What is User Onboarding? | The Only Guide You Need (2022)

August 29, 2022
Ammar Mazhar
What is User Onboarding? | The Only Guide You Need (2022)

Table of contents

After the signup, the next thing you want users to do is to complete their onboarding and start engaging with the product. But let's backtrack a step. Onboarding is a critical part of the product experience. You need to get it right to increase engagement and reduce the user churn rate.

Onboarding is the chance to showcase what your product can do and shine in your users' eyes. It's your best chance to help your users understand your product and how it works.

But creating a compelling onboarding experience requires building a robust framework. And this blog will help you guide through all the steps you need to take to create an excellent user onboarding experience.

What is user onboarding?

User onboarding is introducing your user to your product and bringing them up to speed on how everything works. As one out of three users will leave after just one bad experience with a product, therefore, the need for an effective onboarding is of the most paramount importance.

The purpose of user onboarding is to make new users habitual in using the product and help them with implementation assistance to achieve their goals.

Why is user onboarding important?

An exceptional user onboarding experience is essential for increasing users' customer lifetime value (CLV). Moreover, user onboarding is vital for many reasons, and here are a few of them:

3 reasons why user onboarding is important

Helps in building relationships

The digital age is in full swing, and more and more humans are using apps with exciting user interfaces. As apps have become a part of our everyday lives, adding a human element to them is crucial.

Onboarding is the first step toward humanizing the user experience. It allows brands to begin communication with their users and foster relationships with them like real human beings. Implementing user onboarding enables marketers to entertain, educate, cheer the users, and present their brand as a charismatic personality.

Improves adoption, engagement, and retention rates

A successful onboarding process can help users to adopt your product reasonably quickly. Users adopting your product is the first cue that they are starting to find your product interesting. Subsequently, they will start engaging more with it as it can help them resolve their pain points.

It will translate into high retention rates and increase your users' lifetime value. Also, to keep your retention rates elevated, you can keep offering discounts during and after the trial period. It can help ensure that your users continue to find value in your product.

Creates momentum and motivation among users

The idea of a product that can help resolve most of a user’s issues and which they can integrate into their lives can help motivate users to adopt and engage more with your product. Showing your users the progress they made and what they can achieve can create the necessary momentum among them to keep using your product.

The onboarding formula

For onboarding to be successful, you want some definitive process that you can follow to guide users. In short, you want an onboarding formula. Fortunately, such a formula exists that you can use to nudge the users in the right direction.

The 3 components of the onboarding formula
  • Send the right content: Sharing the right content with your users is critical in guiding them about your product. You don’t want your users to have a hard time using your product. Therefore, set automation to drip content relevant to every step of the onboarding process.
  • Use the right channel: An omnichannel presence is critical to successful onboarding. Email, in-app messaging, and product tours are used to send out the right content.
  • Send at the right time: The timing of your message, with the right content and across multiple channels, can help users to complete their onboarding on time.

User onboarding statistics

Some industry statistics and benchmarks can underscore the significance of user onboarding.

  • 63% of users think onboarding is key when subscribing to a product
  • 74% of users switch to other products if the onboarding process is complicated
  • 86% of customers say they will remain loyal to a product if continuous onboarding and education are provided.
  • 64% of companies use in-app videos in their onboarding flows to guide the user effectively.
  • 47% of SaaS companies offer interactive walkthroughs, and 38% of companies prefer product tours instead of interactive walkthroughs.
  • Churn rate can be prevented by 67% if the onboarding process is optimized.

These statistics can help you gauge where your onboarding process stands and areas you need to improve to increase your product’s adoption rate.

User onboarding models: Which one to choose for your product?

In the SaaS world, there are products of varying complexity. Therefore, an onboarding model can help explain these products to the users quickly. So, what user onboarding model will be perfect for your product? There are many models you can choose from:

The three user onboarding models

Self-Servicing Onboarding Model

   “Truly great software companies are self-serve first.” 

 Gokul Rajaram

If your product isn’t complex and hasn’t many onboarding steps, then the self-servicing onboarding model will be sufficient for your product. With this model, you can have a basic onboarding flow, like giving users a get-started guide or a product walkthrough, and then let the user handle their journey.

The self-service onboarding model is scalable and frees up valuable time for your different teams. Your sales team doesn’t have to give an in-depth demo to the user. Instead, you can just provide your user with a trial of your product, and your product will guide them through the entire onboarding process. Hence, the self-servicing model scales because it doesn’t require valuable time or resources once it’s in place.

