8 Principles for New User Onboarding

Hey there 👋

Long-time lurker, first-time poster here. Let's talk about onboarding.

I studied a lot of what works and what doesn't while helping rebuild the Hugo onboarding experience.

🔥 These were the 8 most helpful principles that I came across:

  1. Break onboarding into two phases: The first session and all follow-up engagement. You must win the first session.

  2. Tease the experience that awaits them when they are done. Even better, preview the magic moment before they go through the slog.

  3. Don't leave users empty-handed at the end of onboarding. Give them a small dopamine hit of accomplishment.

  4. Treat onboarding like any other product feature. Continue to maintain and iterate on the experience.

  5. Use a laser, not a shotgun. Be extremely focused on what you want users to do during their first session.

  6. It's normally better to be active than passive. Instead of showing how to do something, help them do it.

  7. Set intelligent defaults. Most users won't change the settings. Be opinionated about how your product is used.

  8. Make every first moment delightful. First login. First landing. First emails. These are all opportunities to leave an impression.

If you enjoyed this and you're feeling generous, perhaps like or retweet the thread on Twitter and check out the full post linked there for more details. 🙌

  1. 1

    Great writeup, Conor, thanks! I'm curious about #1. How do you break onboarding into two phases? Can you give me examples? And do you have any numbers around how this has helped your company/product? I'd love to credit you in a writeup of my own :)

  2. 1

    ⬆️ This.

    To add to #8: this is when adding personality to your copy goes a loooooong way to make every first moment a delight. ✨

  3. 1

    Woah! This is really awesome list 💪 I'm impressed.

    I nervously clicked this link since I just released my first user walkthru and personalized onboarding experience for Curate. I luckily checked everything off the list 😅


    For anyone who is looking to build a new onboarding experience for their SaaS:

    Using Intercom's Product Tour, I added a no-code solution to walk first-time users through the app. It highlights some aspects of each page and helps the user understand the basic navigation of your app. They can even access it any time via the Help menu. I highly recommend this feature from Intercom (no affiliation). End to end was impressed by the blend of simplicity and configuration.

    Check out some screenshots of the product tour and the personalized onboarding experience recently added to Curate.


    I'll throw another tip in there that I like to use.

    Start with some progress already achieved instead of at zero. Make users feel already invested resulting in a desire to continue.

    For Curate, it's linking their Instagram account, it happens before they really get into the app but giving them credit for it gives a similar dopamine hit of accomplishment like your point 3 references.

    1. 1

      I like that tip 👌

      Intercom sounds interesting for this. We use Appcues as our no-code solution for our onboarding stuff. It's really nice being able to iterate quickly and tweak things as your product changes without having to rebuild everything in code.

  4. 1

    Great tips Conor!

    Give them a small dopamine hit of accomplishment

    I have been reading the book Hooked by Nir Eyal which talks about Trigger, Reward, Action and Investment for habit forming products. This builds on the same theme

    Another onboarding tactic is showing a time frame, sometime like - You are two steps away from getting your shop online. Do you think this helps to convert more users ?

    1. 1

      Definitely! I think this ties into #2 really well: "Tease the experience that awaits them when they are done."

  5. 1

    Thank you for putting this list. It could be really useful for me as I launched Designtack.

  6. 1

    Awesome post on your blog Conor, thanks for this🙏🏼

  7. 1

    Tease the experience that awaits them when they are done. Even better, preview the magic moment before they go through the slog.

    This one is huge. I'd go even further to say we should strive to not have a "slog" at all. Get the user as quickly as possible to the actual magic moment. But if thats not possible, I agree, previewing/teasing it would help.

    Maybe I'm getting at a separate, meta principle which is: try to make your product intuitive and efficient enough to not require onboarding before providing value.

    Great list, Conor. Thanks!

  8. 1

    Some good stuff here.

    And you're right, I don't think I've touched onboarding since launch. Time to change that.

  9. 1

    Some great tips here @conordewey3. Thanks for sharing!

  10. 1

    Building out my onboarding now.. great timing :) Thanks!

  11. 1

    Can you share some folks/sites/products who do onboarding well from your studies?

    1. 1

      For sure! I found most of my inspiration from:

      Some companies that stood out to me were Superhuman, Duolingo, Airtable, Trello, and Basecamp. Mostly B2B SaaS since that's our focus at Hugo.

  12. 1

    Thats a good insight, thanks for sharing

  13. 1

    This is great, thanks for sharing. 👍

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