5 mobile onboarding strategies for startups to increase app conversion

May 25, 2022 - 14 minutes read

This is a guest post from our partners at Yodel Mobile, the leading global app marketing consultancy.

Creating a great app is one thing, making it thrive is another.

An average user holds approximately 40 apps on their phone but 89% of their time is split between 18 apps. This means that the majority of the apps on our mobile devices are rarely being used.

Early engagement really matters as only 55% of users will return to the app within the first week after download. In other words, almost half of your acquired audience will drop off after the first seven days!

To start combating churn (and, yes, we have an extensive report on Combating Mobile App Churn you can download here if you really want to get into it), you’ll want to ensure that your onboarding process is as streamlined as possible. Different onboarding strategies will suit different apps, but there are 2 main principles that your onboarding must full-fill:

  1. Help users to understand how to use your app
  2. Showcase your app’s value proposition

Although there isn’t a one-size-fits-all onboarding process, there are a few onboarding strategies you can implement to make users fall in love (hopefully, at first sight!) with your app.

Here are our top 5 strategies to ensure your onboarding can support increasing the conversion rates of your mobile app.

1. Determine your KPIs 

Let’s start off with the essentials. Before you can start making any conclusions about whether your app onboarding process needs refining, you must review your product analytics and map out the metrics you want to impact. Examine your analytics set-up via your product analytics tool to ensure your onboarding process is tracked correctly and you’re not missing any valuable events. 

Next, set up a measuring framework to establish which conversion metrics you want to influence, both during and after onboarding. Whether that’s completing registration, watching a video or completing a purchase, your onboarding can support increasing the success of these in-app conversion points. Not only that, but by tracking these vital conversion elements, you can see if testing and optimizing your onboarding (see more later) can move the needle on these essential metrics. 

Regardless of the nature of your app, remember to relate your key metrics to your business objectives. For example, if you have a language learning app and you have identified that the most engaged users complete their first lesson by day 7, ensure that your onboarding process is as educational as possible to support users in making that action. 

2. Strategies your onboarding experience 

You’ve aligned on your KPIs, now we get to the fun stuff – implementing your onboarding. There are many ways you can onboard users in-app. A simple (and arguably the most common way) to educate users about your app is through 3-5 screens that provide a concise, visual, and informative introduction to your app upon first app-open. It not only educates your users about the app’s functionalities but also helps you increase the conversion rate and reduce drop off. 

But how do you get the value across to your users in the best way? Here are three ways you could go about it:

  • Functional-oriented onboarding: this is designed to educate users on how to perform specific functions and use core app features. To be effective, it should include a form of interaction – swiping between slide cards, tapping through highlighted features, prompting to perform an action

Here’s a good example of functional-oriented onboarding by Evernote. Its onboarding screens walk users through all the key product features, step by step, and make it easy for them to learn how to use the app correctly.

  • Benefits-oriented onboarding: this concentrates on communicating the value proposition of an app. It generates excitement and uses emotional techniques to encourage users to engage in the concept before getting started. Avast Security app incorporates this type of onboarding to communicate the app’s benefits from the start with a strong focus on safety.

  • Progressive onboarding: this allows users to learn about key app features in an intuitive way. This approach works particularly well if your app requires a registration process or profile building. Here’s a great example from Duolingo. 

Duolingo’s onboarding, whilst a long process, does an excellent job of gradual engagement, gathering useful info at the start and then introducing users to some of the key functionality of the app before getting into the sign-up process.

Whatever you decide to showcase in your app onboarding process, make sure you take your user base into consideration and remember these three rules: 

  • Give users a visual run-through of your app
  • Give users a glimpse into your app experience
  • Simplify the profile building process

Top Tip – After onboarding your users don’t inundate them with permission requests, instead, focus on bringing up permission prompts at contextual moments.  

