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  • Olga Wolska-Płonka

Onboarding: Strategies for Seamless User Introduction

Three cell phones, left and right are green with womans on it, centeres is brown with a picture of survey

21% of Users Abandon an App After One Use”

Picture being pulled out of a boarding line at an airport and placed in the pilot’s cockpit to fly the plane. You wouldn't know what any of the controls or flashing lights mean, and you wouldn't even know how to get the plane off the ground.

This may be a bit of an exaggeration 😊, but it's similar to the feeling users may have when they first encounter your product. They have a task they want to accomplish, and they have a vague idea of how to do it, but they're not yet familiar with the UI in front of them. Of course, we always try to create an interface that is self-explanatory and easy to use. However, it is often very difficult to provide simplicity, especially when we're dealing with a complex system.

That's where onboarding comes in, a crucial element that allows you to introduce the system to users, familiarise them with it, and give some initial explanation. It's like giving users a helping hand that guides them through those difficult beginnings and saves them from frustrations and lost time.

But first, let’s exactly say what onboarding is…

What is onboarding and why it’s so important?

86% of people say they’d be more likely to stay loyal to a business that invests in onboarding content that welcomes and educates them after they’ve bought.”

User onboarding begins when a user first enters your product. It consists of instructions and explanations designed to familiarise first-time users and ease them into using the tool.

You've probably seen it many times before, in the mobile apps you use or the software on your computer. It can be as simple as a few screens with a short explanation of the product you're entering and what you can do with it, or as complex as a series of guided initial tasks to complete.

You are demonstrating the advantages of your product, instructing users on how to use it, resulting in a sense of ease and accomplishment right from the start.

8 in 10 users say they’ve deleted an app because they didn’t know how to use it.”

Nearly two-thirds (63%) of customers say that onboarding – the level of support they’re likely to receive post-sale – is an important consideration in whether they make the decision in the first place.”

The initial encounter holds great significance, particularly in the process of welcoming new users on board. It plays a key role in shaping their decision to continue with the service or not.

Here is a list of reasons why you should consider to onboard your users:

  1. First Impressions: The initial experience users have with a product or service greatly influences their perception. A smooth, engaging onboarding process creates a positive first impression, increasing the likelihood that users will continue using the product.

  2. Reduced Frustration, increased satisfaction: New users can often feel overwhelmed when faced with unfamiliar interfaces and features. Effective onboarding reduces frustration by providing guidance and support, helping users overcome initial challenges. A successful onboarding process sets a positive tone for the user's entire journey with the product. Satisfied users are more likely to provide positive feedback, reviews, and ratings.

  3. Feature Discovery: Many products have a variety of features that users may not discover on their own. Onboarding ensures that users are aware of these features and know how to use them, maximizing the product's usefulness. As products evolve, new features are introduced. Proper onboarding informs existing users about these updates, encouraging them to adopt and benefit from the improvements.

  4. Higher User Engagement: Users who are properly onboarded are more likely to engage with the product over the long term. Onboarding teaches them how to use core features, allowing them to experience the benefits sooner and increasing the chances they'll stay engaged.

  5. Increased User Retention & Advocacy: Onboarding contributes to user retention by creating a positive early experience and helping users overcome initial hurdles, making them more likely to stick around. Satisfied users are more likely to share their positive experiences with others, leading to word-of-mouth recommendations and referrals, which can drive organic growth.

  6. Data-Driven Improvement: Monitoring user behaviour during onboarding provides insights into how users engage with the product. This data can guide improvements to the onboarding process and the product itself.

  7. Competitive Advantage: In a crowded market, products that offer a smooth, user-friendly onboarding experience stand out. Positive user experiences can differentiate a product from competitors.

Types of onboarding and when to use them

Product tours/walkthroughs:

userpilot application dashboard


Two popular types of onboarding that companies use to introduce new users to their products are product tours and walkthroughs.

Product tours typically involve a step-by-step process that guides users through the various features of the product. This approach is designed to be comprehensive and cover all of the important aspects of the product.

Walkthroughs, on the other hand, are more focused and specific. They typically highlight a particular feature or set of features and help users understand how to activate or use them.

However, it is very important to tailor both types of onboarding very wisely, as Userpilot states that almost 80% of users skip it after the 5 steps.

When to Use: It is effective for products with clear workflows, where users need to follow a specific path to achieve a goal. It's useful when introducing a complex product with interdependent features.

Contextual Onboarding:

tooltip from userpilot application


slack application main screen


In order to ensure a seamless and successful onboarding experience, a contextual approach can be employed that takes into account individual user data. This method involves providing tailored assistance and guidance, in the form of helpful tips, interactive tutorials, subtle micro interactions, and informative tooltips. The end result is a positive and confident user experience that minimizes the initial learning curve and encourages ongoing engagement with the product.

When to Use: This approach is great for products that are visually engaging or involve hands-on interactions. It's effective when you want users to experience the product's features firsthand.

