User Onboarding Checklists (2021 Guide)

It is easy to get lost in your first time with a new product. An onboarding checklist can give your users a sense of direction during the initial user onboarding.

In this article, we are going to explore how you can effectively use checklists as a tool for improving your user onboarding experience and get your users to their “Aha!” moments more effectively.

Let’s jump straight in!

User Onboarding

There are few product managers out there today who would dispute just how essential user onboarding is to the success of a product.

The main reasons that users abandon products are that they can’t figure out how to use them, or they do not understand the value that they can get from the product. Careful user onboarding can tackle both of these issues.

User onboarding is not just getting the user set up and registered on the product – it goes beyond collecting details or registering payment. Good user onboarding gets users to the points where they understand the basics of how to use the product, and they start to see the value of the product.

This is often called the “Aha!” moment because it is when the user really understands why they want to use the product.

There are many different approaches to user onboarding, and which is the most appropriate depends very much on the nature of the product and the target audience. But one of the most effective and common tools for user onboarding, which can be effectively used in conjunction with a variety of other tools, are checklists.

When to use Checklists

A user onboarding checklist is exactly what it sounds like. It is a list of tasks that the user needs to complete as part of the onboarding process, and items get marked off the list as they are completed so that the user can see their progress.

Simple, right?

Checklists are very flexible tools when it comes to user onboarding. Items can be listed in a set order – 1, 2, 3 – if the user has a set list of steps that they need to complete in a certain order. But items that can be completed in any order can also be listed, with the user able to tackle them as they wish, while being reassured that they haven’t missed anything.

Checklists can be used in conjunction with other tools too.

For example, tooltips can pop up when the user hovers over a checklist item, and actions such as watching a feature tutorial can be on the checklist. In fact, if your functionality lends itself to a variety of different educational tools, a checklist can be a coherent way to tie those tools together.

Checklists can also use links to take users to exactly where they need to be in the product to complete certain tasks, or use animations – such as pulsing buttons – to show the user where they need to go to complete tasks. Generally speaking, however, checklists work best for products with clear navigation. From reading the checklist and looking at the screen, the user should know exactly where they need to go to complete the task. 

Products with more complex navigation systems may benefit from interactive walkthroughs as the primary onboarding technique.

But checklists work well as an onboarding tool as they take advantage of the psychology of commitment and reward.

We are more likely to commit to a path once we have started on it, and a checklist reminds us that we have begun. Ticking items off the list also give us a small feeling of accomplishment and reward. This feel-good factor also motivates us to continue.

what is onboarding checklist

How to Develop Onboarding Checklists

Developing onboarding checklists is much the same as developing any onboarding experience.

  1. Identify your value metric;
  2. Map the user journey to reach that point;
  3. Take a user-centric approach to designing an onboarding experience to get the user through these steps as easy as possible.

Value Metric

We have already discussed that what you really need to do with user onboarding is to get users to the aha moment when they start to realize and understand what value they will get from using the product.

When users internalize that value, they are more likely to continue to use that product.

The value metric is what the majority of users need to so within that product to get to that point. Sometimes this might seem obvious: for an email marketing product, surely sending the first email is the value metric?

Sometimes it is less clear: for Instagram users is it liking someone else’s post, making a post of their own, or having someone else like their post?

Value metrics should never be guessed. The best approach to identifying the value metric is to look at the hard data and identify what actions differentiate those that abandon the product and those that become regular users.

Twitter has done this, and their value metric is not creating a tweet, liking a tweet, or sharing content. They have discovered that their tipping point is following at least 20 users within three days of joining the platform. That is why Twitter’s onboarding experience is focused on getting new users to follow accounts, rather than create content.

Journey Mapping

Once that value metric has been identified, the team needs to map out the steps that the user needs to take to get there.

This map should be detailed, covering every minutia, and should not miss a single click or page reload.

With this map in place, the team can then start to look at the points of friction along the way. This is often best done by asking users to complete the onboarding task and observing what they do and where they struggle.

Design

The next step is to design a user onboarding experience that successfully carries the user through the necessary steps on the journey map.

Just like the product itself, the end result works best when a user-centric approach is taken to design. Each element should be tested to ensure that it does work for the user in the way anticipated.

Don’t worry. Each time you test, you only need to test with five users. The first five user tests will throw up 90 percent of user issues.

The ultimate list of steps that will form the checklist should be broken down into the biggest steps that make sense as a reasonable and coherent whole in terms of both the action that is involved and the value that the user will gain. 

For example, setting up an email address and registering a password makes sense as a single step that provides the benefit of enhancing security. Meanwhile, filling out a basic profile and uploading a profile picture may make sense as different steps.

They may require different tools – you will need to have access to an appropriate photo to provide it – and can offer different values. While your profile details make you discoverable, your picture makes you more interesting as you appear more real and complete, and therefore promotes engagement with your profile in a different way.

how to create onboarding checklist

Create Onboarding Checklists in minutes with UserGuiding

Onboarding tools like UserGuiding offer a wide variety of user onboarding elements to improve the user experience of your new customers.

