Grow your userbase with better onboarding

4 min read
Margaret Kelsey
  •  Nov 20, 2015
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Frustration drives people to sign up for products in hopes of improving their lives. Once you define the space between the intolerable “before” and the ideal “after,” it’s easier to identify key moments in the customer journey and match them to design patterns.

So we hosted a webinar with Samuel Hulick, author of The Elements of User Onboarding and the man behind UserOnboard.com, to share strategies to help you stop hemorrhaging signups and create quality onboarding experiencesTwitter Logo that target your users’ frustrations.

Watch the full recording below, or read on for our short recap on Samuel’s talk.

What should onboarding be?

Have you thought of onboarding as just an interface layered on top of another interface to explain the interface it’s covering up?

The problem with this approach is that it takes the entire scope of what onboarding can be and reduces it to a single design pattern. Plus, it often makes your onboarding more confusing than your actual product.

Designing for onboarding can be difficult. It’s like going from zero to 60. A lot of time, designers create their designs for the 60 state—when data and numbers are plentiful.

Then, all of a sudden at the 11th hour when you look at the product once it’s built, you realize that when there’s nothing in there, there are just a bunch of zeros and “no’s.”

So the question becomes: if you’re designing for the 60 state and ignoring the zero state, how many of your users will really get past the zero state to get to the 60 state?

Samuel had a metaphor about designing an airplane. Yes, you have to design for the functionality of the product. For example, you have to design a plane with wings and jet engines to fly. But if you designed an airplane just to fly, you wouldn’t have designed in doors, windows, or wheels. It’s as useful as having no plane at all.

“Start your designing where users start their using.”

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Become loss-averse

We as designers should remember that people dislike losing things more than they like getting things.Twitter Logo That’s especially important to remember when we’re choosing the point at which users should create an account.

Also, we should be more loss averse about people who sign up for our products. Samuel mentioned Dave McClure’s pirate metrics—focusing on activation and retention (or, in other words, churn).

If we dive on retention, the point of conversion is where retention kicks off. Someone goes from being activated to being retained. If you have a freemium, the moment where a user pays for your product is the conversion. If you have a free product, it can be a bit fuzzier—you might have an internal engagement metrics like “adding 3 friends in 7 days.”

If you aren’t retaining 95% of your users month over month—in other words, you’re churning more than 5% every month—you have a really leaky bucket.

“If you aren’t retaining 95% of your users month over month, you have a leaky bucket.”

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If we take a step back and look at activation, the numbers are really different. It can vary, but the average activation rate is 15% of the people that sign up make it through the activation stage.

It gets sadder.

That 15% isn’t of everyone who’s coming to your product. It’s of the 50% of those people who will never log in again.

And remember the 95% of users you’re trying to retain is 95% of that 15%.

So, that tells us that the moment of onboarding is crucial. There are probably a lot of low-hanging fruit for you to make better, and big gains to have in the early experience. Start with activation, and then you can worry about retention.Twitter Logo

Samuel’s recommendations

  1. Look at your onboarding experience as highly optional. Lots of people will dismiss the tour, or hit next until it’s over.
  2. Many people rely on tooltips to point out elements of the product that are—or should be redesigned to be—easily discoverable. If you must use tooltips, use them one at a time to guide the user through the product, rather than barraging them all at once.
  3. Make sure the core experience of your product is engaging as well. Instead of pointing out what the interface is, focus on getting the user to do something of consequence.

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