At some point in your startup’s existence you’ll need to focus a lot of attention on your product’s onboarding experience. Don’t worry about this right away. At the start just make sure people can sign up and go get some early adopters by any means necessary. Once you’ve proven that a small number of people are getting value out of your product (and not all churning out), it’s time to bring in more people and see what happens. And when you start driving more people to the front door, hoping they’ll walk through, your onboarding experience becomes critical.
Most people think that the purpose of onboarding is to get people signed up to their product. Maybe they’re thinking about the first user experience too and how that (hopefully!) delights them and encourages them to keep going. But onboarding is so much more. It’s real value is in improving long-term engagement.
We’re thinking about this a lot at VarageSale. We have the benefit of a lot of data, but even early on, with the first few batches of users, you should start seeing trends around user behavior that you can learn from. This is where understanding your best users is critical. Imagine for example that you find a relationship between users taking a particular action (e.g. following another user, posting content, searching, etc.) and their long-term engagement with your product. Users that take this particular action stick around much longer (they don’t churn out) and generally represent your better, more engaged participants. That’s a critical piece of information that you can now bring back into your onboarding experience.
The key is to get people to take the key action as early as possible in their use of your product. In fact, why not have them take the action during onboarding? Don’t worry about adding more steps to the onboarding steps (fewer steps doesn’t necessarily win). If adding a step or two hooks users more effectively then add the steps. At minimum you can test this out and see what happens. It should be fairly easy to A/B test an extra step or two in your onboarding funnel (for both web and mobile) and see if there’s a difference.
By learning what behaviors your best users took (and assuming a correlation between those behaviors and being your best users, with causation now testable) you can implement changes to your onboarding process to hook users faster.
Onboarding isn’t just about getting someone to sign up.
That’s simply not enough. It’s not enough to get a user through the sign up process into a first time experience and hope they become active.
Onboarding is about turning interested passersby into active, positive users.
The key is that you have to turn someone into an active, positive user, it’s not just going to happen.