This might seem shocking. After all, you spend all that time, energy, and money to build a great product, you work hard to get people to try it… And then 40% – 60% of them just leave after using it once?

Unfortunately, that is likely to be the case, but don’t despair just yet. Chances are that you can reduce this number by optimizing your onboarding process.

By doing so you will improve user experience and retain more of them.  

So how should you go about it?

Analyze Your Current Situation

You need to know what the current situation is if you want to improve it. 

That is why it’s important to use analytics to track how many people who go through onboarding come back and use the product again.

You should also track the percentage of users that drop off at each step of the process so that you would know where the biggest leaks are. 

Make sure that you have analytics in place and that you know what the currents numbers are before you try to improve anything.

3 keys To Better Onboarding

Okay, so you analyzed the data, and it became clear to you that you need to make your onboarding process better. Where should you start? A simple customer portal software could do the trick!

#1 Focus On The Users

You need to focus on the users if you want to create a great onboarding experience.

Why did they sign up for your product? What problem are they trying to solve? What are they trying to achieve?

You should do your best to help them get what they want.

 #2 Design The First-Run Experience Around A Quick Win

You won’t be able to show people the full functionality of your product the first time they use it.

However, you should at least give them a taste, so that they’d understand how it can make their lives better.

“You know how you can go to an ice cream parlor and they let you sample a flavor with a tiny helping from one of those little spoons? That’s exactly what we’re aiming for with this first experience. Simply providing them a small taste of success now will greatly increase the likelihood they go all-in on the triple-scoop later on” explains onboarding expert Samuel Hulick in his book “The Elements of User Onboarding”.

For example, Patrick McKenzie’s goal when onboarding Bingo Card Creator users was to get an elementary school teacher to print out bingo cards.

“The goal of my first-run experience hasn’t changed in six years: I want an elementary school teacher to walk over to her printer, take a look at the bingo cards she’s just printed, and think “Wow, my class will love these,” shares Patrick in his article “Designing First Run Experiences to Delight Users’’.”Accordingly, everything about the first-run experience is designed to get her a step closer to smelling that ink toner. Anything which distracts her from that is waste; there are configurations and customization options she can make, but she can make those later, she needs to feel awesome right now.”

This kind of clarity is essential for creating because it enables you to create an onboarding experience that demonstrates what your product can do and leaves users wanting more.

“Ultimately, you want someone to walk away from their first experience feeling a little happier, a little better off, and a little more invested in your product than they were when they started. Score that first win, and your life just got a whole lot easier as far as getting them to return is concerned,” says Samuel Hulick in “The Elements of User Onboarding”.

So what can people do the first time they are using your product that would give them a sense of accomplishment and make them feel great?

#3 Remove The Friction

It’s important to understand that the more effort your onboarding process requires, the more likely people will be to abandon it and never come back.

This means that you should only ask them to do what is absolutely necessary to accomplish the task that you want them to accomplish during their first-run experience.

Everything else can wait.

Example: Online Survey Software

In his book “The Elements of User Onboarding” Samuel Hulick shows how to design the first-run experience using online survey software as an example.

“Let’s say your product is an online survey creator, and its core value is that it gets people quick answers from a group.  

A great first-run experience (the path that gets them to the “base camp”), then, would be one that advances the new user all the way to a state of kicking back and waiting for results to come streaming in. That’d be very nicely achieved by, well, having them get a survey out there!”

He then presents a list of steps that the user needs to take in order to get from the beginning state to the end state:

He points out that it’s important to find the shortest path to the desired outcome because at each step the customer might leave and never come back. 

“Well, no matter how helpful they are, each step in a workflow is yet another opportunity for someone to drop off: some people will never confirm their email address and are gone forever, and some of those that do might never get past the following step, or the one after that, or the one after that.”

Samuel then encourages the readers to take a long, hard look at these eight steps, and ask themselves whether the progress they provide outweigh the risk they pose of letting people drop off.

He goes on to show how the list of steps the user needs to take can be reduced from eight to just three by:

  • Asking the user to confirm their email address after they are done with the survey (thus also removing the need to sign back in since they didn’t sign out),
  • Defaulting the survey name to “My First Survey” (since survey names are only important when you have several of them, which the user doesn’t at this point).
  • Autosaving the survey.
  • Providing the user with a survey link that they can share with their audience.

Here’s how the list of steps that the user needs to take to create their first survey looks after removing everything that can be removed:

“We just shrunk a chain of dependencies down from eight to three, and sacrificed very little power or capability in doing so,” Samuel explains.

Do you see how the path from signing up to creating your first survey is much more straightforward now?

You should do the same with your first-run experience. Take a look at all the steps that the user needs to take to get from point A (signing up) to point B (desired outcome). What can be removed? 

Make it as easy as possible for them to reach the point B.

Case Study: Twitter

Let’s take a look at how Twitter, an app that had an average of 321 million monthly active users at the end of 2018, handles onboarding.

When you click on the “Sign Up” button on Twitter’s homepage, you are asked for your name and phone number (though you can also use an email address instead).

You are then offered an opportunity to customize your experience, after which you are asked to verify your phone number and create a password.

Once you have done that, the optional steps begin, all of which you can skip:

  • Pick a profile picture.
  • Describe yourself.
  • What are you interested in?
  • Suggestions for you to follow.
  • Turn on notifications.

Here’s how Twitter looks if you have skipped all these optional steps:

Note how they are handling the empty timeline:

“What? No Tweets yet?

This empty timeline won’t be around for long. Start following people and you’ll see Tweets show up here.”

When you click on the “Find people to follow” button you are shown a list of suggestions of who to follow, and once you pick a few accounts your timeline is immediately populated with tweets from them.

That is what Twitter’s onboarding is all about: getting the user to the point where their timeline is filled with tweets from people and organizations they are interested in. 

“Case in point, Twitter saw a massive spike in signup retention once they stopped leading things off by encouraging people to search (no one came with a search in mind) or tweet (nobody was ready to tweet right away, either) in favor of following (everybody knew people they were interested in).

Once people followed others, their timelines filled up with content that not only demonstrated the value of Twitter, but provided new value upon every follow-up visit. This directly led to habitual use, and tweeting and searching followed in kind,” explains Samuel Hulick in his book “The Elements of User Onboarding”.

Sure, Twitter also wants people to complete their profiles, start tweeting, and check out their new features, but they let users do all that in their own time.


You know what the say about first impressions: you only get one chance to leave a good one.

Now, when you get off on the wrong foot with someone in your personal life, there’s often a possibility to rectify the situation in the future.

However, if you fail to impress someone who just signed up for your product and is trying it for the first time, you lose that customer forever. 

So make sure that you streamline that first-run experience.