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What Is Progressive Onboarding? (+Examples)

Maybe you have tried all: benefit-oriented onboarding, function-oriented onboarding and others, but the results did not satisfy you. Or maybe you need a little more time to get on board with investing in progressive onboarding and ditching your latest strategy. 
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Written by
Aysenur Zaza
Published on
September 30, 2022

The progressive onboarding experience is a series of steps a user goes through gradually to learn your product with a hands-on approach and interactive elements. Because the user is prioritized, the progressive onboarding strategies often let users decide what they are going to see on their onboarding journey by triggering features, hotspots, or tooltips based on a user's actions.

This article will guide you through the definition, execution and benefits of progressive onboarding and how to use it to boost your recurring revenue and engagement. We'll also share some examples that do justice to the progressive onboarding process.

TL;DR

  • The progressive onboarding experience is a series of steps a user goes through gradually to learn your product with a hands-on approach and interactive elements.
  • Because the user is prioritized, the progressive onboarding strategies often let users decide what they are going to see on their onboarding journey by triggering features, hotspots or tooltips based on a user's actions.
  • Progressive onboarding examples work very well with mobile apps and web pages as it is compatible with multifaceted tools, complex features and workflows. 
  • While feature-oriented and benefit-oriented onboarding are great for showcasing the full functionality of an app or product, they are not contextual or personal, which creates frictions in a user's experience and can be a huge turn-off point.
  • Progressive user onboarding supports complex user segmentation and empty states and is best for personalizing the user onboarding flow.

What Is Progressive Onboarding?

The progressive onboarding is a user onboarding design process that helps users learn a product gradually by engaging with it. This user onboarding experience introduces interactive elements and instructions to users as they are using the app or product and users learn by doing; instead of following a linear pattern passively as in product tours.

Progressive onboarding is best for apps and products with complex workflows, high-function tools, multiple sections and features. Therefore, your onboarding steps must be simple and easy to follow. This type of user onboarding works well with mobile apps and web pages.

Why onboard users progressively?

Progressive onboarding process lets the user contextually explore the product or app. While it is important to highlight a product's best features, the user may find it hard to connect with it through a function-oriented onboarding where all the features are introduced at once. This process usually comes across as an information dump.

Progressive onboarding examples cover a wide range of industries; however, they all share the ultimate goal of user onboarding: providing a seamless onboarding experience to help users discover the product's value as quickly as possible.

If first-time users do not bother to spend more time on your product, the chances are they will never return. A progressive user onboarding flow can change that. 

Instead of boring users with awfully long product tours or demonstrating the benefits and features from your perspective, a progressive onboarding journey lets users decide what their next step will be. These series of steps are only triggered if the user chooses to interact with the related feature, so there is no exhaustion or overwhelming boredom at the end.

In addition, this step-by-step user experience includes personalization and shows your app's core functionality to the user base with specific information and tips they need to get the most value.

3 Examples of Progressive Onboarding

1- Evernote

evernote progressive onboarding

Evernote's onboarding UI is the perfect example of how to create a stellar first impression with your app. With each step, the user discovers a new feature they can use to take notes and record ideas. As they try these features, they get to know the app better, spend more time designing and categorizing their notes—getting the value they always wanted and putting an end to their problem. 

2- LinkedIn

linkedin progressive onboarding

LinkedIn's first-use onboarding shows you everything you need to know about the activation process. Its design immediately directs users to the target actions and does so in a simple way. Notice also how the user has the option to skip the steps and go back and edit them later after exploring the app for a while.

The interface is clear about the functions of the app interactions. The mobile app onboarding screens are also in line with the value the company presents for users, personalizing the process with the settings they highlight and the profile information the user chooses to share.

progressive onboarding linkedin

3- Tumblr

tumblr progressive onboarding

Tumblr's progressive user onboarding experiences prove right to be one of the best for collecting feedback and data. Prompted occasionally on the dashboard, you can let the designers and managers know about your disappointments or satisfactions. Notice how they encourage users while making the exit button visible.

Integrating an NPS survey in a creative and personal way, Tumblr's progressive onboarding process closely monitors new users and features that might be too complicated or unnecessary for their experience, delaying the full digital adoption process.

