Jul 22, 2014

10 Best Practices of User Onboarding

One of the challenges I had faced as a product manager in an earlier job role was to ensure that my users are actively engaging with my product/app. When I looked at the numbers, I noticed there was a tremendous dropout after the first login. There wasn't any huge marketing budgets back then and so the users who were visiting our product/app were primarily organic. After a round of data analysis as well as talking to a few users, the conclusion was that the onboarding experience wasn't so great. We went back to the drawing board and redesigned the entire onboarding experience from the ground up.

I have been reading up and researching quite a bit on the best practices of onboarding since then and I have distilled it down to the following 10 points:

(1) Issues such as time constraints, short attention span and cognitive overload make it much more important to design a smooth and intuitive onboarding experience. In case of mobile apps, it is even more imperative, given the challenges of app discovery and contextual distractions that come with a handheld device.

(2) Onboarding is a guided path to enable the users derive the benefit / get the job done using your product. Ask yourself the following questions:
    - What benefits are users expected to get?
    - Which ONE of these benefits is most important?
    - Why is it important?
    - What problem does this benefit solve?
    - What is the job that gets done due to this benefit offered?

(3) Onboarding is not a way for you to unravel all the cool features that you have built in your product. Rather, you identify the ONE core benefit your product offers to the user and showcase that benefit in a quick, easy and interesting way. I like this phrase by Laura Klein in her article on why you should stop asking your users to explore -
"People want whatever your product promises to do for them, and they want it to happen as quickly and easily as possible"

(4) Understand the context in which a user discovers your product and design your onboarding experience accordingly. The context could be based on location (office or home), device (laptop or smart phone), time of the day (afternoon or late evening) etc.

(5) Ensure the benefit can be achieved through smallest effort required from your users, which doesn't really demand either high motivation or high ability. BJ Fogg refers to this smallest effort required by the user as "baby steps".

(6) Based on data derived from the first-time interaction, design an appropriate trigger for the subsequent actions. The trigger should create sufficient interest for the user to return to your product/app.

(7) A first-time user is usually skeptical (go with this assumption always!) and doesn't have trust in a new product/app. Onboarding should help build the trust in a small scale. So asking a user to fill a long profile form or invite his/her friends as part of the first-time experience is a bad idea, unless your product depends on this information for showcasing the benefit (social apps are a slight exception in this case).

(8) Do not overwhelm the user with too much information in the first go. When I signed up for Pinterest long time back, I faced this overwhelming feeling when the home page bombarded me with pictures after signup. I never went back to the site for a while. I still am not an active Pinterest user. At the same time, if there is too little to do, the user loses interest and wouldn't want to return. Striking the right balance is important and can be understood by many techniques, primarily through A/B testing what works well with your target user base.

(9) Onboarding is not only applicable for the first-time login. Think through the stages of how your product benefits the users. Showcase the benefits in a phased manner in the user's initial stages of product usage. This can last for upto a week or even more, depending on the product context and complexity.

(10) If your product/app uses a freemium model to monetize, don't include the benefits of the premium product offering as part of the first-time onboarding flow. Let your users explore the free product for a few days (X), get comfortable with it and *really feel* the gaps which would get addressed if they upgrade to your premium offering. Identify the appropriate time frame (X) for your target audience and only then initiate a pitch for your premium product.

Hope these pointers were useful. I have found the following resources extremely helpful to get an in-depth understanding of onboarding practices.

http://insideintercom.io/strategies-for-onboarding-new-users/ => I love Intercom's blog for sharing such interesting insights on product design. This article talks about the successful strategies that other products have used, resulting in a great onboarding experience.

http://www.useronboard.com/ => This site has a very good collection of examples / tear downs on user onboarding , taking you through step by step of popular products.

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