How to Provide the Perfect Mobile App Onboarding Experience?


App Builder Appy Pie, February 05, 2018: It might be tough today to gain a customer, but  retaining customers and maintaining their interest is much more challenging. Today, there are millions of apps available on both of the leading platforms and when you are just one of these millions, the customers have a whole lot of choice and can easily be distracted into abandoning your app and finally uninstalling it from their devices. It is humbling to know that more than 20% of the apps are only used once after being downloaded before being abandoned entirely. So, if you are not looking at being one of those shooting stars that fade away with just one streak in the sky, then you must look at ways to make the first interaction of the users with your app so engaging that they are bound to come back to it.

It requires an app developer or owner to spend a lot of time, energy, and of course money in trying to get people to sign up for your app and yet, many of these apps lose most of their users right after their first experience with the app. However, not all these losses are due to problems with the app performance. It is what happens right after the installation that decides the future of the app. You might have an app that looks the best, has the best performance features, but if the users have no idea how to use it, they are not going to come back to it!

In an effort to make sure that the users do not uninstall your app immediately after using it only once, introduce them to the app in an effective manner, teaching them how to accomplish the core tasks. What it essentially means is that your app needs to have an exemplary onboarding experience during the initial interactions that your users are going to have with your app.

In this post we are going to talk about why your app needs an onboarding experience and different useful tips to offer to your users an excellent onboarding experience.

What is mobile app onboarding?

Onboarding for a mobile app is what a business card is for a professional. This is essentially the first impression that the users are going to receive about it. It is the first impressions that last the longest, hence it is of extreme importance that we make this experience satisfactory. Onboarding, in fact is a human resource team which was then translated into the world of UX by the developers to refer to the ways of familiarizing a user with the app. When done well, onboarding is critical in increasing the likelihood of converting the first-time users into full-time users.

Does my app need onboarding?

This is one question that you might have asked yourself, and you might have asked this more than once too! This question may be answered by differing opinions on the usefulness of onboarding, but one thing that stands true is that your users need to know how to use it!

In case your app is simple and is self-explanatory, it may find good use for onboarding, but if any of the following points stand true for your app, then you need it!

  • The app includes non-standard interactions. For example, if the app includes some bespoke gestures as a primary method of interacting with it.
  • The app has a complex workflow or is responsible for handling complex tasks like an enterprise app that has defined user roles and the rights & authorizations vary for each of them.
  • The app is by default in an empty state and it is the user who needs to populate it with data.
  • The app has been majorly redesigned, and you intend to familiarize the users with the new features and modifications.
  • The app is introducing a revolutionary concept that is entirely unfamiliar to users.

It is any of these scenarios that an app would need to ensure that the people who pass through the onboarding have a refined idea of what to do and where to go next.

Listed below are some of the ways in which you can provide to your users the perfect mobile app onboarding experience.

1. Set Yourself Apart with Introductory Animations

It might be alarming to know that the attention span of an average app user today is somewhere between 5 to 8 seconds, but it is true! It is therefore imperative that you start your app experience with an introductory experience that transcends the ordinary. Introductory animations are a great way to do just that! A well-designed animation that illustrates what the app is to be used for and offers a broad idea about the functions of the app goes a long distance to create that “wow!” moment for a first-time user, keeping them hooked for more! Some tips to design an effective introductory animation are listed hereunder.

  • Design animated features focused on the problem that the app is going to address.
  • Test out introductory animations so that you have a clear idea about what it is that hits the nail on the head with the users.
  • Create a balanced combination of animation with explanatory text to offer a clearer understanding of the functions and benefits of using your app.


2. Set Up an Interactive Hands-On Tutorial

More often than not, some of the best onboarding flows are those that allow the users to primarily learn hands-on. This must allow the users some room to explore and navigate through the app as people tend to learn better by doing instead of sitting through an entire video and have a set of instructions in front of them. Also, if you have an app that is not self-explanatory, then it is only natural that you would have to include a set of instructions to help the user understand its functioning. However, it is important that this is done in a way that wouldn’t distract the user from the onboarding process, and present small instructions on the relevant page of the same feature as is being used to improve the understanding. While designing this part if you feel that there is a need to include too much of explanation for the way the app is supposed to be used then maybe it is time you spent some time re-thinking the interface design and simplify the whole thing.

3. Offer the Users an Option to Skip the Walkthrough

There are quite a few users who do not want to go through the tutorial simply because they want to learn it naturally by navigating through the app themselves, while there may be some who are already familiar with the functioning and features of the app. It is important that you do not annoy this set of users by making them go through the whole tutorial. Make the tutorial walkthrough optional. This can be done simply by putting up options in the form of a Skip button placed next to a Start button. While the Start button will begin the tutorial for the willing users, the Skip button would allow the users to immediately begin interacting with the app itself if they wish it.

4. Optimize on The Number & Placement of Coach Marks

Coach marks are often used to let the users know how to use the different functions and features of the app as they help the users understand the way they can move around within the app. It is however, important that we do not overdo them or abuse them in any way. It is important to know certain things about how to use them.

