

Written by 
Yuval Karmi

User onboarding is the key to growth. But it's not always clear how to do it well. Learn how to do it successfully with these tips and tools.

Do you know why your trial users are not converting? Chances are, they’re not seeing value fast enough.

SaaS trial-to-paid conversion metrics are all over the map - from 2% (run-of-the-mill SaaS) to 30% (Slack, a superstar).

And that’s not surprising. Users have a ton of choice when it comes to SaaS. As of writing, G2 lists 366 different companies just for the project management category.

Why should you care? Because once someone signs up for your product, if they don’t see value fast, you can bet your bottom dollar that they’re moving on to the next product down that list. That’s how bad onboarding kills growth.

The good news? You can likely improve your onboarding by 80% – with 20% effort.

Let’s talk about that.

How to create a successful onboarding experience

A good onboarding experience is frictionless. Instead of relying on user willpower to complete it, it creates so much value for users that they want to keep going.

To create value, start by understanding your users’ Jobs-to-be-Done: the tasks that they’re trying to accomplish, goals they are trying to achieve, or problems they are trying to solve.

To help users get their job done, guide them towards completing meaningful actions inside your product. Those are actions that make users realize how your product solves their problems.

These realizations are called ‘Aha moments.’ They’re little epiphanies where users see value in your product.

Activation is the point at which you see value in the user, as s/he is likely to pay.

After users experience enough of these Aha moments, you can consider them activated. Activation is the point at which you see value in the user, as s/he is likely to pay.

Adoption is the point when your product becomes a regular part of your customer’s workflow.

Once activated, you can focus on driving adoption. Adoption is the point when your product becomes a regular part of your customer’s workflow

Here’s how to get there, in 5 steps (plus a bonus).

1. Map your user journey

The first step to creating your onboarding experience is to understand:

  1. Why your users sign up for your product in the first place
  2. How current users use it to get their job done

You can do this with user journey mapping. This is a visualization of the steps your users take from initial use to full adoption. You can use tools like Mixpanel or Google Analytics for data.

First, list the features on your platform, then sort them by when users use each of them.

While you work, consider the following:

  • What is the primary set of features a new user needs to get their job done? 
  • What are the features only an advanced user would leverage? 

The best onboarding initially focuses on the primary set of features, and leaves the rest for later.

Further, you’ll want a different user journey map for each user persona – as each will likely have a different primary job-to-be-done.

2. Find your Aha moments 

Now you can begin to identify the Aha moments you want to target during onboarding. Your Aha moments should include:  

  • Features used early in the user journey
  • Activities that are most likely to correlate with product adoption

Remember that Aha moments may be different for each of your personas.

Once you have your Aha moments, prioritize them by how easy they are to achieve, and the value they deliver to your users.

3. Guide users to take meaningful action

With the groundwork laid, you are ready to design your onboarding experience. As you do this, keep in mind the Fogg Behavior Model. In this model there are three components to changing behavior: 

  1. Motivation 
  2. Ability 
  3. Triggers

The higher the motivation to do the task and the easier it is to do, the more likely someone is to engage in your target behavior.

Different types of triggers will prompt that behavior depending on the motivation and ability required.

For onboarding, you want to focus on easier tasks that don’t require a lot of motivation. The goal is to enable the user to easily complete a task once you inform them of the capability.

Here's an example of a high-converting onboarding flow:

You start by welcoming users to your app and sparking their interest with teasers about what they’ll learn and the value they’ll get out of it. At Simpo, we use our own tool to do this, called in-app announcements.  

Once you welcome users, you can show them how to use the product.

You can do this in a multitude of ways: with a video, a gif, a help article, or a well-timed email.

However, we’ve found that users learn best by doing. To that end, at Simpo we use behavior-triggered step-by-step guides called in-app walkthroughs.

That way, users feel that they’re exploring on their own, but in a way that doesn’t require them to do much work.

If you do end up using walkthroughs, remember to keep them short and targeted. Our customer data shows that you can maximize engagement by keeping walkthroughs to 5 steps or less.

4. Segment and personalize

Steps 1-3 all are unique to a persona. Your personas will find varying degrees of value in features and, as a result, require different Aha moments.

You can raise your onboarding performance by segmenting by persona. Leverage everything you know about the individual user to personalize their onboarding experience. This can be anything from pre-filling forms with their information to simply using their name in the welcome announcement.

At Simpo, we use our own feature called Segments. We use data from a combination of our trial registration form and Salesforce to target different walkthroughs to the correct personas (when you sign up, we ask you for your use-case, and personalize accordingly).

These targeted onboarding experiences guide your personas to their unique Aha moments. Those help your users realize value faster and increase your activation rates.

5. Make it easy to discover product features 

Now more than ever, users want to explore on their own. To get users to continue engaging with your product on their path to full adoption, focus on discoverability.=

You can do this in two ways: push, and pull.

An example of “push” can be sending your users an email with a getting-started video / article.

An example of “pull” is a user searching your knowledge base for how to do something.

However, both of these examples are problematic.

Emails usually get sent to users out of context. That means users are often busy doing other things when they get them. As a result, the experience is annoying rather than helpful.

As for knowledge bases, only about 0.5% of users go to them. Even monday.com (full disclosure: a customer of ours), which built an incredibly robust knowledge base, experienced this issue first-hand.

To increase engagement with their content, monday.com used Quick Search to let users explore different features and ask questions without leaving the app.

You can improve your user adoption rates by leveraging in-app learning tools, too.

Search capabilities, for example, give users in-app access to your knowledge base, but also to any guides or walkthroughs you’ve created in your app. This allows users to easily learn how to use new features and progress towards adoption. 

Bonus: Iterate and experiment

Onboarding is not a ‘set it and forget it’ activity. Not only will your product features and personas change over time, but your initial ordering of Aha moments may not be optimal. 

You might find, for example, that using feature X correlates to higher activation and adoption rates than feature Y.

Optimizing your onboarding is not always intuitive. It requires experimentation.

Not all users like the guided approach, either. Take Vevo, for example which found that simply adding a skip option in their onboarding increased sign-ups by nearly 6%.

You can leverage data on walkthrough usage to understand where users drop off and create experiments to test your ideas. Because, like with everything else in product development, the key to a successful onboarding experience is continuous improvement.

About us

Simpo lets you create in-app experiences that onboard, guide, and educate your users – without coding. We built Simpo to fulfill a mission we deeply care about:

To make every product experience feel like magic.

If you want to learn more, we invite you to visit simpo.com and see how we onboard our own users in our free trial experience.