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Contextual Onboarding - definition, examples, guidelines

This article is here to talk about this special type of onboarding, give a proper definition of it, show examples, and hopefully make you appreciate it well enough to get you started with this world-class onboarding experience as well.
Written by
Suay Çakırca
Published on
February 22, 2023

A contextual onboarding experience is all about giving the user a life-saver tip or hint when it's needed the most. It's all about efficiency, timing, guidance, and great user experience.

Being a key part of user engagement and happy endings -signup process- contextual onboarding is definitely worth talking about. That's why this article is here to talk about this special type of onboarding, give a proper definition of it, show examples, and hopefully make you appreciate it well enough to get you started with this world-class onboarding experience as well.

What is Contextual Onboarding?

Contextual onboarding, as the name suggests, is a certain type of successful onboarding that happens within a context. 

A contextual onboarding experience is a method that works as an opportunity to customize onboarding flows and make them richer, more effective, and to the point - without making dramatic changes within the same old onboarding system.

For starters, it should be noted that contextual onboarding doesn't have to be complicated; in fact, it's not much different from all the product walkthroughs that you're used to. It's a different method that divides onboarding steps into numerous pieces that your users can pick and experience in the correct order as a result of their requirements. 

At this point, all the essential onboarding UX patterns that a regular product tour would have are included in our process. All the tooltips, hotspots, checklists, in-app modals, and visual design they're all here. However, the timing and placement differentiate the ''contextuality'' and make it more special. 

Here are a couple of brilliant examples to prove the point. 

1- Vieworks

Vieworks provides a great example of contextual onboarding that proves its effectiveness and interactivity. With a 14-step product tour, this platform manages to keep it all together while offering engagement and a world-class onboarding experience. 

First things first, this team is highly aware of the fact that a 14-step tour is a bit uncommon.

However, this tour seems to work perfectly thanks to its tooltips being quite short and the fact that the whole flow ensures the user that all this will, in fact, will not take long despite all the steps. 


This entire onboarding process continues its contextuality by offering useful information through background design - enabling users to focus easily on the current user onboarding itself. 


As for the interactivity part, Vieworks again adds a nice touch to keep the user engaged by offering constant interaction; buttons that need to be clicked on, areas that need to be filled, and more. This way, they ensure that the users play an active part in the app onboarding experience and understand and engage more as a natural result. 


2-  BeerOrCoffee

BeerOrCoffee is another example that uses contextual onboarding in a way that introduces core features and functions with the help of an interactive guide and tooltips, in addition to a progress bar.  

As can be seen below, they use a tour modal that says, ''learn how to reserve a place in a minute,'' and they display it through numerous tooltips when a user clicks on a button. 

They also use content that's specifically designed for video learners and interactive learners - offering a guiding video within the smart onboarding process for better understanding.

Moreover, BeerOrCoffee users have the opportunity to use bars and buttons placed on the welcoming page as they continue their entire user onboarding experiences.


Next in line are the benefits of contextual onboarding, both for your business and related campaigns.

Benefits of Using Contextual Onboarding

Short attention spans are something that all your users have in common, and they are your number one reason for suffering.

It's no surprise that today, the biggest issue that most businesses face during onboarding is the high possibility of their users leaving the journey without seeing the essential product features or even completing it. 

With contextual onboarding, however, you do not have to worry about users leaving before they see the end of your impeccable onboarding flow.

Here's why.

1- It's easier to navigate.

What people are looking for these days is simplicity. And the same old big and boring product tours are not the answer.

When contextual onboarding is applied correctly, it usually is not longer than 7 tooltips, has a progress bar, and uses short copy. 

This means it's quite easier to navigate, understand, and implement. As long as you keep it short, relevant, and to the point, you shouldn't worry about getting your users familiar with your product and getting that sign-up form filled!


2- It's more digestible.

Similarly, contextual guidance is better than a regular product guide simply because it is more digestible. 

Applying contextual onboarding will let you divide that product guide into meaningful app actions that lead to appreciating your notable features - faster and easier. 

And the best part is that this will enable you to offer EACH user a persona-based onboarding experience.


3- It's contextual

This type of special onboarding is called contextual for a reason.

