Last updated on 20th November 2023
Onboarding is a make-or-break component of the user experience that teaches people how to use your product while building value. Many product companies struggle with user retention; high numbers of new customers sign up, but after spending only a short period of time in the product, they leave and don’t return.
This churn – especially within a user’s first few interactions – is usually due to an uncompelling, confusing or inadequate onboarding experience.
If you’re working to improve your retention rates and want to create an onboarding experience that gets your users to stick around, we’ve created this guide to onboarding best practices.
What is onboarding?
“User onboarding is the process of increasing the likelihood that new users become successful when adopting your product.”Onboarding Expert: Samuel Hulick
More granularly, onboarding is the initial experience that helps new customers learn how to navigate through different features of your product while building value and improving retention. Let’s break each of these onboarding functions down.
Educating new users
You only get one chance to make a first impression with a new user, and onboarding aims to maximise that opportunity. The functional purpose of onboarding is to help users quickly understand how to use your product when interfacing with it for the first time.
Post Funnel even found that 30% of user drop-off was due to the customer not understanding the product. Without context and instruction, customers can quickly become frustrated and look to your competitors to offer a more easy-to-use solution.
Quality onboarding will not only serve as an educational tool, but will also communicate the value of your product to your new users. In the same study, Post Funnel found that 30% of user churn is a result of customers not seeing the value in the product.
If your customer doesn’t understand the purpose of your product or its benefits, your value is immediately at stake. As they tour your product for the first time, your customers should understand how your product makes their lives easier.
Retention is critical to building a sustainable business, and reducing churn is top-of-mind for most product and marketing teams. Elegant Themes found that a mere 1% difference in retention can have as much as a 12% impact on a company’s valuation 5 years down the road, meaning onboarding isn’t simply an enhancement to your user experience, but a strategic business function.
Onboarding takes place primarily when new visitors are acclimating to your product, but should also be incorporated into the product experience as your product features set grows. Here are the three main places where onboarding takes place:
1. Sign-up funnels
The onboarding experience begins the moment your potential customer starts the sign-up process. Welcome them by making your sign-up flow as quick and painless as possible, incorporating the fewest number of steps and data fields as you can. For a great example, take a look at Shopify’s signup page; this simple design only asks people for an email address, password and store name.
2. New user education
Once a visitor beings using your product for the first time, you should use different onboarding techniques (discussed more in detail in our next section) to help them acclimate as quickly as possible. Facebook does this well as they guide new users through launching their account and completing their profile.
3. New feature launches
Onboarding doesn’t stop after your customer learns the basics of your product. As you launch new features, use onboarding to show them how to make the most of your product enhancements. That’s exactly what Hightail, a creative asset management platform, did when they launched a new set of file sharing features.
Now that we’ve covered Onboarding 101, let’s discuss what makes some onboarding experiences great, and why some fail to achieve the three goals we mentioned above. The best onboarding experiences share these qualities:
– They’re clear, simple and easy to use: Onboarding should facilitate a simplified user experience, not stand in the way of it. Someone who has never heard of your product should be able to complete your onboarding without a single obstacle.
– They use on-brand messaging: Having a beautiful onboarding experience is only part of the equation. Your copy should be equally as thoughtful as your interface. The onboarding experience should match the tone you’ve developed for your brand in other materials, so don’t be afraid to add some personality to your onboarding copy.
– They delight the user: Adding delight to the user experience is a popular conversation in product design. Yes, your product should solve a problem for your customers – but why not add a few moments of joy and excitement along the way?
– They’re just long enough: There’s a lot of nuance involved in onboarding; without enough instruction, your customers will be left with questions and may abandon your product in search of something that’s easier to use. However, too much onboarding can be equally as frustrating, preventing a user from digging into your product when they’re ready to.
There’s no cut-and-dry formula for creating the ultimate onboarding experience. While you should follow the best practices above, you should also continually iterate to improve your onboarding experience. As with other marketing initiatives like your website, email campaigns or social media profiles, you can (and should) complete market research and A/B test your onboarding.
One company found that simply adding a welcome message to their onboarding experience boosted conversions by 17%, proving that even seemingly insignificant user experience enhancements can have a drastic impact on retention, and thus your bottom line.
5 popular onboarding methods
There are many different ways you can onboard users to your product; here are the five most popular methods you can incorporate yourself, along with great examples of each technique in action.
Modals are pieces of content that lay on top of the interface to display extra content. Popular types of modals include popups, slideouts and alerts. Modals can be an effective way to onboard new customers by providing text, image and video content at key moments during the user experience.
Modals can be triggered when a visitor lands on a page, scrolls to a specific piece of content or completes a certain action, making them highly relevant and contextual. However, pop-up modals interrupt the experience and can sometimes be more of a burden than a blessing. Overcome this obstacle by using modals strategically and infrequently, and by making it easy and obvious for a user to close the modal and return to the main interface.
