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How to build a successful app onboarding to grow your app

Introduction

Whether you’re building your app onboarding process from scratch or wondering how to improve your existing process, this guide provides insights on creating the best possible app onboarding experience for your users. Dive into the essentials of mobile app onboarding, get best practices, and draw inspiration from a top example of a successful app onboarding process.

What is an app onboarding process? 

Mobile app onboarding is the process of introducing users to an app’s user interface, core functionality, and high-value features.

The goal of the onboarding process is threefold:

  1. Account setup: Guide new users through registration.
  2. Education: Tell users how the app can be used and how it will benefit them.
  3. Data collection: Ask users if they’d like a more personalized experience with recommendations and notifications.

Why is app onboarding important?

With the average Day 1 retention rate  sitting at 25% for Android and 28% for iOS, it’s clear that the first few hours after a user downloads your app are critical. As the mobile onboarding is the first interaction with your app, it is the most crucial phase in the user experience and must be a positive one.

How do you make an app onboarding process?

Before designing what your in-app onboarding process will look like, consider its purpose. What information is essential to communicate now, and what can wait until later in the user journey?

The category of your app, your branding, and your unique business goals all factor into your onboarding strategy. For example, a gaming app’s onboarding process will explain how to play the game, while a medical app will likely focus on user registration in the beginning interactions. Below we describe the three most common mobile onboarding strategies.

1. Determine your onboarding strategy

Function-oriented onboarding

This mobile app onboarding strategy displays an app’s key features and shows users how to perform specific tasks in the app. Function-oriented onboarding is recommended for apps that are more complex or have unique features requiring an introduction.

With this strategy, users can be taken through an interactive, guided tour of the app or swipe through a few carousel cards explaining the app's main features.

Benefits-oriented onboarding

In contrast to the function-oriented onboarding process, a benefits-driven approach shows users what an app will do for them rather than how to use it. In demonstrating the app’s value, this strategy strives for conversion. If your app is easy to use, this is a good onboarding method.

As the benefits-oriented onboarding strategy emphasizes what the app does for users, the process can also be used to capture user goals, preferences, and permission requests. If your app clearly states its value to users, they will be more likely to allow specific permissions for an enhanced user experience.

Progressive onboarding

In progressive onboarding, the user participates in an interactive, guided tour of the app, which highlights the key features of your app as the user navigates the app. This strategy is particularly beneficial for an app with an intricate workflow, hiddenfunctionalities, and multiple sections, as it won’t overwhelm users. Often, progressive onboarding is used to help users fill out their account profiles step-by-step.  The goal of progressive onboarding is to minimize roadblocks that could hinder users from getting started in your app right away. Therefore, it’s essential to provide bite-size information in your onboarding steps to increase user engagement.

2. Define success for your onboarding journey

How is app onboarding success measured? To answer this question for your app, you must determine the goal(s) of your onboarding journey. Beyond ensuring a user is registered and informed about how to use your app, what do you want users to do post-install? The answer to this question varies depending on the app category. For example, a budgeting app will have more Daily Active Users (DAUs) than a travel app, as the purpose for each app and frequency of use differs. Therefore, set up the right key performance indicators (KPIs) for your app’s onboarding process.

Not sure which KPI is best for your onboarding process? We’ve listed several popular KPIs for app onboarding below.

Completion rate

As the name suggests, this metric is calculated by dividing the number of users who finished onboarding by all the users who began the process.

Engagement rate

This KPI is the percentage of users who are actively using your app over a period of time.

Retention rate

This metric provides the percentage of users who still use an app over a specific time period.

Free trial conversion rate

This KPI is common among subscription apps and compares the number of users that completed the trial to the number of users that completed the trial and also paid for the app subscription.

3. Implement app boarding best practices in the design phase

Once you’ve settled on your strategy and KPIs, it’s time to build your onboarding process. We’ve listed a few design tips that can help boost user engagement if done well.

Remember to KISS

“Keep it simple stupid!” known as the design principle KISS, should inform every part of your onboarding process. It should not be lengthy, difficult, or filled with superfluous information. For instance, if your app has many features, only highlight the top three in the initial onboarding, and cover the others later in the user journey.

