4 Ways to Reduce User Onboarding Time

Kanishka Thakur
March 7, 2024
5 mins


Have you ever wondered why your newest feature isn't gaining the traction you expected? The culprit is often a lengthy onboarding process that frustrates new users and makes them drop off. For product and growth teams, reducing time-to-value or TTV should be one of their top priorities. 

The faster we can get users up and running with our product, the more likely they are to stick around. In this article, we'll explore 4 proven techniques you can implement today to reduce user onboarding time, boost engagement, and get your users to that aha! moment as quickly as possible.

The Importance of User Onboarding

An effective onboarding experience is crucial for user activation and retention.

The "time to value" or TTV refers to how long it takes for a new user to get value from your product after signing up. The shorter the TTV, the more engaged your users will be.

Onboarding tools like tooltips, checklists, spotlight, and in-app messages can help shorten the TTV. These nudges guide the user to key features, explain how things work, and prompt them to take important actions. 

For example, you can highlight the search bar and suggest a query to get started using a tooltip. A spotlight can introduce a new feature when it becomes relevant for the first time. 

In-app messages can check in on the user and ask for feedback to improve their experience.

Spotlighting important elements, simplifying menus, pre-selecting options, and setting smart defaults are other ways to speed up onboarding. 

The key is anticipating questions and friction points, and then proactively addressing them through the UX. Make it crystal clear how your product can solve the user's needs from the moment they sign up. 

4 Ways to Reduce User Onboarding Time

Reducing user onboarding time is essential for improving user experience and retention rates, as a seamless and quick onboarding process can significantly increase the likelihood of new users engaging with your product. Here are four effective strategies to achieve this:

1) Setting Up an Effective Onboarding Flow

Keep it short and sweet

Aim for 3-5 steps to get started. Any more than that risks losing users' attention. Focus on the core features and value, with supplemental details or advanced options saved for later. Give users a taste of the most useful capabilities, and they'll be hungry to explore more.

Use interactive walkthroughs and tooltips

Rather than just describing a feature in words, show users how it works with an interactive walkthrough. Tooltips that highlight elements on the screen are also helpful for quickly explaining functionality without interrupting the user experience. These interactive elements make learning engaging.

Send timely nudges

Once users complete the initial onboarding, continue to engage them with nudges like modals, and spotlights. Highlight new features or capabilities the user may have missed, offer tips for getting the most out of the product, or suggest next steps to improve their experience. 

Make onboarding an ongoing process

Effective onboarding shouldn't end after the first session. Continue to engage users and make the product experience rewarding and valuable over time through additional resources like blog posts, newsletters, video tutorials, and more. Onboarding is a continuous journey, not a destination. With the right approach, you'll have users realizing value and sticking around.

2) Using Tooltips to Guide Users

One of the easiest ways to shorten your user onboarding time is by using tooltips. Tooltips are those little pop-up boxes that appear when you hover over something on the screen. They provide helpful information without disrupting the user experience.

  • Keep tooltips short and scannable, around 2 to 3 short sentences. 
  • Focus on one main point or concept at a time. 
  • Use an arrow to point directly to the feature being explained. 

For example, if you have a "Save" button, a tooltip could say:

Save your work at any time. Your progress will be retained even if you leave the app.

For a more complex feature, break it into a series of tooltips. 

Tooltips are great for:

• Explaining the purpose of buttons, icons, or links.

• Defining new terms or concepts.

• Pointing out useful but less obvious features.

• Providing quick tips to help users be more productive.

The key is to strike a balance - include enough tooltips to educate without overwhelming the user. Place them strategically in areas where people are most likely to need guidance.

3) Leveraging In-App Messages and Spotlights

In-app messages and spotlights are a great way to guide your users and reduce onboarding time. These subtle nudges highlight key features and actions to help users get the most out of your product.

In-app messages

In-app messages are short notifications that pop up as your users navigate through your app. They can recommend actions, incentivize users with discounts and rewards, or encourage users to complete important workflows. 

For example, you might display an in-app message after a user creates their profile that says:

"Thanks for setting up your profile! To get started, check out our tutorial or explore featured content." 

This nudges the user to take the next step in onboarding without being too intrusive. 

You can also use in-app messages to suggest high-value actions long after onboarding, to continuously engage and educate your users.


Spotlights improve the discoverability of specific elements or features on each screen.  For example, you might create a spotlight that highlights the “Open a SIP” button. 

Spotlights can play automatically when a user first opens your app or website, or you can allow user behavior to trigger them. They are especially useful for complex interfaces or options-heavy platforms.

Leveraging a combination of in-app messages and spotlights provides helpful nudges and guidance without excessive hand-holding. 

4) Checklists to Breakdown the Entire Flow into Chunks

Checklists are invaluable for simplifying complex processes and ensuring nothing gets missed. When it comes to onboarding new users, breaking down the entire flow into digestible chunks with checklists can help reduce confusion and keep people engaged.

Create a checklist for each step of the onboarding flow, from signing up for an account to completing their first actions in the product. This helps new users see exactly what they need to do without feeling overwhelmed by the big picture. 

It also taps into the user’s psychology of wanting to complete things. 

Breaking down onboarding into bite-sized checklists makes the process feel more achievable and helps new users gain momentum. Checklists are a proven way to reduce cognitive load, minimize mistakes, and increase task completion. 

Layers of Experiences Working Together with Nudge

So there you have it - 4 actionable ways to reduce your user onboarding time and boost engagement. Implement these techniques and you'll be well on your way to improving your user experience, increasing retention, and growing your business. 

Nudge helps you integrate all this within your app- using just our dashboard. 

Integration happens in only 15 minutes using our SDKs. 

Continuously test and optimize to find what resonates best with your users. Get out of your users' way so they can start experiencing value quickly. 

Gain insights into how best to onboard, activate, and retain your users with Nudge’s powerful dashboard. Book a demo.

Kanishka Thakur
March 7, 2024