An optimized app onboarding process is crucial for user engagement and retention. If your users cannot see the value of your app from very early on, they will be reluctant to use it and more likely to churn.

A well-designed onboarding experience should guide users seamlessly through their account setup, explain the app’s features and functionalities, and overall create a positive first impression. The objective here should be for users to uncover the value of your app as quickly as possible. 

Why is Effective Onboarding Important?

The reality is the average app loses 77% of its DAUs (daily active users) within the first three days following an install. Within 30 days, it loses 90% of its DAUs, and after 90 days, it’s over 95%. In other words, most apps lose their entire userbase within a couple of months.

The average user will decide within seven days if they intend on continuing to use an app. In general, most users retained for seven days stick around much longer. So, the key is to hook users during that critical 1-7 day period.

Below is a comparison of retention curves based on Google Play ranking. The data shows a clear and direct correlation: the top apps have higher day one retention rates and end with stronger day 30 results.

Retention Curves for Android Apps

Interestingly, all apps have a similar drop-off pattern. More users remain active for the top apps on day one, but the drop-off thereafter occurs at the same rate as all other apps. This data indicates the importance of engaging users on day one at the first visit.

Measuring Onboarding Effectiveness

How do you know if your onboarding process fulfills its job of delighting users or needs improvement? You can start by looking at your retention data.

Statista’s research shows the average retention rate on the day of installation across all app categories is 25%. After 30 days, it’s just 5.7%. This varies widely by industry. For example, news apps have an average retention rate of 33.1% on day one and 13.3% on day 30—nearly three times the average.

Retention Rates of Mobile App Installs Worldwide as of August 2020


Retention rate benchmarks certainly provide insight into the longevity of apps. But as with all of the industry benchmarks we analyze and discuss here at Swrve, it’s important not to come to conclusions or make sweeping assumptions based on single metrics.

Every app is different. For example, users may install a travel app before their flight, use the boarding pass and then uninstall once their journey is complete. In this case, a lower retention rate after day seven isn’t a cause for concern because it is expected behavior for that vertical. That’s why it’s crucial to combine multiple metrics and gain a holistic view of the user journey for your particular app.

In saying that, if a higher than average percentage of your users are churning after a single app use, it’s a good idea to assess the user experience, friction points, value sell, and engagement of your onboarding process. There are several reasons for a user churning, and the onboarding experience is undoubtedly one of them.

Improving the Onboarding Experience

Day one and that first visit may be your best chance of maximizing a user’s LTV (lifetime value). When onboarding fails to convey the value of your app quickly, user churn can increase dramatically. That’s why it’s essential to take steps to improve and optimize your onboarding while continuously comparing the impact on user engagement and retention.

So, what does intuitive app onboarding look like?

Lead With Value

‘Here’s what our product can do’ and ‘here’s what you can do with our product’ may sound alike, but they are two very different approaches to showcasing value. Remember, your users have downloaded your app to solve a particular problem, and they are interested in discovering how your app can help. Your onboarding process should explain clearly the problem/s your app solves and why users can benefit from using it.

Of course, you don’t need to present the entire feature set during onboarding—just the most important. You can drip feed the less essential (but still really cool) features during the user’s subsequent app visits.

The popular mobile payment app, Venmo, immediately communicates its core value of easily managing payments in a single welcome screen.

Airbnb app users can experience the value that’s on offer immediately by browsing listings and available dates without the need to sign up. Users are only asked for their details when they are ready to book a trip, at which point they have been sold on the value.

Whether your onboarding flow is a product walkthrough, new user registration, or tutorial flow, keep the focus on benefits, not features. Explaining an app’s navigation structure, for example, is largely unnecessary unless you are deviating from a standard design.

And when you are ready to share those additional features with your users, in-app messaging and push notifications are highly effective ways to do this seamlessly and based on users’ real-time behavior.