Utilize progress bars

When we were children on a road trip, we asked our parents, “How long ‘til we get there?” Not much has changed in your app’s user experience. If your app onboarding process is longer than 60 seconds, we recommend implementing a progress bar or checklist to show users how much of the onboarding they have left. In addition to providing users transparency in their journey, a progress bar can trigger the desire to complete, motivating the user to finish the onboarding.

Consider going skippable

If onboarding is not a mandatory step for using your app, allow users to skip the onboarding process to discover your app for themselves. Of course, if your app is a banking app, in-app onboarding is a must. However, a mobile gaming app is a great example of an app where users can skip mobile onboarding and learn by doing.

Cleverly ask for the opt-in

As discussed in our article, The design do’s and don’ts for getting the user opt-in on iOS 14.5+, you can proactively ask users for permissions, such as sharing user location, allowing app tracking, or enabling push notifications. It’s vital to tell users what they can gain from opting in. For example, a food delivery app could display this text: “By sharing your location with [app name], we can source top-notch restaurants in your neighborhood.”

Delay sign-up to sell it

Optimally, user sign-up should be the final screen of your onboarding journey. In delaying the sign-up screen, you can first convince your users about what they can achieve within your app, and then once they have that “aha” moment, they’re more likely to convert and sign up for your app.

Depending on your app type, you can push the sign-up process until later in the user journey. For example, after a specified period of time has passed or the user triggered a set event, your app can invite them back into the signup process, reminding them what they’ll gain by registering.

Test and iterate

Before launching your app, we recommend beta testing your app to uncover bugs or errors within the onboarding flow—essentially, anything that will hinder the user from completing your mobile app onboarding journey.

Additionally, pre and post-launch, you can utilize A/B testing to improve retention rates.

Consider A/B testing the following:

  • Tour versus no tour (when possible)
  • Number of onboarding screens
  • Creatives
  • CTAs
  • Placement of sign-up screen

While A/B testing doesn’t stand for “always be testing”, it should. Your app’s mobile onboarding is a process that you can always improve via A/B testing.

Check out this mobile app onboarding example

To better visualize implementing the ideas above, let’s look at an example of a well-thought-out app onboarding process. Planta bills itself as an app that helps users keep their plants alive with step-by-step guides, tailored care schedules and reminders, and plant identification features.

App onboarding example

Screens 1:  Welcomes new and returning users

We can see from the first screen a user will view post-install that Planta has considered two types of users: new and returning users. The initial screen provides two options in light of this: a user can either “Get Started With Planta” or sign in if “Already a member”. For this example, let’s say the former was selected.

Screens 2 and 3: Ask questions to personalize UX

Observe how Planta utilizes the progressive onboarding approach by allowing users to choose their own journey from the start by filling out their profile. It first asks a question to gauge the user’s interest in plant care and then subtly asks how much knowledge the user has on the topic. These questions will inform the app on how to best tailor the user experience to this particular user.

App onboarding example 2

Final screen: Sign up with the option to skip

Planta’s fourth onboarding screen acts as a “pre-prompt” message, conveying to the user how the app’s service will be enhanced if the user opts in to share their location. The copy here—especially the sentence “Your location will only be used to”—assures the user that the app will not do anything else with the user’s location data.

Then, in the location permission screen, Planta has customized the text to further emphasize how the app will use this data to provide value to the user. It says, “to give you as accurate care advice as possible.”

Note that Planta has two more onboarding screens not pictured here but are the same as the pre-prompt for location, but instead is a pre-prompt and permission screen for push notifications.

Final screen: Sign up with the option to skip

The last step in Planta’s onboarding process is an optional sign-up process. By not forcing users to sign-up, Planta is allowing users to explore the app first before committing, confident its offerings will convince users to sign up later.

For users who wish to sign up at this point, Planta provided three easy options for sign-up, one integrated with Apple and another with Google, allowing for an easy and seamless sign-up process.

One point for improvement on this screen is the copy. Instead of telling users to “Register your account to save your data,” the brand could speak to the benefits of users saving their data. For example, “Register your account to get personalized plant care.”

From this mobile app onboarding example to our app onboarding best practices, we hope this guide helped inform your in-app onboarding strategy. If you’re looking for another guide to read, we recommend our Mobile app trends 2022 report. You’ll get global benchmarks on app performance, the latest statistics installs and sessions, as well as retention metrics.

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