Even basic tooltips help enhance the user experience by guiding users through your app and minimizing friction. But only when you execute them correctly. Used poorly, tooltips can frustrate users and disrupt their journey through the app.

So what does a well-executed tooltip look like, and how can you use them to enhance the app experience?

Here, we discuss five ways to use tooltips to educate and delight users while they explore your mobile app.

What Are Mobile Tooltips?

Mobile tooltips are small in-app messages attached to a specific UI element or area on the screen. They’re usually (but not exclusively) text-based and used to highlight key features, flag new updates, and provide contextual guidance during app usage.

Tooltips act as friendly nudges towards your app’s core features and areas you want your users to discover and adopt. They explain how your app works in bite-sized, digestible text boxes without interrupting your user’s workflow.

User Onboarding

One of the main objectives of onboarding is getting the user to do the job they downloaded your app to do. Once users realize the value of your app, they’re more likely to stick around. However, they will likely churn if you don’t get them to that moment quickly enough. There’s a short window of opportunity to impress first-time users, which is why onboarding is critical to improving retention. 

In-app tutorials are crucial for kick-starting long-term customer relationships. During the FTUE, tooltips are a great accompaniment to your initial product tour or onboarding flow. For example, if a user skips some or all of your onboarding and misses some essential feature tutorials, drip feed them as tooltips instead.

Or make tooltips a prominent part of your onboarding to encourage users to jump straight into using your app with the reassurance of guidance along the way if they get stuck.

Feature Discovery

Helpful hints and guidance shouldn’t end after onboarding. You want your users to continue exploring your app, and even frequent visitors can miss important features buried deep in your app’s UI. So, instead of hoping users discover these features by themselves, draw attention to them with tooltip campaigns.

Trigger tooltips to appear when users visit a specific section of the app for the first time. When a user registers for their first class on the virtual wellness app, Mindbody, they receive a tooltip showing them where to find all their activities—an important feature for the user to be aware of at that precise moment.

Or, if a frequent user of your app appears to be missing out on a useful functionality or an easier way of doing something, chime in with a relevant recommendation to reduce friction for that user.

A navigation app could analyze user data to identify friction points or opportunities to enhance the user experience. For example, if users are creating multiple journeys within a specific timeframe, or their starting point is the same as their last journey’s endpoint,  the below tooltip is perfect for drawing their attention to functionality they may not know exists.

The Yahoo Sports app uses an eye-catching tooltip to let users know they can watch games and highlights directly within their app. Timing is everything here, as the tooltip triggers only when the campaign meets several criteria—the user has never used the feature before, is in the app while live games are showing, and is viewing the live scores section of the app.

New Feature Announcements

Introduce a new app feature at the precise time a user would likely need it and understand its value. This approach sees much higher engagement and feature adoption rates than, for example, announcing the feature in a push notification or when the user next launches the app.

When Gmail added its email scheduling capability, it used a perfectly timed tooltip to let users know about it.

And when LinkedIn introduced post reactions in 2019, it opted for a minimalist tooltip to highlight the new feature. It gave users just enough information in the pop-up to pique their curiosity and encourage them to explore the functionality independently. 

Social Sharing Prompts

We all know how powerful peer recommendations are—when a user shares something within your app with a friend, they are essentially saying, “This app is worth checking out.” 

Pinterest understands this and uses an in-app tooltip to familiarize users with their sharing functionality. The user learns about a valuable tool to help them collaborate with friends, while Pinterest gets the app in front of new and dormant users.

With any feature awareness campaign, segment your audience, so you only send it to users who have not yet used it. The more granular your targeting is the better your results.

Designing Your Mobile Tooltips

Compared to web, mobile tooltips have limited real estate—there’s less room for lengthy copy and fewer options for placement given the smaller screen dimensions. So, a subtle tooltip on a large screen feels much more prominent on mobile. For these reasons, the best mobile tooltips deliver concise and clear messages that users immediately grasp. 

Here are some quick tips to make the most of your condensed creative space:

Keep copy short and simple. Tooltips with minimal text and no more than two lines in length perform better and are easier to read. If you need to say more, break up longer messages across multiple tooltips, so readers can effortlessly digest the information. If it helps, use short-hand but not to the point of incomprehensibility—use familiar acronyms and abbreviations your audience will understand.

Give the option to opt out. Many users will prefer to guide themselves through your features. So, avoid disruption by ensuring users can easily ‘X,’ skip, or dismiss the message or tour in a single tap. To end more affirmatively, use a confirmation CTA such as ‘Got it’ or ‘Ok, thanks.’

Add contrast. Draw users’ attention to your tooltip by ensuring enough contrast with the rest of your UI. Be mindful of accessibility—for visually impaired users, a white page with grey tooltips could be challenging to distinguish between, for example.

Positioning. Test your tooltip positioning to ensure the content does not block other information pertinent to the user’s goal on that screen. When tooltips cover the content they’re related to or other areas of the screen the user could be viewing, they are much more likely to dismiss the message without reading it.

Final Thoughts

Finding the right balance between wanting to guide your users and just letting them do their thing is crucial and not easy. Consider carefully the who, when, and why of your mobile tooltip campaigns. Remember, tooltips are annotations—they should add value to the user experience, not overpower it.

Start creating custom, on-brand tooltips for your mobile app—without code—by booking a quick Swrve demo with one of our mobile app experts.