One great modal example comes from project management giant Atlassian. Their onboarding modal allows new users to scroll through product features and even includes in-modal links where customers can dive deeper into a specific feature. Best of all, the content is clean, simple, easy to exit, and doesn’t cognitively overwhelm the user.
2. Coach marks
Coach marks are a popular onboarding technique that involve overlaying a gradient on top of your product interface. This method can be great for showing users how to use buttons to navigate through your product or complete different actions.
Coach marks also come with a downside. This technique is notorious for causing cognitive overload; showing too many instructions at one time means most users can’t understand and retain all the information you’re displaying.
One company that’s mastered the art of the coach mark is Foursquare. They overcome the obstacles typically associated with coach marks by showing only a single coach mark on one screen, reducing cognitive overload for users.
3. Tool tips
Tooltips are contextual overlays that appear when a cursor is positioned over a button, icon, link or other type of content. They provide users with an extra bit of information they need to learn the first time they use your product.
Tooltips have a lot of benefits; they’re a great persistent education tool that can provide hidden in-context education that’s available to users only when they want it. By making onboarding content available on hover, it gives the people more control without taking over the entire screen like a modal does. However, that benefit also comes with risk. Unless your interface makes it obvious that a tooltip is hiding behind a button, icon or linked text, users may miss it entirely, leaving them confused and frustrated.
One company that relies heavily on the power of tooltips is Slack. In the below example, as users tour the instant messaging application for the first time, Slack guides them through the left panel navigation, instructing them on how to add team members, send messages and more.
While you can rely on simple image-and-text tooltips to tell your story, many modern companies are elevating their onboarding experience by incorporating video into their tooltips. Wix has a great example of this in their onboarding experience that we’ll check out later in this guide.
Onboarding tutorials are an engaging way to quickly introduce new users to a wealth of different features. There are two types of tutorials: instructional and interactive. Instructional tutorials show a new user how to use your product in a video-style experience, while interactive tutorials involve the user, directing him or her to complete actions and use the actual product itself.
Tutorials have one distinct benefit over modals, tooltips and coach marks – they show how to use your product rather than telling, which helps educate users who likely don’t want to spend the time reading through lots of text instruction. However, for customers who want to dive right into the product, tutorials can create a frustrating intermediary step that they’d rather skip, so be sure you give them the ability to opt-out of your tutorial if they choose to.
We think graphic design tool Canva has a great instructional tutorial. New visitors can opt-in to watch a 23-second video that shows them how to get started with their first project. This tutorial features a cursor that demonstrates how to select a layout, add text and customise a design, and then gives control to the user to give it a go.
5. Email onboarding
For most companies, email onboarding is a critical component of new user and ongoing education. Emails are a great way to show people how to access certain features of your product or introduce new features. And since you already have those email addresses collected and ready to use, they can also be simple and cost-effective to implement. The downside to email onboarding is the same as the downside to all email marketing: it’s easy for a user to delete an email without reading or watching your content. For that reason, it’s best to pair email onboarding with other in-product techniques to ensure your retain information.
One company that leverages email onboarding to welcome new users is Customer.io, a customer interaction management tool. The company sends emails like the one below to introduce users to different features, and even includes a video to make it that much easier for customers to understand new information.
Building your onboarding stack
While there are many tools you can use to create the perfect onboarding experience, you should also be wary of using the right mix of tools. An onboarding experience that involves slideout modals, coach marks, alerts and tooltips can quickly become overwhelming. Instead, find the right way to communicate messages that works for your product, and be consistent throughout the onboarding process.
Why use video for onboarding?
Video is both an efficient and effective way to introduce people to new ideas and build value for your business, making it perfect for onboarding. 96% of people have watched an explainer video to learn more about a product or service, and 78% of people have been convinced to buy software or an app by watching a video, so it makes sense that many companies would work video into their onboarding process to create a more fun and engaging experience for new users. Here are three big reasons why winning onboarding experiences include video.
1. Video can explain complex ideas quickly and easily
You and your team live and breathe your product, so it makes sense that its features and functions are second nature to you. If you put yourself in the shoes of a new user, however, you can imagine how disorienting it is to visit your product for the first time without any knowledge about what it does or how to use it. Video can be a powerful tool for explaining the intricacies of your product and its benefits, and is much more stimulating and inviting than text on screen.
2. Video can replace dull text tutorials
Today’s digital consumers are impatient. They’re coming to your product to solve a problem, and if you can’t answer it quickly enough, they’ll find another company that can. 73% of people would rather use video to learn about a product than read text, which means you can keep your users around by replacing boring written tutorials with captivating, moving content.
