6 Lessons from Highly Effective Onboarding Experiences

Effective onboarding experiences are a key driver for improving customer conversion and reducing churn. Let’s pick up some tips from the best in the business.

Rob Walling, the founder and CEO of Drip recently did a talk where he mentioned that improving their onboarding experience led to a 200% increase in conversion to paid customers. His team was astonished by the gains that could be made by simplifying the process and following best practices.

So the million dollar question is: what makes for a great signup and onboarding experience? Ultimately, your goal is to minimize the user’s ”time to value“—how long it takes for them to have the “a-ha!” moment that only your service can provide.

The industry’s leading software businesses have provided a clear path for doing this. We’ve analyzed the UX for 11 of the web’s most successful software products and distilled six lessons here that can help you design your own. And luckily many of those lessons are pretty easy to implement. Use these tips to craft the ideal flow for your service.

#1: Keep Reiterating Your Value Proposition

To keep customers engaged and excited throughout onboarding, you need to continually be touting the value your product will provide. And it must be specific! Netlify, a frontend hosting and services provider, does a great job of this by including “helpful tips” right next to the sign up options.

Netlify's signup page includes valuable tips on using the product.
Netlify's signup page includes valuable tips on using the product.

This is a great example of a specific feature Netlify has to offer, and how it can immediately save time during a customer’s workflow. Plaid, a universal API for bank accounts, explains their value prop by touting their integrations and developer experience.

Plaid's signup page explains the integrations users get with their service.
Plaid's signup page explains the integrations users get with their service.

No matter how clear your homepage is, until the user has converted into a customer, use every opportunity to reiterate how much time or money your product will save.

#2: Generate Trust With Inline Customer Testimonials

This is more important for some products than others, but every application has to appease the fears of privacy-conscious consumers. There is no better way to do this than to point to real customers who are using your product actively and vouch for its security and usefulness.

This is why the best signup flows also integrate testimonials into the flow as yet another reassurance that their product is safe and well-liked by trustworthy businesses and individuals.

Intercom includes a rotating testimonial at the bottom of every page in the signup process.

Intercom does a great job of building trust with a continuous stream of customer testimonials.
Intercom does a great job of building trust with a continuous stream of customer testimonials.

A solid testimonial from a user at a big company can do wonders for building trust.

If you have big brands at your disposal, it also doesn’t hurt to just throw them out there while the user is signing up, the way Mixpanel does.

Mixpanel parades the logos of its biggest customers to convince potential users that their product is safe and reliable.
Mixpanel parades the logos of its biggest customers to convince potential users that their product is safe and reliable.

#3: Minimize the Friction to Signing Up

This may seem obvious, but it’s very tempting to ask the user for their extended biography when signing up. Makes for easier lead qualification, right?

There’s an obvious downside here: every additional field adds another mental step for your customers to grapple with before getting their hands on your product. That’s why the best signup forms find a healthy balance between finding the right questions to ask to qualify leads without introducing form fatigue.

Stripe requires a fair amount of personal and business data (Social Security Number, business address, etc.) to use the product, but they save all that for a second step called “activation.” In order to get leads through the door as quickly as possible, they simply ask for the basics.

Stripe's barebones signup form is a great way of delaying more tedious forms in favor of getting customers through the door.
Stripe's barebones signup form is a great way of delaying more tedious forms in favor of getting customers through the door.

Stripe, a fairly complicated product, leaves the complicated questions for a secondary step in the signup process.

If you’re a B2B business, one piece of important information is likely a user’s company. A handy proxy for that is by asking the user to sign up specifically with their work email. You can then use the domain for their email to know the company they work for. Intercom automatically asks the user if they have a work email if they use a public email provider, like gmail.com or yahoo.com.

If Intercom notices you're not using a work email to sign up, they notify you immediately.
If Intercom notices you're not using a work email to sign up, they notify you immediately.

In fact, Github takes the minimalism a step further by embedding the sign up form at the top of their homepage. They’ve built a well known brand whose value proposition is mostly understood, so they opted not to waste precious screen space reiterating it.

Github puts their signup form front and center so that no one ever misses it.
Github puts their signup form front and center so that no one ever misses it.

#4: Allow Signing In With Social Accounts

Another useful tactic is to offer users multiple ways to sign up. Integrating with other third-party providers lets users sign in with one click and you still get the vital information you need (name, email, and depending on the provider, details like their Github account or LinkedIn profile).

Most services now give users this option. It’s safer for you, because you’re no longer handling passwords, and more convenient for the user. And that convenience is key. Notion even allows users to sign up without a password. Every time they want to log in, they’re emailed a temporary password to use. This works for their service because they allow users to be signed in for months at a time, without their session expiring.

Notion supports Google sign in, as well as
Notion supports Google sign in, as well as "passwordless" sign in.

#5: Encourage Referrals and Further Action Immediately

If your business model benefits from users adding collaborators or friends, it’s a good idea to encourage that behavior right after signing up. Airtable asks users to invite others immediately after entering their own information. They even sweeten the deal by mentioning the credits they get for every referral.

Airtable's referral program is a core piece of their onboarding flow. It encourages users to add collaborators right away.
Airtable's referral program is a core piece of their onboarding flow. It encourages users to add collaborators right away.

Your business might not be driven by referrals, but you likely want your users to take other steps. For example, Notion tries to drive stickier behavior by incentivizing users with credit in exchange for downloading their mobile and desktop apps, or migrating data from another source.

Notion instead using this time to incentivize users to download their mobile and desktop apps, if they haven't already.
Notion instead using this time to incentivize users to download their mobile and desktop apps, if they haven't already.

#6: Provide a Checklist for What To Do Next

Once a user signs up, your goal is to help them get the promised value as quickly as possible. A great way to do that is by laying out a roadmap for what the user should do next. This is especially valuable for services that require integration in order to realize that value.

Segment is a great example of this. In order for their customers to get the most out of their product, they need to integrate it into their existing code immediately. That’s why it’s the first step in the onboarding checklist every user sees upon signing up.

Segment's onboarding checklist gives new users a clear idea of how to integrate their SDK and move forward.
Segment's onboarding checklist gives new users a clear idea of how to integrate their SDK and move forward.

Developer-centric companies have to go the extra mile with these onboarding flows by also providing interactive tutorials on integrating their SDK. That’s why Plaid supplies users with a Sandbox environment where they can play with fake bank data to get their APIs connected and easily test them.

Plaid provides a similar
Plaid provides a similar "roadmap" for their customer to be successful using their product.

Get Started and Then Iterate, Iterate, Iterate!

The most effective flow can vary from business to business, but it helps to have inspiration from successful companies to guide your own.

Optimizing your conversion funnel is a never-ending part of every company’s growth, and there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. You’re unlikely to get it perfectly right the first time. Rob Walling mentions during his talk that it took Drip years to get it right, and they’re still working on it every day.

That’s why it helps to have tools that allow you to experiment and iterate as quickly as possible. Midtype helps developers implement user login and authentication without writing a single line of backend code. That means you can focus entirely on the customer experience. Check out how Midtype can accelerate your development velocity!

Want to use these lessons for your own app's onboarding flow?

Midtype helps builders launch and iterate on web apps at light speed. We provide a hosted backend with user login, payments, a database, and much more built in. We allow you to focus on your core product without reinventing the wheel.

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