Great user onboarding can turn a mediocre app into a cash cow. So it's important to help users get value from your app as soon as possible.

Even with a subpar UI, smart onboarding can help users understand your app quickly. With just a bit of A/B testing, creativity, and well-timed app notifications you can increase user engagement, user retention, and most importantly app revenue.

To get your juices flowing, here's a few ways you can use event-triggered email, SMS, and push messages to onboard your mobile and web app users in minutes.


Email…it's the go-to for startups and savvy app marketers for good reason. It's ubiquitous, trustworthy, and converts extremely well.

So how can email help you onboard users?

Email marketing for web apps

Almost every web app uses email to onboard users in some way. If your emails are personal and timely, you can improve your open rates and user experience.

#1 – The "Helping Hand" email

A "helping hand" email sends the exact information a user needs, when they need it. It's the email that makes you and your company look like mind readers.

I'll use an example. Let's say you notice a new user spent three times longer on the Twitter integration setup page in your app than the average user. You also notice they left without successfully integrating Twitter.

event-based twitter integration email

If you want to keep that user, you've got to do something to bring them back. Try emailing them while they still care.

Remember, this can't be any 'ole email. Your email has to help them get through this step.

Maybe you can send a video walkthrough or simple directions on exactly how to integrate Twitter.

The point is, you sent a helpful email with the information they need to use your app right now. And you did it all automatically. Consider this user ONBOARDED!

#2 – A Welcome Email

The welcome email is pretty much standard for web apps. It's one of the first "personal" interactions your user will have with you and your company.

So nailing your welcome email will onboard users better.

Let's say you have a time tracking app. One of the first things your users will want to do is to start timing themselves.

Your welcome email needs to get them there.

Maybe your email can include an animated GIF showing exactly how to do it. You could even link to the exact page where they can add their time.

email marketing welcome email

Better yet, is there a way to help them add their time right from the email? Maybe they can reply to the email with their task in the subject line and the word "start" in the body. Then later they can open the app to actually add notes or stop the timer.

Clearly, you can do something else. But both examples helped your users start using your app right away.

Also, don't make the mistake of including tons of links in your welcome email. You'll just make users more confused than they were without the email.

All your welcome email should include is:
• A very short intro about who you are (because you don't know when they're checking this email). One succinct sentence is fine.
• A short description of what to do next and why.
• And something actionable to help them do it NOW!


Email marketing for mobile apps

65% of all email gets opened on mobile devices. Yet, few mobile marketers use email to help onboard users. Using event-based email marketing messages is a simple way to onboard users and boost conversions.

#1 – Go beyond the small screen

If you could personally show every user how to use your app, would you do it? With automated email messages, you can.

Now, I'm all for making simple apps, with streamlined functionality and awesomely planned screens, but sometimes that's not enough. Since you have your user's email address, help them use your app better with email.

email marketing mobile app template

Imagine you have a flashcard app. In the app, you have a shortcut that helps students create a new flashcard set by shaking their device. The problem is, even after mentioning this in your awesome app walkthrough, some users still don't do it. In fact, it takes them twice as long to create a flashcard set because of it.

If you don't want them to try another app, show them the shortcut with email. YEA email onboarding!

#2 – Send the extras

Who doesn't want an extra treat? I can promise your users do. Since mobile users are picky and only use apps for about 71 seconds, sending a bonus could be just the trick to get users to stick around.

Have cute characters in your kids game? Email a comic ebook that gets them to use the app again. Do you have a business app that helps sales teams track commissions? Maybe you could email your app users a template they can use in your app.

Screenshot 2014-05-19 00.05.42



Automatically email these "treats" when your users reach a certain point in your app. You could even schedule these emails to go out based on how many times they used the app. Whatever you choose, users will understand your app better and be encouraged to use it more.

#3 – Get them back

The key to making money in mobile is getting people back in your app. Luckily, clever email marketing can help. In fact, it can help long after they've deleted your app.

Think about what you usually do when a user hasn't opened your app in a while. You send a push notification. That's great, but how about sending an email too. Your email could help them use the app in a new way or remind users where they left off (I'd choose where they left off AND were most engaged).

Screenshot 2014-05-19 00.16.52

But what happens after they delete your app? You don't have the option of sending a push notification. In fact, you'll probably never see that user again. Remember, only 25% of mobile users keep the apps they download. So after a few weeks or months, email an offer they can't refuse and start the onboarding process all over again.

You've made it this far. Why not subscribe?

Push notifications

Push notifications for web apps

Web app marketers don't use push notifications as much as mobile app marketers. And there's no good reason not to. They're fast, catch user's attention, and available on the most important browsers.

#1 – What's next

You've finally convinced someone to sign up, but they try to use your app and have no clue where to begin. Even the best app walkthroughs get skipped or ignored. So you have to find another way to guide your users to the next action, at the right time.

This is where push notifications come in.

Screenshot 2014-05-19 00.27.01

Let's say someone just signed up for your note taking app. And you know the first thing most users want to do is to create an audio note. If you notice a user leaves before doing it, schedule a push notification to go out a few seconds later with a quick tip telling them how to create an audio note.

#2 – A friendly friend reminder

Web apps usually use email to alert users about a friend's action. This is great for onboarding, until you realize everyone's doing. Don't get me wrong, don't stop sending those emails. They've been tested and seem to work. But how many more users could you onboard and convert if you took it a step further and sent a push notification.

