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Is Your App Making a Good Great First Impression?

app user onboarding
Will it be love at first sight for your users?

Welcome to our club on mobile user onboarding- where you learn the basics for how you can dramatically boost your user retention and engagement!

To start, we will cover some overarching rules that you must grasp in order to proceed successfully and make the best first impression with your users possible. Fail to make a stellar first impression and your critical users will drop your app as fast as a hot potato!

Let’s get started with the mandatory guidelines:

The first rule of user onboarding: You do not underestimate user onboarding.

The second rule of user onboarding: You DO NOT underestimate user onboarding!

The third rule of user onboarding: If a new user never returns to your app, it could be because of your onboarding process.

The fourth rule of user onboarding: There is no such thing as a universal onboarding method for all apps. You must customize your onboarding method to your app.

Got it? Great. Let’s get started.

User Onboarding 101

Pretty much every app in today’s massive mobile app ecosystem utilizes some form of user onboarding. Whether it be a slide tutorial or coach marks, user onboarding has become a known “best practice” when it comes to owning an app, and rightfully so. The problem is that many mobile teams approach user onboarding halfheartedly, or neglect analysis and optimization. Just because you have implemented some sort of onboarding procedure does not mean it is “correct”/successful.

At the end of the day, your onboarding process represents the user’s first impression of your app. And what’s that somewhat cliché yet undeniable truth regarding first impressions?

“You never get a second chance to make a great first impression.”- Will Rogers

In the realm of mobile apps, where users are more fickle and distracted than ever before, this quote particularly holds true. As soon as you have made a mediocre, or even just a simply “good” first impression, you risk the chance of losing your user’s interest to another app.

So, how can you make sure that your onboarding process is both high caliber and effective? First you need to confirm that you have implemented the proper onboarding tactic given your type of app. To help you out, we will break down three of the most popular tactics used today:

Value-Oriented Onboarding

Basically, value-oriented onboarding aims to explicitly detail the core benefits of an app. If your mobile app is pretty straightforward to use, without any complex functions or unique gestures, then we recommend utilizing value-onboarding to effectively brief your users on the value proposition(s) of your app. The underlying psychology behind focusing on benefits is that humans are inherently selfish beings. They will immediately think “OK, so what’s in it for me?” from the moment that they install and open a new mobile app. With value-oriented onboarding you must successfully cater to this natural selfishness. When presenting the benefits to the user, don’t get excessive. We recommend thoughtfully selecting three or four key benefits that will have the most valuable impact on your target audience and highlighting them in a concise yet resonating manner. If you overload the user with too many benefits, you risk muddling their interest in your app and potentially boring them.

Lastly, we strongly urge you to present your app’s benefits before asking users to complete a login/sign-up form. When users understand your app’s benefits first, they will be more willing to register for your app. Your users want to first understand what they are getting from your app, not what your app needs from them.

Hopper’s value-oriented onboarding successfully illuminates its key benefits in three slick slides.      

Function-Oriented Onboarding

Let’s say you have a photo editing app. Your app has very straightforward benefits, but also unique features that a standard new user is probably not familiar with. In this case, function-oriented onboarding is probably the best route for onboarding your users. Why? Given your type of app, your functions are what ultimately separate your app from the multitude of other apps out there. And the primary goal of this onboarding method is to showcase key functions and how to get started with them. Unlike value-oriented onboarding, it focuses more on how to use the app instead of outright stating why.

A good function-oriented onboarding process will get the user up to speed and confident regarding the functions that are unique to your app. It’s a great process for apps that have particular controls, or utilize special gestures.

When it comes to designing your function-oriented onboarding, make sure to avoid listing obvious functions. There is no need to waste the user’s time and attention span by explaining a function they are most likely already familiar with. Again “brevity is the soul of wit”- make your process succinct and relatable. This is your big chance to win their interest, hopefully for the long term. To read more about particular “do’s” and “don’ts” of function-oriented onboarding, click here.