Ask When it Makes Sense

Many apps require data access and messaging permissions to deliver a complete end-to-end experience. For this, you need explicit consent from users, but with privacy a big friction point for users today, it can be challenging to gain user opt-in

To increase your chances, ask for consent when it makes sense rather than asking for access to everything during onboarding. A study by Pew Research Center found that 60% of users say they abandon onboarding and uninstall an app when they discover how much personal information the app is requesting.

B612, the camera and photo/video editing app, asks for all permissions on the second screen of its onboarding process. There is no explanation given to the user except that these permissions are needed for the user to proceed.

To avoid onboarding abandonment, only ask for permissions when users are looking to use a feature whereby it is required. That way, users will understand exactly where and why the permissions apply.

Only when a user wants to connect a device to their Amazon Fire TV app are they asked to share their location to determine the best place for the user to place the antenna. This is a natural approach to requesting access and appears helpful rather than invasive.

Before launches the iOS location permission request, it explains why access will make the app experience better using this neat in-app message.

Be clear about why you are asking for access and why it’s vital for getting the most value from your app. Some data access is essential for key app functionality, but save the ‘nice to have’ permissions for when the user is more engaged with your app.

Here are some more tips on gaining user opt-in on iOS devices.

Use a Multi-Channel Strategy

Onboarding doesn’t just happen inside the app. It’s common for users to abandon onboarding, and you will want to re-engage them quickly to encourage them to return and continue exploring.

Push notifications can help users continue experiencing the app’s core value and nudge them to complete the onboarding process. For example, you can send personalized messages based on how far your user is on the onboarding journey to encourage them to take the next step.

Onboarding isn’t necessarily a one-time event. First, there is the initial onboarding when users first download and launch your app. Then, as you add new features and make changes to your app, you need to continually educate and inform your users if you are to establish long-term retention. In-app messaging and embedded experiences can work seamlessly together to continue providing enhanced value to your users. 

Put Your Onboarding to the Test

A/B testing can help you optimize the user onboarding process. You can test sign-up options, for example. Do users prefer to sign up before or after an introduction to your app? What does retention look like if you delay sign-up until the user is further engaged?

The social app, Houseparty had the goal of incrementally improving the functionality and design of its app without causing significant drops in metrics. The app wanted to improve how it prompted users to add friends during onboarding.

Originally, users received permission requests all at once and without context, resulting in most users declining, making it difficult to deliver the optimal user experience. After A/B testing, the app discovered that providing context around why giving access is important resulted in greater opt-ins, and it changed the app UI to reflect this.

For most apps, it’s standard to display several informational screens followed by registration as part of their onboarding. Vevo, the music video streaming app, did just that. However, through user testing and analytics, it realized most users were swiping through the tutorial without reading the copy wanting to get to the sign-up/in page quicker. Vevo was curious to discover if the registration rate would be higher if it gave users what they wanted sooner.

To test the hypothesis, it tested two versions of the app—one with the tutorial and the other with the tutorial removed. After tracking sign-in clicks, skip clicks, successful sign-ups, and user retention, it found that adding a skip option to their onboarding flow increased logins by nearly 10%, and the number of successful sign-ups jumped by almost 6%.

While we’re not recommending every app ditches its onboarding tutorial, the learning here is that you shouldn’t take industry-standard practices for granted.

Want to find out more about creating the best onboarding experience for your app? Book a 1:1 demo with one of our mobile marketing experts today.

Final Thoughts

While acquisition was once the measure of an app’s success, the focus is now on long-term user engagement and retention. If an app today focuses only on acquisition, the result is high churn, even higher acquisition costs, and stalled business growth

A substantial portion of building user relationships that last is having an onboarding process that’s simple, to-the-point, and leaves a lasting impression. Only ask for essential details and permissions, and stick to the key features and UI elements that are absolutely necessary to help users experience the app’s value.

Of course, every user base and app vertical is different, so it’s vital not to rely on industry standards and to continually test, optimize, improve and test again. That way, you will find what works for your app and your users.

Want to know if you’re giving your new users the best onboarding experience? Reach out to our team to learn how easy it is to successfully onboard and engage users with Swrve.