Checklists and user onboarding
Checklists, along with tooltip product tours, are the most ubiquitous elements in user onboarding. You’ll find a plethora of various ideas when it comes to their design and placement. From the simplest embedded links, through popular floating widgets and sliding out tabs to extensive setup wizards. But the basic principles that make them so effective stay the same:
- they provide a clear, finite path to success, and
- make you feel you’re getting sh*t done.
In a way, signup/setup flows are often checklists too. However, in this case here, users don’t need to follow them one by one and can come back whenever they want. So how do you decide which tasks to include where?
As you may imagine, there are no rules. Let your users experience the first, even smallest Aha! moments as soon as possible. Thus, in the initial onboarding setup flow, add quick wins that don’t require much work or steps that make it easier (or possible at all) to use your product.
On the other hand, in user onboarding checklists lay out the path to experiencing your product’s main value. They hire it to do a job. Have them complete the steps and experience first-hand how it works.
You can also think about it in another way: by the time new users finish the onboarding checklist, they should have done the action you want them to create a habit around at least once. For email marketing software it would be sending an email campaign, while for learning management systems—creating and publishing the first course.
15 Onboarding Checklist Tactics
Embedded vs floating widgets
User onboarding tools like Appcues or UserGuiding let you add simple user onboarding checklist widgets without coding. While they have their advantages, e.g., they’re visible at all times, they usually offer limited functionalities. And, what might not be so obvious at first glance, such floating elements can make your users’ lives a bit harder—by limiting access to your main UI (especially on smaller screen sizes).
There are, however, alternatives. You can embed a checklist in your main dashboard or place it on a separate page focusing on user onboarding. Such user onboarding checklists can have various forms, even turning into fully-fledged setup wizards.
Point to the checklist right after entering the app
I’m pretty sure there are at least a few elements fighting for your users’ attention after entering your product for the first time. So if you want to make sure they notice and follow the onboarding checklist, use visual cues like arrows or tooltips so that they know where to look.
Add a link to your intro video
Not everybody wants to watch an onboarding video right after signup. Some users would rather explore the app first. By placing the video in the checklists rather than on a welcome screen, you leave it up to them to choose the most suitable moment.
Mark the first item as done
User onboarding checklists are yet another place where the completion bias can help you move more users toward the end goal. Add, e.g., creating an account as the first step and mark it as done to make users feel they are already in the process, a bit closer to the end.
Make the progress visible at all times
If you place your product onboarding checklist on a separate Getting started page, some users may forget it’s there or that there are still some steps to complete. So why don’t you reserve a tiny spot in your navigation menu to display the onboarding progress bar? With such a constant reminder, you have higher chances to improve user activation.
Show estimated time to completion
Some tasks might seem daunting at first glance, while they don’t take more than two minutes. Display the time needed to complete each step to remove the uncertainty and increase users’ motivation to at least give it a try.
Allow to skip steps
Face it. Not all users will want to go through all the checklist items, and additional steps might only get in the way of making progress. By allowing users to skip steps they consider unnecessary, you give them the power to tailor the experience to their particular case.
For each feature have multiple elements
If you’re planning a full-blown setup guide, you can consider having multiple steps for each of your features. Educate users gradually. Start with a quick overview video, followed by a tour, and ending with additional information or pro tips.
Lock items that need a previous setup
Many may feel the urge to skip the necessary setup and jump straight into the action. By adding a lock icon on the final checklist item, Sendgrid makes it clear that it just won’t work. This way, they avoid any confusion that could arise otherwise.
Offer a reward for completion
Some may argue that while offering rewards can lead to a higher checklist completion rate, in the end, it can only hurt your business. Why? Because such a “bribery” doesn’t affect how valuable your product is, and users who don’t see a fit won’t create a habit around using it anyway. On the other hand, those that do will get it at a discounted rate.
However, it might be the nudge some people need to move forward. And if you can offer a non-financial reward that increases perceived value of your software then you should at least give it a try.
Split the checklist into chunks
If you’re going for a more extensive product onboarding checklist, instead of having an endless number of items, group them into easier-to-digest chunks.
Name based on the outcome, not the functionality
We, marketers, are constantly told to focus our copy on benefits over features. And even though in user onboarding flows it’s particularly challenging (you need to be specific about what users need to do), you should try to show the purpose behind each action whenever possible. With regards to checklists, name the items in a way that makes users want to complete them, rather than consider it all a dull necessity.
Add links to resources
It’s always good to have a follow-up action so that users are not left in limbo. After finishing essential steps, suggest reading or watching relevant content.
Make the last step activating the subscription
You may want to avoid adding unnecessary friction at earlier stages in the onboarding process. But if somebody has finished setting up or exploring your app and has experienced a few Aha! moments along the way, this might be a perfect timing to ask for a credit card, or switch from a free to a paid subscription plan.
Have multiple checklists for different purposes
Don’t limit yourself to a single onboarding checklist. If needed, have a separate one for each of your features.
Another option would be to have different checklists for different stages in the customer lifecycle, e.g., one for user activation and another for feature adoption.
User Onboarding Checklist Examples
See onboarding checklist examples from the top performing SaaS products. Below you can find tens of screenshots where you can see how UX designers dealt with guiding users through the initial setup. And when you’re done browsing the onboarding checklists examples, read how to structure your SaaS onboarding checklist in the article below.