Can you think of a time you wished you asked for help before you made a mistake? Maybe you’d still have eyebrows if someone warned you not to use a gallon of gasoline to kick-start that bonfire 😬. The thing is, when you're trying something new (digitally or IRL) it's easy to get lost.
Users sign up for your product with the best intentions—but are you designing your welcome experience with their best intentions in mind? We see too many companies distract new users with bells and whistles before they’ve got a basic understanding of how to use their product in the first place.
Enter in-app messaging: your handy solution to save users from themselves (and churn).
What is in-app messaging?
In-app messages (also known as in-product messages) are the different ways you communicate with customers while they’re using your product. Ever receive a welcome message after you signed up for something? Or get a notification trying to close out of a feature announcement window? Then you’ve seen an in-app message. In-app messages are handy because they’re hard to ignore—and because users don't have to opt in to view them. Product teams integrate these messages into the entire app experience so they're not left wondering how users engage with a specific feature.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a quality product nowadays that doesn’t use in-app messaging. Users appreciate in-app guidance that answers their questions without having to leave an app—and product teams love having versatility in customer communication. A quick tooltip can provide much-needed context to create a smoother customer experience with minimal disruption. Meanwhile, a splash screen alerts active users to important changes that can drastically change how a product is used.
In-app messaging approaches by UI pattern
A peek under your product data-hood should reveal where new users drop off during onboarding, where they experience friction in your UX, and what features they have trouble finding or figuring out. Once you identify where you're losing users, you can leverage an in-app messaging strategy to save them.Let's dive into different in-app messaging approaches to help you determine which one is right for your customer:
Product tours educate new users about the functionality of your app while highlighting useful features. You can think of them like the out-of-the-box instruction manual that shows you how to get started with a new product.
Banners, tooltips, slideouts, and modals
These patterns are especially helpful for notifying users of product updates, providing upsell prompts, and encouraging referrals. Slideouts and modal windows can fast track users from your home screen to your most valuable feature (but once you get’em there, they won’t stick around if they don’t how to use your product).
Chats give users the opportunity to get real-time assistance and quick access to information. Not every company has the bandwidth to keep up with real-time chat, so keep that in mind before deploying this approach.
Notes are tops for announcing new feature releases, bug fixes, and product improvements. They can shape shift into simple pop-up modals or full-screen experiences.
Splash screens or pages are displayed for just a few seconds before users get to the home screen of a product. If you need to keep users up to date or promote something shiny, then a Splash screen could be the pattern you’ve been looking for.
The benefits of in-app messaging
There’s nothing but upside to consistently delivering a choice product experience. Happy users stick around—reducing churn rate and providing opportunities for upsell. Investing in tools that minimize confusion and improve your overall customer experience are always worth it—and there’s no tool more versatile than the in-app message.
Used wisely, in-app messages will:
Increase product adoption
If users don’t immediately pick up the product value that you’re putting down, then you risk losing their interest. 77% of users churn from mobile apps within three days of installation—so you can’t afford leaving users to find their aha moment up to chance.
In-app messaging provides a simple and scalable solution for ongoing product adoption. Tooltips provide context to users to get the ball rolling. Meanwhile, hotspots highlight relevant content with minimal disruption. A successful in-app messaging approach helps you connect with users more consistently throughout their journey. (Not to mention this approach feels more natural and kinda serves an extension of the user experience vs. a manufactured, one-off marketing push.)
Boost feature adoption
New features pack more value into your product and can keep long-time users coming back for more. However, releasing a new feature doesn’t guarantee anyone’s going to see it (or understand how to use it).
There are many ways to announce a new feature, but we think in-app messages are tops. That’s because an in-app message reaches users while they’re…well, while they’re in the app.
The versatility of in-app messages enables you to create announcements that whisper or scream at your users. A mind-blowing feature that changes the game might call for an all-caps, fill-up-your-home-screen modal window. Alternatively, a new feature that’s relevant to a few niche users might use a less disruptive tooltip.