Low-Touch Onboarding Model

Low-touch onboarding model is for those products that are moderately complex and require a bit of hand-holding to guide the user through the onboarding process. It adds onboarding elements like in-app product tours and interactive product walkthroughs. In this model, users can also get human support options like a customer success team helping them at various stages of their journey.

Many successful SaaS companies of today employ the Low-Touch Onboarding Model. Chief among these companies are Canva, Zoom, Uber, Spotify, and Mailchimp.

High-Touch Onboarding Model

If your product is complex and takes a significant chunk of the user's time to set up and learn about it, then a High-Touch Onboarding Model is the way forward for you. In this model, you can create personalized one-on-one experiences to accommodate the needs of your users. 

Most companies fail to understand that onboarding is a continuous process with no arbitrary endpoint. It helps users see value in your product. Therefore, guiding them through the onboarding process with customized onboarding flows can ensure they continue seeing value in your product.

The “Aha!” moment of your product

The “Aha!” moment is the point when the value of your product becomes clear to your user. Also called the “Eureka effect,” the Aha moment sometimes comes during the initial interactions between the user and the product - usually during the onboarding process. 

It is an emotional moment that is impactful enough to create a solid first impression that makes users return for more. Therefore, it is critical to find your product’s Aha moment and guide the user to it through your onboarding process.

Let us further explain the Aha moment with an example. The growth team at Facebook found out early on that users who acquired seven friends in the first ten days of creating their account were far more likely to stick around than those who couldn’t.

How to find your product’s Aha moment?

To find your product’s Aha moment, start by identifying the power users of your product. Power users are those who have seen success in using your product. Josh Elman, who has helped grow the user base of Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook, advises looking at the patterns of those who get your product and figuring out what kept them coming back every day and every week. 

People who successfully used your app must have done something different than those who churned earlier. If you can figure out what it was, you could use that path for other users.

The time to value of a product

The time to value or TTV is the time the user takes to realize the value of your product. The shorter this time frame is, the more chance of retaining a user and avoiding churn. 

The timeframe starts to run as soon as someone buys your product. Although a TTV should be shorter, it also depends on the complexity of the product and the relevancy of your product. Therefore, the Aha moment(s) must be at the front and center of your onboarding process so that your users realize it soon.

Short time to value

Think of a short time to value when you hire a service to get a job done. For example, you hire a car washing company to get your car washed. You may not see the results immediately, as washing a car takes time, but the value of the service is still short.

Similarly, if your product provide results in a short period, the user will see results immediately, thus, seeing its value. That depends on how effective the onboarding is and how quickly the user onboards.

Long time to value

There might be many reasons your product has a long time to value, but that isn’t necessarily bad. Products with low-touch or high-touch onboarding models may show their value to the user after some time.

Moreover, it can also depend on the user. Perhaps the user hasn’t completed the onboarding and is slow to integrate his resources with your product.

What metrics & KPIs to measure for user onboarding?

To determine the success of your onboarding process you need to have some metrics that indicate either success or failure. Here is a list of metrics and KPIs to keep track of:

Metrics & KPIs to measure for user onboarding

1. Product engagement score

Product engagement score (PES) is a number that indicates the combined impact of metrics such as feature adoption, user stickiness, and user growth. PES is an objective measure of user behavior. Tracking PES can give you the understanding of the segments that engage the most with your product. PES provides a benchmark for your product engagement which can be used to measure the impact of product decisions.

The final PES score is the average of the above mentioned metrics. This score ranges between 0 to 100. Percentages above 100 are adjusted to a score of 100 while those below 0 are adjusted to a score 0.

The formula for product engagement score

1.1) Feature adoption

Feature adoption, simply put, is the measure of the usage of a product’s specific features. The more features a user adopts, the more value they receive and are also less likely to abandon the product. These attributes make feature adoption a key metric for user retention.

Feature adoption rate is measured by dividing the features monthly active users by the total number of logins per month. Therefore, the formula for feature adoption rate is:

Formula for feature adoption rate

1.2) User stickiness

The user stickiness is a ratio that compares active users engagement over a narrow time frame over a broder active user engagement. It is critical to measure user stickiness so that people engage more with your product and, eventually, become promoters of your product.

User stickiness is simply measured by dividing the daily active users (DAU) with the monthly active users (MAU).

User stickiness formula

1.3) User growth rate

User growth rate is the percentage of new users that you acquire over a thirty day period. Tracking user growth rate reveals how successful your marketing and sales efforts are. A positive trend means that your efforts are in the right direction. While a negative trend means a change in marketing tactics.

