In-app Guidance: How to Activate your Users Without Boring Them

Every aspect of your product’s onboarding should be aimed at achieving one thing: Activating your users. That’s the end goal. If you’re currently struggling to activate users, then you may need to look at improving your in-app guidance.

In-app guidance is a fancy way of describing the onboarding that happens within your product. In other words, it discounts any emails you send, or any kickoff calls you do. It focuses purely on what happens in-app.

Most in-app guidance takes one of two forms. Either it’ll be a product tour, or it’ll be an interactive walkthrough.

Both of these can help guide your users towards activation. However, in this article I’m going to argue that interactive walkthroughs are far more effective when it comes to in-app guidance.

I’ll explain where product tours fall short, and why interactive walkthroughs produce better results.

I’ll also show you some real-world examples of in-app guidance to give you some inspiration.

And then I’ll finish by explaining how you can use Userpilot to easily create effective in-app guidance for your users.

All about In-app Guidance — What We’ll Be Covering Today

Why product tours don’t offer in-app guidance

Let’s start by clarifying exactly what a product tour is.

As the name suggests, a product tour is a brief overview of your product. It shows new users around the various features, so that they know where to find them once they get up and running.

slack in-app guidance

But do you actually need to see all the features all at once? And how much will you actually remember after a tour like that?

Once the product tour is over, users are essentially left to their own devices.

And there’s where the problem with product tours as a way of providing in-app guidance lies.

Product tours have a number of issues that impact the user experience and provide lacklustre in-app guidance.

  • They’re boring
  • They ‘frontload’ information — instead of ‘teaching by doing’
  • They only touch the surface

That’s why fewer SaaS companies are starting to include product tours as part of their onboarding. In fact, we found that less than a third used a product tour.

Product tours are boring

That first interaction a user has with your product is really important. This is the moment when they are most excited about using your product. You need to maintain that level of enthusiasm.

A long drawn-out product tour is likely going to do the exact opposite.

Users want to get started as soon as possible. They want to start experiencing value. That’s why we recommend driving users to your product’s Aha! Moment as soon as you can.

A product tour simply adds more friction, and increases the time-to-value. You’re asking excited new users to sit through a product tour before they can actually use your product.

Product tours ‘frontload’ information

There’s an important aspect of psychology involved with UX and onboarding called cognitive load. This refers to the amount of information given to a user.

The more you can do to reduce cognitive load, the better experience you’ll provide.

One issue with product tours is that they ‘frontload’ all the information. In other words, they provide the user with everything about the product right at the start — whether the user actually needs it or not. This drastically increases the cognitive load.

The result of this is that your in-app guidance actually serves to confuse your users even more, and may cause them to switch off completely.

Product tours only touch the surface

If you have a particularly complex product, then you should realize that it’s practically impossible to explain it with one product tour.

Most product tours only touch the surface level of a product. They don’t provide the detail needed for users to truly understand what to do and why they should do it.

As a result, users may finish the product tour and then be left wondering what to do next. If anything, they’ll need more in-app guidance to help them.

Why interactive walkthroughs are more effective for in-app guidance

If product tours are so ineffective at providing in-app guidance, what’s the alternative?

Well, an increasing number of SaaS products are using interactive walkthroughs to provide in-app guidance to new users.

An interactive walkthrough is similar to a product tour, but with one key difference:

While product tours are passive, interactive walkthroughs require action from the user.

This is an important distinction to make, as it forms the basis for why interactive walkthroughs are so much more effective.

stripe in-app guidance

There are several reasons why interactive walkthroughs are better at providing in-app guidance:

  • They help users learn by doing
  • They’re more engaging
  • They provide value upfront

And with only a quarter of SaaS companies using interactive walkthroughs at the moment, it presents a great opportunity to one-up your competitors.

Interactive walkthroughs help users learn by doing

If I explained how to ride a bike, do you think you could suddenly do it? Course not. The only way to learn is by doing it for yourself.

The same can be said for software products.

In fact, it’s been well-documented that people learn better if they learn by doing.

That’s what makes interactive walkthroughs so effective. They encourage users to actually use the product as part of their onboarding.

Actually carrying out the actions and tasks required helps users grasp your product quicker, and improves the in-app guidance.

Interactive walkthroughs are more engaging

Product tours are boring because they essentially force a user to sit and watch a video, or click through a series of tooltips.

Interactive walkthroughs are far more engaging because the user has to act. They have to click certain buttons, or enter text, to proceed through the in-app guidance.

As a result, they’re engaged from the very first moment they sign in to your product. This means they’re far more likely to see your in-app guidance through to the end, and thus are far more likely to be activated.

Interactive walkthroughs provide value upfront

As I mentioned earlier, it’s important to provide as much value as possible as quickly as possible. You want to drive users to perform actions that show them the value of your product for them (the key activation points) — and experience the Aha! Moment.

An interactive walkthrough helps to show the user the kind of value they can expect from your product. It actually provides value upfront because users are actually using the product.

You’re encouraging them to take their first steps with the product right away, while they’re most motivated to do so.

This means they’ll start moving closer to the Aha! Moment, and the point of activation.

Proof that interactive walkthroughs are more effective than product tours

Take a look at this data from one of our customers:

onboarding tour

The black rectangle is highlighting a product tour. Less than half of the users who were shown the product tour went on to complete it.

The red rectangles are showing you the interactive walkthroughs. The difference here is plain to see.

With in app guidance, roughly two-thirds of users continue to the end.

That means interactive walkthroughs are far more effective when it comes to in-app guidance and onboarding your customers.

Real-world examples of great in-app guidance

It’s all well and good having me drone on about how great in-app guidance can be, but I feel I can better illustrate my point with real-world examples.

Platformly’s in-app guidance

Platformly is a marketing automation tool. The wide range of features could be overwhelming to new users, and so Platformly added in-app guidance with Userpilot.

platformly in-app guidance

As well as providing users with a checklist and utilizing the empty states, Platformly offers an interactive walkthrough to help users get started.

platformly tooltip

Rather than simply showing users how to create a dashboard, it walks them through it step-by-step.

These interactive walkthroughs exist for each of Platformly’s main features, accessible at any time.

This in-app guidance led to completion rates of over 40%, which is exceptional for a complex SaaS product.

You can learn more about Plaformly’s onboarding here.

Twilio’s in-app guidance

Want to see the examples of the best in-app guidance in SaaS? Continue reading on our blog 👉 here.



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Userpilot Team

Userpilot Team

Userpilot is a Product Growth Platform designed to help product teams improve product metrics through in-app experiences without code. Check out