Personalizing User Onboarding is the Best Growth Hack in the Game

5 minute read

The first impression you make with new users can determine the trajectory of the overall customer journey.

Activation, which takes place when users first achieve the value you promised, has the largest impact on annual recurring revenue (ARR). Increasing activation by 25% can result in an almost 50% lift on revenue.


Given the importance of activation, best-in-class growth teams conduct relentless experiments aimed at improving activation rates. Among these, one of the most sure-fire strategies is personalizing your user onboarding UX.

Personalizing user onboarding can give you an edge in holding users’ interest and furthering them along the activation funnel. Companies like Pinterest, Canva, and LogMeIn have all discovered how revamping an existing onboarding process with greater personalization can improve the overall user experience and lead to higher retention rates.

Here are a few ways to add personalization to the first time user experience. 

Pepper in user data throughout your onboarding UX

Most sign-up forms ask for basic user information, such as name, role, and company. Sprinkling some of this data throughout the initial user experience can help make users feel more connected to your product.

One easy way to personalize the onboarding experience is to create a welcome page that calls users by their name. There are a number of possibilities to take this further. Coupled with a meaningful action or reminder of value, a “welcome {First name}” greeting can motivate users to make progress.

Jira uses a personalized greeting to welcome new users and nudge them towards building their profiles even further.

personalized user onboarding jira profile

Meditation app Insight Timer takes a slightly different approach and uses a personalized greeting to highlight social proof and its volume of offerings.

insight timer welcome page

Since products only have a few minutes to make an impression, providing a warm welcome with user data is a simple way to build familiarity with brand new users.

Segment to find deeper trends 

Calm, another meditation app, discovered an important insight by segmenting users into different categories with Amplitude. When they looked at the “language” segment, they found that there were large variations in conversion for non-English experiences. Thanks to this insight, they knew to prioritize the non-English onboarding process to boost the overall conversion rate.

Make Sure You Segment

Pinterest also used location-based personalization to improve their activation and retention rates. After receiving feedback that showed many new users were lost, Pinterestleveraged personalization to create a more interesting environment.

To tackle this, they analyzed common board topics and search queries for various countries, and worked with in-country experts to pinpoint which topics were content suggestions were most relevant on a country-by-country basis. 

Based on the topics the user selected, Pinterest further personalized the onboarding UX by highlighting popular content in the user’s language that had high engagement and recent board activity.

pinterest german onboarding

These changes helped Pinterest increase new user activation and retention by 5-10%. By creating a more personalized onboarding experience, they were able to more effectively retain new users who quickly discovered worthwhile, relevant content.

Give users more choices to get started

People will often have different use cases for your product that don’t easily correlate with their role or location. In these instances, giving users the option to choose how they want to get started will steer them in the right direction and minimize the chances of them getting lost in the product. 

After welcoming users into the product, Casengo gives users the option to select what they want to do first. Casengo also has an international user base and has built different onboarding experiences with Appcues based on the user’s language.

Casengo user onboarding modal options

Canva also uses Appcues-built modal windows with multiple options for new users. For users who want to design an invitation, Canva helps them get started by directing them towards two broad options for styles.

canva choices modal

Feature-rich products that serve a diverse user base can especially benefit from a self-select onboarding experience.

Set users on a path of success with a personalized plan

For products that help people with a far-reaching, daunting goal, the user onboarding experience doesn’t just have to convey the product’s value; it also has to boost the user’s confidence and make the goal seem feasible. 

Duolingo removes the friction of learning a new language by incorporating elements of personalization into its onboarding UX sequence. The app directs new users through personalized onboarding funnels that are tailored to different levels of experience.

personalized onboarding choices duolingo

From here, tooltips introduce different features based on the determined level of skill so that the getting started process is as quick and uncomplicated as possible.

duolingo personalized tooltip

Wealthfront has a notoriously difficult onboarding process. Users have to hand over at least $500 and their social security number before they can even access the product. To make the process as user-friendly as possible given the necessary friction involved, Wealthfront asks questions to tease out how people think about investing and provides a personalized financial plan.

wealthfront user onboarding plan

Fitness and health apps are also well-poised to use personal data to project goals for users. MyFitnessPal provides a diet and fitness plan for new users right after they sign up.

personalized plan beginners myfitnesspal

These personalized plans provide a boost of motivation towards goals that may otherwise seem impossible to tackle. 

Test new ideas for further improvements

Keep in mind that optimizing an onboarding experience with personalization isn’t a fast, one-time process. It requires ongoing testing and creative problem solving to achieve the best possible results.

Sean Ellis, a pioneer of growth hacking and founder and CEO of, found this to be true when working to improve user retention at LogMeIn. They faced a 90% drop off at the download step, and several A/B tests failed to fix the issue.

His team came together for weekly brainstorming sessions on how to reduce churn in which all ideas were encouraged to be shared. From these sessions, they built out an experiment doc that included the hypothesis, research, and target for each idea.

setting and achieving growth goals

Working through proposed solutions, their next text resulted in a 300% improvement. 

Optimizing onboarding UX with personalization is an ongoing process that has to be examined from the customer’s perspective. Spotting the gaps in experience is the first part of the equation, but then you need to figure out where to implement improvements for the highest possible positive impact.

Personalize onboarding UX without sacrificing speed 

Perfecting an onboarding process takes iteration, patience, and often times more than one perspective to effectively improve the existing method. Moving quickly is essential.  

User onboarding software like Appcues can help you build onboarding experiences, measure effectiveness, and personalize onboarding quickly. For each flow you build in Appcues, you can target countless user properties to ensure that your message reaches the right audience. 

Here’s how you can target user onboarding experiences by user segment in Appcues:

Appcues personalized user targeting
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