3. Video shows your product in context
94% of marketers say video helps increase their users’ understanding of their product. Rather than describing your product in theoretical marketing language on your website, show off what your product actually does in action. With a screen-recorded video, you can give your new visitors a step-by-step walk through of your software or application to show them just how easy it is to use.
77% of users ditch an app only 72 hours after downloading it.Quettra
9 creative ways to use video for onboarding
You’re probably beginning to think about how and where you can use video to enhance your onboarding experience. We’ve taken care of that for you. Here are 9 smart and creative ways you can use video as you onboard new users.
1. Feature an onboarding video on your homepage
Onboarding begins the moment your customer visits your marketing site, making that the perfect place to feature an onboarding video. When Dropbox was growing their brand recognition, they wanted to make it easy for customers to understand the product without confusion. They overhauled their homepage to feature only an onboarding video and a download link – and they earned 5 million new customers and $24 million in revenue as a result. Check out the video as you consider incorporating an onboarding video into visitors’ first interactions with your website.
2. Welcome your users to your product with video
After your customers go through the signup process, don’t drop them into an interface they’ve never used to fend for themselves; instead, welcome them with a video that’s embedded directly into your product. Project.co, a project management tool (and our sister brand!) welcomes new visitors with a tutorial video housed in the dashboard.
This fun and friendly video teaches users how to navigate the software and get the most out of it from the get-go.
Fitbit also does a great job of ushering in new users with video. They embed a video right into the welcome modal of Fitbit Coach, the company’s personalised workout assessment tool. Their simple yet warm video creates a friendly vibe as its two narrators guide new users through setting up the product, making it easy for people to customise their profile without confusion.
3. Use video in your welcome email
After your users officially sign up for your product, you should immediately send them an email welcoming them to your product’s community. Why not optimise the experience with video? Welcome emails have 4x the open rate of most other kinds of emails, making them a great place to promote an onboarding video.
Wistia, a video hosting company, ran an A/B test to assess the effectiveness of using videos in email. They found that a video with a graphic at the top had a clickthrough rate (CTR) of only 12%, while the email version with a video at the top more than tripled that, earning a 38% CTR. As you consider adding onboarding videos to your welcome emails, check out this great onboarding video example from Wistia.
4. Add video to a tooltip
As customers navigate through your product, they’re going to look to tooltips to provide some help along the way. Why not make their journey easier with video? Video tooltips have a distinct advantage over text tooltips: they show instead of tell. Save your users time by replacing dry instructional copy with video that shows how to use your product in context.
Website builder Wix uses tooltip videos to show people how to complete common user actions. In this example, they show customers how to edit and add text – something that’s much easier to walk through visually than describe in words.
5. Explain your product’s features with video
Your product has a lot of features that enhance your customers’ experience, and video is the ideal channel for explaining those features and building value along the way. Whether you put your features video on your website, send it out in an email or embed it into the product itself, it’s a great method for helping customers understand the many ways your product can make their lives better.
Samsung has always had show-stopping videos, and the one they used to explain the features of the Galaxy A is no different. Notice how seamlessly they tell the story of the product and show off features.
6. Add video to your FAQ or Help section
You probably already have an FAQ section on your website, but since 73% of people would choose video over text when it comes to learning about a product, that section of your website could be more engaging with video. FAQ-style onboarding videos can also offset your customer support costs by getting ahead of popular issues; in fact, 49% of businesses say using video has helped them reduce support calls.
Fiverr, an online gig marketplace for small businesses, features dozens of videos in their Help section to answer common questions – like this video that teaches new buyers how to search for and find services.
7. Use video to launch new products and features
Onboarding is critical during the new user experience, but it doesn’t stop there. You should continue to onboard customers as your company evolves, introducing them to new products and features along the way. Rent the Runway, an online platform where people can rent designer dresses and accessories, used video to launch their new same-day delivery service. Check out how they weave their users’ problem into the video and position this new feature as the perfect solution.
8. Use video during critical decision-making moments
Generally speaking, there are four major decision-making moments during the customer onboarding process:
- – Their first interaction with your brand
- – The sign up process
- – The checkout process
- – Their first interaction with your product
If you can nail these interactions, you’re more likely to earn and retain a loyal user base.
Capital On Tap shows how you can use video during these significant milestones in their card activation video, where they walk new users through their first interaction with the product. In just 40 seconds, they explain the activation process and start the new customer’s journey on a positive note.
9. Use video during free trials
A free trial is a critical time in the customer life cycle. You have a limited amount of time to show your temporary customer how to use your product, how your product will enhance their life, and why they should pay for it. Squarespace shows how video can be a powerful tool during that process. After customers start a 14-day trial, then begin emailing a series of videos that show new users how to get started building their Squarespace site, making it easy for people to quickly acclimate to the tool.
