9 Key Lessons from "The Elements of User Onboarding" | UXCam | Blog

9 key lessons from ‘The Elements of User onboarding’

Your product is the mountain that your user needs to climb.

You’re the sherpa. Show him how wonderful it is at the top, remove any roadblocks and get him there.

Samuel Hullick, thought leader on user onboarding, uses this analogy in his book “The Elements of User Onboarding” to show you how to overcome those hurdles and help you to onboard your users successful.

In this article, we will summarize the key learnings from the book to help you skyrocket your Onboarding.
Credits are to Samuel, all mistakes and important omissions are mine.

First step to effective User Onboarding

The first step of building a great user onboarding is understanding what works.

To do this,  take a successful user  (paying customers, evangelist) and retrace their steps backwards from success. Map out all the touch-points from the first interaction up until the point they become a successful user.
: Making a user successful is not activating a  feature, but instead making them successful in life.

When looking at these touch points, we can categorize them into two categories:
1. Getting the user to take the first leap of fair to commit to the product
2. Helping them be successful with the product.

 Key lessons

  1. Explain benefits comprehensively

Unlike Facebook, Google or Twitter, be comprehensive in articulating how your product will make user lives better.
Companies like Twitter and Facebook can afford to have a minimal homepage without much information.

However, for most, thoroughly explaining improvements is crucial to help users envision the benefit. This leads them to the first commitment (signup, request demo, etc).

  1. Spark the aha moment as early as possible

Your goal is to explain the benefit to the user and show how your product helps them get there, by sparking the “aha-moment” as early as possible.

For most products the “aha-moment” unfortunately comes in too late, leading to users clicking away from your site.

  1. Make an emotional connection through product personality

We as humans make decisions based on emotions and use rational analysis to back these decisions.

Having a personality helps users to create an emotional connection with your product.

MailChimp, Wufoo, Slack are a few companies that have done an incredible job at this.

For example, photos of faces on a website capture attention and help to form emotional connection. Having a personality on not just the homepage, but throughout the product leads to a more connected user.

Learn more about building product with emotional connection here.

  1. Help user rationalize their decisions:

After building an emotional connection, help users to understand why the decision they are about to make is a rational decision.

To do that, show why your product is as good as all other options out there and that it exceeds in specific ways, making it the logical choice.
Testimonials, endorsements from experts, social media followers, showcasing real world outcomes such as number of users and being transparent, via promises as 100% moneyback guarantee, are some of the ways to convince your users.

  1. Watch the flow and clear any halted progress

Assess the Points of Friction for the user to make sure people are not getting slowed down or interrupted.

Captchas or asking for a lot of information during the sign up process are some of the points that you want to avoid.
Understand and optimize these points to ensure a better user experience.
Asking for email confirmation
and slow sites are few reasons a user can drift away from the path.
(Shameless plug, you can use UXCam to see how users are using your app to understand where they are struggling and optimize those experiences)
Now that users are motivated and you’ve got them to take the first step to success, you will need to optimize the process to help them follow through to success, repeatedly.

  1. Greet the user

When the user comes to your site, greet them like you would in normal life.
Since it’s the first time visiting for the user, there won’t be much activity and the dashboard might look empty, also called “Blank states”.

Handle them gracefully with an ultra-sensitive tone without blaming the users for it.
Instead of saying “You have no friends”, use this opportunity to ask
the user to invite people. Another approach is “content-as-tutorial”, similar to how Basecamp does, where content doesn’t exist merely to be seen, but to actively instruct.

  1. Give users quick wins

Give wins as early as possible so users remembers this “peak” experience, increasing the likelihood of coming back again for more.

It is not about the user getting started with the interface, but instead it’s about getting them to do something that’s a core essence of your offering. This makes the user invested in your product.

Find the shortest path to these “achievements” by  removing unnecessary steps. Each step i
ncreases the risk of users losing interest and clicking away from the app/site.

  1. Keeping the user on track to the successful journey

Maintain presence inside your product and use interpersonal motivators.

Another effective way to keep the users on track:
Make the journey to success a series of small, 
easily achievable, steps that are unobtrusive to the user.
We as humans hate leaving things unfinished and
we love achieving goals. 
Linkedin and Quora does a great job leveraging this idea. Once your users are successful, acknowledge it
and reward it

  1. Repeating the success

Repeated visits, in which users see results, completes a successful onboarding.

The more instances of social accountability, i.e. getting people to connect with others inside your app, the stronger the commitments becomes.
Lifecycle email can be used to do things that the site/app cannot. Nudge people to complete steps and pull the user into the site/app.


You don’t get a second chance for making a great first impression.

What happens after the user comes across your product, is the delicate opportunity to make or break a relationship.
Every app brings a unique set of challenges. Using the tools and techniques learned above to measure, test and validate onboarding ideas.

If you like this summary that has a lot of omission, here is the link to purchase the book. And here is the link to his tear-downs, which is as much informative as it is hilarious. When you are ready to test onboarding of your app, sign up for free to UXCam

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