User Onboarding Checklist: 15 Tactics & 94 Examples

Checklists and user onboarding

Checklists, together with tooltip product tours, are among the most common features in user onboarding. You’ll encounter a wide range of concepts regarding their design and placement, from simple embedded links to popular floating widgets, sliding-out tabs, and comprehensive setup wizards. However, the fundamental principles behind their effectiveness stay the same:

    In a way, signup/setup flows often act as checklists too. However, in this case, users don’t need to follow them one by one and can return whenever they want. So, how do you decide which tasks to include and where?

    As you might imagine, there are no strict rules. Allow your users to experience their first, even smallest, “Aha!” moments as soon as possible. Therefore, 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, user onboarding checklists outline the path to experiencing your product’s main value. They engage with it to accomplish a task. Have them complete the steps and experience firsthand how it works.

    You can also think about it another way: by the time new users finish the onboarding checklist, they should have performed 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, it would be creating and publishing the first course.

    15 Onboarding Checklist Tactics

    Embedded vs floating widgets

    User onboarding tools such as Appcues or UserGuiding allow you to incorporate straightforward user onboarding checklist widgets without the need for coding. Although they offer benefits, such as being constantly visible, they often have limited features. Additionally, it’s important to note that these floating elements can potentially complicate users’ experiences by restricting access to the main user interface, especially on smaller screens.

    User onboarding checklist widget

    However, there are alternatives available. You can integrate a checklist directly into your main dashboard or dedicate a separate page specifically for user onboarding. These checklists can take different forms, evolving into comprehensive setup wizards if needed.

    Embedded user onboarding checklist

    Point to the checklist right after entering the app

    I’m certain that upon entering your product for the first time, there are several elements competing for your users’ attention. Therefore, if you want to ensure they notice and follow the onboarding checklist, consider incorporating visual cues such as arrows or tooltips to guide them on where to look.

    Add a link to your intro video

    Not everyone prefers to watch an onboarding video immediately after signing up. Some users may prefer to explore the app first. By including the video within the checklists instead of on a welcome screen, you empower users to decide the most suitable moment for themselves.

    Mark the first item as done

    User onboarding checklists offer another opportunity to leverage completion bias to guide more users toward the end goal. For instance, you can start by adding tasks such as creating an account as the first step and immediately mark it as done. This gives users a sense of progress and brings them closer to completing the entire process.

    Make the progress visible at all times

    Placing your product onboarding checklist on a separate “Getting Started” page might lead some users to forget about it or overlook remaining steps. Instead, consider allocating a small space in your navigation menu to display an onboarding progress bar. This constant reminder can significantly enhance user activation by keeping users informed of their progress throughout the onboarding process.

    Show estimated time to completion

    Some tasks may appear daunting initially, even though they only require a few minutes to complete. To alleviate uncertainty and boost users’ motivation to take action, consider displaying the estimated time needed to complete each step. This transparency can encourage users to give it a try, knowing that the task won’t consume much of their time.

    Allow to skip steps

    Let’s face it: not all users will want to complete every item on the checklist, and additional steps might hinder their progress. By offering users the option to skip steps they deem unnecessary, you empower them to customize the experience to suit their specific needs. This flexibility enhances user satisfaction and encourages engagement with the onboarding process.

    Break down into sub-steps

    If you’re developing a comprehensive setup guide, you might want to consider breaking down each feature into multiple steps. This allows you to educate users gradually. Begin with a brief overview video to introduce the feature, followed by a guided tour, and conclude with additional information or pro tips. This structured approach helps users learn efficiently and increases their understanding of your product’s features.

    Lock items that need a previous setup

    Many users 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

    Offering a reward for completing the checklist can indeed incentivize users and potentially lead to a higher completion rate. However, some argue that this approach could ultimately harm your business.

    Why? Because offering rewards may not necessarily increase the actual value of your product. Users who don’t find your product valuable won’t develop a habit of using it, even with rewards. On the other hand, those who do find value may expect the product at a discounted rate.

    Nevertheless, offering a reward could provide the push some users need to progress. If you can offer a non-financial reward that enhances the perceived value of your software, it may be worth trying out.

    Split the checklist into chunks

    If you’re opting for a more extensive product onboarding checklist, consider grouping the items into easier-to-digest chunks rather than presenting an endless list.

    Name based on the outcome, not the functionality

    As marketers, we’re consistently advised to prioritize emphasizing benefits over features in our copy. While this can be particularly challenging in user onboarding flows where specificity is crucial, it’s essential to highlight the purpose behind each action whenever possible. When it comes to checklists, naming the items in a manner that sparks user interest and motivation can make completing them more appealing, rather than merely viewing them as dull necessity.

    Add links to resources

    It’s always beneficial to provide users with a follow-up action after completing essential steps, ensuring they aren’t left in limbo. Consider suggesting reading or watching relevant content that further enhances their understanding or usage of the product.

    Make the last step activating the subscription

    While it’s important to minimize unnecessary friction in the early stages of the onboarding process, once a user has completed setting up or exploring your app and has experienced a few “Aha!” moments, this could be the perfect timing to ask for a credit card or prompt a 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 separate ones for each of your features.

    Additionally, you could create different checklists tailored to various stages in the customer lifecycle. For example, you might have one checklist focused on user activation and another dedicated to feature adoption.

    User Onboarding Checklist Examples

    Below are screenshots showcasing examples of onboarding checklists from top-performing SaaS products. These examples offer insights into how UX designers effectively guide users through the initial setup process.