Most SaaS apps lose 95% of new users within 90 days. That's insane.
They tend to lose those users during onboarding—when a first impression is made.
Therefore, a growth marketer focuses on welcoming users into a product in a way that motivates them into being lifelong customers.
This is achieved through delightful onboarding experiences and having a valuable product.
"Onboarding" describes the user's experience between signing up and becoming an engaged user.
This phase consists of two elements:
On this page, I cover the first phase: the user's first experience. You'll learn:
To create an onboarding experience that encourages users to fall in love with your product, consider four steps:
Some obstacles will be known to you. They are the product journey steps that:
Other obstacles are hidden. To identify them, observe users using your product:
Watching user behavior reveals inefficient and broken paths users take through your product. These aren't obvious until you see how people interact in the wild.
Here's an example: In your SaaS app, a user creates then immediately deletes a new project. They do this ten times a day.
What are they trying to accomplish? Is there a feature they wanted to momentarily access that required a project to exist? If so, what if we extract that feature into a standalone button so they don't waste time making unnecessary projects?
Addressing obstacles is just one benefit of observing users. The other is identifying which paths through your product create the most engaged, highest-paying users.
Rely on your analytics software to track every event that these hero users trigger. Then optimize your onboarding experience to usher users toward these paths.
Twitter studied their users' onboarding behavior and discovered that if a new user doesn’t follow at least a handful of other Twitter users immediately upon signing up, they’re much less likely to return in the near future.
As a result, Twitter redesigned their onboarding flow to force users to choose five people to follow. They showed celebrities you're likely familiar with based on the topics (e.g. sports) you indicated you're interested in at the start of onboarding.
Once we've identified obstacles (tedium, friction, dead-ends), we address them using four principles:
When a user signs up, the in-product experience should immediately answer:
What is this product's value and how do I achieve it?
If the answer isn't self-evident, emphasize it using an assistive experience:
If your product is dead simple and doesn't require user education, skip these experiences. Don't waste time telling people obvious things. That adds friction and boredom.
Onboarding should never just be educational. It should also be enticing.
While educating users, entice them with your product's value so they're willing to put up with the boring parts of onboarding. Tease them with how amazing life will be once they are done.
To do this, start by identifying the magical moments in your product where users receive maximum value. Perhaps it's when they receive their first payment, find a date, or destroy an enemy's base. Your job is to visualize those exciting outcomes during the onboarding experience.
For example, look at how the scammy "dating" site, Ashley Madison, does it. They visualize your end goal (“finding women”) through blurred background photos while asking you to painstakingly enter your profile details.
They're teasing you with their magical moment while putting you through a slog.
This principle extends to your entire customer journey: Don't ask someone to do something until you've excited them about the value they’ll get from it.
Prove to people you can deliver then prompt them to take action.
If you have nothing enticing to visualize during onboarding, bullet point the value customers will receive.
For example, if you’re a service that helps people quit smoking, share how many people have quit smoking with your help:
“About 15% of people who finish this onboarding experience go on to finish our course. Once you've finished it, you'll have a whopping 85% chance of quitting smoking for life. This is your easy shot—don't squander it.”
Once our onboarding experiences are educational and enticing, we work to reduce their friction.
Start by listing every action users take before purchasing. For a website design tool, users might follow this path:
For every step, apply these principles to reduce friction:
During onboarding, it must always be clear what the next step is. And that step must appear easy. This is how you build momentum to propel users toward the end of your product journey.
The lengthier your onboarding, the more important it is that it doesn't leave users empty-handed at the end.
For example, a project management app can leave users with an outlined project that they've shared with all their relevant team members.
Or, if you’re an email app, the onboarding walkthrough can guide the user through cleaning up their inbox. That way, users will accomplish something they care about while learning to use your app. This leaves them with a small dopamine hit.
Remember, a great onboarding experience delights users. Nothing is more motivating than experiencing a product's ultimate value within minutes.
At Webflow, we developed the following onboarding experience. First, we learned who the user was so we could customize their experience: