Cursor Curated
23rd November 2022

Getting started with user onboarding

Cut a long story short...

8 user onboarding cover
Cursor Curated Issue 8
Daniel Westlake

Picture the scene. You’ve just joined a gym. You’ve not exercised in years and you’re surrounded by terrifying looking equipment. The staff simply wave you on in, free to tinker with machinery and injure yourself.

Whether it’s brick and mortar or on a mobile app, we can’t underestimate the power of user onboarding. This helps our users to familiarise themselves with our interface, using specialised elements to guide them through in a tutorial style.

What makes a good user onboarding process? It starts with engagement:

  • Demonstrating the value they’ll get from the platform – which in turn increases their willingness to pay for it
  • Enabling users to use the product with confidence straight away
  • Answering questions upfront rather than directing them to FAQs
  • Improving sign-up rates after free or discounted trials

With a solid first impression, you’ll also increase your chances of users recommending the product to others.

The case against new user onboarding

Despite these benefits, there are counterarguments to the new user onboarding process. Some argue that it requires too much attention and effort, which increases the “interaction cost” of using a platform.

Interaction cost refers to the sum of mental and physical effort that users need to achieve their goals. Zero interaction cost is considered the “holy grail” for user experience – but onboarding can be costly.

Likewise, we’re asking users to remember multiple things upfront. The old adage, “don’t make me think” springs to mind. But of course, it doesn’t have to be this way. With the right user onboarding best practices, we can welcome them in without overwhelming them.

Onboarding approaches to consider

We can improve the onboarding user flow with simple, tried-and-tested features.

Pop ups in the interface

This non-invasive UI approach has worked wonders for web builder and hosting company Webflow. It works because it presents helpful tips in context – providing valuable, bitesized lessons in the “Webflow university”, including video trials.


To get the best from this, try inviting users to “choose their story”. Offer them a personalised experience which aligns with their goals. Pop-ups should use a non-invasive hotspot UI pattern, rather than swamping the window with a full-screen modal.


The best user onboarding experiences don’t need to be time-intensive: in fact, they can be as simple as a 2-minute Loom video. An engaging, personable video takes users through what they need to do without wasting their time. Basecamp do this really well – and back up their content on a YouTube channel.

Keep your videos short and succinct, and consider a bank of resources for users to access later. Make sure they’re skippable – users are time-poor! Finally, remember accessibility with readable transcripts and subtitles.

8 video guide

Gamifying the elements of user onboarding provides incentives for users. It’s more fun and offers rewards for completing certain tasks. We’ve seen this done right with our client, Nicholson McBride. They offer participants a personalised learning journey including questionnaires, reports and seminars. It comes to life in the style of a London tube map, with stations representing outcomes.

This works so well because it increases user stickiness – helping them see the benefits of signing up. The best gamification user onboarding examples offer elements such as:

  • Points on a checklist
  • Badges and leaderboards
  • “Real world” perks such as discount codes of vouchers.
8 gamification

Plus, beyond the onboarding stage, gamification offers long-term benefits. Retention is a great example, with users increasing their knowledge retention by 40%. If they can demonstrably hold onto information, they’ll be more incentivised to subscribe long-term – providing a great revenue opportunity.

Additional benefits of following user onboarding best practices

Additional benefits of following user onboarding best practices

The onboarding user flow also offers great potential for data capture. With a personalised approach offering varying user journeys, we can identify where users might hit friction.

It’s also great if you’re testing new features. Every time you implement a new piece of functionality, you can test to see how users are interacting. Better still, comparing the metrics between new and existing users aids decision-making – great if you’re expanding audience segments.

Key takeaways

A strong new user onboarding experience is worth the investment. We’ve seen this in real-life case studies, with up to 17% more users feeling willing to pay after a good experience.

Of course, we shouldn’t overload our customers. Less is more when it comes to the user onboarding process. If there’s a lot to learn, we should invest in searchable documentation. Think FAQs or YouTube videos that give users on-demand access to answer their questions.

8 bitesize information

As ever, testing should be at the forefront of everything we do. If there are any points of friction, testing different user segments can help to streamline the journey.

Finally, remember that first impressions count. Keep it simple, friendly and personalised, or risk user drop-offs. You only get one chance to make a first impression. Do it right and that’s all you’ll need.

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