Contextual Series: User Onboarding

Over the past few years I’ve been working with new technologies and working new techniques for approaching user experience problems. Companies have routinely approached the problem of providing segmented user experiences by selling different products or services. Those who don’t have the resources to do so pick one segment and focus on them while alienating all other users who are trying out their product. I am not a fan of either solutions and there are others who aren’t either.

The proper solution for ensuring that users are happy is by providing a product or a service that feels as though has been built for them. When a user comes to your newspaper site and you know that they like cars, you shouldn’t start giving them news about fashion.  They will see this and leave immediately, likely to never come back. First impressions are everything. But even with that great first impression, if you can’t keep the user interested and engaged, you’ve also lost them.

Creating the ideal first impression

When users come to your product for the first time, you should have some basic information on them to at least cater some of the experience around them. Don’t go putting up a language selector page, if you are building a mobile app or a web product, that information is already available to you.  If you have regionally based content or asking user to create a user profile, use it to prefill and cater that experience for them.  The less friction you can provide to your users, the more they will be compelled to get past the boring stuff to get into your product. Chances are you are already losing 50-75% of users on the sign up page. Do something different.

With social networks, you can often skip the laborious sign up page that force users to add a lot of data before you know more about who they are. Instead you can use social networks, like Facebook, who already provide you with the user’s basic interests.  The information you get from that can be extremely useful for creating a great initial first impression when you cater the onboarding experience around the user. We’ve seen products use the information gathered from social networking profiles in very interesting ways, like Take This Lollipop. Though the example I gave is a creepy one, it shows just how powerful user data can be.

Great onboarding experience

With basic information on a user you can provide a superior onboarding experience. Depending on how the user gets to your product, you may be able to skip out on the sign up forms entirely and jump into the onboarding.  To explain how an onboarding experience can be made to cater different segments, I will use a video app, like Netflix, to describe how you can make it better.

A normal video app (let’s call this MyVideo) may have the following onboarding experience and may never take into consideration who you are or what you like:

  1. Load up the MyVideo, user is greeted for the first time
  2. User is shown how to use home screen / search, etc
  3. User is then asked to click on any video to teach the video UI
  4. User comes back to the home screen to see a lot of videos they can watch. Many of which they may not like.

The above example is fairly standard. A lot of apps employ this basic experience to teach users how to use the app. It fails to build that experience around them and bringing them into an app that is “built for them”.  However if we were to take a contextual experience based on samples of data we have on the user, that experience can be made significantly better. Let’s assume an ad campaign is created for different genres. The user clicks on a comedy ad to start the experience and goes through this flow:

  1. Load up the MyVideo app, user is greeted for the first time
  2. The home screen shows comedy videos that show the top viewed videos of the week (or day)
  3. User is asked to click on a video to teach the video UI
  4. When user comes back to the home screen, the content will still be catered to comedy. User is shown a hint to further refine preferences.

The above is only a slight improvement, but it would improve conversions significantly since users see videos they may like. You want users to see value within the first 30 seconds. But to provide an optimal experience, having basic information on a user will heavily improve that. This requires an extra step, getting the user to sign up / connecting to a social network. If they connect with Facebook you will likely have a good idea of what the user likes. This will allow you to cater that experience for the user entirely.  That flow would now look like this:

  1. Load up the MyVideo app, ask the user to login with Facebook
  2. User logs in with Facebook and is greeted. The app knows that the user likes shows including Community, Big Bang Theory, How I met Your Mother, etc.
  3. The home screen will display those videos and will make a few recommendations based on user preferences.  The user will be guided through the UI and features
  4. The user can now be instructed to click a video to teach them the UI.
  5. When the user comes back, their home screen will be catered for their needs.

There are plenty of services today that try to help you improve your onboarding experiences like Optimizely, Vessel and Woopra. They help identify the best onboarding experience. They however do not give you an onboarding experience that works for every user.  The key is understanding your users and generating a profile on your users. From there, taking the actions they perform to further understand your users.  Over time you will be able to use the data you gather just on the onboarding to continuously tweak and refine it. Perhaps you can skip the step that asks the user to click on a video and start a video when the app starts then teach them the home screen. The point is to have the data, understand your funnel and understand that not all users will like the same experience.

My intent was to cover off more than onboarding, but I realize how much I’ve written so far. I will continue to write more about contextual experiences over the next few weeks. I will be discussing making content recommendations, providing an ongoing experience that users love, and how to implement contextual features into your product. If there are other topics you’d like me to cover, feel free to let me know.