Lesson 3
5 min

Best practices and biggest mistakes

The good, the bad, and the ugly—they’re all out there. By the end of this lesson, you should know the ingredients of a good onboarding experience. You’ll also have a handy list of best practices to check off as you go.

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Best practices and biggest mistakes

Remember that time you hopped into a new product, only to play whack-a-mole with 20 pop-ups?

Or what about that time you excitedly joined a new app and saw… nothing? No onboarding experience, no sample data, nothing in the empty state. Just an overwhelming user interface with no clear indication of where to start. Woof.

And we’d be remiss not to mention Clippy—that insufferable little paperclip in Microsoft Office that shared “tips” at every turn, distracting and annoying users the entire way. 

As consumers, we’ve all had our fair share of bad onboarding experiences. So let’s explore some common attributes that make an onboarding experience good or… miserable.

List of bad onboarding attributes
List of good onboarding attributes
Quote from Lyla Rozelle

Best practices 

Whether you’re just starting out with user onboarding or you’ve already created some experiences for your newbies, reading up on some best practices will help you make sure your UX is in tip-top shape.

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Keep it short and sweet 
The main goal of an onboarding process is to guide users to value as quickly as possible, so educating users on dozens of features they won’t frequently need (or haven’t even paid for) could easily overwhelm them. Try to stay laser focused on the most important features for each user. This will make your onboarding engaging and sticky, and your users will be much less likely to jump ship.

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Don’t be afraid to get personal(ized)
Every user is unique, and so are their reasons for trying out your product. By creating personalized in-app onboarding experiences, you can ensure that your content feels relevant and helpful. But how?! Microsurveys and segmentation are your friends (more on this later).

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Teach users in context 
While your overall onboarding experience may include emails, blog posts, webinars, etc., the most impactful teaching you’ll do will be inside your product. Why? Because introducing users to various features while they’re using them offers a richer educational experience. Think about it. Imagine trying to teach someone how to play guitar without the guitar. Experiential learning will get your users up and running faster.

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Explain the value
As you teach your users about various features within your product and encourage them to take certain actions, make sure to include the why. Why does this particular step in the setup matter? Why should I invite a teammate? Why is it important for me to import x? Maybe the value is obvious to you and your team, but a brand new user might not recognize it immediately.

Icon of a person with a checkmark representing getting the right team on board

Get the right people on board
This is the last (and arguably most important) best practice for user onboarding. Because the truth is, onboarding is a team sport, and you’ll want to get buy-in (and feedback!) from the right folks before going rogue. We’ve found that the best owner for user onboarding is at least a bit technical and can collaborate closely with developers. They should also deeply understand their users’ needs, emotional states, and the ins-and-outs of the product.

Once that’s squared away, your first stop is the product team. Invite relevant PMs, UX designers, product designers, engineers, growth marketers, and product marketers. Oh! And you might want to bring in customer success and sales, too. Every company and team is unique, but we recommend socializing the onboarding process widely to help create a more cohesive experience for your users. Lyla Rozelle—Senior Growth Manager at Appcues—has come up with her own unique system for keeping everyone on the same page. If you’re curious, tune in!

Even your leadership team should be privy to your onboarding projects. Since you’ll have already convinced them of the importance of increasing activation (*cough* Lesson 1 *cough*), they should be eager to see what you’ve got cookin’.