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User onboarding is the concept of keeping users on your site as they actively interact with your content. It’s about giving them that “must have” experience that keeps them coming back and making them comfortable with your site’s features.

The best onboarding techniques turn customers into converts. They educate visitors about your product and help them use it, in as simple a way as possible. Overall, it smooths out the transition from stranger to customer. It’s a powerful tool for growth hacking the marketing matrix and directly reprogramming your ROI.

But you’re just speeding through the intro to get to the meat. So let’s get to some great ways to get users on board.

Ease Them in, Gently

People, even you, tend to shy away from sites that look overly complex and busy. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t do something intricate and fascinating – you definitely should. What you don’t want to do is overwhelm someone when they first visit your site.

Have you ever looked at a page or app where all the white space is filled with content? It’s not very appetizing and doesn’t suit the medium. With a bit of effort, virtual experiences can be elegant and informative without overstimulating the user.

Short tool tips and pop-up notifications are a good way to direct new users through the appropriate steps. Be sure to only show one at a time, two at the most. Tell them what they need to know when they need to know it, and don’t make them remember much. Instead, remind them or include information from previous steps when necessary.

Use Social Login For Easy Access

Some people are embedded into the Internet; they have become a part of it. They are connected through social networks and blogs, comment sections and forums. They know what they like about the web, and they know what they hate.

Social login is a convenient tool to let visitors log in to your site through their social network or e-mail accounts. It shows them that you are connected and available. More than that, it’s an easy way to create a new account with a site, bypassing that same registration form they’ve slogged through a million times. No new account name and password necessary. Any additional information you might need shouldn’t be a big deal. When they come back, as they surely will, they can log in with a click.

Remember that even though people might want to connect with your site using a social network, they don’t want you posting your junk all over their accounts. So don’t do it, and don’t make them think that you might. Grouper, a social clubbing app, states right on their homepage that they won’t post on your Facebook wall.

Explain Yourself – Don’t Assume Too Much

People who visit your site or use your app don’t necessarily know why they are there or what it’s all about. Don’t jump right into showing and telling them what to do – explain yourself a bit first.

Spend a headline or two on your overall purpose, your goals and your vision. You should be able to briefly explain why you exist and what you can do for a user. Doing so gives them something to expect, a category, a mental model to help them understand your value.

By describing your purpose from the outset, you can pique the interest of visitors and give them some context for what comes next.

Acknowledge The Sophisticated Internet Buff’s Privacy Concerns

Some users might reject your unwarranted intrusion into their private lives by asking them to log in with their Twitter account, so give them the option of creating a personal account. When it comes to creating registration forms, think about filling out the form from the visitor’s point of view.

They want to finish as soon as possible, and they want to know for what their info will be used. Try aligning your fields and labels so they line up horizontally. This gives the form a left-right orientation instead of top-down. Forms going from left to right are more readable, making it easier for users to look at and fill out.

To inform visitors as to how their data will be used, consider adding some microcopy near any fields that they might have questions about. Pop-up bubbles that appear when the mouse hovers over the field are an unobtrusive and interactive option.

At the end of a form, confirmation e-mails are typical. Include a link here to the user’s e-mail account if possible, to speed them on their way and encourage them to finish the registration process immediately.

Personalize The Visitor Experience

Customized content is more attractive to users, giving them more to which to relate. A study by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Corporate Communications found that six out of every 10 customers surveyed thought they knew more and felt better about a company after reading custom content. 66 percent said that it helped them make better buying decisions, and more than 50 percent said that they were more likely to buy from a company with customized content.

The info you gain from social logins provides a great opportunity for personalizing a user’s experience. You can use a person’s name and photo to greet them, and you’ll be able to use their personal profiles to understand their interests. By doing so while simultaneously tracking their social activity, you can develop relevant, timely content that your users will find interesting.

Be careful with your web development and always test to make sure things are working as they should. Do not, for the love of cute cat videos, greet a visitor with “Hello, [name]!”

Recruit Their Friends

Don’t be afraid to ask to import a new user’s contacts and address books, both through social media and e-mail services. You can also go for their phone contacts, depending on the type of product or service you offer.

When asking people to offer up their friends or extra personal information, be sure to include an option to ‘Skip this Step.’ There’s no need to be demanding.

Demonstrate the Value of Your Product

Success stories are a good way to show people how great you are and the value you could bring to their lives. A few positive reviews from happy customers can go a long way toward making a new visitor feel at ease.

If you cater to other companies, feature the biggest and most popular prominently on your site. If you provided a service that helped a business become a leader in its field, you want people to know that as soon as possible.

In other cases, it may be more practical to show users how you can benefit them. Ask for some preliminary information to get started – if you provide financial help, get their gross monthly income, for example. You can take this data and show them a sample of what you’ll be able to do for them once they fully engage with you.

There’s a right way and a wrong way to do anything; tell visitors how properly using your product will enhance their lives.

Incorporate Game Mechanics To Make The Onboarding Experience More Enjoyable

Using game mechanics in your web design basically means including sets of challenges through which a user progresses towards a defined goal. Games make any process more interesting, engaging and motivating by providing people with clear tasks.

You might not be able to make your onboarding process buckets o’ fun, but you can do a lot to relieve the tedium of getting to know a new system. There are four main types of gamers:

  • Achievers – Those who want to gain more points and find treasures, surprises and bonuses.
  • Killers – Those who want to defeat others, reduce their points and achievements, and wreak havoc.
  • Explorers – Those who want to seek out novel experiences, find new information and take the path less traveled.
  • Socializers – Those who want to play with others more than anything else, building relationships and connecting with the game and other players.

Most people are a combination of these types. When it comes to the gamification of user onboarding, not all of these gamer types are equally applicable. The ‘killer’ type probably has no place in onboarding, but the ‘achiever’ and ‘socializer’ types can definitely be incorporated.

Many sites are using an achiever model in their sign-up process, such as LinkedIn and oDesk. These sites have a progress bar for the initial registration and set-up activities, which gradually fills up as you complete the indicated tasks. Other sites offer points, badges and ‘level-ups.’

For people who love to socialize, the onboarding process can include opportunities to chat with other users, new and old. They can see how other newbies like the service, if they are having any issues and whether or not they are seeing results. Users can be ranked according to their time spent using the product or by their social participation.

The other gamer types, ‘killers’ and ‘explorers,’ aren’t off limits, but it might take some extra creativity or a specialized product to make them work.

As you can see, user onboarding is a multi-headed beast, and there are lots of avenues by which you can grab a user’s attention and not let go. You have to make them feel like they are not wasting their time with you, that you care about their experience and have worked to make it as smooth as possible. Don’t come on too strong, but strut your stuff and prove your value; your understanding of your audience and their perspective will shine through the competition like a beacon in the fog.

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