Primary how to build a onboarding strategy
Primary how to build a onboarding strategy

How to Build a Successful Mobile Onboarding Strategy

  • 8 min
  • Dec 27, 2016

Maryna Z.


Designing an application takes a lot of effort. At minimum, you have to come up with a visually appealing user interface and ensure a convenient user experience for your application to be successful. But even though designers put a lot of effort into creating applications that users will love, the majority of apps are abandoned right after they’re downloaded.

Onboarding, which explains your application’s value to the user at the first launch, is an effective tool to lower your abandonment rate. In this article we’ll talk about effective onboarding techniques and strategies and share a few tips for how to onboard mobile users.

What is User Onboarding?

User onboarding is the process of getting a user acquainted with an application. The aim of onboarding is to befriend the user and quickly get them up to speed with all your app can do. The recipe for a successful mobile onboarding strategy is telling a user about your app’s key features, how the app works, and what value they can get from it. There are several common ways to onboard new users.

A Tour

A tour is a common method of onboarding. Upon the first launch, a tour takes the user through a step-by-step guide about how to use your application: what gestures they can use, how to use them, and where to find all the features. This type of onboarding works great for complex applications with rich functionality that require additional instructions.

This is how Google Docs onboards their users:

Also, you can take a look at one of our works on Dribbble devoted to user onbarding:

Onboarding design from our UGEM team. Check Dribbble for more exciting details

Continued Onboarding

You know that feeling you get when you buy a gadget and after a month or so you discover additional features you had no idea about before? A continued onboarding gives nearly the same feeling: it gradually guides users through an application as they’re using it. For example, Swarm provides users with tips on how to collect bonuses each Sunday alongside a dashboard with the week’s champions and a piñata. By they way, the piñata was a great choice for a mascot, since most people naturally know what to do with it: break it.

“Learning by doing” onboarding

Learning by doing is the motto of most great teachers. Sometimes, designers kill two birds with one stone and make onboarding both educational and fun. Instead of screens with instructions, designers use animated symbols like arrows and pointers with words that point out the application’s features. Users then repeat the actions shown in the animations and learn how to use the app. “Learning by doing” onboarding is quite effective, as users really perform the actions shown instead of simply swiping across screens.

The bottom line: Onboarding helps users discover an application’s features, learn how to use an application, and build emotional ties. Depending on the type of application, we outline various types of onboarding strategies you might choose from. Now let’s look at a few tips to help you сreate an effective onboarding strategy.

1. Choose the Right Type of Onboarding

To design your user’s first encounter with your application in the most optimal way, first decide on the aim of your onboarding experience. When onboarding users, UX designers generally either demonstrate an application’s features (what an app can do for you) or explain how to use the application (for example, where to tap and slide). You might want to use these two approaches simultaneously to onboard a user, or choose one of them ‒ it all depends on the complexity of your application.

You can catch your users’ interest by demonstrating your application’s features. For instance, many cooking applications onboard users by showing a variety of recipes, weekly menus, and step-by-step tutorials. This approach clearly demonstrates an app’s value to the user. Moreover, showing off features builds a user’s emotional connection with an application.

If your app has a complex interface and you feel it’s necessary to guide your user through the app, consider providing a tour or use a “Learning by doing” approach to onboarding

2. Capture the User’s Attention

Three out of four users simply skip onboarding and jump right into using an application. It’s sad, but it’s true. Therefore, put your effort into making onboarding fun and brief so you can amuse users and convince them to use your application for a little while.

To capture attention, use enticing animations and illustrations to turn onboarding into a game. Remember to say something along the lines of “High Five” or “You Rock” at the end of your onboarding experience to encourage your users and assure them that they’ve successfully learned the ropes.

Use short and clear descriptions to explain the very essence of your application’s functionality. And choose specific verbs Verbs should speak directly to your user. eBay’s mobile application, for example, delivers their onboarding experience with just three verbs: find – buy – save your money. eBay’s CTA (call-to-action) keeps their users focused on the app’s core value and immediately introduces them to the application’s features.

3. Make the Signup Process As Quick as Possible

A small percentage of applications don’t require users to sign up. But most applications require a user to set up an account and log in: whether it’s a fitness application which aggregates data and generates a personal report, or simply a social network.

Allow users to choose among various signup methods: create an account with an email address and password or sign up via social network accounts. And even though most users find the classic signup via email long and tiresome, you can improve even this method. For starters, don’t make users fill in too many fields with personal information. Gather basic data like email, password and a login name first. Leave additional personal details including name, date of birth, and hobbies for a personal profile that the user can fill in later.

Creating accounts through social platforms like Google and Facebook can save your users’ time (since their basic information is already there) while also helping you collect important data such as profile pictures, email addresses, friend lists, and interests. Moreover, social networks are a great way to validate real users and filter out fake accounts.

Finally, think carefully about whether your application actually requires sign-in at all. For example, if you build a plain old alarm clock app, there’s no point in making a user sign in. As a rule, people want to immediately start using an app with a minimum of hassle.

4. Elaborate an Onboarding Scenario

An onboarding ‘scenario’ is a short journey that you take the user on screen by screen. Elaborating the onboarding scenario, therefore, means determining the path that a user will take through your application.

Plan your onboarding scenario by focusing on what makes your application unique. A well-written scenario can increase your application’s chances of being properly understood by your end users. An onboarding scenario seamlessly delivers your product idea to a user and ‒ as a result ‒ you can forecast a user’s further steps when using an application.

Let’s imagine that you build a video editing application that allows users to record videos and apply funny effects and filters. When a user opens the application for the first time, they see a demonstration of the features and go on a tour which explains how to apply them. After this tour, users are more likely to proceed to the section of the app for video recording and try out what they’ve just learned instead of randomly exploring the rest of the application’s features.

Remember Steve Jobs’ famous words? People don’t really know what they want; you have to tell them what they want. Keeping this in mind, we should educate and engage our users with a consistently crafted onboarding scenario that identifies a particular user goal and shows them how to achieve that goal using your app.

So, by onboarding your users, you teach them how to use your application, briefly present your application’s value proposition, and boost your users’ emotional engagement. While onboarding isn’t a silver bullet for immediately gaining loyal users, our design team believes that elaborated onboarding strategy for a mobile app is a must. Would you like to discuss this idea with us? Drop us a line here!


Maryna Z.


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