9 onboarding UX best practices

Getting users to download your app can be a challenge in itself, but once you've lured them in, keeping them can be just as much of a struggle.

Pj Jones

Onboarding UX is an art unto itself – check out our 9 top tips to help retain your users after their initial exposure to your app, product or service.


1. Make the User Feel Welcome

First impressions are crucial. If the user doesn’t like what they see on arrival, you might lose them straight away. It’s important to give them a measured welcome that makes them feel comfortable or even excited about using your product. Be careful not to go overboard by giving them too much instruction at once, or asking them for too much information. Keep it warm, fun and easy. Welcome emails and introductory videos are also nice touches.


2. Use Pictures, Not Words

The modern user doesn’t want to read your epic tome about how wonderful your app is, even if it’s a well written masterpiece. When was the last time you saw someone reading War and Peace? Where possible, illustrate things with pictures, videos or animations. Many people learn visually and looking at pictures is much quicker than reading a set of instructions. When you do use text, keep it short and to the point.


3. Appreciate the User’s Time

People lead busy lives and there are a lot of things competing for their attention, not to mention the 300 other apps that do the same thing as yours. You have no time to waste, so you need to on-board your users as efficiently and effectively as possible. Explaining that cool new feature too soon may cause them to check out before they discover how useful the app can be.


4. Give Your Users a Range of Signup Options

People don’t like giving away their information too prematurely. They might give up their email address to an app that changes their life, but not for one that they are only curious about. Give your users the option to sign in with their existing social media account instead. If possible, ask for their email only after they’ve had a chance to try out some of the features of your app.


5. Reward Your Users

Give your users rewards as they progress through the app, discover new features and enter more data. You don’t have to give them a pony, but a congratulations, a cute cartoon character or something witty goes a long way. Some apps even offer extra features for actions like sharing on social media.


6. Teach Them In Context

Don’t give your users a sermon on how to use the advanced features when they are just getting started with the app. Not only will it irritate them, but they will forget most of it anyway. Instead, give them the information as they need it, using instructional overlays as cues.


7. Don’t Tell Them How to Do It, Get Them Do It

Most people tend to learn more effectively from doing something rather than reading about it. Where possible, let the user perform the necessary actions as part of the instructions. This will get them up to speed without having to read several pages of instructions.


8. Give the User Control

It may be a very critical part of your on-boarding process, but perhaps your user is in a hurry. Don’t force them to sit through screens and tutorials that they don’t want. Give them control. Let them skip ahead if need be. Even better, give them the option to come back to it later so they don’t end up struggling with your features when they advance.


9. Give Them Value

Make sure that your user gets something out of your app as soon as possible. You want them to be invested in it, to feel like it helps them or makes their lives better. If they spend half an hour setting up your app, they might not ever make it to the source of value. Even if it’s just something small, try to demonstrate the worthiness of the app as fast as you can. Once a user experiences the benefits, they are much more likely to stick around.

There you have it, the 9 key elements that will turn your on-boarding process from a visit to the old people’s home into a wild ride at the fun park. Remember that each app will have a different user base as well as different circumstances, so you need to find the perfect mix for your individual circumstances. Take care to do your market research, get the clipboards out and do some testing, then optimise until you’re at the top of the app store.

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