Industry Best Practice

What are the Best Practices for Mobile App Onboarding?


Great user onboarding decreases user abandonment rates and encourages long-term success in user retention and “customer lifetime value.” A seamless user onboarding experience turns initial downloads into high engagements. Statistically, 77% of users abandon an app three days after the first installation because they didn’t understand the benefits of using the app. The components of the app onboarding process include feature promotion, customization, and providing instructions. Some best practices in the mobile app onboarding process include providing the “skip” option, offering value proposition, integrating sign-up options, and user experience customization.

1. Creating Path of the Least Resistance

  • Customer onboarding needs to be easy and intuitive. Complex critical features like login screens and app navigation increase app “user abandonment rates.” It is vital to reduce the user’s cognitive load as the human brain has limited processing power. An app that gives too much information at once can “potentially overwhelm the user.” An example would be to use a single sign-up or login screen as most entertainment and social media apps do.
One Sign-up screen example from Instagram.
  • An app’s onboarding interface needs to be uncluttered to reduce the product’s cognitive load. Additional images, icons, and buttons make the user flow complicated; thus, any unnecessary features should not be included in the user onboarding screens. The best practice is to keep the interface elements and content to a minimum, and only provide the user with the information they need to start using the product immediately. Keep words, sentences, and phrases precise and concise to avoid cluttering the onboarding screen.
  • Choose the most actionable user onboarding sequence depending on the app’s utility and how familiar the app concept is. User app onboarding sequence includes; benefits-oriented onboarding — which communicates the app’s value, function-oriented onboarding — which demonstrates the key functions of the app, how the functionalities are used, and when to be used, and progressive onboarding — educates the user through guided interactions making the experience interactive.
  • During the onboarding process, asking users’ permission to access device activities and personal data is discouraged because most users find it intrusive. The user app onboarding screens should be self-explanatory and straightforward.

2. Reduce Sign-Up/Log In Fields

  • It is the best practice to use short forms on user onboarding screens, especially for smaller screens. About 72% of app users prefer the onboarding process to take under a minute. In cases where the app may require additional information, like in a service-based app, only the essential data should be collected. If the information is lengthy, the best practice is to break the process into two or more screens. Below is an example of a split-screen sign-up process.

Splitscreen sign-up process.

  • The aim is to reduce user input. Typing on a small screen can be uncomfortable and is prone to errors. As a best practice, apps should provide “input masks” to help users input data in the correct format. Input masks help users identify errors quickly.
  • Developers can utilize autocomplete features on the user onboarding screens, which allow users to complete sign-up forms with few keystrokes. Also, asking for too much information during the onboarding phase can ignite doubt in the user.
  • It is considered the best practice to integrate login options for users. Users already have user IDs and logins from other sites, especially social media, so the onboarding screen can be integrated to use social media logins like Facebook and Gmail.

3. UX Customization

  • Giving users a customized experience during the onboarding process increases the app user’s retention rate. For example, Spotify’s onboarding screen allows users to select their favorite artists and customizes playlists for users. Customizing user experiences during the onboarding process gives the app a competitive advantage and offers users a sense of control for the content they consume on the app.
  • Users can customize content or the visual design of the application. However, some customization can be done after the onboarding process. Visual-design customization can be done later when the user starts interacting with the app. When asking users to customize their experience, explain the necessity of the data, and how it will be applied.
  • The Fitplan app onboarding screen below shows an example of user app customization preferences that provide the customer with tailor-made experiences.
App cutomization illustration.

4. One Screen, One Concept Rule

  • App users absorb information readily if the message is focused and precise. It is the best practice to condense the information on mobile app onboarding screens by using a single screen to describe a single concept and avoid data overload. The one screen, one concept rule works for the benefits-oriented and function-oriented onboarding sequence where the intent is to demonstrate the functionalities and user value of the app.

5. Give Feedback Quickly

  • Feedback during the user onboarding process is essential to highlight errors/successes in the user data validation process. For example, the feedback shows the user if the password entered meets the criteria or not, and makes it easier to amend. The error notifications need to be contextual and clear for the user to understand and navigate the app easily.
What are the Best Practices for Mobile App Onboarding?
  • Error handling has a significant effect on user experience on the app. Unclear errors and insufficient error handling in the onboarding screens can frustrate the user, increasing app abandonment rates. The error below from the Spotify app does not show reason/context and does not offer a solution to the user. Such a screen can encourage the user to quit the app.
  • It is a bad practice in app development to assume that every user is tech-savvy and can figure out the error. Error messages in the user onboarding screen should indicate what went wrong and why, and the steps to correct the error.
What are the Best Practices for Mobile App Onboarding?

 6. Value Proposition

  • The user onboarding screen should convey the value of the product to the user right away, as the user should understand the core values of the product. It is considered the best practice to show users what they acquire from using the app. Users are more likely to proceed with using the app once they are convinced of its value.
  • According to Shelly Jameer, the UX/UI Designer of Clearbridge, the user onboarding screen helps users understand the app’s value by showcasing the key features, giving users a “glimpse into the purpose of the app.
  • The value proposition message should be short and straight to the point. For example, the New York Times app displays its value on the home screen, as below.
NYT value proposition

7. Allow Skip Option

  • Some users prefer to figure things on the app by themselves, and others are impatient to go through all the recommended processes. It is a good practice to give users a scope to skip certain procedures during the onboarding process. According to statistics, giving the app skip option increases the app user retention rate by 5% to 10%.
  • The skip function allows the user to leave the onboarding process once they feel ready to use the app. Instead of quitting and uninstalling the app, the user can exit the onboarding screens.
Glenn is the Lead Operations Research Analyst at Simple Manifestation with experience in research, statistical data analysis and interview techniques. A holder of degree in Economics. A true specialist in quantitative and qualitative research.

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