Mobile App Onboarding: The Key to Better Retention

mobile app onboarding

mobile app onboarding

I’ve written a lot lately about retention. As far as metrics go it’s not as sexy as acquisition and it’s not as interesting as engagement, but when we’re thinking about mobile apps, no metric is a better indicator of success than retention.

As I’ve said before, the ability to keep users coming back to your app is the key to everything from calculating marketing ROI to computing the lifetime value of a customer.

That’s why the following chart is so important to mobile marketers.

mobile app retention chart

The key to improving registration is to prevent the problems that face it before they start. That’s why I’ve written about that number one reason “Too many notifications” several times before. But what about number two? Complex registration is still a HUGE reason that users uninstall apps and it happens before they even have a chance to use them fully. All the hard work you put into your app, your engagement strategy, your marketing, and your retention plan mean nothing if users never even register.

So lets take a look at how you can improve your registration process, lower barriers to entry for your users, and increase retention. We’ve narrowed our advice down to five essential elements.

1. Only Ask for the Essentials

Let’s start with the most obvious element. If your registration process is too complex. simplify it! Nobody likes, or even feels comfortable with, long forms that require a lot of information. You should think of every form field as a speed bump in the registration process. You need to get as many of those speed bumps out of the way. In most cases, all you should really need from users is an email and password. Two fields is something most users will view as manageable.

If you feel comfortable doing so, or the nature of your app allows for it, you can even let users skip registration all together. You can use an in-app message later in the experience to prompt them to create an account once they are more familiar with the app and have generated some momentum in their use. The same goes for additional information like credit card information. There is no need to ask for all of this upfront.

iOS Sign In by Sam Thibault for Handsome

iOS Sign In by Sam Thibault for Handsome

Think critically about the information you need from your users and find more timely points in the experience that you can ask for that information.

2. Demonstrate Value

The first time users open your app is like a blind date. They think they know what to expect from pictures they’ve seen on the internet, but they won’t know how they feel about it until they see it themselves. You need to make a good first impression, look polished, and convey a few key reasons they should keep using your app… or dating you!

This is where an onboarding process comes in handy. You can create your own custom experience that puts your best foot forward and explains value. You can see an example of such an on boarding process below.

Onboarding Screen by Ghani Pradita

Onboarding Screen by Ghani Pradita

Pick between one to three key features your users should know about during their first use. Present each feature creatively and with a quick line of explainer copy. This way your users will go into the app with accurate expectations and hopefully a sense of excitement to get started.

3. Explain functionality

If your app is straight forward, this is an aspect of onboarding that you can, and should, ignore. However, if there are any aspects of using your app for the first time that are not immediately intuitive to a user, it is important to explain those aspects in your onboarding process instead of leaving your users to flounder and figure things out yourself.

Explaining functionality doesn’t need to be complicated. It can be as simple as demonstrating your value. Be sure to make use of visuals and clear, concise copy. Here are a few examples:

Install Keyboard Tutorial by Adam Kalin

Install Keyboard Tutorial by Adam Kalin

App Intro Tutorial by José Sánchez-Blanco

App Intro Tutorial by José Sánchez-Blanco

4. Show Progress

One thing you’ll notice in all of these examples is the small progress bubbles that show users where they are in the onboarding process. While they may be small on screen, those little icons are HUGE from a psychological perspective.

Nobody likes uncertainty. We’ve all filled out a form, clicked “next”, only to find there is yet another page of information to fill out (“ughhh will this form ever end!?”). Showing users their progress through your apps onboarding process is an easy way to prevent this frustration and calm that anxiety. Here’s another example where progression is visible to users.

On-boarding Animation Flow by Edward Tang

On-boarding Animation Flow by Edward Tang

5. Test and Reassess

While it would be nice to create an onboarding process, implement it, and never worry about it again, the structure and content of your onboarding process should always be on the table. It is likely to change as you receive customer feedback, add new features, or change your value proposition.

You should already be conducting user research for your app and assessing how it’s used by your users, where the pain points are, and what needs to be improved. While some pain points may need an additional feature added or a bug fix, others can be fixed simply by adding simple instructions into your onboarding process.

In the excitement of launch an app, it can be easy to overlook the onboarding process. But providing a subpar registration experience or worse, a complicated one, is a surefire way to scare off users before they can even get started. Don’t be one of the apps that 68% of users avoid.

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