5 best practices for in-app messaging
So much of the communication a company sends comes in isolated bursts. A customer clicks on an ad and days later, they receive a welcome email after signing-up. Months after that, they open a “We miss you!” email if they’ve become less active. There’s a delicate balance between helping users and bothering them with too much information. But the more relevant your in-app messages are, the less likely users will dismiss them as SPAM.
Follow these tips to craft a thoughtful in-app communication strategy that moves the needle at each step.
Use concise language
Keep user’s attention by keeping things simple. Craft messages that get to the point quickly—and share intel that’s relevant to users only when they actually need it. The less text users have to sift through, the more they’re able to focus on the purpose of your message.
Personalize your messages
It doesn’t make sense to take a power user through an onboarding walkthrough or display an upsell prompt to a newly onboarded user. In both scenarios, your message isn’t relevant to your audience.
Instead, target the appropriate audience through user segmentation—allowing you to deliver personalized messages that are unique to their current sitch. Group your customers based on their in-app behaviors and send each group the messages that address their current needs.
Time each message appropriately
The right message to a user at the wrong time is almost as bad as never reaching them at all. Make sure that your in-app messages appear at a time that gels with the user’s experience. For example, you could introduce a new feature that you want users to explore on your app’s home screen. The reveal of the feature as soon as they log in minimizes the risk of disrupting their flow once they get deeper into your product.
Send messages in the middle of a user’s experience only to offer assistance. For instance, you could display a subtle tooltip when users explore your latest feature to give them some pointers on how to best utilize it. That kind of in-app message serves to alleviate any potential frustration with your product.
Create a clear call to action
Your in-app messages should end with a call to action (CTA) that lets them know what to do next. Clear CTAs not only tell users what actions you want them to take, but they also give users an opportunity to later re-engage with the feature or product tour you announced in your message.
Zapier actually includes two CTAs in the example below. This gives users the option of finding out more about its Teams feature or the ability to hop right into the thick of it. Either action will push the user deeper into the product and closer to finding its value.
Get feedback from your users
In-app messages aren’t just a way for you to share updates. You can use them to get some intel from your customers, too. If you want to see how users feel about your product’s mobile experience, you could display a quick survey within a modal as users leave your app that asks them to rate their experience. You’re likely to get a better response rate to a survey presented in your app than one that’s delivered to customers via email.
4 in-app messaging use cases
In-app messages have become commonplace in apps because they can do so much in such a small space. While the uses of messaging are limited only by your imagination, the most common strategies include:
In-app messaging for new user onboarding
User onboarding helps users receive value from a product as quickly as possible. It looks different from product to product. For instance, Canva uses persona-based paths to steer users to the right features. Meanwhile, Google Workspace uses guided product walkthroughs to show a bird’s-eye view of the best features.Your user onboarding process should accomplish two things:
- Welcomes new users and makes them confident that they made the right decision choosing your product.
- Urges users to continue on to next steps and take meaningful actions.
Take Basecamp. It greets users with a simple, informative welcome message and a brief product walkthrough. Basecamp keeps the walkthrough focused on a few critical tasks to ensure speedy and easy adoption. Additionally, the conversational tone and cheerful logo make the experience positive—and positively memorable.
In-app messaging to convert free trial and freemium users
Many SaaS companies offer a free trial or freemium version of their product, which initiates user onboarding long before someone forks over their credit card information. These models allow users to experience value before making a financial commitment. However, that puts the onus on product teams to demonstrate relentless proof of value right out of the gate alongside continuous soft sells.
Slack uses in-app messaging to encourage users to upgrade to a paid plan. This messaging is seamless—and crazy effective, with paid membership increasing by 25% between 2019 and 2020. This is one of the first prompts that users see once their team hits the 10k searchable message limit for free plans:
Similar messages appear as users navigate through the product and take relevant actions, like browsing through channels and performing a search:
Slack does an excellent job of showing these upgrade prompts in the right places and at the right times. The messages manage to come off as both persuasive to the users who are ready to upgrade and unobtrusive to those who aren’t.