Contextuality in onboarding means meeting the first-time users when and where they want to be met. And by practicing this experience, you'll avoid the number one problem most big products have: a long product tour.

Instead of that, you'll make sure your users talk about what they want to do before getting to the target locations on that specific product, wander around and take meaningful actions by themselves while explaining engaging bits along the way. 


6 Amazing Examples of Contextual Onboarding


1- Wordpress

Here's an example from Wordpress.  

With their 4-step update slideshow, Wordpress uses contextuality within their promotional onboarding process. When users are working on their posts, a short slideshow explains the new feature immediately, leaving them to take meaningful actions and experience the impact themselves.

The slideshow doesn’t take up much space on the screen. However, it still gets attention since the visual design allows the visitor to see clearly - putting the rest in shadows and focusing solely on the slideshow.

Speaking of visuality, WordPress also helps users get a good explanation in the copy, thanks to a bunch of visuals up and running. This way, users become more engaged and likely to remember more details about contextual signals. 


2- Notion 

Notion's new feature announcement is another great practice of contextual onboarding. The tooltip is prompted exactly -remember how contextual onboarding is all about timing- when the user can experience the given feature.  

The tooltip displays a long piece of copy separated into two steps under the ''Onboarding Checklist'' section.

If you have quite a text to offer, just like Notion here, you can use certain text formatting and emojis to ease the reading process. As can be seen above, Notion offers a fairly long text for an onboarding tooltip; however, it makes sure it's still a fun app experience to read it. 

3- Duolingo

As soon as you start with Duolingo, the app prompts you to click on words or certain letters to display their meanings in the first couple of lessons. You just see the highlighted words, and when you click on them, they show you the meanings immediately. After the whole thing, it even rewards users with daily streaks and gems. 

In that sense, Duolingo offers simplicity within the copy and the tooltip regarding wording and shape; however, it's still quite effective in creating interaction and engagement. 

Last but not least, Duolingo knows what it's doing in terms of lighting and visuality; it not only darkens the background but also highlights the specific word in colors as well. This way, you have no confusion regarding what the key action is!

4- Evernote 

Evernote uses a tooltip to inform visitors of a specific feature that it thinks they can use and, when they click on it, shows an instant video to explain how it works.  

The copy within this tooltip is relatively short, but it's relevant and to the point, and beyond that, what really makes it special are the buttons that say ''show me'' and ''try it.'' With the help of this kind of word choice, Evernote enables the users to feel in full control while learning about the product features and not be forced to do anything they don't wish with this new tool.

As for the video part, Evernote uses its video content - a short one- to explain its basic product features in an effective and relevant way.

Although this tooltip seemingly has no closing button, it's still easily skippable when the user clicks on any other part of the given screen - providing great ease of use and swiftness. 

5- Candy Crush

Candy Crush is super fun when it comes to contextual tooltips. 

They onboard their users using a mascot, with plenty of visual support along the way and a massive skip button. Once the user gets started with the game, the mascot points at the candies, allowing the user to try out the pointed feature. 

To teach the game, Candy Crush provides a complete onboarding test round at first. This way, users become able to try a demo environment to understand the game better and, therefore, master it. 

As the process continues and Candy Crush shows how to swipe the candies in a small animated box, it helps the average user persona -often elderly people- understand the task better thanks to this visual support.  


6- Plandisc

Plandisc uses interactive and contextual guides to offer a complete onboarding process to its users. This onboarding guide often consists of an 8-step process and has great copy that helps users master the tool swiftly and make them appreciate the essential features. 


For unfamiliar users, Plandisc might seem a bit complicated at first. And this is why their sales team offers such a complete onboarding process to make it easy and quite fast to put what's learned about the product features into practice.

Since Plandics cares about a personalized onboarding experience, it uses tooltips with a certain voice modal and some emojis to motivate the user to move through the entire user onboarding process and complete the steps faster. 

Wrapping Up

It shouldn't come as a surprise that forcing an interactive walkthrough that takes forever to complete is just a waste of time since each individual user has a shorter attention span than the other one these days.

Therefore, it's high time you let them experience the knowledge and the whole user onboarding flow in contextual locations and times.  

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