How to get the biggest profit out of mobile app onboarding

How to get the biggest profit out of mobile app onboarding

How to get the biggest profit out of mobile app onboarding
Sofiia Kuzmina
Editor at InAppStory

According to statistics, more than 20% of customers who have installed and launched your application will never return to it after the first use. To keep from losing your user’s attention at the first stage of getting acquainted with your platform, it is worth considering using mobile app onboarding.


In fact, app onboarding is the first thing a user sees and interacts with in a mobile application. It can include a short text or video with instructions, hints about where the most popular sections are, or even elements of mobile games in order to involve the user in the functionality of the application. Sometimes onboarding is also launched for old users after a new update in order to tell them about new features.


In this article, we explain (and clearly show) why an onboarding process is needed, in which applications it is especially valuable, and what is important to consider when using this feature to get the maximum profit for your business.


How onboarding helps to achieve business goals in mobile apps


Increase of conversions in the sales funnel


The main goal of any entrepreneur is to get people to buy their product or services. This means that right when new users are getting acquainted with the platform, you should think about how to nudge them towards becoming your loyal customers.


A good example in this sense is the meditation and stress relief app Calm. Upon first logging into the application, the user will be immediately presented with a choice of issues that they would like to solve with the help of meditations, and then asked to answer a few questions to personalize the collection of content. At the end, there is also an offer to immediately try the premium subscription for free, so that users do not need to look for this section in the application itself.


calm app onboarding
How the Calm app greets the user


So, the service immediately tells users what they will gain by using it regularly, but at the same time it does not overload them with a ton of new information. On the contrary, it puts their own personality and interests at the forefront, and only at the end does it offer a paid subscription. By the way, one more important detail: if you wish, you can skip the entire welcome part, i.e. the user is not forced to view all the onboarding screens.


This service is used by over 60 million people, of whom two million have paid for a subscription, and the number is constantly growing, which means that this comfortable onboarding strategy works.


Drive user retention in the application


It is important that the person who launches the application for the first time comes back to it again and again. In order not to discourage them from using the product right away, you should come up with onboarding that is not overloaded with unnecessary information about the application.


Think about what is important for the user to know right away, what can they figure out on their own along the way, how to involve a potential client in the application, and how to generate interest in it. A classic example of onboarding that does this brilliantly is Duolingo, a foreign language learning app.


duolingo onboarding
This owl will make sure you get to the end of the course


When users first log into the application, they are greeted by a cute owl mascot. She accompanies the user through several welcome screens where they can choose a language to study and indicate their level and goals. A progress bar is displayed at the top of the screen showing how many screens are left.

Immediately after the onboarding, the first lesson is launched for the user so that the process is almost effortless. And only after the first lesson there will be a small notification about what the premium version includes and an offer to try it for free.


These steps do not take much time: you can choose your goals and complete the first lesson in 3-5 minutes. At this stage, the application completely grabs the user's attention: they are interested in what will happen next, and there is a high probability they will return to the application to continue their studies. It is not for nothing that the daily number of active users of this application exceeds 40 million people.

Highlight app features


In some applications with unique or rather complex functionality, you can’t do without some kind of product tour with brief instructions on where you can find certain features. A good example of onboarding which briefly explains the functionality of the entire application, is the corporate messaging application Slack.


slack onboarding
What onboarding looks like in the Slack app


There are only four screens and no unnecessary information: adjusting to the needs of the audience, Slack onboarding saves the user's time as much as possible as they get to know the application.


The first two screens talk about the main functionality: channels and chats in which you can communicate with colleagues. The next slide introduces the new user to examples of widgets integrated into the application, such as syncing with Google Calendar and importing tweets and images. At the end, Slack gives you a quick guide on how to get started with the messenger. After such clearly structured information, the user already knows what their next actions should be, which makes it easier to navigate further within the application.


Collect information about the target audience for subsequent segmentation


In banking (and many other) applications, users cannot continue without entering the minimum information about themselves: name, phone number, age, etc. This is necessary in order for the client to gain access to their personal account and other data.


In such applications, registration is required, and it should also be built into the onboarding, since unregistered users simply cannot do anything in the application. For example, without registering or logging into an account, you can't do anything with Instagram.


instagram onboarding
Instagram greets users with a registration form


On Instagram, after registering and finding friends, the onboarding continues – you are invited to subscribe to celebrities and famous influencers from special collections based on interests from your Facebook account and friends' subscriptions.


What can app onboarding look like (examples)?