Interested in learning more about how to turn freemium members into paying customers? Then be sure to check out our Free-to-Paid conversion course in our Product Adoption Academy!
In-app messaging for long-term engagement
It’s never too early to start sowing the seeds of long-term engagement. The all-important aha moment is a worthy goal post for user onboarding. However, it often takes a series of subsequent wins before customers consider your product truly indispensable.
Once users complete core actions and understand your product’s value, you should help them stay successful (and loyal!) with lifecycle nudges. Quora uses in-app messaging to organically guide newbies toward power-user status. As user engagement ramps up, the messaging changes. Each message asks users to perform just one action, but clearly, Quora aims to get its users addicted.
Quora displays a progress bar early on in the journey that’s never quite full. Most users will want to fill in the rest of the progress bar and discover some top-notch answers from the community. Quora uses a message to let users know that updating their interests will give them access to more personalized content:
Quora then prompts users to integrate the platform with other social media sites:
And soon afterward, Quora gives users even more control and influence over how they shape the platform to their needs by inviting them to take questions from their followers:
In-app messaging for power usage and growth
Your regular users can also benefit from thoughtful in-app messaging. Even the most loyal app users know there’s an ever-growing list of quality SaaS products on the market, which means they’re potentially just a few clicks away from churning. You need constant value delivery to keep your customers happy.
Referral programs engage regular users, increase customer loyalty, and grow your user base. Caviar cleverly integrates a referral prompt into a slideshow on its homepage. The slideshow grabs a user’s attention without interfering with their browsing experience:
Caviar even went a step further, allowing users to minimize the slideshow in favor of a simple but effective banner:
Upsells and referrals are often best served by subtle UX patterns. These are not core actions, and you'll achieve better results with unobtrusive but enticing messaging rather than flashy modals that might interrupt a user's workflow.
In-app messaging resources for continued learning
Quality messaging improves UX at every stage of the customer journey. Your product constantly evolves, so you’ll need to build and iterate your messages throughout your product’s lifetime. Take a look at some of the best resources for honing your in-app message-writing skills, all straight from the Appcues archives:
In-app messaging tips from the pros
The companies featured in these articles are in the trenches, testing and learning and iterating on what works best for their users. Even though every product is different, these best practices hit on principles that can be applied to almost any SaaS company:
- The dos and don’ts of in-app notifications
- 10 best in-app messaging examples that engage users
- 10 tooltip examples to help level up your in-app messaging
How to use in-app messaging for growth experiments
Once you know what tactics work for other companies, you’ll need to find out what works within the context of your own unique product. Check out these experiments and case studies for ideas on how to take action:
- Why product marketing managers can run more growth experiments with in-app messaging
- We implemented this one in-app message and increased sales demos by 50%
- How to earn more in-app revenue, right now
How to use in-app messaging for product updates
Product update announcements are tricky. You want to inform your users of the new features that your team has been working on. However, you don’t want to annoy them or give them extra work. These resources are from SaaS experts on how to use in-app messaging for product updates that will excite your users without driving them bonkers:
- 9 things to consider before writing your next product release post
- Hiten Shah on how to announce product updates
Choose the right tool to build your in-app messages
In-app messages might look simple by design, but some of the most helpful formats can require a good deal of coding to construct. Some companies use in-house engineers to build them from scratch. Resource-constrained businesses might hire third-party developers to build their UI patterns—which can quickly get expensive depending on how many messages you need.
Luckily, there’s an easier way to do it. No-code tools exist to provide you with hassle-free methods for building in-app messaging. Appcues specifically enables you to create seamless in-app messaging experiences that appear native to your app. Whether you’re streamlining your user onboarding process or promoting your latest feature, Appcues will help you build in-app messages that will help retain users and boost product adoption.