3. Review your in-app onboarding performance

This may sound obvious but understanding how your users behave during the app onboarding process is a critical element of your onboarding strategy. There are two ways you can go about it:

  • Diving into your product analytics

By analyzing your onboarding funnel in your product analytics tool, you will be able to identify any key drop-off points that will reveal the effectiveness of your onboarding process.  For example, let’s say your app has 4 onboarding screens, but your data clearly indicates that your users lose interest after the 3rd screen and drop off. It might be that there’s no skip button supporting the onboarding journey, the value proposition hasn’t been communicated properly or the app seems too complicated to use. Whatever the issue is, the sooner you identify the point your users drop off, the quicker you’ll be able to adjust your onboarding process and improve your conversion rate.

  •  Integrate session replay tools

Sometimes, data sets just aren’t enough to paint a full picture. That’s why seeing real-life interaction with your app could help. Mobile UX tools such as Fullstory or UXcam can help you to track the whole user journey starting from the moment the user opens your app for the first time. These tools are extremely useful as they allow you to go deeper into user interaction and review how your customers navigate through the onboarding screens through session replay. You’ll be able to get complete visibility into user interaction without collecting any of the sensitive information that, in today’s privacy age, can create unnecessary risks. With this type of feedback, you’ll be also able to see how your product comes across to real users and whether there are any onboarding issues to fix.

4. Gather feedback from users

Gathering user feedback is an invaluable app onboarding strategy, whether you’re just starting out or growing your user base. Quantitative data you collect from your analytics will help you understand what is wrong, but it won’t necessarily explain ‘why’ your users have behaved in a particular way. Qualitative feedback in combination with quantitative data will give you a better understanding of what improvements you should make to your onboarding process and how to prioritize your product roadmap. 

 Gathering user feedback across the full product experience will help you identify any issues your users are experiencing and address them through the onboarding process. For example, if the data shows various features are underutilized, or users find the registration process too intrusive, shifting the focus to more popular app functionalities through onboarding can improve conversion and get your users hooked. 

There are a few ways you can ask your users to share their views about your app. Whether through in-app surveys, prompts, or push notifications, remember to ask only relevant questions after you give your users enough time to interact with your app. Questions out of context or straight after the welcome message won’t bring the desired results. 


5. Test everything

 After you gather enough data regarding your user base and their preferences, it’s time for hypothesis creation and testing. This app onboarding strategy will help you determine what copy, screen positioning, design, images or videos are the most effective to drive your conversion rate.

For example, 97% of customers say that video is an effective channel for welcoming and educating new customers so incorporating an introduction or tutorial video into your onboarding process may bring fruitful results. Popular meditation app Headspace has implemented a short 1-minute video at the end of its onboarding screens, which covers the core themes behind the app’s functionality. 

If your resources are lean and a tutorial video doesn’t feel like a feasible option, don’t worry, there are many other elements you can test. Remember, the devil is in the detail, so sometimes a small onboarding screen improvement can make a huge difference. Introducing a skip button, simplifying the copy, reducing, or increasing the number of screens, or even switching their order can help with increasing your retention rate and keeping your users ‘on board’ for longer.

Now, let’s get technical. Ideally, your test should take 2-4 weeks to reach statistical significance, however, its duration will depend on the size of your app, your user base, dev resource and your A/B testing setup and capabilities, all of which are important aspects of your testing strategy. Therefore, before you come up with an ambitious plan of testing a multitude of elements, take into consideration:

1) Your dev resources

2) A/B testing tools, such as Optimizely, Amplitude Experiment or Taplytics, that offer minimum coding efforts 

That way you can test your product without straining resources, and get those desired insights on what works (and what doesn’t) for your onboarding strategy,

The Bottom Line

The app onboarding process, when done correctly, can ensure the successful adoption of your app and help you build a strong relationship with your customers. It’s the first point your users interact with your app so making a good first impression as well as educating them on how to use your product features is essential. By showcasing your app’s value proposition from the start and tailoring your onboarding experience to your audience’s needs, you’ll be able to increase conversion, reduce user churn and maintain a long-term connection with your customers.