Last update: May 2021

6 mins to read - 2020/08/19

Mobile App Onboarding Best Practices

We are excited to kick off our new serialization of our Mobile Marketing Best Practices Playbook 2020 with a sample of the push notification tips and hacks you’ll find in Section 1: Onboarding. Once a new user makes it past the acquisition stage, onboarding can be a tricky phase where new users often get frustrated and churn. Read on for our strategies on how to use push notifications to streamline the mobile app onboarding process, best practices for keeping users engaged as you walk them through the preliminary stages of using your app.

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onboarding yacht

Consumers are at the highest risk of churn during the first 7 days after downloading an app, with 75% of new users abandoning an app during the first week. (Churn rate is even higher for mobile games.) When it comes to mobile apps, the onboarding process and beginning stages of user engagement are crucial, and following these best practices will help you build a robust user base who stay with you over the course of the consumer lifecycle.

Some users are lost causes to begin with – they make up the sharp drop within the first 3 days after app installation, as seen in the image above. These users likely only downloaded your app to complete an action – for example, to book a hotel, or to see what’s so great about that new mobile game everyone’s playing – and once that action is completed, they delete the app. For the rest, there is a wide range of users who are at risk of churn, but can be turned around if you demonstrate early on compelling use cases for your mobile app.

mobile apps vs mobile games churn rate after onboarding best practices
Churn rate of mobile apps vs. mobile games in particular; Image Source:,

Objective: Get Mobile App Users to Complete Onboarding

A driving problem of user churn is when users lose momentum during the onboarding process. This is often just a case of the user getting distracted or frustrated halfway through, and then never coming back to the app. Make sure this doesn’t happen by sending them reminders until they finish onboarding. Be sure to personalize. Personalized reminders – e.g. “Agent Jeff, your profile is only 20% complete. Come back and finish so we can send you on your first interstellar mission!” – get more positive results than generic messages. 

Churn rate during this 3-day period is especially high for mobile games, so any personalized touch you can include to make users more emotionally invested in your game will act in your favor. Give them the option to choose an avatar, to name their saved file. Send them a quick overview of the gist of the game. If there are a series of actions a user has to master for gameplay, invite them to a “training arena” where they can be instructed on how to complete actions (i.e. how to move forward, throw pots, attack enemies) in a gradual way. Walk them through the process and get them enjoying it, and they will be more likely to come back on their own.

Mobile app users don’t want to feel harassed, so as a best practice frequency of your onboarding reminders should be capped at 1 per day. Set up an automated campaign of unique notifications to send to lapsed customers, which will cancel once the user completes the onboarding process.

gardenscapes pre-permission notification mobile app onboarding best practices
Image Source: Gardenscapes screenshot

Objective: Get Users to Opt-In to Receive Push Notifications

A key step of the onboarding process – particularly for iOS apps – is getting a user to consent to receiving push notifications. Devices handle this differently depending on whether they are running on iOS or Android. Your push campaign will have to take this into consideration. 

For Android phones, users will automatically receive notifications from downloaded apps. To turn off notifications, they have to go through the process of manually disabling them in Settings. However, when iOS users open their app for the first time, they receive a message from the operating system asking them to opt-in to receiving notifications for that app. With iOS, the developer can set up a window between app installation and when the OS-generated permission request is presented. The text in this system dialogue is further customizable. It has a maximum of 120 characters, allowing the developer to share some compelling reason for the user to give their permission to receive notifications. 

ios pre-permission notification mobile app onboarding best practices
Image Source:

To further personalize the opt-in process, developers can kick off the pre-permission dialogue early. Do this with a pop-up notification that occurs before the OS-generated request. Here the developer has more freedom in trying to win the user over. The pre-permission dialogue can be full screen, a video, a demo of the screen/app/game, and so on. Once you have piqued the user’s interest, then the OS-generated permission request appears.

Customizing the system’s notification request will increase the likelihood of users opting-in for a few reasons. (As will creating your own unique pre-permission request):

  • Users always react more positively to personalized messages. Address them by name and use a conversational tone. Reassure them that notifications will be a means of communication, not spam.
  • Generic iOS opt-in requests often come with a flood of other permission requests, and the user may feel overwhelmed. A unique pre-permission request can be sent at a time when they’re more likely to say yes. With OpenBack’s highly reliable delivery, you can be sure of the right moment to send your request. For example, if the user is at home, relaxing, and using their device – whether exploring your app or scrolling on their phone.
  • Pre-permission request allows you to influence the user by explaining the benefits of opting-in to receive notifications. For example, for mobile games, notifications serve as an extension of the gaming experience. They can also act as real-time invitations to team up with other players, and the like. Let users know how notifications bring value to their app experience, and they are more likely to opt-in.

iOS 12 onwards also includes a trial period for easing users into accepting push notifications: provisional authorization. By registering prior with Apple, the app is able to send notifications on silent mode, prior to the app user opting-in to receive notifications. The provisional notifications will go directly to the iOS Notification Center. The user can access them by swiping down from the top of their screen. This will then provide information on what they will miss out on if they don’t opt-in to receive push notifications. 

mobile app onboarding best practices

Objective: Educate Users About Your App’s Features

Push notifications are an excellent way to direct new users to helpful features or resources within your app. For example, upon installation, send users an invitation to view a guided orientation of your app. Walk them through how to navigate the app. Show them different benefits and features that they might not be aware of. For a mobile game, this could take the form of a literal tour through different corners of the game, including:

  • the player’s home territory where they can renew HP and level up
  • the store where they can make in-app purchases
  • how to access the map and their storeroom, and so on  

Even after the initial stage, you can keep users in the know with an automated series of tips:

  • how to use your app
  • suggestions for improving their gameplay,
  • ways to create personalized playlists, and so on.

This will give your users a running tutorial on all your app’s great features, as well as keep you at the top of their mind for increased overall retention.

To learn more about how to improve mobile app users’ onboarding UX, and best practices for using push notifications to boost engagement and retention, get in touch with one of our experts.

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