It is customary to distinguish three types of onboarding in a mobile application:

  • Emphasis on the benefits of the service. How is your product useful to the user?
  • Focus on functionality. The functions of the application that you want to show to the user.
  • Progressive onboarding. Platform tours using pop-ups and tooltips while interacting with the product.


Depending on the goal you want to achieve with onboarding, not only does the type of onboarding change, but also the format. Here are the most common ones.

Static cards


A small story in which the user can only switch between slides or follow a link. In this option, it is better to limit yourself to 3-5 slides so that the user can scroll through the story to the end. This format is used in the Netflix application and in other services where the functionality is simple and understandable to the user in advance.


netflix onboarding slides
Netflix Benefit Cards


Usually, cards tell users about the benefits of the service. However, in this format, you can also briefly talk about the functions of the application. The main thing is not to overdo it with the amount of information and scare away users at the first stage.


Demo video


In the video format, you can also talk about the benefits that the application will bring to the user, and about the main functionality, and even conduct a short tour of the product. Nevertheless, keep in mind that you should also not stretch the video timing. As an example, here you can see how the self-development service Masterclass, which specializes in lessons from famous people on a variety of topics, did it.


Step-by-step instructions


You can also make a platform (or product) tour in the most native format. Instead of greeting cards, the user is greeted with the actual application interface, on which certain functions are highlighted, and their descriptions can be read in tooltips. See , for example, what it looks like in the LitRes application:


LitRes onboarding
This is how the elements in the LitRes application are highlighted


Getting to know the app through actions


The user is immediately helped to "feel" the functionality of the application in practice, once it has learned something of their interests. This is how Duolingo and Calm from the examples above work, as well as many other applications such as Flipboard.


flipboard onboarding
Flipboard onboarding immediately allows you to select topics of interest to you


Is it possible to do without mobile app onboarding screens in the application at all?


The short answer is yes, but there are nuances. In-app onboarding is definitely necessary in the following cases:

  • The application will not work without information provided by the user, for example, for banks or brokerage organizations.      
  • For correct operation, you need to find out the users’ preferences, for example with a fitness application or a music service.      
  • There is no other application with the same functionality or the interface elements are very different from other similar solutions.      
  • The app has new features that are important to tell users about.      


There are several reasons why onboarding can harm an application. First, interaction with onboarding (even clicking the "Skip" button) is an additional action that not every person is happy to perform. Secondly, at the stage when it is not yet clear whether someone will use the application, few people will want to learn about the functionality in detail – on the contrary, inappropriate training will only scare off a potential client. Third, if the product is already simple enough, an abundance of instructions and highlighting of functions can be annoying.


What is important to consider if you are planning to add user onboarding to a mobile application?


In order for user onboarding flows to fulfill its function and not alienate customers, you need to know exactly the needs of your target audience and which of them your product is capable of covering. Creating high-quality onboarding consists of the following steps:

  • Get to know your target audience - Find out key information about your most common users (age, gender, location, etc.) and design the onboarding to cater to their demographic. If you don’t already have existing users, you can find out the demographics from similar apps.
  • Determine the motivation of the audience - Why do the users need your product or service? Do they use your application for entertainment purposes, or are they driven by the need to solve a problem?
  • Position the product correctly - What is the value of your product and what benefits can you show to demonstrate its value to the user?
  • Set a goal - What business goal do you want to achieve with onboarding? Increase conversion, keep users in the application, teach complex functionality to as many customers as possible, or collect the necessary data to more accurately fine-tune the interface for different user groups?
  • Choose the right format - Based on the goal you set in the previous step, choose the format that will most easily demonstrate the benefits of the product or its functionality. Is it enough to launch one story listing the main advantages of the service, or is it worth adding a short tour of the product in one form or another? Choose what is right for you.
    Do not pressure the user - Provide an opportunity to choose whether to watch the onboarding to the end or skip it (in whole or in part). If cards are used as onboarding, they can be placed in the interface of the application itself so that the user can return to them later. For example, you can place them in the Stories feed – a special section on the main page of the application in which you can post short lifestyle notes, videos, and tests – in the format of cards with graphics and text. Tutorials can also be added to the app, for example in the "Help" section.
  • Measure the results and do not be afraid to change something in the process - How many people are browsing your onboarding to the end? Has the number of repeated sign-ins increased? Use all available metrics to compare performance. If there is an opportunity to improve the user 's first acquaintance with the platform, feel free to make changes. This way you will find out what works best with your target audience.

All in All


Remember that good onboarding is like a flight attendant on an airplane: it helps you to get comfortable, tells you the basic rules and doesn’t bother you with its presence if you don’t need its services. Continuing the analogy, be friendly, responsive, and unobtrusive – your customers will appreciate it.


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