Guiding new users with an onboarding process

User, or more accurately customer success, is not guaranteed just because your application has a great test suite or an amazing interface. Deliberately guiding them through steps to learn your application and establish familiarity helps improve user - and customer - success.

How do you teach new users, or even existing users, about features on our web application?

There are a few ways to approach this and they converge into an onboarding process. We’re going to focus on a couple that are really onboarding specific.

There are other ways to approach educating users about your app’s features. This includes help documentation that you may have written for users that is available as an HTML file or in some sort of helpdesk software. There’s also video demonstrations on how to use the application, how certain features work, etc. The important thing here is how to guide and prepare new users to your app.


When we’re talking about onboarding specifically, we really mean that delivery is at a certain time. Thats an important distinction, and it’s focused on getting the user started. With that in mind, we’re going to look at two different, basic components to onboarding. One is onboarding steps and the other is guided tours.

Onboarding Process Steps vs. Guided Tours

Onboarding steps are things that you either require a user to do or strongly encourage them to do. For example, you might want users to fill update missing form fields at different steps after they’ve signed up or fill out a profile. A guided tour is more pointing out features in the application, maybe how the interface works, or how certain processes can be done in the application. There’s usually some sort of interface library you’re going to integrate here.

The difference here is that with a guided tour, whether or not you can dismiss this, or whether or not you enforce a user seeing this tour, you’re not enforcing any actions from them. You don’t need to get them to do anything, you just need to show them - unless of course the tour itself is an onboarding step!

Using Both Onboarding Process Steps & Guided Tour

These onboarding methods are not mutually exclusive, you might want to use both. It really depends on what kind of application you have, in terms of what the UI looks like, and also what you’re doing with it. If it’s a complex business application, you may want to emphasize a tour. Showing how the interface works may be important for users with strong preconceived notions of how to accomplish tasks they are used to working on outside of your application.

If you a socially interactive tool you may need to have onboarding steps that enforce or strongly encourage the reminders that they take these steps, for example completing a profile or adding their first connection.

The distinction is that onboarding steps are about getting users to do something and the feature tour is about showing them something. The goals are fairly similar from your perspective. It is to make sure they can use the application and do everything they need to, to be successful.

Measuring Onboarding Success

The answer to ‘how you do you measure onboarding success’ is it depends.

Metrics might include number of returns, time spent using the application, trial conversion, renewals, or even upgrades. For instance, you might see that when users actually complete these steps, they are 3x more likely to renew.

The actions measured against these metrics should include level of completion of the onboarding process or tour, time spent in the onboarding process, and then some kind of defined immediate success (such as trial conversion).

In either case once you’ve identified at least one metric you’ll need to identify how to record the data. This can be done with third-party analytics services like Google Analytics or Kissmetrics, and in many case quite serviceably in your own application. While this does add another component to your app there’s tremendous power in having direct access to your data to query and analyze on your own terms.

Remember that conversions and renewals are only proxies for the ultimate goal which is empowering your customers and making them successful. If you’re not working toward that then there’s a limit to what onboarding can do for you.

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