Mapping The Onboarding Experience

One facet of growth marketing is understanding the onboarding flow for your product. Inside and out. What good is it to throw a bunch of resources at user acquisition when the experience to becoming a customer is full of friction? I definitely don’t subscribe to that school of thought that ‘if we can get more people to sign up we’ll eventually figure out a way to convert them’.

Going through the acquisition funnel and onboarding experience is my litmus test when talking to startups. It tells me a lot about the company and if they empathize with their users. I also like to see what communications I receive once I’ve signed up.

Many times there are problems that can’t be immediately fixed. That’s ok. If you know what the barriers are to conversion, you can build a roadmap for tackling those challenges. Them you can use band-aids (email marketing, phone support, in-app messaging, etc) until a newer experience can be launched.

Onboarding teardowns are quite popular and I recommend everyone entering a startup do one. If you’d like to see what that looks like I’ve published an onboarding teardown of Thumbtack here.

But this particular article picks up after the onboarding teardown, where my mind starts to think about solutions rather than identify problems.

Flowchart example of an onboarding experience.

This diagram is a strategy I put together for an online resume service who’s core market is recent college grads.
The goal was to take the existing onboarding experience of a typical social network and turn it into a referral and organic-traffic machine. This is just one approach to tackling improved activation and an increase in organic traffic through community content.

I started by identifying the different acquisition buckets.

1. Paid acquisition
2. Referral
3. Organic

I then mapped out a suggested experience from hitting the website to setting up a profile. I find flow charts like this really helpful. This one was made in Illustrator, but I’ve since been using Fabulous tool. Everything stores to google drive, github, dropbox and it has real-time collaboration – so more than one person can be working in the file at once.

Top 3 takeaways that surfaced when going through the onboarding.

1. The company wasn’t focused on A/B testing yet. The language was way too professional and not very college-centric. There are a lot of resume hosting services to choose from. When targeting a particular audience, the product needs to be credible and trustworthy. Nailing the value prop and language is key. someone who has been referred should have a tailored experience. They’re already a hot lead, more likely to convert than someone who has never heard of your product, so you don’t want to lose that momentum once they show curiosity.

2. Visitors who were referred were going through the exact same experience as non-referred. If referrals is a target for you, this is a big no-no. The last company I worked with had a 40% referral rate, referrees activated at a 30% higher rate than non-referred. And of those users who did refer, they added 2-3 more people to the platform. That’s huge. Referrees already have a high-level view of what your product is, this is a great opportunity to surface more detailed content right from the beginning.

3. Profile creation happens immediately in the sign-up process. This is a really big ask if I’ve just met you. I suggested adding customization in the beginning by asking new users what communities they’d like to join. This positions the product as ‘they get me’ and gives us more visibility into what users are looking to find. From an SEO perspective, those communities could be discoverable for search terms which would improve site ranking and authority, and increase organic traffic.

My favorite part of this approach was the inclusion that users could improve their chances of discovery by adding friends and peers to the platform. I also love the community page development.

Hope this helps you diagram your next growth flow! Happy to share the original file if you’d like. Just hit me up at at