Along with interactive product tours, tooltips, hotspots, and more, UserGuiding provides you with onboarding checklists; fully customizable, and requires no coding at all.

Simple, Affordable, and Powerful User Onboarding Software.

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Onboarding Checklist Examples

Here are a few user onboarding checklists created in UserGuiding, and currently live.

onboarding checklist examples 1

This is a checklist that we use in UserGuiding, made by UserGuiding:

onboarding checklist examples 2

Your target language is not always English, so UserGuiding offers you the ability to create checklists in any language; like this one in Turkish:

onboarding checklist examples 3

Characteristics of a perfect Onboarding Checklist

OK, well now that we have a good idea of why checklists are a great onboarding tool and how to go about creating one, what are the characteristics of a good checklist?

What differentiates a checklist that a user will find motivating from one they might find off-putting?

Clear and concise

Users don’t want to read a tome to figure out what they need to do next and like to be able to get an overview at a glance, even if more information is revealed once they actually get into the step.

Checklists should be decipherable at a glance. Take a look at Tandem as a good example:

  • Create a profile
  • Select your languages
  • Create a topic
  • Accept community principles
  • Send your first message…

Steps say what and why

A good checklist will tell the user what they need to do, and why, so how they will benefit.

Check out Evernote for a great example; Sync to your phone and computer. Have it everywhere. While copy should always be written with the action in mind, the why can also be important.

Show progress

Part of the beauty of a checklist is that it lets the user see exactly how far along they are in the onboarding process.

This can help users mentally decide that it is not too difficult and they do have time. While a well-designed checklist, which clearly shows what is checked and what is still waiting, can do this visually.

Adding a progress bar can also be useful to reinforce this idea, and to make longer checklists more readable.

Get the user started

We have already talked about the psychology of commitment and how we are more likely to complete a task once it has been started.

Checklists can help with creating this psychology of commitment by presenting users with a checklist that already has an item marked off. This is something that Acorn does well.

The first item on their checklist?

Registration complete.

Incentivize

Good checklists incentivize users to complete each step.

This can be with good copy that clears demonstrates the value of each step. But gamification and incentivization also work. You can offer users badges and points appropriate to the app for completing steps, or only unlock certain features as steps are completed. 

Honey, the coupon app, does a great job of this, offering “gold”, an in-app currency that can unlock features and discounts, as a reward for completing essential steps.

Provide further support

Some steps on a checklist are easy.

The user probably doesn’t need much beyond a prompt to fill out their personal details, upload a profile picture, or even create a document. But some steps are more complicated, such as importing documents or lists. In these instances, additional information can be needed. 

A good checklist makes the user aware that this information is available, and takes the user to it. Tandem shows another good example of how this can be done well. More complex tasks that may require further explanation are signaled with an i icon, which pops open to a tooltip.

Don’t have to be limited to first use

Often checklists are very focussed on the first time that a user will use a product, and what they will ideally do before logging off.

But this is not the only use of checklists. 

Sometimes there are things that you would like the user to do, such as fully complete their registration information, but this is not vital to them reaching the value metric. Therefore, on first use, you want to push the user to their value metric, but later, once they are more invested in the product, you want them to return to the other tasks. 

A nagging checklist that exists in the background and relatively unobtrusively reminds the user that these tasks need to be completed as some point works well. 

Airtable does a good job of this. To get full value out of their product there are a lot of features to explore, but too many to push on first use. They have a background checklist with all the available tutorials in the background that remind the user to come back to these tasks at some point in the future.

Conclusion

Checklists are an intuitive, simple, and powerful tool when it comes to ushering users through the onboarding process.

Checklists are flexible too. They tell the user exactly what steps they need to take in order to get to their “Aha!” moments with the product, but aren’t prescriptive with tutorials and tours that many users find tedious. While checklists can make these tools available, it is up to the user whether they use them or not, and either way, they won’t miss anything essential.

Checklists also use the psychology or commitment to completing a task once started, and reward for small wins, to keep the user motivated to complete the full onboarding process in a timely manner. This means that you are more likely to retain users, rather than use them as you failed to usher them to the value metric.

There is a reason why checklists are one of the most common tools used to create user onboarding experiences. Because they work.


Frequently Asked Questions


✔️ What is an Onboarding Checklist?

An onboarding checklist is a checklist that is displayed to a new user in order to get them to their “Aha!” moments.


❓ Why should I use an Onboarding Checklist?

An onboarding checklist gives your users a sense of commitment and reward while getting them to their “Aha!” moments, also helps them get a sense of direction during the onboarding process.


📜 How can I create an Onboarding Checklist?

You can easily create an onboarding checklist for your product with a 3rd party user onboarding tool such as UserGuiding, along with many other onboarding elements.

onboarding checklists

Alican Bektas

Alican is the Product Manager of UserGuiding, a code-free product walkthrough software that 2000+ companies trust in their user onboarding.

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