Web Application Development

Two approaches to user onboarding that will help grow your user base

Sharing two of the most powerful approaches to user onboarding, along with some real-life industry examples (and results!)

The two general patterns are:

  • Deferred account creation,
  • Persona-based onboarding.

The first approach leverages gradual engagement, letting users explore the app and experience its real value before prompting them to create an account. Users might also never be explicitly asked to sign up and complete their goals as a visitor. They will, however, see the benefits of becoming a user. Zalando's wishlist or Duolingo’s Leaderboards are great examples of such user-only benefits.

The latter pattern focuses on customization and personalized experiences. Users might be asked to self-segment as soon as they sign up. Pinterest employs that approach and asks users to select their topics of interest, for instance sports or photography right away. Alternatively, the customer service team might segment users themselves based on their in-app behavior. In either case, the segmentation provides a next-level personalized onboarding experience and helps the user discover the full potential of the tool.

Which pattern should you go for? It will depend on the nature of your business. The first approach is typical for free ecommerce and hospitality apps. The latter one is popular within paid SaaS solutions.

How deferred account creation (also known as gradual engagement) works and why it is effective:

The key here is to not ask new users for personal information right away and decrease the number of form fields they need to fill in. These actions significantly lower the entry barrier, increasing the number of visitors and, eventually, signed-up users. Let your users reach the “aha” moment first and make their own decision to register.

If you doubt whether this technique is successful, perhaps the popularity of platforms such as Duolingo, Zocdoc, Zalando, or Airbnb will convince you.

Let's look at the companies which have succesfully implemented this approach.

Success story no 1: Best Western’s revenue growth:

The Best Western River North Hotel decided to go the PWA way in 2018. Their goal was to be faster, more user-friendly, and engaging than their competition.

We think that it is fair to say that they have succeeded—today, the hotel’s PWA app gets River North Hotel 6 times more customers, which translates into a 4x growth in revenue.

We are sure that their deferred onboarding approach is part of the app’s spectacular success.

BW's onboarding process

As soon as the user opens the app, they can either sign in or enter the destination they are looking for and explore possible options for their stay. A list of suggestions and an option to use the device's location makes the process very convenient. The user can then modify the dates that interest them as well as the number of people and rooms. After that, they are ready to start exploring the options.

While an unlogged user is free to explore all the hotels, a small box at the top encourages them to enter their email and unlock lower rates. That is a very smooth and unobtrusive way to get the users to leave their email.

Once users select a room, they are provided with a reservation summary and they can

  • log in for an express booking
  • fill in their details to book the place and sign up at the same time
  • fill in their details and book the place without joining the free membership club.

This is a highly user-friendly solution that gives the user full freedom to choose whatever feels right to them while clearly stating the benefits of joining the club. It is refreshing to see this kind of approach despite the popularity of dark patterns within the travel industry (airlines, we are looking at you). What is more, the sign up/booking form not being overly long or intimidating and letting the user kill two birds with one stone is an additional UX boost.

Redifine your onboarding process

Success story no 2: Shpock's 50 million downloads milestone

Deferred onboarding is wildly popular among ecommerce apps as well. Shpock is a successful online marketplace that has reached the 50 million downloads milestone in just a few years since its launch. It is currently the 2nd top grossing app in Germany!

You might be interested to know that their mobile-first web application also employs a gradual engagement approach, although in a slightly different manner. The user is free to explore the marketplace, search for items of their choice, and inspect any of the items. However, as soon as they try to hit Make an offer, Add to wishlist or Sell now, they are asked to log in or sign up. The sign up at Shpock is made easy thanks to the options to continue with Google, Facebook, or Apple.

More importantly, when the user is asked to register, they have already found an item of their choice, they know the price, they see the average rating and the number of a given seller’s reviews. In short — they have a reason to convert. We are not afraid to say that this is probably one of the reasons behind Shpock’s success.

Note: While we think it is great to make many features available to all visitors, we understand that there are many data protection and safety concerns, due to which apps have to make some key features member-only.

