The Process of Onboarding Users - Tips, tricks and best practices

Onboarding users is harder than you think. Ahead of the usual register form lays a series of issues that everyone designing or creating an online business has. After talking with multiple people and studying different user onboarding processes we thought of putting all in a nice and easy to go through blog post. This is the first part of a two-part article aimed at describing what user onboarding is and what are the best practices in setting up your own.

What is user onboarding?

Talking about user onboarding in the software world reffers to the initial experience a user has with your product. It starts when he enters the signup process and ranges all the way to the moment he understands how the products works and how it will benefit his life. The main objective of the user onboarding process is to help the user understand what the product has to offer and how he can benefit from it regularly. If this is done nice and quick, the user is more likely to return and eventually become a profitable customer.

To make things more clear, let’s take some examples:

  • Dropbox – if you sign up with them, the first screen you will see is the one in the image below. Immediately after signing up, Dropbox will start the download for the software. Having in mind the fact the core value of Dropbox is the fact that it offers you effortlessly storing and access to your documents, it makes sense they will try to install the native software. Storing and accessing data in the cloud is not as effortless as doing it on your personal computer. The onboarding continues after the software installment. It then tries to convince users to share files and folders with friends/coworkers, install the mobile app, etc. It also offers users incentives at every step to help increase the rate of converstion(for example, offering more free space).


  • Twitter – their onboarding process is currently a 6 steps path, that will eventually get to a dashboard that will be full of relevant information for you. In this process, they are trying to find out who you are, what you want to find out about, what persons to you regard as trendsetters and what are your interests. It makes sense for them to try this approach, as you will probably only come back to Twitter if it offers relevant information to you.

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These are just 2 popular examples, but everyone has an onboarding process. It may be more or less effective, but it’s still there. It is a question of design, message and human-like interactions. You don’t want to drop the ball at this point. So let’s see the best ways to go about it.


How to create a great user onboarding experience?


  • Add a social login

Offering the possibility of social registration gives the opportunity of a single click flow. It is easy, seamless and familiar for everyone. If you request multiple permissions, you can also access data like the user’s name or list of friends. If you want to have any chance of virality, you have to provide this option.

The most used social network for registering inside applications is Facebook, but you can choose the apps you will use depending on your target group. In our case, the number of signups done on Creative Tim with Google+ are higher than the ones with Facebook.

All major applications add this option, alongside the classic register, here are some examples:






  • Clear definition of how long the process is

The user will be more likely to complete his onboarding process if he knows his progress. If he knows how many more steps are left and how many he completed, he won’t be so inclined to abandon the whole thing. Having the number of steps transparent will gain you patience from your users.

You can see it used by all major social network. Here is an example from Facebook:




  • Build the profile as you go

If you don’t want to overload the user with too many requests(like adding name, photo, location, place of work, etc), you can leave it out for later. Strip down to only the necessary information during registration and allow users to build their complete profile progressively. You can even make it fun for them and give them badges; or, like Linkedin does, associate a strength to their profile. Users are more compelled in that way to write more about themselves, in order to become an “Expert”.




  • Give the users the chance to upgrade

If you think your users can be motivated to become buying customers from the first run, you can present them the option. Or if you think that users that have passed a certain number of steps are invested enough to considered a paid option. Sites like Vimeo give the users the chance to upgrade inside the onboarding process:




  • Offer a small tutorial with basic actions

Once the user has accessed his dashboard or his own page, he will most likely be lost regarding what to do next. If you want to guide him through the first basic actions, you can show him information inside a tutorial. The advice should be fragmented into steps and given to the user one-by-one, with the possibility to opt-out. If the user completes one of your mini-guide, he will more likely to form a habit and do that action action.

First time interacting with Numbers by iCloud, I got prompted with details about what everything means. If you created this sort of hidden information that pops up the first time, it is nice to leave a possibility for the user to see it again. You can put it behind a Help button or inside the settings.




When we gave access to users to a personal dashboard, where they can see their purchases and download products, we created a simple jQuery JoyRide. It is very easy to set up and has great benefits for the user.




Another option is giving the user a personal assistant that will help you through. The slackbot from Slack is great fun:



  • Frictionless onboarding

There is also an account-free method, in which the user doesn’t have to create an account in order to use your product. This may be a little hard to understand, so let us see the example of Square Cash. The service doesn’t require you at any point to provide a password or create an account. It is a money sending service and in order to use it, you can just send an email, text or tweet to the person you want to receive money, add [email protected] to the cc and a $before the sum. For the receiving end, to access your funds, you will need to add the debit card information and the money will get transferred. Pretty slick, right?

While it is pretty rarely used, if you can think of a flow that allows the users to use your product without creating an account, the challenge may pay off.



  • Show users the app’s benefits, not features

For an user to become active and engaged he needs to know what he gains from your product. While approaching a new thing, people may get impacient. Remember that your audience doesn’t care about you, they care about themselves. So explain what are their benefits, not what features your product has. Everyone appreciates speed and convenience, so focus on the immediate benefits. Uber does a nice job at this:




  • Use colors to guide users

Use colors to your advantage. Following your initial color scheme that you picked at the beginning of the deisgn process, use higher hues and bright colors against empty spaces to help the user navigate. This is helpful for drawing attention and keeping the users engaged, while giving them cues as to what to do next. Use color hierarchy to let the users know what action is most recommended.

Mailbox is a great example of a simple, great onboarding process using colors effectively. Each color has an action associated with it, and the user quickly learns the basic functions by example.




  • Less is more

If you are wondering whether you should display a particular text or image, don’t do it. If it is does not have a specific purpose that will drive a specific action, this simply doesn’t belong in this flow.

  • Make it worth their time

If you got a user through the onboarding process, you should give them something worth their while. Actually provide value that will help them in the future and make them come back. The onboarding process is only the part of planting the seeds. While it is vital for your relationship to the user to grow, you will also need to invest further time and research to see how to keep your users happy. Start by generating early value for the user, depending on your core features.

If you have suggestions, remarks and opinions, we would like to know how to manage your user onboarding process. You can show us, ask for display or simply share your knowledge in the comments below.

If you liked the first part of this blog post, stay tuned for part 2 that will cover mistakes to avoid, the process of testing the user onboarding and useful resources. If you want to be notified regarding the second part next week, you can also subscribe.

Elena Conacel

Elena Conacel