User growth rate is measured by dividing the number of users acquired within a thirty day period with the number of users you had thirty days ago, and multiplying it by 100.

The formula for user growth rate

2. Completion rate

In the context of user onboarding, completion rate is the percentage of users who complete certain tasks of their onboarding. It’s critical that new users reach the “Aha!” moment soon. Therefore, tracking this metric will show you how many people are using the key feature, and, if they are not, then what is the problem.

To calculate the completion rate, simply divide the total number of users who complete the task(s) with the total number of users who engaged with tasks.

The formula for completion rate

3. Retention rate

The retention rate is the percentage that shows that how many users kept using your product over a specified period of time. Calculating retention rate is important for any business as it can reveal the efficacy of their marketing efforts and also helps in calculating the customer lifetime value of their customers.

Retention rate can be calculated for any period of time to see if you have or have not improved within that period. So the formula for retention rate is:

The formula for retention rate

E = Number of users at the end of the period

N = Number of users of acquired during the period 

S = Number of users at the start of the period

4. Activation rate

The user activation rate, also known as the product activation rate, is the measure of how many people who begin a trial reached the activation point. To measure the activation rate you need to define the in-app events that have to take place for a particular user persona to gain value from the product. 

Subsequently, you need to know who completed all the events within the given time period. After that, you need to divide the new users into cohorts and calculate the activation rates for each cohort individually.

A survey by Openviewpartners revealed that the average activation rates of top PLG companies are between 20% and 40%, respectively for freemium and free trial products.

The activation rate formula is: 

The formula for activation rate

5. Churn rate

It is the yang to the ying of retention rate. Churn rate is the number of users you lose over a specific period of time. Churn is inevitable, and it is foollish to think that anyone can achieve a zero churn rate. But if you continue to lose users over a period of time then it is time for you to revise your onboarding process. An acceptable churn rate is between in the range of 5-7% annually. 

The churn rate formula is thus:

The formula for churn rate

7 Steps to take for successful user onboarding

Here are seven steps that you can take to ensure that your user onboarding succeeds. 

7 Steps to take for sucessful user onboarding

1. Welcome and orientation

A great welcome goes a long way in making the user comfortable with your product and setting expectations. Therefore, don’t sit on the welcome emails and ensure that, for better onboarding experience, you make them a part of your onboarding flows.

You can prepare an automated welcome series that triggers when a user signs up. Also, welcome the user not just outside of your product but also inside of it. Add welcome screen that starts up after sign up is successful. Make sure that you also highlight the next step in the user’s journey in the welcome email or in-app.

Slack’s welcome email can be taken as an inspiration on how to welcome users. Simple and practical, the email guides the users regarding what’s next in their journey of using Slack by providing them with a few get-started tips. Also, users can click on the “See more tips” CTA if they want to learn more.

Welcome and orientation : Slacks example

2. Design unique user onboarding experiences for each segment

Your users may be spread throughout the world and may be of different ages. Therefore, you must segment all users into unique and identifiable segments. This will make it easy for you to create individual user onboarding experiences for each segment. 

The main segments in marketing are: 

  • Demographic
  • Behavioral 
  • Geographical 
  • Psychographic

These four are the main segments that you have to consider. But there are numerous variations on these main types that you can incorporate while implementing your user onboarding strategies.

3. Make the value proposition clear

As soon as your user reaches the “Aha!” moment, there is more chance for them to adopt the product and stick to it. It is only possible when the value proposition is clarified early in the user onboarding process.

Hence, don’t shy away from encouraging users to use your product's advanced features. Especially if your onboarding process is low-touch or a high-touch model, it can be difficult for users to immediately see your product's value. 

4. Optimize the signup process

Confusion during the signup process can be detrimental to the user experience. A smooth and optimized signup process, on the other hand, can make sure that not only does the user sign up successfully but also proceed to the next step without any hesitation or confusion. Here’s how you can do it:

  • Only keep necessary field forms, like names, addresses, and password
  • Extraneous field forms like zip codes can be collected after the lead becomes a paid user
  • Ensure that your leads signup for free trials first and then choose a paid option
  • User experience experts recommend that you remove the main site navigation from the signup pages
  • Keep your signup forms simple. Don’t create an overly complicated signup process. If the user has to complete multiple steps for completing the signup, then add a progress bar

5. Implement gamification

Who says user onboarding needs to be boring? Add some fun and games and make your user onboarding a success! Jokes apart, implementing gamification can certainly improve engagement rates and conversions. Game elements such as leaderboards, points, badges, discount coupons, and rivalry between users can all help to make user onboarding fun and engaging. 

