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Ticking the Right Boxes for Mobile User Onboarding

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Ticking the Right Boxes for Mobile User Onboarding

For the first time, we’re welcoming a guest post from Appsee, mobile app analytics platform. In this article Hannah gives us the checklist to complete in order to build a solid mobile user onboarding strategy.

If app pros want users sticking around with their product, they need to be with them every step of the way. From the first time users open the app, app pros need to be there, providing assistance along the way. On that first launch (but sometimes all through the app), the app pros’ outstretched hand comes in the form of onboarding – walkthroughs that help users get to know the app and its features.

It is essential to get onboarding right, because it is one of those key moments that defines if users remain with the app or not. But it’s not an easy thing to do. Users are distracted, lazy and impatient, making them super hard to retain. There are different methods and strategies to proper onboarding implementation, depending on the type of app. Thus, it is impossible for us to tell you exactly how to create it.

We can, however, show you the boxes that need to be ticked in order to create a compelling, solid mobile user onboarding strategy. The rest is up to you:

Show why your app is unique

The app universe is a mess, with millions of apps competing for user attention. Many of them are trying to solve the same problem for their users, so when building an onboarding strategy, ask yourself this question:

Why should the user choose my app over my competitors?

The answer needs to be simple, straightforward, and hopefully fit in three to five sentences, or bullet points. Those bullet points will be the elements you use in your onboarding strategy. How? Let’s take a look at the example below:


Image Source: Smashing Magazine

Google’s Inbox app is the company’s fresh approach to email. If there ever was an ultra-competitive app market, then it’s among email apps. So how does Google handle its onboarding strategy? Custom reminders at the top of the inbox, Single-gesture snooze, smart highlighting, and bundling of less important messages. It highlights the things that make the app unique, while explaining just exactly how it plans on solving users’ problems.

The end effect? Users are acquainted with the app’s strongest features right from the get-go, making the learning curve significantly shorter and making the app that much easier to use. Without it, users would take significantly more time to learn how the app works. Sometimes they can’t be bothered and would rather install something else, instead.

Keep it short

If you want to scare your users into abandoning your app, then make sure you tell them about absolutely everything your app can do – right on the first screen. Intimidate them with a wall of information, arrows, button highlights. Make sure everything is flashing as much as it can, and by no means leave them with an option to skip your onboarding process.

Obviously, we’re exaggerating a bit, but you get the point. You don’t want information overload to intimidate your users into abandonment. If you’re not careful with the amount and type of information you offer at first meeting, that’s exactly what’s going to happen. Also keep in mind that the mobile screen real estate is limited, and should be considered priceless. Users’ time should also be considered priceless, so make sure your onboarding strategy isn’t too long. Like we said before – five slides, max.

Keep it as tight as you can. Just the uniques, in as little words as possible.

Again, ask yourself the same question:

Why should the user choose my app over my competitors?

Highlighting the basics, features that your competitors have, too, is not going to help. Sometimes, however, this can be easier said than done. With large mobile games, or unique apps that offer something new to the market, there is a genuine need for the onboarding process to be somewhat longer. In that case, make sure to use what’s known as a progressive onboarding strategy, where the users are moderately, through an extended timeframe, being eased into the various features the app has on offer.

In any other scenario, besides keeping it unique, make absolutely sure you’re keeping your onboarding process short - three to five bullet points, max.

Let the guests in


Image Source: UX Archive

Ever heard of the Sign-in wall? It’s a slang for an app screen that demands users to either register or login, before being able to use any (yes, any) of the app’s features. There is a reason app pros call it a ‘wall’ – because it’s counter-productive (wink, wink). Yet, just like some other people that are not in the mobile business, app pros often make that mistake and build the sign-in wall. The result? More than 85 per cent of users quit the app.

The scenarios in which the sign-in wall is necessary are few and far between. Instead, app pros should always strive towards openness, be it through guest accounts, or allowing people the freedom to (not) register, if they choose to do so.

Show progress

“Are we there yet” is the single question every parent dreads, when taking a longer drive with their kids. On the other hand, “We’re almost there, honey” is the single most annoying answer for every kid.

The only thing that makes the ride feel longer and more boring, is not knowing when it’s going to end. After all, having a goal to strive towards motivates us in a lot of things, not just taking longer rides. The same principle works with mobile user onboarding. You should consider implementing it, especially if the onboarding process is somewhat longer. That’s why you should always show the users how they’re progressing. Take a look at these three examples, from three different apps.


Notice anything in common? They all have the progress bar, in the shape of three to five dots, showing just how much of the onboarding slides there are left. The onboarding should never be (or feel like) a never-ending process, and users should always know how much of the onboarding they have left. It’s a win-win situation: app pros will make sure users complete the onboarding process, thus increasing their chances of a higher retention. Users, on the other hand, will be encouraged to continue the process and ultimately motivated to use the app more.

Optimize, Optimize, Optimize

Don’t worry (too much) if your first attempt at onboarding mobile users does not create the desired effect. Making users flock to your app is quite a challenging task and will probably require some tweaking and changes. Make sure to monitor the success of your onboarding strategy! That way you can optimize it and increase its efficiency. You can do that by employing qualitative analytics platform, like Appsee.

Qualitative analytics measure the unique mobile app user experience, making it an ideal tool for tracking your onboarding elements. Features like touch heatmaps can help you determine if users find your onboarding intuitive, or if they’re struggling to navigate it. Other tools, like user session recordings, can show bugs or usability issues within the onboarding design that are hindering your users’ progress.


Example of user session recordings with Appsee. Image Source: Appsee

First impression is the lasting impression

Mobile onboarding is both simple, and mindbogglingly complex. In essence, it’s the helping hand that guides users through the introductory stage, before they feel completely comfortable using the app. Sounds simple enough. Yet, many app pros seem to get it wrong. They promote features that are not unique.

They bury their users under mountains of hints, being annoying and ruining the user experience. They fail to mention if their app uses the device’s features like the camera, or the contacts list, which makes users feel like they’ve been tricked, or if the app invaded their privacy. And – they frequently build the sign-in wall, which instead of keeping users in – keeps them out.

Understanding what makes the app unique, and what makes users tick is the first, very important step towards a solid mobile user onboarding strategy.

Did you find this article interesting? Any experience you want to share? Drop us a comment!