Best Practices

5 in-app onboarding fails—and how to avoid them

Published Feb 2, 2023

Bringing onboarding inside your product is one of the most effective ways to provide in-context, personalized education to new users. In theory, it should ensure that they’re set up for success from day one. But not all in-app onboarding experiences are created equal. 

Here are five of the most common in-app onboarding mistakes and, more importantly, how to avoid making them.

1. Trying to show users everything

It can be tempting to show new users all the great things your product can do from day one. The most effective in-app onboarding, though, focuses users on only the most relevant features they need to use to accomplish their most important tasks. A product analytics tool can help you determine what these features are, for example by identifying which ones are used by customers with high retention rates.

2. Creating one flow for all of your users

Building one general in-app onboarding flow is a mistake, because users have a wide variety of needs and backgrounds. Instead, it’s best to create different onboarding experiences for different subsets of your user base. You might have a specific flow for admins, since these users will need to access parts of your product that other users don’t need to know about. If users with different job titles utilize your application, this is another useful way to segment in-app onboarding.

3. Relying on a single format

Only using one format for in-app onboarding will likely result in a monotonous experience—one that users may choose to ignore. Leverage a variety of in-app guide formats, for example, lightboxes to guide users through account set-up, walkthroughs to demonstrate key workflows, and tooltips to add context to frequently-used product areas. This helps ensure onboarding content is engaging and aligned with how users navigate your app. It’s also useful to include an on-demand component (via an in-app Resource Center) so users can refer back to onboarding content when they need it.

4. Making onboarding too long

The last thing you want is for users to feel bogged down by overly lengthy in-app onboarding. Aim to keep your onboarding flows as brief as possible—just enough so that users feel confident in their ability to get started. As a general rule of thumb, don’t extend walkthroughs beyond four or five steps. And resist the temptation to overload your in-app guides with text—remember to be concise and direct above all else.

5. Setting and forgetting it

Onboarding optimization doesn’t end at go live. Just like you do for the rest of your product, you should continually work to iterate and improve the experience. Use product analytics data to assess how users interact with onboarding modules, how they are engaging with the product, whether (and if so, how) their behavior changed after completing onboarding, and how your onboarding programs influenced other business-critical KPIs like customer retention.

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