7 App Onboarding Best Practices To Increase Customer Activation

This article will give you seven best practices to help you onboard and activate a new user of your product.

Why do we need to think about activation?

A user has downloaded your app or signed up for your product. How they got there is a testament to your marketing skills. Nice one, job done, right?

Well, no, don’t go high-fiving just yet, there’s trouble ahead.

25% of all mobile apps are abandoned after a single use and the average mobile app loses 77% of its daily users within three days of installation.

These are tough dispiriting statistics to see, so you need to pour some serious love in to getting your customer to be a dedicated user of your product.

There are many different techniques to encourage user activation, but with a captive audience (i.e. your new customer) you have a golden opportunity to engage them and for them to return.

This is where user onboarding comes in to play and as promised this article will give you seven best practices to increase your activation rate.

1. Talk to your user like a human

You need to understand who your users are and use language they’ll respond to. An app designed for younger users needs to talk in a different way to an app for professionals to trade stocks and shares.

With this in mind, the importance of clear, concise copywriting can not be overstated. This is your first chance to talk to your users, so talk to them like a human, not like a piece of software. 

Trello has an excellent friendly tone of voice Trello has an excellent friendly tone of voice

2. Explain the value of your app

Your customers have hired your product to do something for them, to solve a problem, and you need to reassure them that your product is right for them.

Being able to clearly explain the value proposition of your product is vital. It sets the tone for the user’s experience.

Here's a intro screen for Slack, which has a clear concise value statement. 

Slack has a super-clear value proposition.
Slack has a super-clear value proposition.

3. Show don’t tell

As we saw above, good copywriting is vital in communicating with your new users, but nobody wants to read an instruction manual.

Users learn better by doing something rather than reading instructions, so engage users by getting them to interact with your onboarding process, giving them the core user experience of your product as quickly as possible.

If this is a social product, lead users to make their first post. If it’s a productivity tool get users to make their first step of improving productivity.

Different techniques for showing users how to use your app included guided tours, interactive tutorials, and in-app help screens. 

Quartz uses the same interactions as regular use of the app to onboard new users Quartz uses the same interactions as regular use of the app to onboard new users

4. Reduce the time before a customer gets the must-have experience

Your aim is to give your new user the core experience of using your product in as few steps as possible yet with the right amount of information and guidance along the way.

This is a key UX Design task, and requires fastidious attention to detail. Every element that forms part of your onboarding experience has to have purpose. Text elements should be short and have the appropriate tone. Visual elements must enhance, not distract.

Your user should always know what to do next and, without realising it, should be building up the skills to use your product.

Basecamp gets a new user to their dashboard in three steps. Basecamp gets a new user to their dashboard in three steps.

5. Use social logins

If your app requires a user to sign up to personalise or access an account then consider using social media logins like Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter to shorten the registration process.

Make sure you explain why you’re asking for this information in your copy and highlight the benefits to the user. Consider giving users an alternative way to create an account; some people might not like using social logins.

6. Simplify forms (i.e. reduce form fields)

The best way to simplify a form is to remove it completely. If you don’t need to collect a user’s registration or login data as part of the onboarding process then try moving it to a different stage in the process.

If your onboarding process requires a user to sign up or log in straight away, keep the amount of information you need to collect to the minimum.

Studies have shown that fewer form fields can increase the successful completion of a form.

7. Don’t reinvent the wheel - use tools that are already out there.

An excellent tool to help onboard users is Intercom

It’s easy to setup and gives you powerful features such as on-page messaging, all without any development work.

Intercom messages can be customised for each page in your activation process, giving the feeling of a personalised guided tour given by a real person.

Here’s an example of an Intercom-based message for the registration flow of Biteslide, an app we developed. 

Intercom allows messaging to be shown in-app allowing for clear, human-led guidance Intercom allows messaging to be shown in-app allowing for clear, human-led guidance


Onboarding is a crucial part of your product’s growth and something you really need to focus on. It takes a high level of empathy to think like your users, to guide them and ultimately to get them to love your products.

But as they’ve already engaged with your product, you’ve already won half the battle.

You just need to help them fall in love with your product.

We’ve been helping startups and businesses with user onboarding for years, so please get in touch with us if you’d like to onboard your users better.