Progressive Onboarding Best Practices

1- Use Empty States

An empty state, if not designed properly, can be a hit or miss. Here's why:

Empty states are usually confusing and they create a user's first impression of your app. If they cannot figure out how to proceed, potential users might leave the app temporarily or permanently. 

Essentially, an empty state is the screens in your UI where the regular content is not shown yet. That is to say, the content will appear as the real users engage with the app or features. If you invest in some quality design, empty states can boost user engagement and help them experience the product in real time. 

dropbox progressive onboarding

If your empty states nudge people to take action, you will see that user retention gets higher. It gives them the opportunity to be in control of their onboarding journey without confusion or frustration.

As you can see from Dropbox's example, this empty state is not overcrowded. You can add informational content, multiple interactive modals to grab attention, or micro-videos for the first moment of interaction. However, sharing everything all at once can have a counter-effect in the sense that the user can get lost trying to understand what the next step should be.

Instead, keeping it minimal in this case wins. A catchy image, a short description and a clear action button are all you need to set your users on the right foot. You can throw in additional elements like hotspots, tooltips, and gamification in the later stages of the user onboarding flow.

2- Avoid Cluttering Information or Features

As mentioned above, a messy and overloaded user onboarding design is a huge turn-off for most users. The absence of a smooth user onboarding sequence can ultimately be a deal-breaker and cost you good retention rates.

This is one of the common mistakes for most project managers and customer success managers. They are excited about their product or app, they want to make sure to show every cool feature to the user from the moment they start their free trial or sign up for a paid plan.

While the feeling is a good booster and a great motivation source, it completely ignores what the users want and need for their onboarding process. If you trigger too many tooltips at once or provide multiple actions at the same time, the users will be confused and leave you for good.

Take one step at a time. If you have new feature updates, put them in order. Make sure to show the right content at the right time. No user wants to see a tutorial video while they are already using the app.

3- Leverage User's Job to be Done (JTBD)

What can be better than personalized and progressive user onboarding experiences? There are not many things up on the list. 

A warm welcome or introductory screens after the initial sign-up is a great way to get to know your users and collect data. To create effective user onboarding, it is important to conduct target audience research and segment them with further surveys.

The user interface should direct users to engage with relatable features with clear CTAs. Integrating checklists, hotspots and tooltips can be really helpful for users to track their progress.

userguiding progressive onboarding

Source: UserGuiding

Customizable checklists work well with personalization and gesture-driven interactions where users can explore the key features of your app based on their use case and experience the full product value in a very short time frame.

4- Introduce Hidden Features

Once the user passes the first interaction phase and is familiar with the core features, it is time to give them the real juice, the hidden gems of your progressive onboarding process via hidden features. You can inform first-time users with tooltips to grab their attention to features and tools that are relevant to their user journey but might not be as visible on UI. 

These helpful tooltips point out hidden features and uncommon gestures in your app and users have a better app experience as they understand how your app improves their professional or personal lives. An amazing progressive onboarding experience also takes into account how a user can stay longer in the app. See how Slack's example introduces a direct messaging feature progressively with educational content:

slack progressive onbboarding

Onboarding tooltips are great for increasing user retention as they engage users while adding onto the key features with significant new changes.

5- Add Skip Buttons

Skip buttons are the best friends of target users. Although a user might be interested in a feature or tool, they might not be interested in another. For best practices, it is best to include an exit or skip button for users, so they have the option to skip or exit the user onboarding process. Omitting a skip button basically disregards the user and locks them in the experience.

Giving users the freedom to choose with which steps they want to interact is a good way to ensure positive sentiments about your app or product and prevent onboarding missteps.

As long as it is visible, an X button or "skip this step" option works perfectly. See how Reddit's AMA incorporates a skip button while the potential user can get a glimpse of how AMA works without creating an account: 

reddit progressive onboarding

Final Words

Most companies opt for progressive onboarding nowadays, and it is for a good reason: progressive onboarding experience centers the user's needs, gets rid of the long and exhausting presentations and walkthroughs and encourages real time interaction with the app and product.

In other words, the user knows that they are in charge. They can skip some steps and return later, discover hidden features along the way. Their first-hand experience brings them closer to understanding the app's value more quickly, which is great for shortening the period between free trials and paid sign-ups. 

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