Best Practices

Why the best in-app onboarding experiences are data-driven

Published May 18, 2022

Onboarding is one of those things that software companies (which these days, is every company) know is critical, but don’t always get right. Historically, many businesses have relied on human-led processes where onboarding is delivered via in-person training sessions—but that doesn’t scale. Today, the best companies are leveraging product-led strategies and applying those principles to their onboarding. The product itself becomes the channel through which onboarding is delivered.

Product-led onboarding (also referred to as in-app onboarding) ultimately results in a better experience for your users. Since you can personalize flows (e.g. based on persona groups, titles, or permission levels), users only get the information that’s most relevant to them. In-app onboarding is also immersive, so users stay focused and don’t get distracted by the context-switching that’s often required when training is delivered through a variety of channels. Finally, bringing onboarding inside the product allows users to self-serve and get help in the moments they need it most.

Just like other areas of product development, onboarding requires continuous testing and iteration—which is where data comes in.

The power of product data and in-app guides for onboarding

While in-app guides (including tooltips, walkthroughs, and on-demand content) serve as the foundation of in-app onboarding, it’s equally important to utilize data—both quantitative and qualitative—to optimize onboarding. If in-app guides are how you build onboarding, data is how you make the experience even better.

Data from a product analytics tool can help you choose which features correlate with long-term success in the product and therefore should be introduced to users during onboarding. Once onboarding flows are live, there’s no better way to improve them than to ask for feedback from users directly—ideally, right after they’ve completed an onboarding milestone.

Rather than building onboarding once and considering it done, data allows you to continue optimizing how new users experience your product. To help you get started, here are five ways to take a data-driven approach to in-app onboarding.

1. Choosing the right features to highlight

While it might be tempting to show new users all of your product’s great features, it’s best to build onboarding around only the most relevant features—namely those that users need in order to accomplish their most important tasks. The makeup of your onboarding will also largely depend on what you’re looking to achieve, whether it’s to increase awareness and adoption of key features or drive conversions from freemium and/or product trial experiences. For example, you can use product data to better understand which actions in the product lead to outcomes like positive customer sentiment, retention, or trial conversion, and ensure your onboarding flow directs users to those actions in some capacity.

2. Personalizing the experience

Chances are, your product likely serves multiple types of users with different needs and workflows required to utilize your tool effectively. Rather than delivering the same onboarding experience to all users, it’s most effective to tailor in-app onboarding based on what you know about users and what they need from your product. This personalization not only helps new users get up and running more quickly, but demonstrates that your product is there to help them with their specific needs.

Here are some ways to segment your onboarding guides:

    • Job title
    • Industry vertical
    • Permission level within the product
    • Free trial vs. paying customers

3. Collecting qualitative feedback

Since onboarding is such a critical step in the customer journey, you’ll want to make sure the experience is effective in helping users understand both how to use your product and the value it can provide. The best way to find this out? Asking users directly.

After your onboarding flows are live, use in-app surveys and polls to ask customers for feedback on their onboarding experience. Soliciting this feedback in-app means users’ onboarding experience will be fresh in their minds, making them more likely to respond—and respond honestly. It’s also useful to deliver surveys and polls at strategic moments in users’ workflows. For example, avoid asking for feedback when users are still in the middle of an onboarding flow or task. Instead, serve an in-app survey or poll after a user has completed an onboarding step or the entire experience.

4. Measuring onboarding engagement

While it’s useful to know how users feel about onboarding, teams should pair this with data on what users are doing in the product during onboarding. Are they completing all of the walkthroughs? Which part of the onboarding experience do users engage with the most? Where is there drop off? 

You can leverage product analytics data to understand how users are engaging with your onboarding content. Here are some key metrics to keep in mind:

    • Guide views: Compare the number of users who viewed your onboarding in-app guides with the number of users you targeted. This will help you understand if you achieved the reach you anticipated, or if there was an error that got in the way. Mobile onboarding tip: Consider using contextual visual hints (e.g. with a badge or icon) throughout your app to bring users back to the onboarding guide. This way, users can dive deep into the app first and choose their own onboarding journey.
    • Guide step completion: If you have onboarding walkthroughs, look at your guide step completion to see if users are completing the entire walkthrough, or if there is drop off after a certain number of steps. Mobile onboarding tip: For mobile apps, consider using a four- or five-step carousel with succinct copy to make it easy for users to digest onboarding information and get through each step (remember: mobile screens are small).
    • Time in guide: The amount of time users spend with an in-app guide is a good indicator of whether or not they’re finding value in it. If time in guide numbers are low, you might need to tweak the content you’re including in each guide. Are there opportunities to add more engaging formats like images or video? Do any of your guides include language that is too complex for new users? Mobile onboarding tip: Utilize success states to celebrate the completion of an important task or onboarding step (e.g. “Congrats!”). This is a great way to engage users in your app and helps leave a positive impression right from the start.

5. Tracking the impact on product usage

In addition to measuring onboarding engagement, you’ll want to know if onboarding is having a positive impact on how customers use the product post-onboarding. To start, use product analytics to track feature usage for the features your onboarding flows walked new users through. Ideally, feature usage has increased and remains relatively steady over time. You could also compare that to feature usage from before your onboarding was set up to better understand the impact onboarding is making.

Additionally, you can use funnels to measure how (or if) new users move through the steps in your onboarding walkthroughs. If you have a three-step walkthrough, build a funnel that mirrors those steps and use segmentation to apply a segment for users who have engaged with the guide you’re trying to measure. This way, you’ll be able to see where users are deviating from completing the task that you introduced during onboarding.

Ready to get started with in-app onboarding? Here’s how to use an onboarding checklist in the Pendo Resource Center to let users learn at their desired pace and manage their own onboarding experience.