User Onboarding Best Practices: The Guidelines You Can Count On

User Onboarding Best Practices
Summary: Ultimately, onboarding is about answering one question for your users which is: "Why should I use this?". Increase the impact of user onboarding best practices by adhering to these basic practices for user onboarding.

User Onboarding Best Practices You Should Invest In

It doesn’t matter if you’re targeting customers, contractors, partners, or employees; your approach to user onboarding will inform every interaction people have with your software. Time spent applying user onboarding best practices will prove again and again to be a worthwhile investment.

When users are subjected to a laborious or careless onboarding process that doesn’t clearly teach them how or why they should use a program, they might not even get through signup. A fully-fleshed, welcoming, and engrossing onboarding experience, however, can set users up for years of enthusiastic engagement.

So how do you build that experience into your company’s app or cloud-based software? There aren’t any hard and fast rules, but if you incorporate these onboarding best practices into your design, you’re certain to leave a better impression on users.

Put The Value Front And Center

Onboarding is a journey, and the first thing your users need to know is the destination. Why are people going through the trouble of enrolling?

Log out of your Facebook account and take a look at the landing page. (or look at it in incognito mode on your browser.) Alongside the signup form (the beginning of their onboarding process) you see a punchy copy emphasizing what users will get from signing up—the ability to see photos and updates from friends, share what’s happening in your life, and discover new experiences through the search engine.

By explaining the value of their service at the outset, Facebook defines the rewards you’ll get for undergoing the onboarding process and contextualizes the various steps, such as uploading a profile picture and choosing a network. When people sign up, they know what they’re getting into.

Regardless of whether the software in question is an intranet social networking platform for your staff or a SaaS sold on the marketplace, your first priority should be to help users find their bearings. Begin your onboarding process by telling users, clearly and succinctly, the benefits they’ll get out of it.

Approach User Onboarding Like Training

Think of a piece of software you use every day, like Microsoft Outlook or iTunes. Today, the program is second nature to you, but when you first used it, you probably had no idea how to engage with it at all. All you saw was a cluster of menus, buttons, and pages.

More than likely, the reason your command of it is so strong now is that someone—a teacher, a friend, or the program itself—showed you how to use it. That’s a key part of user onboarding.

Don’t assume your new users know anything about your software, because it’s entirely possible that they don’t. When you onboard someone, you’re effectively training them, so it’s important to approach the process as an educator.

Training in user onboarding can take many forms: a text box that explains a step as you’re doing it; an introductory webinar that gives users a rundown of the software’s features; a custom-made course that you administer through an LMS; or one-on-one sessions with individual users. Pick the method that best suits your situation.

Engage The User Whenever Possible

As detailed in a study from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences [1], students retain more knowledge and perform better on exams in active learning environments. The most effective user onboarding best practices empower and involve the users rather than explaining things to them. This will leave them better equipped to actually use the software once the process is complete, increasing retention and reducing churn.

Several engagement strategies can make your onboarding more interactive. You can provide quizzes at the end of a section to review key concepts, create a simulation that allows users to test out key features and functionality, or provide a questionnaire that helps suggest recommended settings.

Deanna Spagnuolo, apps onboarder for the eCommerce platform Shopify, noted in a blog post [2] that users "love feeling that sense of accomplishment" that comes with being able to put what they’ve downloaded to use. She advocates offering assignments, suggestions, and calls to action for the users as soon as they open an app the first time, which encourages them to start exploring and learning right away.

Make It Fast, Easy, And Simple

People have limited patience for lengthy onboarding. Your audience wants to get in and start using your software as soon as possible, so the shorter you can make the process, the better.

Chances are that when you look at your current flow, you’ll see some steps that aren’t absolutely essential, such as high-level customization options that few users actually take advantage of. Why not eliminate those steps and replace them with a small text box explaining where users can set their preferences? Simple fixes like this simplify your onboarding without alienating anyone.

You can also speed up the flow by pre-filling information from other sources. If applicable, you can offer social login options so users can transfer information from an existing Facebook or LinkedIn account. When onboarding employees, use the information you already have on file to set up their account ahead of time and give them a head start on the process.

So long as you aren’t compromising the user’s ability to understand and use the software, you should always try and make things simpler.

User Onboarding Best Practices Are Ongoing

Once the user is fully initiated into the software, you can’t just abandon them, or you risk the possibility that they’ll never use it again. The second phase of onboarding—which is really ongoing—is about continually stimulating engagement.

On this front, you must move fast: A startling study by Compuware [3] revealed that 90% of apps were deleted after being used one time. The way to make sure you stay in the other 10% is to supply users with compelling reasons to use your software.

Send regular updates to users about new features and content. Commission case studies to highlight the software’s functionalities and value. Build a messaging system into the program that can only be accessed by signing in. Do what it takes to keep your product fresh in people’s minds.

When you’re struggling to find ways to get people engaged, just take a step back and put yourself in the user’s shoes. Ultimately, onboarding is about answering one question for them: Why should I use this?

If you're thinking about implementing an LMS to onboard your users, download the Best Practices To Successfully Implement A Learning Management System.


  1. Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics
  2. How to Improve Your Shopify App's Onboarding Flow
  3. Users Have Low Tolerance For Buggy Apps – Only 16% Will Try A Failing App More Than Twice
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