What is onboarding?

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What is onboarding?


Outside the tech world, most people are familiar with the definition of the term “onboarding” with regards to new employees who join an organization. Similarly, the tech industry would define onboarding as the process of initially explaining a new product to first-time users, and “showing them the ropes” when it comes to the product’s functionality.

Now, what is onboarding, exactly, for mobile professionals? In order to explain that, we must first understand mobile users’ state of mind when first downloading an app. Generally speaking, when first time users initially meet a new app, they explore it knowing that there are dozens of other apps waiting for them in the App Store, most probably free of charge. The critical mindset leads many users to do a short “market research” for a few apps before finally making up their minds.

That is part of the reason why statistics show that approximately 80 percent of mobile users abandon newly downloaded apps within the first three days after installing it. Apps compete in an extremely brutal market, where users are both harsh and impatient. App marketers have a very short time to create a strong impression on users - which is where mobile user onboarding comes in.

In an attempt to define onboarding, the following lines represent a few of the main goals to the process, and where it is used most

Mobile onboarding goal #1: explaining the core value

As we’ve explained, mobile users need an immediate sense of value when taking their first glance at a new app. One of the main purposes of the first screens is to explain which problem the product is about to solve, or what experience users should be expecting when using the app. In that sense, when we ask “what is onboarding?”, one answer would be that it is a promise for what’s ahead.

There is no room for assumptions in the mobile onboarding process. Developers must take into consideration that users could have only a broad, if any, clue as to what the app is all about. They might also have a very different vision in mind, and are expecting a different app than the one they have just downloaded (which could indicate a certain problem with the product's App Store page). A great app onboarding process will save them precious time and prevent disappointment, by providing a clear explanation for the app’s core value right away.

There are number of reasons why it’s best to greet users with a process that reminds them why they downloaded the app. First, if the user happend to install the app but didn’t open it right away, when they first use the product, they could use a reminder as to why they wanted it in the first place. Second, getting the user excited and eager to use your product would help in convincing him or her to follow your lead during the rest of the app onboarding process, which is crucial for the apps’ retention and engagement rates.

Mobile onboarding goal #2: explaining the functionality

One of the more known purposes of mobile user onboarding is the app tutorial (or walkthrough, if you prefer). If we go back to the “make no assumptions” rule above, it is crucial for developers and marketers to realize that users do not understand the product the like those who build it. This means that users should receive a step-by-step app tutorial, describing how each app feature works and where it is located within the product.

While it is right to say that a great mobile UX can help create an intuitive experience, no UX is ever an alternative to a great mobile onboarding process. In fact, it is an important part of the right user experience you should deliver.

The app tutorial is meant to expose the user to different aspects of the product. One way of creating a solid onboarding experience is by “forcing” the user to actively try different features, instead of just viewing them. This way, users will not feel intimidated by features that seem complicated to use.

Mobile onboarding goal #3: completing the registration

In most cases, getting users to download your product is only the beginning. When users first encounter your app, they have to go through a registration process that requires them to allow permission to personal data, agree to receive potentially annoying push notifications, and perform certain tedious tasks they are not interested in at the moment. It is particularly problematic, considering the fact that a new user is eager to see what your product can do, which makes him or her extremely impatient. And yet, without completing these essential steps, the user will never truly experience your product at its best. Not even close.

A good app onboarding process will convince first time users to play along and complete the registration process successfully. The way to do so by providing a value proposition to each step that the user is required to perform. We recommend paying special attention to timing, and deciding which requests should take place in the initial encounter with your app, and which should be delayed for a more relevant time. For instance, instead of asking users for camera access right away, it would be wise to display such a request when the user is about to perform the first in-app action involving the camera. The reason behind your request would be clear and will make a lot more sense, making first time users far more inclined to accept it.

Mobile onboarding goal #4: a whole lot more

Having said all of the above, it is important to note that the app onboarding process does not end after first time users’ interaction with your product. Instead, there are many different scenarios that call for a procedure of their own (you can read about a few of the more common ones here).

So, what is onboarding? The above goals are definitely the more essential ones, but developers should keep in mind that different onboardings have different objectives, depending on your product’s unique audiences and features. We recommend strategizing to determine which onboarding is right for your app, as well as drawing inspirations from other apps. Good luck!


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