Glowee’s function-oriented onboarding tutorial focuses on unique gestures and navigation functions. Source:

Progressive Onboarding

You probably guessed from its title- progressive onboarding is a flowing onboarding process not defined by a fixed introductory slide tutorial. Instead, it is based on the user’s journey, or rather progression through your app. Apps that are quite multifaceted, that must be physically experienced in order to be fully understood and appreciated, typically employ progressive onboarding. Essentially, it is the act of sequentially instructing your users on how to execute certain functions and obtain certain benefits depending on where they are within your app. It’s basically powerful learning “on the go” that allows users to grasp the exact benefits that occur from performing certain actions.

Given that it is an “onboarding” tactic, it must be implemented within the user’s first session. However, progressive onboarding is also unique in that it can be used beyond the user’s first session. For example, perhaps a user hasn’t explored a certain menu within your app or utilized a certain function? Progressive onboarding is a great way to help users discover additional aspects of your app that might have gone unnoticed.

That being said, don’t forget to embrace the mantra “everything in moderation.” Do not crowd your user’s journey with too many prompts and in-line hints. If you overwhelm your user with an excessive amount of tips all at once, they will likely become frustrated with your app or worse, quit your app and never come back.

Toshl’s budgeting app explains different functions and perks of the app as the user navigates through it. Source:

Analysis and Optimization

So now you have a strong perception of three of the most useful onboarding tactics out there. Bravo! But, your work is only half done. Do you remember what we said, not once but twice, in our introduction to our ever so exclusive onboarding club?

“Do not underestimate user onboarding!”

What do we mean by this? While thoughtfully devising your onboarding process is important, you must also be diligent regarding its analysis and optimization. A lot of mobile teams drop the ball here.

For example, some mobile app teams are guilty of implementing a user onboarding process and naively trusting that it does not warrant any assessment or alterations. On the other hand, and more commonly, there are many mobile teams that are aware of the need to monitor their onboarding process, but simply equip themselves with subpar tools that provide extremely shallow information.

This is a blasphemous mistake. Surface-level data will not suffice when it comes to understanding and refining your user onboarding process. You need to know what your users are actually doing within your app and how they are responding to your onboarding method. This is where qualitative analytics like Appsee come into play. Qualitative analytics allow you to see the “why’s” behind all the numerical data on your app via visual analysis tools, such as touch heatmaps and user session recordings. This is especially important for your onboarding process where questions might come up like, “Why did my users quit my app after thirty seconds?” or “Why did my users not fill out the login form?” Instead of having to hypothesize why users are behaving in certain ways, you can actually see the answers for yourself and instantly comprehend where you need to optimize.

On top of strengthening your analytics, you should also consider implementing comprehensive A/B tests in order to properly refine your onboarding process. For example, maybe it’s better for your onboarding tutorial to present a particular feature before another, or leave one out altogether? The only way you can determine the answer to this query is via a dynamic A/B testing tool. What’s more, A/B testing tools, such as Apptimize, allow you to make iterations in realtime without any extra coding. As Nancy Hua, CEO of Apptimize perfectly puts it, “If you don’t nail onboarding your developers may as well have been drinking beers instead of building those features that no one saw.”

At the end of the day, your user onboarding process directly affects your users’ initial reaction towards your app. It is the deciding factor in the common question, “Should I keep this app or uninstall it?” So don’t be apathetic regarding your creation process and subsequent assessment and optimization. You should be doing everything in your power to make the best impression possible, or risk increased abandonment.

We hope this breakdown has helped set you on a clearer path for onboarding success. If you have any questions or comments, please do not hesitate to leave a comment below or email me at

Hannah Levenson

Hannah is the Content Marketing Manager at Appsee. A UX and content strategy enthusiast, she has a great affinity for discovering and sharing unique insights and resources with the mobile tech community. Hannah also loves photojournalism, classic rock, and pretending that she's the only one with a "foodie" Instagram account.

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