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App Development


Mobile App Onboarding Best Practices

Retaining users has always been the challenge of any app. Getting them through the door is one thing but keeping them is another. Localytics reports that 71% of all app users churn within 90 days.

One reason why users might abandon an app is lack of understanding about how to use it and get the most value from it. The fastest way to communicate this is through the first thing users see after downloading your app, which is typically a unique flow shown in their very first session, or a carousel that is visible to all users before signing in.

What makes a good onboarding depends on many factors such as target users, app category, and what you're trying to achieve first. What works for one app might not work for yours, and what appears to be awesome from the outside might actually be broken once you dig into the attrition numbers. Ultimately, the best way to land the right onboarding flow for your app and users is to continuously test and iterate.

There won't be a one-size-fits-all onboarding, but here are some common approaches to inspire you.

Mobile app onboarding best practice 1: Highlight emotional value

Your onboarding flow is the first thing that your users see. That first contact is essential to making an emotional connection with your users and  piquing interest in your app to motivate them to continue using it.

Many brands choose to use this space to highlight the value that their app offers. This means not only showcasing how it works, but more importantly, reflecting why it's important to the lives of its users.

Evernote has a great example of a value-oriented onboarding flow. The first screen communicates an aspirational benefit, followed by a functional message, and a third screen that combines the two. All together, the flow tells a story about how Evernote improves the lives of its users.

mobile app onboarding evernote
Evernote's mobile app onboarding flow

After swiping through these messages, users are then prompted to sign up.

This approach helps new users imagine how your app fits into their world and makes them more likely to get started with your app.

Mobile app onboarding best practice 2: Showcase competitive features

Highlighting the value your app offers is just one way of going about onboarding. You can also choose to focus on the core functionality and competitive features of your app to give new users a clear and quick understanding of what your app offers. Instead of emotional benefits, this approach leans into showcasing your app's killer features, ideally ones that your competitors lack.

The music app TIDAL does this effectively.

mobile app onboarding tidal
Tidal's mobile app onboarding flow

When you open up the TIDAL app for the first time, you will be greeted with teasers of what's inside. These screens highlight the music app’s strongest features, including hi-fi sound quality, high-def music videos, and offline mode. Users are then prompted to sign up or log in so that they can access these features for themselves.

Mobile app onboarding best practice 3: Deliver the first 'a-ha moment'

Every app serves a purpose. Regardless of what that purpose is (fun, getting info, purchasing items), there is always a user success metric. The first success users achieve in an app gives them a tangible appreciation for why they downloaded the app in the first place. This "A-ha Moment" is when users get what this app does and why they should care. Users that reach that moment are more likely to continue engaging in the app and less likely to churn than those that don't.

The gaming industry excels at interactive onboarding flows that teach new users how to play the game by guiding them through simple step-by-step actions that eventually deliver their first A-ha Moment.

Crash Royale's mobile app onboarding

Clash Royale has a great tutorial that leads new users to their first success moment through mediated game play to quickly win their first battle.

mobile app onboarding games
Crash Royale's mobile app onboarding

Guide your users to their first success as fast as possible, and you're more likely to retain them.

Mobile app onboarding best practice 4: personalize it for your users

People like feeling special, and new users of your app are no different. Adding personalization to your onboarding flow helps your users feel like your app is made just for them.

A great example of a personalized onboarding flow is the free language learning app Duolingo.

mobile app onboarding duolingo
Duolingo's mobile app onboarding flow

As soon as you download and open the app, you are met with a series of personalization options. You pick which language you want to learn, your daily learning goals, and your current skill level.

A customized onboarding flow helps new users feel personally welcome, gives them the feeling that the rest of their experience will be specially tailored exactly to their needs and desires, and encourages them to move forward in your app.

Also: determine your signup flow

Your onboarding flow doesn't live in a vacuum, so you'll also need to think about how it connects to signups. Here are three common signup flows, each with their own benefits and tradeoffs.

  1. Immediate sign up: This completely locks access to the app behind signup and verification. This works best for popular apps with strong recognition, since they have enough consumer trust and brand equity to ask users to sign up right away. An unknown app asking for signup out of the gate could push users away as they likely won't give up their information so abruptly.
  2. Interrupted sign up: Another option is to grant app access after minimal signup. Typically, new users only have to share one piece of information like their email address, and then they are given complete access to the app and can finish the signup process later. This signup flow is a middle-ground option that helps with early conversions.
  3. Try before you buy: The last one grants immediate access to the app without signup. This works great for apps that are still new and unknown because it allows users to experience the app first and then sign up later, which they are more likely to do if they enjoyed using the app.

Additional mobile app onboarding considerations

  • Progress status: You can indicate the stage where the user is in your onboarding process. This lets them know how much longer it's going to take and how much they’ve completed.
  • Opt-out: You can let your users skip or leave the onboarding if they wish. This gives them more control over their app experience. Some users might also be familiar with your app already.
  • Check out: Subscribing and paying for a plan might be part of your new user onboarding flow.
  • Multi-session users: For users who start but don't complete your onboarding, you can send push notifications and emails to bring them back to your app and continue where they left off.

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