User Onboarding Image

User onboarding is the process of bringing a new user into your app and ensuring that they have a great experience with it. A great onboarding experience ensures that new users get what they want from the app and that they continue to use it.

By improving the onboarding experience, you will see many positive flow-on effects. The main one being increased user retention, which translates into increased revenue.

Here are 2 ways you can improve the onboarding experience and improve user retention.

1. Remove Friction:

Friction is anything that makes it difficult for a new user to get in and start using the app. Here are a couple of things to consider if you want to remove friction from the onboarding experience.

Is the app intuitive and easy to use?

Think about what happens when a user first opens the app. For most apps, the user will arrive at a main menu or starting screen. Often that’s the beginning and the end of the onboarding experience. Most publishers leave it up to the user to figure out how to use the app and discover its features without any guidance or help.

This can be ok if you have created a highly intuitive user interface and the features of the app are self-evident. But what if they aren’t? Now, I don’t mean self-evident to you. Of course you understand the app and how it works. You know exactly what to do when you open the app and how to use it. I mean self-evident to someone who has never seen it. The best way to answer this question is to get other people to test if for you. Let him or her use the app with no prompting or explanation from you and then ask for honest feedback. Find out exactly what the sticking points are and why.

If it isn’t immediately obvious as to how to use the app when it is first opened, you have friction that may cause new users to leave your app never to return.

How do you fix it?

Some apps simply don’t lend themselves to being easy to use right off the bat without any explanation at all. If this is the case, how do you fix that problem?

The easiest and most obvious solution to this is to create a walkthrough or tutorial and show it the first time the app is opened. Be smart and create something that works seamlessly within your app. It doesn’t have to be a full walkthrough of the entire app, you may decide that a few pointers to help the user as they navigate through the app is enough.

This can be the difference between a new user being confused and leaving your app for good, or having them experience all of your apps features and becoming a loyal user.

Are you asking for too much, too soon?

A common cause of friction I see is developers asking for too much from the user up-front.

I’m sure you’ve all seen this before. You open an app for the first time and you are immediately greeted with a login page asking you to sign up or log in with Facebook. You haven’t even had a chance to use the app yet and they are asking for personal information. What makes this worse is when there is no option to use the app without signing in. This is a huge barrier that will cause plenty of potential users to leave right then and there.

I know I’ve done this before. Opened an app that immediately asked me to create an account or sign in, but instead I’ve just closed and deleted it. It might be the best app in the world, but it doesn’t matter because I didn’t even get past the login screen.

Another common mistake is asking users to share data such as their location or contact list as soon as the app opens. The problem here is you have failed to create context before asking. You need to make sure the user understands exactly why the app is asking for this data before doing so. The problem developers often face is that without this data the app will not function properly. That’s ok, but wait until the point where the data is required before you ask for it and explain to the user exactly why it is needed.

2. Give something away for free

This one may seem counter-intuitive, but giving new users something for free can be a great way to improve the onboarding experience and make sure they come back.

People love free stuff. You can create a more memorable, positive experience by giving new users something for free. It’s a great way to make a big first impression.

This doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice potential In-App Purchase (IAP) sales and revenue. I’m not telling you to get rid of all of your IAP’s and give them away. This is about giving the user a sample of the value that your IAP’s provide. You want to show them that the unlockable content in your app is worth buying. If people understand exactly what they are getting for their money they are much more likely to make a purchase.

One more thing before I move on to some examples. I want to mention that this isn’t about taking away some of your free content and locking it up and then pretending to give it away. People will see straight through this and it’s a quick way to destroy trust at a time when you need to be establishing trust most.

Let’s consider a couple of examples to help give you some ideas of how you can implement this in your own apps.

Example 1 – Photo Frame Utility App

For this example, let’s consider an app that allows you to put frames around your photos. I’m sure you’ve seen these before. An app like this might have a set of frames that are free, and packs of new frames that can be unlocked via IAP’s.

Now, instead of just leaving new users with the default free frames you could do something like this:

Once the user goes through the process of adding a frame to a photo for the first time, have a pop-up that tells them they have been given a free pack of new frames as a thank-you for using the app. You are doing 2 things here. First, you are telling the user that you value them and appreciate their decision to choose your app over all of the others. Second, you are giving them an unexpected surprise that adds to the user experience and gives them a taste of what they can get from your other IAP’s.

This is a good low-cost way to improve the on-boarding experience and help increase the chance of that user returning to your app after day 1.

Example 2 – Slot Machine Game

I’ve decided to use a slot machine game as the second example because it will allow me to demonstrate how you could give away a consumable IAP. The purpose of this example is to get you thinking about more creative ways to give away content.

If you’ve ever used a slot machine app, you will know that they generally use multiple currencies. Coins, boosters, XP etc. are all common ones. These are sold as consumable IAP’s, meaning they provide a finite benefit and can be purchased more than once.

Let’s consider coins. A user will start the game with a certain number of coins. You could just increase the number of starting coins, or give them some more in a similar way to example 1. But that seems pretty boring…

Let’s think about what your users want from a slot machine game. They want to win! A good slot machine is one that pays out a lot. So what can we do to give the users more coins in a way that enhances the onboarding experience?

Why not set it up so that for the first 100 spins, the user is guaranteed to win a lot of coins and prizes?

This way, the user gets a great onboarding experience. They get to play the game for longer before running out of coins, which means they have more time to see its features. They also get what they want from a slots machine app, the feeling of winning. And an app that provides what users want is naturally going to have favourable user retention.

Those are just 2 examples of how you could give away some content within your apps to enhance the user onboarding experience. These are just the tip of the iceberg, designed to get you thinking about what is possible for your own apps. Come up with a creative, fun way to give users some extra value when they first use your app and watch it’s effect on your retention numbers.


Ask yourself how you can apply these 2 strategies to your own apps. See if you can find ways to improve your onboarding process and take action.

Don’t forget, if you want to understand whether the changes you make are effective (you should!), you need to use analytics within your app. If you aren’t using app analytics or you want to improve your current implementation, check out my post that covers 5 metrics that every developer should be tracking.