Progressive Onboarding:

screen from duolingo application


Progressive onboarding is a highly effective and user-friendly approach that aims to provide users with a seamless introduction to a product's functionalities. By breaking down complex workflows into a series of interactive steps, users can effortlessly navigate through the different features at their own pace and convenience. This method not only simplifies the learning process but also ensures that users have a thorough understanding of the product's capabilities.

When to use: While working with a complex product that has a lot of elements to be shown and explained and requires user longer time to learn it, and not all of the features have to be shown at once.

The most commonly used elements for those 3 types on onboarding are:


tooltip from asana application


Coachmarks and tooltips are context-aware pop-ups that guide users by highlighting specific UI elements or explaining their purpose.

When to Use: These are particularly useful when you want to draw attention to specific features or provide quick explanations within the user interface. They work well for both simple and complex products.


hotspot example from zakeke application


Hotspots are marks that appear in certain places in the product, it is up to the user to click on them and check what they describe. Usually, they have some kind of interaction that draws the user’s attention to it, showing that it is clickable, like pulsation

When to use: When you don’t want to irritate users with too many jumping-out elements.


modal example from coinbase app


They appear to inform about a certain new feature or improvement that is connected to the current user’s action. They are often used to inform about available feature guides (which are the same as walkthroughs but contextual).

When to use: When we want to draw users’ immediate attention to something, But we should be very careful about that as it interrupts the user’s flow and can be irritating.

Self-Service Onboarding:

faq from airtable app


Self-service onboarding provides users with resources like tutorials, guides, videos, and FAQs, allowing them to explore and learn at their own pace.

When to Use: Use self-service onboarding when your product is intuitive and user-friendly. It's suitable for products with a straightforward user interface and users who prefer learning independently.

Email Drip Campaigns:

email example from zapier


Email drip campaigns involve sending a series of educational emails over time to guide users through the product's features and benefits.

When to Use: This type of onboarding is suitable for products with a longer learning curve. It's effective for keeping users engaged and informed over an extended period.

When designing an effective onboarding process, it's crucial to make sure it aligns with the product goals and user preferences. Take into account the complexity of the product, the familiarity of the user, and the desired experience to determine the best approach. To create a comprehensive onboarding experience, consider combining multiple techniques. This will help ensure that users feel confident and comfortable as they begin using the product.

Onboarding UX Best Practices and Tips

  1. Know and Segment Your Users: Developing user personas that accurately represent various segments of your intended audience is an effective strategy to customize onboarding procedures to fit the specific requirements and preferences of each group. This approach guarantees that the onboarding process is pertinent and captivating to every segment, resulting in greater engagement and satisfaction.

  2. Find the Value: During onboarding, clearly explain the value of your product or service. Users should quickly grasp how it solves their problems or fulfils their needs. Highlight the core benefits that distinguish your product from alternatives to pique their interest and encourage further exploration.

  3. Make It Fast and Easy: Onboarding should be a pleasant and straightforward experience. Minimize the steps required for users to get started and avoid requesting excessive information upfront. The goal is to get users to their "aha" moment—the point where they understand the value of your product—as quickly as possible.

  4. Don’t Try to Fix UX with It: It is important to note that user onboarding should not be viewed as a substitute for effective UX design. While onboarding can certainly play a role in helping users grasp the intricacies of your product, it should not be viewed as a crutch to make up for a poor or convoluted design. Ultimately, the key to success lies in prioritizing a streamlined and intuitive UX right from the outset. By doing so, you can ensure that your users are able to seamlessly navigate your product, without the need for extensive onboarding materials.

  5. Quick and Easy Wins: Introduce users to simple, high-impact features that provide immediate value. These "quick wins" help users build confidence in using your product and can serve as a foundation for exploring more advanced features later. Starting with achievable goals fosters a sense of accomplishment, and motivation, and ensures that users stay engaged.

  6. Allow Users to Go Back to It: Providing the option for users to revisit the onboarding process can enhance their overall experience by allowing them to further explore any features or functionalities they may have missed during their initial setup. This can also serve as a helpful tool for users who are interested in learning more advanced features.

Incorporating these points into your user onboarding strategy can lead to a more engaging and effective experience for users. Remember to collect feedback and data regularly as user needs and preferences can change. Continuously optimizing the onboarding process can increase user satisfaction, retention, and overall success with your product.


In the digital world, retaining users can be challenging, and seamless onboarding is an essential solution. High app abandonment rates after a single use suggest that users are often put off by unfamiliar products' complexity. Effective onboarding is necessary for users to successfully navigate a new interface, just as pilots require training before flying a plane. The process bridges the gap between user intent and product interaction, providing guidance and education. Tailored onboarding, whether through product tours, contextual guidance, or self-paced exploration, empowers users to unlock a product's value. Continuous refinement of onboarding strategies further ensures user engagement and satisfaction, converting new users into loyal advocates.


If you're interested in reading about onboarding from the perspective of CX read the article below.


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