User onboarding can be (and often is) the difference between a successful SaaS company and a failing one.
Good onboarding doesn’t just introduce your users to your product, it shows them the value they can get from it. It ensures true product adoption.
So what should you focus on to improve the onboarding in your own product?
Make signup as frictionless as possible
What is your user’s first interaction with your product?
First impressions count for a lot. Your sign-up process will inform potential users about the rest of the product experience. It sets the tone for what’s to come.
There’s a trend when it comes to sign-up flows. The most successful SaaS companies make sign-up as frictionless as possible.
They don’t ask you to fill in lengthy forms, or enter your credit card details.
Instead, they extract the most necessary information, the stuff they genuinely need.
Then they give you immediate access to the product.
It’s as frictionless as a waterslide.
Consider this example from Airbnb:
In the past, Airbnb made users sign up before allowing them to use their product.
The clever folks at Airbnb eventually realized this was putting potential users off.
They’ve now changed the order of the user onboarding flow.
You can head to their site and instantly start using their product to search for accomodation. There’s no sign-up necessary.
This means you start experiencing the product as soon as possible. It provides value upfront, so that you soon realize you can’t live without it.
Here’s another example, this time from Airtable:
They have a short form that you have to fill in before you can use the product. It barely takes a minute to enter your details. Then you can get started.
Frictionless signup flows are perfect for less complex SaaS products, where the key is to let the user in as soon as possible.
It’s worth noting, however, that more complex products may need a little more information from users.
As a general rule, think carefully about every bit of friction (ie. number of form fields, number of steps) and think about whether it’s really required. If it isn’t, consider removing that friction.
Provide a compelling quick win
Another user onboarding best practice that SaaS companies are using is to provide a quick win as soon as possible.
The idea is to add value to your users as quickly as you can. The more value your user receives, the more likely they are to stay around and adopt your product.
If you’ve been around SaaS long enough, then you’ll have heard about the Aha! Moment. This is the moment where your user instantly sees the value in your product. Hopefully they’ll even shout “Aha!” at their screen.
An example of a quick win from Buzzsumo:
Buzzsumo enables site visitors to get started right away. They can simply enter a URL or topic, and start seeing results.
The user is instantly provided with value. They experience the Aha! Moment right away. In this case, they realize how useful the insights that Buzzsumo provides are.
Segment users for a personalized flow
More complex SaaS products often have a few different use cases. Each of these use cases matches a different user persona.
If you try to use a generic onboarding flow for each of these user personas, then you aren’t going to help anyone.
Canva is a versatile design tool, applicable to a range of different job roles.
One of the main selling points of Canva is that it offers customizable templates. This makes it super easy to create your designs.
But Canva realized that it needed to show relevant templates. If you present a SaaS founder with templates for birthday cards, then you aren’t going to hook them in. Unless it reminds them they forgot to get their Mom a card.
That’s why it presents new users with a choice when they first sign in to the product.
You can choose which use case you are, and then Canva will show you the most relevant templates.
It’s a clever way of tailoring the onboarding flow to each user persona.
Nowadays, users don’t expect a degree of personalization, they demand it.
Personalization is more effective when it comes to engaging your users. It deepens the relationship between them and your product.
Utilize contextual onboarding to stay relevant
A lot of apps and products bombard new users with a walkthrough. Often, the user has to scroll through several screens, each explaining a different feature.
Walkthroughs like this add more friction to your onboarding, and increase the time it takes to reach the Aha! Moment.
The worst part about these non-contextual walkthroughs, however, is that they don’t really work.
New users have no chance of remembering all the information. Instead, they end up more confused than before, and may even decide to quit your product before they’ve even started.
The remedy to this problem is contextual onboarding. That means sending the right message to the right user at the right time.
The right message is one that adds context or provides instructions that are relevant to what the user is trying to do.
If your user is currently figuring out how to send an email, then a tooltip could point them in the right direction.
The right user means that your onboarding is tailored to that individual use case. I covered that in the section above.
The right time means that you send a message when it makes sense to do so. In other words, the context is right.
If Feature B is only relevant when a user activates Feature A, then don’t show them a message about it until they’re ready.
Here’s an example from Trello:
When you log in, you’re presented with a welcome board. This board has a to-do list of different features that Trello offers.
You can then work through these items in any order you choose. If you want to skip the first few cards and start inviting team members, you can.
The onboarding is contextual and tailored to what the new user is trying to do.
Add an element of competition
Adding an element of competition to your app is scarily effective. It actually combines two psychological techniques: Social proof and gamification.
Duolingo’s “Clubs” feature is a perfect example:
You can join a club for the language that you’re learning. You’ll then see a leaderboard of your friends and other users. To progress up the leaderboard, you need to use the app more.
This is a great way to onboard users further and make them engage with your product.
Send trigger-based emails to recapture users’ attention
Some of your users are going to log out of your product before they’re fully onboarded.
While you might not be able to reach them through your product, there is another way of communicating with them: Email.
When a user hasn’t logged in for a while, say, a couple of days, then you need to entice them back.
You can send them a trigger-based email with a reminder about what they were trying to achieve, and how much value they can get if they log back in.
You can also use email to drive users towards your product’s Aha! Moment.
Look at this example from Disqus:
Disqus rely on the user completing two tasks to reach the Aha! Moment.
First, the user must click on a button to add Disqus to their site.
Second, the user must register their new site.
If a user completes the first task but not the second, then they are sent this email.
It assumes the main reason that a user hasn’t fully set up is simply that they don’t know how.
The email breaks the set-up down into a few easy steps, turning what can be a complex process into something that anyone can do.
It’s also a simple reminder to the user that they left halfway through, and so it prompts them to log in and continue where they left off.
Announce new releases with modals and tooltips
Onboarding your users is a continuous process. SaaS products constantly evolve and innovate over time, and you need to ensure your users keep up.
Whenever you release a new feature for your product, you need to announce it to your users. This announcement should include details of what the feature does, why it benefits the user, and how to get started using it.
For major releases, you should consider an attention-grabbing approach. For this, a full-screen modal works well.
Here’s an example from Drift:
When Drift launched their calendar feature, they announced it with a pop-up modal. It explains what the new feature does, focusing on the benefits it provides for the user.
Using a modal means it’s practically impossible for users to miss it.
There are a few key patterns and themes in successful SaaS companies’ onboarding flows.
Adding value and helping users reach the Aha! Moment as quick as possible is crucial to success. The more benefit a user gets upfront, the more likely they are to stick around.
Personalization is becoming more and more common, and users are starting to demand it. Tailoring your onboarding flow to the user is essential. Contextual onboarding means the right user sees the right message at the right time.
Psychological techniques, such as social proof, are useful ways of onboarding users. Adding an element of competition is a great way of driving engagement further.
PS. If the users are not using the product the way you wanted them to, it’s not because they’re stupid. It’s because you failed to show them value.