What is onboarding, why is it needed and what benefits does it promise to your product?

4 min readMay 18, 2022

Although many companies believe that new users understand their sites, stores, services and other digital products at a glance, the reality is not so rosy. Someone is scared off even by the very appearance of the interface cluttered with buttons and links. Someone can close the browser tab without finding the right line in the menu. And someone, at the slightest action, needs to consult with the customer service, which is far from always able to respond quickly.

Each of these scenarios is fraught with an early outflow of users. People get lost, frustrated and go to your competitors in the hope of finding a better solution to their problem. Thus, companies lose a huge number of users who could become loyal customers. And to avoid such unfortunate consequences, you can rely on the onboarding technique.

What is onboarding

The user’s journey never ends with a transition to a web page. As soon as your site visitors find themselves in an unfamiliar space, they need to find a solution to a painful problem as soon as possible. And if this is not done quickly, their interest can be replaced by irritation in a matter of seconds.

So that your users do not face such difficulties, they need to smoothly adapt to the product. That’s what onboarding is for. This process allows you to organize a simple unobtrusive tour of the functions of your service with an emphasis on its most important “chips”. In other words, you can quickly show new users the value of the product, and tell existing customers about innovations that will improve their user experience.

What onboarding might look like

The concept of “onboarding” may seem completely unfamiliar, but examples of this process have definitely caught your eye. For example, in real life, the adaptation can be handled by a technical consultant who, step by step, prepares the client for the purchase of an expensive PC. But in the network, the role of a consultant is most often assumed by tooltips and pop-ups. They explain to people how the features of the site work in two different ways:

  • allowing them to control the learning process,
  • directing them to a given path forcibly.

You’ve probably come across these visuals on social media, online services, online stores, and other sites.

In addition to these formats, onboarding is often implemented directly into the interface or implemented through video. For example, those same mobile apps educate new users with explanatory, product-styled home screens. And many companies create short demos for beginners to not only describe, but also show the features of their sites.

While tooltips and popups can be created in relatively simple services, the last two types of onboarding require much more effort and can cause developers a lot of headaches. Keep this in mind when choosing an onboarding strategy for your users.

How long should onboarding ideally last?

Many companies perceive the onboarding process as just another marketing initiative with clearly defined boundaries. But this is fundamentally the wrong approach.

Onboarding starts the moment a user visits a website and, ideally, never ends. During the first session, you tell people where to look, what buttons to press, and how to quickly get the benefit of the product, and then gradually open up more and more opportunities for them. The more wow moments users experience, the more likely they are to turn into loyal customers who are ready to stand up for your brand.

As for the optimal number of steps for onboarding, the main thing in this regard is not to overdo it. In most cases, 5–7 hints or pop-ups are enough for a user to get used to the interface of a store or social network. These are simple products that do not need much explanation. However, when it comes to really complex services, whether it’s a landing page builder or a utility payment site, people will be happy to see more help texts.

And what are the benefits in the end?

One of the main benefits of a properly configured onboarding service is helping customer service. Beginners often ignore the FAQ sections, trying to find answers to even basic questions, and go straight to the support service with this. What if these answers were displayed as hints? Then people would not have to contact support at every stage of getting to know the product, and managers would have time to solve more important tasks.

Another important advantage of onboarding is the ability to direct users’ attention in the right direction. This means that after registering on your site, they will not “float freely” through the interface, but will follow a specific path that includes the most significant features of the product. Such training can be easily made optional — if users do not refuse it, they are much more likely to get to the target action you need (purchases, subscribing to a PRO account, etc.).

In addition, onboarding helps to retain customers for a long time. People walk through all the critical touchpoints with the product, and this process sparks interest in them, prompting them to return to your solution again and again. As a result, you will not just get users who are ready to regularly pay for the product. You will raise real brand advocates who will advise your decision to their friends and colleagues.




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