Hacking Your User Onboarding Process: 10 Strategies to Try Now

Hacking Your User Onboarding Process: 10 Strategies to Try Now

There is some confusion about what the overall objective of the onboarding process should be.

Many view onboarding as an opportunity to get new users up and running. However, I prefer to think of it as laying the foundation for a long-term relationship with your brand or application.

Particularly for software companies, it’s crucial to focus on your retention rates if you want to be in business for the long-term. Effective user onboarding is an essential first step in achieving this.

The best way to ensure that new sign-ups become active users is by delivering value. Your onboarding process should be quick, smooth flowing and highly relevant to the desires, values and frustrations of your core user.

With a good onboarding process, new users can’t wait to get sucked in and use your application.

Here are some tips to make user onboarding as effective as possible.


1. Begin With Your Value Proposition

The first stage of your onboarding flow should be your value proposition. Written as succinctly as possible, your value proposition describes how your application or service will solve your customer’s problem.

This builds anticipation and also helps to differentiate you from your competitors.

In order to deliver a great value proposition, it’s important to know your customer intimately.

I recommend creating a buyer persona that lists the psychographic and demographic traits of your ideal customer. When you know a person’s pain points and core desires, you can sculpt your value proposition (and service) around this.

For instance, DuoLingo’s value proposition is clear, succinct and highly tailored to the core buyer’s interests. Given the app’s huge success, expensive costs and hidden fees may be a common pain point in this industry.


2. Convey Benefits

If someone has signed up to your app or website, it’s critical that they understand what types of benefits they’re going to receive – as soon as possible. If you fail to do this, your retention rates may suffer.

Using a video in your onboarding process is helpful because you can show the benefits visually, rather than explain them using text.

Canva, a design application that allows you to create brilliant images with no technical expertise, includes a succinct onboarding video where new users are guided through some of the application’s useful features.

After watching the short video, it’s hard not to be excited about all the possibilities which lie within the application.

3. Leverage Branching Logic

We’ve all gone through horrible onboarding experiences where we feel like we’re being dragged through the process, unable to exercise any free will.

This isn’t the 1990s anymore – it’s important to recognize that people have unique desires when they sign up for your application, and they want to go through the onboarding process at their own pace.

I recommend using branching logic to provide a personalized path through your onboarding process. This means that users will be given different questions depending on their answers to previous questions.

If you’re onboarding for a fitness app, you wouldn’t want a muscle-bound 30-year-old bodybuilder to go through the same onboarding process as a 55-year-old working mother who is trying to lose weight.

Branching logic helps you to segment your customers and acquire data that will allow you to deliver a more personalized experience – which ultimately improves your retention rates.

4. Link to Additional Resources

It’s important that your onboarding process is as streamlined as possible. Be sure to convey your value proposition, showcase core benefits and give your users a taste for your application – but don’t go overboard with tips and suggestions.

Instead, at the end of the onboarding process – provide access to additional resources that users can consume at their own pace.

Explaining non-basic features may make your onboarding process long-winded. Instead, consider including a video tutorial series for such features in an easily accessible resource list.

5. Build Trust

With stories of data breaches proliferating in the news, there is always some trepidation when entering your personal details online – especially if it’s a service that you’re unfamiliar with.

Additionally, downloading a bad application can leave you wondering whether the app is serving you, or you’re serving the app.

Polite reassurances help to build trust during the onboarding process.

For example, when entering your phone number into Instagram – you’re reminded that no other users will be able to see it.


In the wake of Facebook’s takeover of Instagram in 2012, there is still a lingering fear that the two applications will interact with one another in a way that doesn’t serve the user (people were incredibly annoyed when having to link their YouTube and Google accounts several years ago).

Fortunately, Instagram reminds us that you can stop the application from syncing your contacts, and contact information will be removed when you do so. Also, Instagram reminds us that it won’t post on Facebook without our permission – which is nice.


6. Implement a Progress Indicator

For the creators of an app or website, onboarding is an essential process that allows us to record user data, segment users into personas and ultimately deliver a high-quality service that keeps people coming back.

For the users themselves, they normally want to get it over and done with as fast as possible – so they can get to the fun stuff.

progress bar helps to maintain momentum for the onboarding process, and discourages users from aborting without completing it.

LinkedIn uses a subtle progress indicator to encourage users to complete their profiles.


The mere act of completing something is intrinsically rewarding and causes a release of endorphins – according to an MIT researcher. With gamification tools such as progress bars, you can leverage this to your advantage.

Perhaps this is why I could never take my eyes off the “Next Level” progress bar when playing the popular online RPG game, Everquest, many years ago?

7. Implement User Data During Onboarding

Research suggests that when a person hears their own name, this triggers brain activation patterns that are different from when a person hears someone else’s name.

It’s generally recognized that calling someone by their name will make them more engaged in the conversation. In fact, mentioning the recipient’s name in an email subject line can boost open rates by as much as 20%.

Since names, as well as other personal information, are recorded early in the onboarding process – there is plenty of time for this information to be conveyed back to the user, which makes onboarding more personal and engaging.

8. Consider Social Logins


In a study by Janrain, it was found that 92% of people have left a website when they can’t remember their username or password, instead of resetting or recovering their login information.

Likewise, research by Microsoft shows that the average human has a shorter attention span than a goldfish.

People don’t want to waste unnecessary time on anything, so if you can expedite your onboarding process, your users will be grateful.

By letting people sign up to your service using their Facebook or LinkedIn details, they’ll spend less time inputting personal data (which can be tedious).

Wisely, many companies allow potential employees to sync their job applications with their LinkedIn profiles, since entering work experience and resume information is not much fun – especially when you’re applying to multiple jobs.

9. Allow Users to Add Teammates

For applications that are dependant on social connections, such as social media and project management software, it’s important for users to be able to find their friends and teammates quickly.

Slack, a popular collaboration tool, encourages new users to send email invitations to their teammates as part of the onboarding process.


When new users are encouraged to bring their teammates to the application, this enables them to work more effectively but also acts as a subtle referral program – which helps to sustain the Slack brand.

Even if the new user doesn’t stick with Slack, there is a good chance that the teammates who were invited will continue to use the application for their own projects in the future.

10. Finish With a CTA

At the end of your onboarding process, it’s important to implement a compelling call-to-action in order to kickstart the user’s relationship with your application.

Just think, what is the first action you want a new user to take once they’ve signed up?

For example, social media scheduling application, Buffer, asks for your email address and encourages users to click an appealing “Get Started!” button. This will take you to Buffer’s user interface where you can schedule your first tweet.


Can you think of any other strategies for improving the user onboarding process? Please let me know in the comments below.

About the Author: Aaron Agius is an experienced search, content and social marketer. He has worked with some of the world’s largest and most recognized brands, including IBM, Coca-Cola, Target and others, to build their online presence. See more from Aaronat Louder Online, his blogFacebookTwitterGoogle+ and LinkedIn