For example, ProdPad, a product management company, incorporates many gamification elements into its onboarding flows. Users start with a certain number of free trial days, which they can extend by inviting colleagues, completing tasks, adding billing details, and adding user personas. 

Implement gamification: ProdPad example

6. Perform user experience (UX) test

Performing user experience (UX) tests from time to time can revive whether your onboarding flows are working fine or they need any sort of improvement. Usually, teams measure the onboarding process myopically, like some features in isolation. The new user experience isn’t just measuring a few features but a sequence of events that help users accept the product. 

A user experience full of hassle can detract the user from engaging with the product again, thus ensuring that they don’t complete the onboarding process. 

So to avoid this, simply run UX tests on the onboarding process from start to finish. Use the cohort analysis technique to test how different groups engage with your product during onboarding.

Diary studies can give a more authentic picture of a user’s onboarding experience. Just give users a design and ask them to engage with it over for a few days or a few weeks and ask them to log their experience. 

Diary studies can reveal all that is missing. If the users reach out for help using certain features, it indicates some education is missing. Also, diary studies can help record users' memorability of the onboarding process.

7. Ensure self-service support

If your users can help themselves around your product, it can minimize your involvement with their onboarding and allow them to have a more enjoyable onboarding experience. 

So, for implementing self-service support, you need to talk with your users. Find out their expectations of your product and whether they require hand-holding. Subsequently, define the success metrics for the users and provide them with a worksheet to track their metrics and, eventually, success.

3 Best user onboarding tools

Onboarding is a critical part of a user’s journey. You might be tired of reading about this point repeatedly, and you now might be on the verge of saying, “we get how important it is, Mr. Author, now gives us the solution already; we haven’t got all day!” Your wish is our command! Here are the three best user onboarding tools that you can use to create awesome onboarding flows:

1. AppFlows

3 Best user onboarding tools: AppFlows

AppFlows is a low-code tool that allows users to create behavior-driven emails depending upon unique user personas. Also, AppFlows enables users to create highly segmented email lists that can aid in creating unique onboarding flows. 

Price Plan: Starting from $149/mo

Free Trial: Yes

Features offered by AppFlows:

  • 1,000+ workflow templates
  • 1,000+ email templates
  • Advanced analytics and reporting 
  • Unlimited API calls
  • Unlimited events

2. Intercom

3 Best user onboarding tools: Intercom

A giant in the SaaS marketing industry, Intercom is vouched for by companies such as Meta and Amazon. You can send coordinated and cohesive onboarding campaigns that drive users to take action inside and outside the app. 

Price Plan: Starting from $74/mo for small companies

Free Trial: Yes

Features offered by Intercom:

  • In-product messaging 
  • Target outbound emailing 
  • Reporting dashboards
  • Chat & email support

3. Userpilot

3 Best user onboarding tools: Userpilot

Userpilot is endorsed by 500+ companies and is thus the top SaaS marketing company that offers product owners and marketers the opportunity to create highly engaging onboarding experiences. You can leverage the user sentiment feature to create better onboarding flows.

Price Plan: Starts from $249/mo

Free Trial: Yes

Features offered by Userpilot:

  • Personalized user onboarding 
  • In-app messaging 
  • UX designing
  • In-App feedback gathering

Start onboarding your users using AppFlows!

User onboarding is a critical part of any user journey. Without a successful onboarding, you will see low engagement and, eventually, higher churn rates. But by adhering to the steps listed in this guide, you can ensure that your users experience a seamless onboarding and get the most out of your product in the long run.


What is the goal of user onboarding?

The goal of user onboarding is to increase the number of user activations. So, for your product, you first need to define what activation means. You need to encourage users to take action for them to reach this moment. 

What’s the difference between product onboarding and user onboarding?

Product onboarding is the process of introducing your product to the users. It helps users acclimate themselves to the various features of your product. In comparison, user onboarding makes users understand how to use the product to their maximum benefit.

Author Bio

Ammar Mazhar

Ammar Mazhar

Content writer by day and a book nerd by night, Ammar Mazhar has been writing for 3 years for B2B and B2C businesses. As a wordsmith, Ammar knows how to write SEO-optimized content that your users will find insightful, igniting results for your business.

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