How persona-based onboarding works and why it is effective:

How persona-based onboarding works and why it is effective:

Your marketing efforts will differ for each of your buyer personas. If the onboarding is the extension of your marketing, buyer personas have a place in your onboarding.

Personalized user onboarding often starts with prompting the user to choose an option right after they have filled out a signup form. The option may be a clear choice for the user to make—a choose-your-own-adventure option, or it may happen without the user knowing it, by asking them to, for instance, select their job role (or any other means of self-segmentation). In both cases, persona-based user onboarding aims to make the first experiences better and more relevant for users, with higher engagement and lower time-to-value rates. When asking the user to make their choice, it is important not to overwhelm them with too many choices—2 to 5 options seem to be the magical number.

Many of the popular apps employ persona-based onboarding. In our UX/UI Design guide, we have briefly described the success Canva has enjoyed after redesigning their onboarding experience. What they did was adding personalization to the onboarding process — Canva now offers three options for users to select who they are (and why they signed up for the app). Not only does it make the onboarding process feel personalized to the user, but it allows the product team to segment the experience based on the persona. If a user selects that they are using Canva for work, they will get a corresponding onboarding experience with templates for work-based design projects, like presentations or pamphlets. If they are using the app for personal reasons, they will get a list of sample projects like birthday invitations.

Some of the other big players who use personalized onboarding:
Headspace, Behance, Pinterest, Lynda.com

Success story no 3: ProdPad shortens the average time-to-conversion by 76%

ProdPad, a product management app, personalized their onboarding experience and saw amazing results as well a bunch of positive side-effects.

During their user onboarding process, ProdPad smoothly guides the user, letting them choose their own adventure without explicitly asking what they want to achieve. How do they do it?

At the beginning, the user provides as few as 3 pieces of information: their name, surname, and the name of their company.

Once they are in the app, they start setting up their working space: Set up a product, Add an idea, Log customer feedback, as seen in the image below. What is more, they are additionally motivated to do so by being granted additional days of free trial for completing these steps. Kudos for this solution as it:

  • Increases user engagement
  • Successfully onboards the user in the meaning that it teaches them how to use the app
  • Provides ProdPad with more and more information about the user, letting them create a personal relationship with that user by sending them customized messages with tips and suggestions on the next steps they could take, offering them suitable webinars/demos, etc.

What is more, ProdPad uses various media to communicate with their customers. In the picture below, you can see a chat box, they also send personalized emails, provide customers with masterclass videos and do demos where users can engage personally with someone from their team.

Success story no 4: Teamdeck's high engagement rates

Teamdeck, Apptension’s own resource management tool, has refined and mastered the onboarding process over the years. The results speak for themselves: Teamdeck enjoys high customer engagement, with up to 50% of clients opening the onboarding emails and up to 9% interacting with them.

At the very beginning of the onboarding process, as soon as the user signs up, they go through three simple steps to get them up and running. They Name their organization, Create their first project, and Add (at least one) team member. After that, they are shown a brief video showing how to add their first booking and get started.

Moreover, email and live chat are important communication channels for the Teamdeck crew. The team builds and nurtures personal relationships with their (potential) customers by sending personalized messages. They analyze user behavior within the app and suggest videos and other resources for users to uncover the full potential of the app. Furthermore, Teamdeck offers personal online demos to all customers.


As we have shown, adding a suitable user onboarding approach can make a significant change in the app’s popularity, significantly boosting the conversion rates, and what follows, bringing revenue growth.

For ecommerce and hospitality apps, it is deferred onboarding that can make a difference. Applied in the right way, it will hook up the visitors and, as a result, generate more signups.

On the other hand, for SaaS apps, it is all about customization and building personal relationships with customers. As proved by ProdPad, Teamdeck, and others, tailoring the onboarding process to individual customers can do wonders for the business.

If you are still unsure which onboarding approach is right for you, then reach out to us. We will be happy to help you create an efficient onboarding process for you and your users.

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