7 minutes read

Improving the onboarding of your software application

It’s tiring to think that a large part of the users who sign up will disappear after clicking around without getting the value they first expected from your application. Thus, it’s worth remembering that recovering a lost signed up user is worth just as much as capturing a new one.

That’s where a proper user onboarding process comes in, to transform new signed us users into loyal and engaged customers. Note that such things are complex and you can hardly get the onboarding of a web or mobile application right from the very first time. It’s rather an incremental endeavor.

It’s a very common thing to observe that each successive iteration of a web app onboarding will shift slightly from what the business wants to what the customer needs, or in other words, we ask less information upfront, and deliver user value sooner.

Delivering a good onboarding is about delivering an intuitive first experience for the new users while achieving the following objectives:

  • To educate new users on the essential mechanics of your app,
  • To sell them on its value proposition,
  • To get them to experience its benefits as fast as possible.

Every user is different and it’s important to consider asking newly signed up users what they are hoping to achieve with your product and what functional/personal/social goals they are after. That way, we are in the best position to ensuring each one of them can be set on a path to achieving these goals with the app.

What are some psychological patterns useful to consider?

Grant quick wins upfront and often

It’s important to pay some great attention to how you order the steps in your onboarding flow because you want to set your new users up for success fast.

Think about how many quick wins are you giving users in the first few steps of your onboarding flow. This is a great way to build up momentum, a state of mind in which they feel that things are going smoothly.

Progressive profiling

You can create a low barrier of entry into your product by postponing the information to fill or making the profiling as progressive as possible. The quick wins paired to the frictionless steps will maintain a high momentum and keep users engaged to the end of the onboarding.

Priming for permission

Permissions are a delicate matter when you haven’t built a foundation of trust yet with the new users. Many applications are asking for permissions, i.e. consent for push notifications or access to the user’s geolocation for mobile devices. It becomes a critical issue when the application functionality depends on having the permissions granted.

In the first-ever interaction with users, it’s essential to “prepare” a user before you ask for that kind of information to increase the chance they will comply with your request.

Priming every permission request helps do just that by:

  • Making aware of the user what you deem obvious. It’s obvious that a photo-taking app needs camera access but if you state this fact clearly, it prepares users better to consent to give you this permission.
  • Tying access together with upcoming value. Users know what they signed up for, as you too should. Simply inform them that you only ask for this permission to help them achieve their goals.

Bake the prime into the product if possible Don’t let asking for permission breaking up the onboarding flow. The ask has to feel natural and well baked into the onboarding flow.

Success states

Success states are literally the opposite of error states in that they are when you let users know that what they are doing is right, or is working.

We can define various types of success states:


Success states can mitigate concerns application user might have:

  • Did I enter the information in the format expected?
  • Should I checked more than one box in this field?
  • Did I complete all the required fields at this step?


Success states can offer a way for providing feedback about the user’s progress towards a milestone and are useful to situate new users in the application environment and let them know where to go next.


Success states can be used to celebrate progress. Your users should be pat on the back when they accomplish something meaningful. Save encouragement for milestones to amplify the user’s motivation. Overusing this technique might erode instead.

What are some recommended practices for your onboarding flow?

Simplify your onboarding

Every time you ask a user something that is not dead simple or obvious to them, you add friction to your flow and :

  • Increase the risk to bore the new user and see them abandon
  • Increase the risk to send the new user outside the app for getting an answer and have them distracted and forget to complete the onboarding flow.

Therefore, keep the experience as simple and fast as possible, and do not ask for more than you need. Besides, you better stick only to the features and UI elements that are required for users to experience the first bites of value your application has to offer.

Possibility to skip

Some users do not want to be handheld. They would prefer to skip your process of onboarding to explore the app by themselves. It’s common to see apps offering the possibility to skip the onboarding from the very beginning and at every subsequent step.

Users feel in control and can choose to leave the onboarding flow as soon as they feel they know enough to start using the application.

A skippable onboarding process is providing frustrated or bored users a better alternative than utterly leaving the application.

Show some value immediately

Users normally come to your application for a reason. A common reason for new users to stop using an application is the perception they have that the application will not meet their expectations. From the perspective of a good onboarding, the lack of communication equals miscommunication and your onboarding must reassure them that you will meet their needs.

Whether you are tackling the onboarding flow for the registration of new users, a product walkthrough or a carousel introducing a feature, just make sure that you emphasize the benefits that are in for them, rather than the features.

Multiply onboarding channels

The process of onboarding your new users does not only happen inside your application. It’s essential to engage new users on multiple channels to increase your chances to bring them back to your application to encourage them to explore, complete the onboarding process and experience the core value of the application.

A plethora of channels can be put at work together, such as in-app messages or chats, welcome emails, push notifications, etc… The context of your application will help you define what are the best channels at hand.

No matter the channels, they should work together harmoniously to send simple and personalized messages, with an obvious call-to-action.

Encourage users to take the next step, based on what they have already done. Don’t bother users! Don’t cover too many benefits in a single message or spam users with too many messages.

Experiment onboarding changes in measurable ways

Every industry vertical is different. Every user is different and differs from the others in unpredictable ways.

As a smart product manager or growth hacker, your success relies on your aptitude to continually measure how your changes and experiments impact the success of your onboarding experience and the metrics of activation and retention of your application.

Incentivize the first conversion

Sometimes, a little push or incentive can help bridge the gap, and it’s not unusual to see users being offered something valuable in exchange for completing some simple onboarding tasks (e.g. filling out profile information, trying out a premium subscription or finalizing a very first purchase).

Common incentives are points rewards, purchase vouchers, a direct discount, a free shipping offer, or the access to some exclusive content or restricted feature.

Wrapping it up!

It’s important to remember this is their success, not yours, and has nothing to do with filling in database fields to complete their profile. A good onboarding involves the understanding of the different jobs your product is hired for, for you to design a path guiding users through the features that help them achieve their goal, along with the proper communication to help them get there.

~ Thanks for reading ~


By Alban Leandri

I am an engineer with a soul-devouring passion for sciences and the digital space. With experience in startups and technology companies, I'm always keen to face new challenges, improve my craft and share the love :)

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