user app onboarding strategies
Jan 31, 2022 Written by Tamar Barlev

The Top App Onboarding Strategies and Best Practices

So you’re on an intercontinental flight, somewhere above the Pacific, and the pilot has passed out. The copilot is watching Tik Toks in the crew rest compartment. And the flight attendants randomly pick a passenger to land the plane safely. Tag! You’re it. Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a user-intuitive plane-flying app onboarding to guide you down to earth?

Yes. Yes, it would. But that scenario is both far-fetched and slightly irrelevant. So here’s a less dramatic one:

Imagine you’re a user logging into an app for the first time. Of course, you want to use the app—you have a need that it’s supposed to address. But you also want to get oriented and experience its utility quickly because you live in the age of immediate gratification and a low tolerance for frustration, so you have no time to waste.

This is where app onboarding strategies—specifically good app onboarding strategies—come into play. Orienting the user and proving the product delivers its promised value proposition and usability—*asap*.

Interest piqued? We thought it might be. So let’s get into it.


What is User App Onboarding?

To put it simply, user app onboarding is a designed series of screens that serve as a gradual introduction to using the app and to its value.

App user onboarding varies depending on the strategy and complexity of the app. So, yours may be as simple as a “welcome!” screen, and a short debrief on the app’s features. Or, it can be as complicated as a guided tutorial with steps directing the user to explore the app’s different elements and functionalities.

With app onboarding, you’re looking to on-ramp your users to the benefits of your app and supply them with the knowledge they need to experience its value proposition fully. And preferably, this process will be tailored to which kind of users they are and which needs are driving them to it (but more on that later.)

You’re looking to start building on your engagement and personalization for the user to inspire confidence and trust within them.


Why does User App Onboarding Matter
(so much)?

Good question. It’s kind of like the “you only get one chance at a first impression” type of (true) cliche.

App onboarding is so important because the stats are as follows:

  1. The average app loses 77% of daily active users (DAU) within three days of install.
  2. 40-60% of first-time users (FTU) will only use an app once.
  3. App user retention rates increased by 50% after the implementation of an effective app onboarding experience.

Ergo, to boost retention, drive adoption, and reduce abandonment, it’s critical to walk the user through the app and showcase its benefits and usability. And as succinctly (but effectively) as possible.

Good app onboarding means increasing retention and adoption (and decreasing churn and abandonment,) which have huge (good) implications for your bottom line. It’ll also help you deliver a more seamless UX and create lead gen opportunities.

Whereas, bad (or no) user onboarding can cause high non-renewal rates, low freemium-to-paid conversions, and a steep drop after signup/install—which will do the opposite. Low marketing ROI, high average customer acquisition costs (CACs), low customer lifetime values (CLTVs)…you get the picture.

So, we’ve established good app onboarding is a critical (perhaps the most critical..?) part of your UX.

But what are good app onboarding strategies? Well, that’s why we’re here.


Types of App Onboarding

There are many types of app onboarding we could cover, but here are the primary ones:

1. Function-oriented User Onboarding:

Which focuses on the app’s functionality. So, it teaches the user how to get around and highlights features they should explore (and how to use them.) 

You could consider guided task completion in this category. By directing the user to do specific tasks and giving them “live” guidance on how to do them, you’re using a “learning-by-doing” type of system. Plus, you can guide users to complete certain tasks that are in both of your interests (creating an account, choosing personalization options, etc.)

2. Progressive User Onboarding: 

Which is more in-depth than function-oriented onboarding. It offers the user guidance as they progressively navigate in the app. So, as they explore different screens and features, the user will get responsive insights and instructions on how to use the features.

This type of user onboarding can incorporate Coach Marks, Tooltips, and Guidestones. Or, basically, simple UI devices that draw the user’s attention to useful elements in the app and give quick instructions on how to use them.

This one is great for complex products. For usability and UX’s sake, it’s generally better to lessen the user’s memory load (read: effort) and to ask them to remember fewer things. Plus, it keeps things quick and actionable and doesn’t overwhelm the user.

3. Benefits-oriented User Onboarding
(“The Nickle Tour): 

Which is a static series of screens that simply demonstrate the value and benefits the app poses. Rather than the first two types of app onboarding, this one focuses on what the app can help the user accomplish—and not necessarily how to use it.

4. Persona-based User Onboarding:

Which one can be coupled with any of the above. Basically, it means that you tailor to and segment the app onboarding flow by the type of user—if you think it’s relevant to orient them based on their buyer persona and goals for using the product.

If you are looking to create a personalized user onboarding experience for your users? First, begin by segmenting your target audience into buyer personas (i.e., who is signing up for your app.)

Then, consider your buyer personas’ “jobs-to-be-done”—or why they signed up for your product. And from there, you can tailor your app onboarding to be as effective as possible for that specific user and their reason for using the app.


App Onboarding Best Practices

  • Don’t leave designing your app onboarding to the end of your design process. Your app onboarding needs to feel cohesive with the product—so it needs to be strategized in tandem with the general design of the app. For example, as you design a feature, keep in mind, “How will we onboard users to use this feature?”

  • Make app onboarding easy, engaging—and, most importantly—valuable and quick. Your onboarding is your first impression—if it’s convoluted or frustrating, the user will have every right to assume the rest of the app will be similar. So, put your app’s value at the forefront, and demonstrate a seamless first impression of its usability.

  • Heavily consider persona-based app onboarding, and know your user. Unless it’s super irrelevant to your app or industry, asking a question or two about the user’s goals at the beginning of onboarding will help you create an experience that is truly valuable to them.

  • Allow users to repeat and go back to the app onboarding. This is especially true for complicated or high-stakes apps. And this is especially true for onboardings featuring longer tutorials that users might have initially skipped through, only to find they need them later.

    Kind of like that Ikea manual you arrogantly threw away, and now you’re stuck attempting to guess how to build your FYRKANTIG.




Well, this was a lot. We know.

Coincidentally, hi, we’re Goji Labs—a product and software development consultancy with experience in designing, “rescuing,” and deploying hundreds of products.

Looking to develop a new app or revamp an existing one? Need some product strategy or mobile app and software development help?

Have any general questions about who we are and our authority on the subject?

Reach us at GojiLabs.com or drop us a line.

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