Why are onboarding checklists important for user onboarding?
A great checklist not only helps new users navigate your product—it also gets them to their aha moment faster and more reliably. Checklists tap into powerful psychological principles, motivating new users to complete—and even enjoy—the crucial setup tasks required to get your product up and running.
They can also turn complex, multistep processes—like scheduling a month’s worth of social media content for the first time—into simple, achievable tasks; e.g., choose 3 posting times, import your RSS feed, hit “schedule,” et voila!
5 steps for creating a task-oriented onboarding checklist:
Step 1: Identify your product’s aha moments.
Understand what action or feature truly represents the core value of your product.
Be clear on what users should do or experience to realize this value.
Identify the top 3–5 actions new users should take in your app to reach your goal.
Make sure these actions are closely tied to your product's core value.
Tip: Keep your checklists to five items or less in your checklist. The more tasks on the checklist, the more likely users would quit before starting. If you’re having trouble cutting it down to five tasks for users to do, consider breaking up your checklists into two stages. That’s what we did at Appcues, which resulted in our checklist completion rate going from 2% to 25%.
Step 3: Organize the tasks from easiest to hardest.
Start with simple tasks to encourage user engagement and completion.
Progressively increase the complexity of tasks to challenge users and deepen their understanding of your product. This takes advantage of the Principle of Commitment and Consistency, which states that the smaller the initial ask from someone, the more likely they are to agree to bigger requests.
Tip: Begin the checklist with a few already completed tasks, such as "Set up your account." This plays into the Zeigarnik effect, a psychological principle suggesting people are more likely to complete a task once they've started it.
Step 4: Guide users to learn by doing.
Provide clear and concise instructions for each task.
Link each task to the appropriate page or feature within your app. This directs users exactly where they need to go to complete each action.
Use in-app prompts or tooltips to guide users through each task, where necessary.
For example, with DocuSign, a task to upload your first document could direct users to a page to upload a document.
For Bynder Orbit (a cloud-based organizational app), new users could discover the app's main functions and capabilities through an interactive product tour organized in an onboarding checklist.
Step 5: Congratulate users.
Offer immediate positive reinforcement upon the completion of each task.
Use friendly and enthusiastic language to make users feel good about their progress.
Upon completion of the entire checklist, make the user feel valued and appreciated. This could be an in-app message, an email, or even a discount or reward.
Keep the dialogue open. Encourage users to explore more of your product and discover what else it has to offer.