Proverbs say, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression”…and this is just as true for your mobile app experience.
Understanding mobile usage is critical to success. An average smartphone user has 40 apps installed on their mobile phone, taking just two taps to pull your users away from your app and into another. The truth is that getting a user to download your app is only a small part of the battle. According to Statista, here is the percentage of mobile apps that have been used only once from 2010 to 2019:
On average ¼ of all apps are being abandoned after the first session. For many companies, losing ¼ of your users after one session could be lethal to their business. The strategy around keeping the attention (and eventually retention) of your mobile users must mean making every second, visual, and text count to meet your goals.
Having designed and constructed numerous mobile apps, I have had the pleasure of focusing time on onboarding different types of users. While most of the secret sauce for onboarding comes from curating an experience around your industry and payment model, there are still some general learnings that can apply to most apps and users. Here are the top four takeaways to create the most effective onboarding experience:
Identify clearly what you expect users to do.
Imagine you are on a first date. You sit down with a spark of interest in this person and tons of questions. Yet when the date finally arrives, they start rambling their life story to you, trying to let you know every single thing about them before the server even brings the entree. You might be sitting there sipping your drink, looking at the clock wondering when you’ll get a moment to give your excuse to get out of there. Now imagine this rambling date as an app experience. So many onboarding experiences try to tell every single thing about their app to the users in an attempt to keep them, but it ultimately just pulls them away.
It’s important to think critically about what key parts of information a user needs to know and what things they absolutely need to do during their first session. The lighter this experience is for a user, the higher your rate of success can be.
Work through the data and determine what actions are taken by users that are retained.
Knowing what a user should do to put them on the path to success sometimes requires you to get your hands dirty and dig into the data. Sometimes the strategy here can be about seeing what successful users are doing and trying to get more people to do that. The solution can also be the opposite, where you can see what actions unsuccessful users are doing and alter the experience to avoid or change those actions. The real solution is going to come from intimately understanding your app and your industry to determine what a successful user journey looks like and designing an experience around it.
Design for distraction
You may think your app is the best thing to happen to mobile phones, but in actuality many people default to using their main go-to apps—and it can be quite hard to distract users away from them.
Sometimes we design as if our users have all day to figure out what our app is about and how it works, but the truth of session lengths may shock you. While this varies by industry, the stark reality is that an average session for a mobile app is less than 5 minutes. Also from my experience, your first sessions can range lower than a regular session. So that’s optimistically five minutes to shine and integrate yourself into a user’s life or get the chop. When you see the reality of the time that you have, you can better understand the need to design for distraction.
- Don’t stray away from your CTA!
While you should be tasteful about how you display your CTA — whether it be to sign up or subscribe — it’s important that it’s always visible as soon as possible if not right away. While some users need convincing, some enter with the desire to jump in immediately, so they shouldn’t be forced through an onboarding experience if they are already convinced. Putting your users through a labyrinth with a prize at the end will not help your bottom line.
- Allow users to skip most of the onboarding if they so wish.
To the point above, users should also be allowed to skip. Maybe you feel they need to know certain things, however, you could potentially be creating a negative experience for users by forcing certain parts of the onboarding on them. A best practice is to show a skip option but if a user continues, omit the skip option on the following screens since they’ve shown intent and it does not need to constantly be there competing with your CTA. Bottom line is that you should let users take the driver seat and skip certain parts if they see fit.
- Make sure your app loads quickly.
This is one tidbit that actually surprised me during app development. 70% of mobile app users will abandon an app if it is taking too long to load! This is one point that is easy to forget but again, if you shift to the mindset that every second counts, it makes sense that a long loading time could leave quite a negative impression that may deter a user forever.
Give more than you take
Dear product people, we know you have metrics to hit, but don’t make that the users cross to bear.
Like all good things in life, there is give and take. The take is obvious and clear when you run a business and make an app. Oftentimes you critically need users’ emails to continue to market to them. Other times, you really need them to enter their credit card in case they want to make a purchase later in your app. These are all valuable things and no one would fault you for asking for them. But what is the user’s benefit in giving you these things? Do users sufficiently understand what they will get in return for their personal information and details? As mobile experience designers, it’s easy to lose sight of how important it is to develop as much trust and value to the user before insisting on getting their personal information.
It pains me when I see a “create an account” prompt as a first experience. Unless you are a large company like Facebook where everyone understands what they are getting into when they are downloading it. You most likely have to explain a bit more before hitting a user with a “sign in” prompt. As a user, a premature account creation prompt is giving me an ultimatum before even warming up to the experience. Make sure you’ve given value to your user before expecting much from them. To find out more about users’ personal information, read this article on user privacy in product.
Find that magic moment about an app and try and preview it by asking as little from the user as possible.
What is the “ah-ha” moment about your app? Once you answer that, try and deliver this by asking as little as possible from your users in order to entice them to give you more information and stay in your app longer.
Take a look inward
With each piece of information, ask yourself “why would a user give me this and why would they give this to me right now?” Forming a little bit of empathy for your users before asking them to give you information and do things will make for a better onboarding experience.
Ask your users the right questions to engage them and better curate their experience.
We know people love talking about themselves — apply this logic to onboarding! Asking users about the goals they have with your app or their experience level with certain topics will help you add or remove certain parts of the early experience to show users the most relevant onboarding information possible.
Understand onboarding is a never-ending process
Some people think of mobile onboarding as a one and done experience. But your users should never stop learning and growing about how to use your app. While most of the onboarding is front-loaded in the beginning, your app should ideally always be adding new features or improving the way things are being done. Users need to be onboarded to your changes each time. For this reason, applying onboarding techniques to all your app changes is the key to happy customers that grow alongside your app.
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