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7 Mobile App Onboarding Tips That Increase User Retention


Having an effective mobile app onboarding experience is critical. Great user onboarding not only lowers abandonment rates but can also help boost long-term success metrics like user retention and user lifetime value.


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This post describes the best practices for creating an effective user onboarding experience that will turn initial downloads into highly engaged users.   

1. Build The Path Of Least Resistance

User onboarding is about making it as easy as possible for the user to start using the app. The more complex it is for users to log in or sign-up, discover features, or navigate the app, the higher the rate of user abandonment. Therefore, you want to go with the path of least resistance.


Sometimes, this means a single sign-up screen. This is popular with social media and entertainment apps.



Screen Shot 2016-01-19 at 3.46.21 PM



But this isn’t always the best route. There are different methods of user onboarding which depend on both the utility of the app, and whether the concept of the app is new:


  • Benefits-Oriented: communicate value of the app
  • Function-Oriented: demonstrate key functionalities
  • Progressive: educating through guided interactions
  • Hybrid: a combination of two or all of the above


Regardless of the most appropriate user onboarding method, the goal is to make it as easy as possible for users to begin using the app.

2. Reduce Sign-up/Log In Fields

Long forms are a bad idea, especially on mobile where screen sizes are smaller. The ideal scenario is allowing users to sign-up or log in via a single field, like a social media account. However, some apps will require more information, for example, a service-based app that has a user base of existing customers.


In cases like these, you want to gather only information that is essential. If that is a lot of information, you can consider breaking the process into more than one screen. Below is an example of an application we did for a large home services company that divides the sign-up process.



3. Follow The “One Screen, One Concept” Rule

People are able to absorb information more easily if that information is precise and focused. Onboarding screens should “chunk” information, using a single screen to describe a concept to avoid overloading the user with information.


This practice is particularly important for function-oriented and benefits-oriented onboarding, where the purpose is to demonstrate key app functionalities or communicate value.




AirBnB clearly communicates its benefits in a 4 screen user onboarding process.

4. Give Feedback Quickly

Feedback serves multiple purposes in onboarding, most commonly to indicate errors or successes in the validation process. It can also be used through animations that act as positive reinforcement for completing interactions.


In the case below, the feedback indicates to the user that their password fails to meet the criteria, and makes it easy for them to determine why. Error states should always be clear and contextual so the user knows what they’ve done wrong; this helps reduce failures and makes it easier for users to navigate the app.



Slack for iOS Upload

Example of feedback for validation error

5. Use Guided Interaction To Drive Progress

Many apps that are a bit more complex use a progressive onboarding approach; essentially, a tutorial on how to use the app. The apps with the most successful progressive onboarding provide the user the fun of discovery – without impeding the experience – by using guided interaction.


Guided interaction is about engaging users in exploration, rather than telling them what to do. This concept is very popular in video games; instead of lengthy tutorials, users play through the actions in order to become familiar with the controls and environment.


Guided interaction is also important for apps with empty states, when users need to take an action in order for content to fill. Evernote, for example, requires that users add notes for the screens to populate. It also makes discovery an ongoing experience, with an Explore Evernote option available to users at anytime.  




6. Use Animation Purposefully

There are 3 reasons to use animations in the onboarding process:


  • Draw attention to elements to help the user progress
  • Feedback (positive reinforcement for an action taken, for example)
  • Concept of space (presenting new content without user feeling they are “leaving” the screen)


Animation should always be used with one of these purposes in mind and should be used sparingly. They should draw attention, but not irritate the user.



An example of what not to do (image via Huffington Post)


Examples of good practice include subtle animations that show something is undiscovered or the use of pagination dots to show progress.

7. Test!

User onboarding is first and foremost about the users themselves. Listening to and acting upon user reviews and feedback can help you identify points of friction in your onboarding process and improve them. Once you have enough data to discern patterns, try new things and test to see if users love or hate them.



Mobile app onboarding is imperative for activating users, encouraging engagement, and reducing abandonment rates. Considering that user abandonment reached 25% in 2015, the onboarding experience is obviously something that needs to be given more attention. Following these best practices will help you create a highly effective onboarding process that will not only drive user engagement but enhance the user experience.

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At its core, Clearbridge’s mobile app development process is designed to take the client’s vision and make it a reality. We provide rigorous, deep-dive product definition, strategy consultation, and product roadmapping to create an actionable plan for the design, development, and delivery of the custom mobile app.

Dan Kosir

Director of Marketing