Screenshot 2014-05-19 00.40.20

Now, there are pros and cons to both.

Email pros and cons:
• As you can see, the email lands in a user's inbox and isn't urgent enough to open right now
• Your email message is most likely one of a dozen new emails your user has to check
• Emails have to be opened, push messages just happen and go away

Push notification pros and cons:
• A push forces users to pay attention right now
• The push notification would appear when their computer is open and online
• The push message only shows for a few seconds

You can still send the email. Just A/B test, see if the email or push message onboards users better, and run with it.

You could even do both. If you've ever used the Twitter mobile app, you've probably noticed they send a push alert and an email for in-app notification messages. I've seen some complaints about this, but I'd bet anything Twitter has tested this and it works. Run your own test and see what happens.

#3 – Something happened

Onboarding doesn't stop after a user's first use. The point of user onboarding is to help people use AND love your app. One way to do this is to let them know when something important happens.

For instance, does your web app help them grow their Twitter followers? Then send a push notification when they get a lot of newfollowers. Does your app help users manage their financial accounts? Instead of an email, send a push message when unusual activity is happening.

new followers

Push notifications are perfect when users need information right away. It makes the message feel more important and your app more useful. Again, just like the friend activity notifications, you can easily setup both automated email and push messages. A/B test and see what helps you onboard your web app users best.

Push notifications for mobile apps

Mobile apps marketers are ahead of web marketers on push notifications. So much so, that mobile app users are growing a bit tired of them, which causes push notification fatigue. Although push notifications convert well for mobile app devs, sending them too frequently will just get you ignored or worse…blocked.

#1 – Get them to the goal

There's always some app screen or goal that makes mobile app makers the most money. What if a simple push notification could get your mobile app users there quicker?

The right push message can.

Let's pretend your app is Flappy Bird. Your analytics show users stay around six months longer and leave better ratings if they win three times.
There are a few ways you can use push notifications to get users to this goal.

Screenshot 2014-05-19 00.48.51

You can send a push notification that reminds users of how they could earn triple points on their third win. You can schedule a push message that invites inactive users one win away from the goal to come back and play. You could even schedule a push message to encourage your three-time winners to leave an App Store rating.

Just look at the power of a smart push notification.

#2 – Congratulations email

Oh come on! Who doesn't want to be congratulated for something they've done (no matter how small it is)? So send an automated push notification to your mobile users after they've done something in your app.

Screenshot 2014-05-19 00.54.38
This would go perfectly with the "get them to the goal" suggestion above. You could send a push notification to users after they've used the app for 5 minutes. You could also send it when they achieve something more concrete like filling out their profile or finding friends on Facebook. Whatever you think your users would appreciate a pat on the back for, do it.

This little congratulations could go a long way welcoming them to the app.

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SMS isn't used by many web and mobile apps and there's a reason why. If you don't do it right, you'll lose your users' trust and be blocked. It's just best to reserve this for users that want to talk with you by text or for special occasions.

Sending SMS messages in web apps

Web apps have to be the most cautious with SMS onboarding alerts simply because users aren't used to dealing with you by phone. If you can keep your onboarding texts personal, short, timely, and actionable, you can take your onboarding to another level.

#1 – The Follow Up

A follow-up text is much better than reaching out to a user initially by text. It's less spammy and it's how people actually deal with each other in the real world, go figure.

Screenshot 2014-05-19 00.58.10

Try a follow-up text to onboard a user after they email you for support, chat with you online, or run into another issue using your app. You almost have "permission" to send a text message since this is your second time talking. Again, the trick is making this text short, personal, and to the point.

#2 – Payment Issue Text

Don't lose a customer because someone typed the wrong credit card number or used the wrong browser. Schedule an automated text message offering to personally help complete the purchase or offer alternatives to the payment they used. You could give them a phone number to call or even text a link to a prefilled alternative payment method page.

Screenshot 2014-05-19 01.00.44

Whatever you do, get them back and help them finish their transaction.

SMS marketing for mobile apps

95% of text messages are opened within 5 minutes. This is a great opportunity for mobile app marketers looking to improve mobile app user onboarding, but don't abuse it.

#1 – Give them a discount

As long as you don't screw this up with spammy copy, sending your mobile app users a discount could be huge. There are a ton of times I've thought about buying a subscription for a mobile app on their site and just didn't remember to do it. There are also the users that are still on the fence and a little nudge with an incentive would make them a paying customer.

So try sending a promo code to app users that visited the in-app purchase page. You can even target users that pressed the buy button in your app and for whatever reason didn't complete the transaction.

Screenshot 2014-05-19 01.05.53

There are many ways to do this, as long as you do it smart.

#2 – Ask questions

Getting your mobile app onboarding right requires feedback. What better way to get it than asking for it?

Try sending a group of users a personal, to-the-point text message asking how they plan on using the app. Any response could help you guide them to the right app screen. You can even offer tips on how to get what they want from your app.

Screenshot 2014-05-19 01.12.39

Plus, any feedback you get could help you improve screens and onboarding for users in the future.

Just make sure you get their phone number in a legitimate way. If your messages come off spammy, you won't be trusted to message them again.

As you've probably noticed, most of these ideas are interchangeable. You could easily send an automated welcome push notification instead of a welcome email or a trigger-based email to resolve payment issues instead of a text message.

What matters is doing whatever it takes to get your app users happily using your app as soon as possible.

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