A 1% difference in churn can have a 12% impact on company valuation in 5 yearsSaaS Capital
10 awesome onboarding video examples
There’s no need to start from scratch when planning your onboarding video. To make your process easier, we’ve collected 10 of the most compelling and effective onboarding videos so you can be inspired by the best of the best.
Likezoid is an app that helps aspiring influencers to grow their social following. It’s a free like exchange network that runs in the background, liking other people’s posts and earning users likes in return. It’s pretty simple, but that doesn’t mean it can’t benefit from a fun onboarding video to help new users get started. Likezoid’s onboarding video is quick and breaks everything down into a simple 3-step process.
Band is a mobile app that allows customers to create different channels to facilitate communication with a specific group of people like friends, family, and even sports teams. They use a simple, animated video to introduce new users to Band, showing how you can navigate through the app from the home screen to access different groups, post updates, add events and more. You’ll notice this video doesn’t include a voiceover. Instead, it relies on simple animations that show off the product without causing cognitive overload.
You’d expect nothing but marketing excellence from tech giant Uber, and when it comes to their driver onboarding video, they didn’t disappoint. This simple tutorial video welcomes new drivers to the app, showing them how to prepare for their first trip. Uber also incorporates helpful tips to add value and improve the driver experience, recommending things like the use of hazard lights and how to handle a ride with too many passengers. Not only do they do an excellent job of onboarding new drivers, but they add delight along the way, using fun, branded animation to make the viewing experience more enjoyable.
Similar to Uber, Grubhub created a video to onboard new drivers, but they took a very different approach. Their live-action video follows Patrick, an Grubhub driver, who chauffeurs viewers around as he completes a trip. Along the ride, Patrick shares tips and tricks to prepare new drivers for a successful experience. The video shares plenty of relevant information using a personal, friendly approach.
Sphere is a social media app that empowers people to connect with a wide range of people based on common interests, not just family and friends they already know. Because the social media space is both highly competitive and crowded, Sphere had a big task in front of them; they needed to set themselves apart, show off key differentiators and prove value for users. They did just that with their onboarding video. In it, they share the new user experience from the perspective of a customer testimonial, describing the sign-up process while inserting commentary about how easy the app is to use and the unique features it has.
LifeWorks is an employee engagement and wellness app that allows employers to recognise performance and dole out employee rewards. When it comes to their app onboarding video, LifeWorks takes an approach similar to Band. They let the interface speak for itself, showing key user actions with a blend of screen-recorded app content and beautiful, unique illustrations. The video is simple, engaging and fun to watch – everything a great onboarding video should be.
ExperienceFellow is an app that empowers people to give feedback about a product or experience anywhere, anytime. Businesses can then use that consumer data to learn from and improve their customer experience. In their onboarding video, ExperienceFellow walk a new user through the ins and outs of the app, showing several examples of times and places where you could leave a review about your experience at a hotel or restaurant, for example. The video is simple, short and sweet, never overcomplicating the app or its features. If we could rate this video on ExperienceFellow, we’d give it all positive reviews.
Revolut is a bank card and digital app combo for frequent international travelers that automatically converts money into local currency. Their onboarding video walks new users through the app from the perspective of an on-screen narrator. As the narrator covers the app’s key features, she also talks through several benefits like hassle-free and best-rate conversion to build value for viewers. We specifically love the combination of live-action video and app interface shots that show the app in-context and in real life.
Rubberstamp is an accounting and finance app that helps businesses create and approve purchase orders. They used this simple onboarding video in their sales funnel to earn new users and explain the benefits of the product before customers even signed up. We love their short and straightforward approach. As a smart final touch, this video drives potential customers to visit their website for a free demo.
Cintas supplies workwear for regulated industries like food service, automotive, healthcare and more. They offer customers a uniform delivery program, and created this video to introduce the platform. They explain the entire program – from uniform selection and fitting through cleaning and returns – in just two minutes. To spice things up, they add an energetic voiceover and punchy copy, proving that you don’t have to have a traditionally fun business to create fun videos.
Final thoughts on video as an onboarding tool
As you’re crafting your approach to onboarding, remember the key points we reviewed in this guide:
Be sure your onboarding strategy meets three key goals: 1) it educates new users, 2) it builds value, and 3) it improves retention.
Use onboarding at three key stages in the user experience: 1) the sign-up flow, 2) new user education, and 3) new feature launches.
Complete research and A/B testing to measure the success of your onboarding experience. Iterate as you learn from the results.
Remember the different types of onboarding tools you have at your disposal and craft the right combination for your product. Your options include:
- – Modals
- – Coach marks
- – Tooltips
- – Tutorials
- – Emails
Explain complex ideas, replace boring text tutorials, and show your product in context with onboarding videos. Add them to:
- – Your homepage
- – Your product
- – Welcome emails
- – FAQ and Help content
- – And more!
And of course, if you’re in need of some more information and examples, check out our onboarding videos page.