  • At one point of time, use a single coach mark so that the screen doesn’t appear cluttered or confusing to the user.
  • Make sure that you do not use coach marks for features that are purely common sense as too many instructions can either bore or even annoy the user.

However, you can always use your creativity to come up with an exceptional way to use multiple coach marks that convey a lot more information without disrupting the walkthrough.

5. Make Good Use of Blank Spaces

One thing that must be kept in mind is the small screen size where the app is going to be viewed. It is for this reason that putting too many images or information on it may create a lot of clutter and confusion. Hence, it is important that you understand the significance and learn to use the blank spaces by spreading your explanations over a number of screens. This will not only make the app breathe better but will also help the users assimilate all the information a little better.

6. If You’re Planning to Make Signing Up a Necessity, Offer A Trial Version First

Sharing any personal details can be a matter of great hesitation for most, but this hesitation may soften down a bit when they know what they are going to get in return for it. This is true even for app users. In case you are planning to ask your app users to create an account in order to use your app, bring the hesitation down by offering them a trial version before they need to share any personal details with you. You may also encourage users to sign up with you and provide the requested information by including some of the main features in the trial version of the app. This will help the users take a small tour of the app before committing to it! One more thing that can help you here is getting more information from those users who have signed up with you already and get to know them a little better. In case you have a clothing online retail store, follow the signup with a few meaningful questions like which style of clothing do they prefer, what are the hues they prefer, do they need a lot of workwear or casual etc. Getting answers to questions like this offer you an understanding of the customer, making it easier for you to send out relevant content, keeping the customers engaged and invested.

7. Avoid Confusion by Using Strategic Progressive Visual Hints

In some of the apps like game apps, it is quite common that there would be multiple sets of instructions that might help the user navigate and progress through the game. This can lead to a lot of confusion which may be sorted out with progressive visual hints. It is important that your hints to the various stages of the game be placed in the spots where you expect a user to hit a wall and maybe ask themselves, “What am I supposed to do now?” while navigating through your app. However, it is of absolute importance to include an option wherein the uses may turn the hints off, if they want to explore all through the app without being interrupted by the hints, they might already know what to do!

8. Gamify the Tutorial Walkthroughs

If your app is one of those kinds that must have some kind of a tutorial for the user to be able to use it and you cannot do without one. In this scenario there must be some thought spared to the way you design your tutorial so that you do not end up affecting the onboarding flow! One witty way to do this is by turning the tutorial into a fun mini-game and then offer them some rewards at its completion. Gamification is a sort of a design concept that has been inspired by some of the elements of games and has applied these same elements or concepts on the apps that might not even have a gaming element to it. One cool way is to design your tutorial or walkthrough like a treasure hunt where the reward would be the feature that you are describing in the tutorial. The completion of a level on any game has an associated euphoria which is further reinforced by the congratulatory messages like “Way to Go!” or “Well Done!” or the good old “Congratulations!”. This element too can be applied to your tutorial and egg the customers on, to complete the tutorial and move smoothly through the onboarding process while making them feel good about their progress through it!

9. Keep the Branding Consistent

Users are reassured when the branding all through their experience is consistent. When there is a harmony and when there is a continuity. If the onboarding experience of your app does not go well with the brand image, the customers are going to feel disconnected and may not pursue it further. Carry the branding to your onboarding experience by using the same design style and tone of voice that makes all your other branding assets tie together and stand apart from others.

10. Keep It Simple

This goes without saying, but we are going to say it anyway. The whole process of onboarding needs to be simple and as sort as possible. As the customer progresses through the process, they must be presented with the option to skip the whole process or navigate to the other screen. Also, it is a good idea to include a progress indicator so that the customer has an idea about the number of screens or slides that they would be going through in the onboarding process.

11. Focus on The Benefits Not Features

Chalk out the benefits that your app is going to offer, for example online booking for a spa app, or a loyalty programme for certain businesses might be the highlight that the customers might be interested in. let the users know how easy it is to use the app and avail these benefits. When you offer a high value reason to the customer they are encouraged to take the next step, and it also increases the chances of customer retention.

12. Make It Crisp

Minimise the amount of text during onboarding. Instead use animated gifs or videos in place of text and static images. It is easier for a customer to grasp things when they are shown the process, as compared to when they are told how to do it. You must even be careful here that the videos aren’t too long and incorporate a timer in the video so that they know how much time they need to commit to it.

13. Test & Analyse Your Onboarding Flow

Once you have created the whole onboarding experience for your first-time users, it is time you test it all out! There are some specific, and reliable ways to do so. You can ask your friends, family, and acquaintances to use your app and offer you their feedback. One more way is to do a test launch and see how a small group of users react to your onboarding flow. Each feedback you get from both these methods should help you fine-tune your onboarding before a full launch.

Concluding Note

Remember that it is the first impressions that matter the most, especially in this case where users might decide on the basis of their onboarding experience whether they want to continue to use your app or abandon it. Study the apps that have quite an effective mobile app launch screen and you are sure to find two basic things there one they are simple, and two they have a continuing relevance to the brand. The idea of creating a good onboarding experience comes from the desire to keep a user engaged beyond the launch screen and to make their experience within the app productive & enjoyable.

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