5 Biggest Mistakes In User Onboarding

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John Waldron

Dec 4, 2015 • 9 min read

Converting brand new customers into returning, active and regular users is perhaps the ultimate challenge of any business.

Whether you’re in restaurant trade, selling used cars, or indeed building new apps and software for your discerning clients, the first-time experience of the service and product you provide is everything.

Raising brand awareness and persuading a customer to take a chance on you for the first time is, although not necessarily easy, nonetheless relatively straightforward – social media marketing can cover many bases, and getting the name of your brand ‘out there’ is simply a matter of creative persistence.

But, once you’ve established your online presence and people start sampling your food, test-driving your cars, or downloading your apps, now is the time that returning users are gained or lost, and the true reputation of your business is either made or broken.

Yes, this is the user onboarding stage, and it’s one of the most perilous phases in the whole conversion process. If the menu and pricing is needlessly complicated in your restaurant, your customers probably won’t enjoy the food. If the used car salesperson won’t keep quiet during the test-drive, then the potential customer isn’t going to enjoy the ride.

And when it comes to onboarding new users to digital platforms, there are even more potholes to negotiate. But, rather than finding what these are for yourself, it’s far better that you are furnished with the foresight to swerve around them, and that’s exactly why we’ve written this blog post…

5 Biggest User Onboarding Mistakes To Avoid At All Costs

#1. Requesting Too Much Information From The User

This is a very common mistake that can be found in everything from apps to contact forms to landing pages. There’s nothing more frustrating to a potential new user, who just wants to ‘get in there’ and start exploring the application, than to be halted in their tracks by a ridiculously long form to fill out, requesting name, email, date of birth, nationality, occupation and inside leg measurement. This information is pretty much useless at the onboarding stage. True, it’s all information that will become useful to you when trying to upsell later, but at the moment, all you want your users to have is a great first-time experience. So, leave them be anonymous for the time being.

#2. No User Engagement

Great user onboarding often comes with a mini, OPTIONAL tutorial for users to follow as you teach them the very basics of the product. However, there are good ways and bad ways to do this – and one of the worst mistakes that you can make here is by not engaging the user. As users learn, you need to make sure that they are rewarded with ‘success’ messages, and know the benefits of completing the next stage. And indeed, new users don’t want to be hung up for too long on a tutorial, and so, not only does this tutorial need to be short, but there also needs to be some sort of indicator as to the progress that they’re making.

The Help Scout blog puts it like this:

“I find it odd that in many cases, when a user defies the odds and makes it all the way to logging their first real victory in someone’s app, the company isn't there to celebrate. The moment a user completes an important task is a great opportunity for you to forge a positive emotional connection between them and your company.”

“Let your users know that they are doing great by acknowledging their progress and giving them a figurative high-five!”

Mailchimp user onboarding

The Mailchimp High Five

#3. Too Much Info On One Screen

You’re pleased with your app, you’re excited about bit, because not only can it do A, B, C, but it can also X, Y and Z as well, and you’re desperate to let your new users know all about everything. But, unfortunately, when you try and cram all this information into too small a space, then all you’re doing is creating an over-crowded screen, which will look disorganised and be very off-putting. This, for example, is just too much information to bombard a new user with.



Indeed, rather than vomiting all of this information over your users right at the start, what you’re really after is the ‘quick to wow’ factor. There’s a great talk from Gail Goodman of Constant Contact. She describes the ‘wow!’ as the moment that a user understands an outcome and is blown away by it while experiencing it as fun. Here’s the video of her speech (50 mins).

#4. Assuming The User Will Be Able To ‘Figure It Out’

True, some new users hate having to jump through the hoops of a tutorial no matter how complicated the app is. But, others actually like to take 30 seconds or so just to get to grips with the basics. And this is why it is imperative to firstly have a tutorial, and secondly make it optional. The best advice is to have the tutorial appear automatically, with a clear option for the user to ‘Skip this step’ if he/she wants.

#5. Not Soliciting Feedback

It’s an old saying, but to assume really does make an ‘ass’ out of ‘u’ and ‘me’. Many creators and distributors of new apps believe that because they know how the app works, then everyone else will as well. As the commissioner or creator, you will have been a part of the whole creation process, and so, from your experience (and enthusiasm for your baby) you will know how to make the most efficient use of the app as it stands. However, it’s your users who you are trying to convince and onboard, and that means that you need to solicit feedback at the earliest possible stage. Only by listening to your users and making the alterations that they suggest will you whittle down your app from something potentially great, to something actually great.

Are you familiar with Anticipatory Design? It's based on the premise that less (choice) is more. Its main advantage is that technology anticipates your every move, so you don't have to make choices by yourself. Read more for details and examples: Why Less (Options) is More - Anticipatory Design 101

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John Waldron

John Waldron is a technology and business writer for markITwrite digital content agency, based in...
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