Leveraging User Onboarding To Increase Retention

Onboarding isn’t just to help your users navigate in and around your product; it can help you with retention exercises as well.

Abhishek Anand
7 min readJul 10, 2017
As soon as a user gets on to your product, the onboarding process starts. So does retention. (src)

Part 2 in the mini-series on user onboarding. Read part 1 here.

For the most part of it, businesses think of user onboarding as the process via which they can let their users get a ‘hang’ of the system, understand how to navigate around it and what not. Once that is done, the onboarding process is supposed to have been completed. Respectfully, I disagree.

Sure, onboarding does play a crucial role in helping your users get to know your product better, but it can be so much more than just that.


Traditional onboarding process (what we were just talking about) does have its upsides. What are your users supposed to do? Where are they supposed to go? Questions like this, if left unanswered, can end up making your users feel overwhelmed and intimated resulting in them leaving the system before they have had the chance to even perform their first action. Any action. This is why so many users drop off during their first ever usage itself, never to return.

That is where the traditional onboarding process comes into the picture. Onboarding is just an extension of the age old process of ‘pre-game tutorials’ you have always seen in your favorite videogames. With the advent of social games, game developers made this process better. What to do first, what to do after that, after that and so on — a tidy little helper would be with you every step of the way for a good period of time. And after you have progressed beyond what is called the cold user flow, the process would stop. What we do not realise is that it was essentially just the first stage of the onboarding process.


You have already taken care of getting your users to ‘get’ what is it that your product does. Now comes the part where you try to Wow them. Users that you are able to wow would be the ones who would end up using your product for weeks and months. They would be the ones who would be the social influencers, telling their friends about your ‘core offering’ — and that is the best kind of marketing any startup can ask for. But for that to happen, your user doesn’t just need to understand your core offering, he also needs to relate to it and understand it in a way that he is able to explain it further in as few and crisp words as possible.

All this is possible via onboarding.


A minimum 7 friends within the first 10 days of signing up.

We are all well familiar with this, aren’t we? This is a trend the growth team at Facebook identified by doing an analysis on their engaged users vs non-engaged ones, and a trait that they identified for their preferred type of users — users who were beneficial to the business in long run vis-a-vis their levels of engagement. Why is this important? Because they let go of all the noise, and with a laser-focus and precision identified the one key metric which if tried to improve during the onboarding process helped them predict future behavior for their users. This one goal — get new users to add 7+ friends asap — could be the single greatest force that drove Facebook’s growth engine.

  • Did the user upload any pictures?
  • Shared links?
  • Liked/commented?
  • Check-ins?

All of these became irrelevant, and getting those 7 friends started becoming the sole focus.


Woot woot.

You want your consumers to feel amazed by some part of your product — which would be your core offering. Unless they are amazed, the chances of them continuing to use your product for an extended period of time takes a huge hit, and the probablity of them acting as your brand influencers falls down to 0.

Onboarding has to be all about getting your users to that wow moment, the core value of your product, as early as possible. If the core value isn’t directly obvious, they will be lost for good.

For Facebook, the value was the ability to know what’s happening in their friends life without the need to directly interact with them. Did Facebook know this from the get go? Doubtful. But looking at usage pattern, the growth team was able to figure it out, and then they formed their whole onboarding strategy around it.

PRO TIP:Never make the mistake of ‘knowing’ what your core value or wow moment is. Walk in without a bias and analyze user behavior to discover what is the core value that is resonating with your base.


Now this part is actually fun. Here is what you want to do:

#1. Lay out the ground rules

You would need to identify your performance metrics — what are your objectives, what does success look like to you, what constitutes a positive attribute when it comes to retaining a user or converting a signup → prospect consumer.

Identify as many of them as possible.

#2. Measure everything

You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Measure everything. Look at every action your users take within your system.

#3. Go all nerd on the data

Data, if you don’t put it to good use, is meaningless. So you now need to find out some sort of a correlation between the actions that your users are taking within your system versus the success parameters you had identified.

Do a regression analysis. It will help you identify which of your user metrics can be the most appropriate indicator of success.


One of the things that could help you a lot would be the Pearson’s correlation coefficient.

There you have it — your potential wow moment.

PRO TIP:It’s better to have a pool of 2–3 wow moments at minimum. Would help you weed out the less helpful ones.Always remember, correlation ≠ causation


Once you have your wow moments, get on with your experiments. Try bringing the attention of more and more users to these as a part of onboarding. See what sticks.

Now that you have experimented and analyzed the user behavior on these prospect wow moments, you would be able to arrive at the best possible candidate. One that does not add bulk to your system, does not add a lot of effort at the end of the user or you, but adds a butt-load of value to both the users as well as your business. Time to expand the horizons.

PRO TIP:Most startups think of their core value or their wow moment as just that - a value. Which essentially makes it a product feature. Don't make that mistake. Your wow moment needs to be a very specific action. And your onboarding process should be designed in a way to encourage the user to take that action.

That’s it. It is that simple. As long as you remember why user onboarding is so imperative and keep on reminding yourself of the potential snowball effect it can have on your growth, you would always make it a point to have an onboarding process that goes beyond the step 1 — step 2 — and three.

And keep on playing around with data. Even a small improvement in the first week or ten days can improve your LTV dramatically, and the easiest, most practical, and most explosive way to get there is via an amazing onboarding process.

Hope you have fun with it.

That’s it for today; see you tomorrow.

I am Abhishek. I am here... there.... Everywhere...Medium | Twitter | Facebook | Quora | LinkedIn | E-mail



Abhishek Anand

Helping businesses grow 10x faster, and scale efficiently. Top Writer — Quora, Medium. Drop in a line if you’d like help with yours. mail@abyshake.com