What Personalized Custom Onboarding Can Do for Your Mobile App

Industry experts agree, just because someone downloads your app, it doesn’t mean that they’re a customer. In fact, it doesn’t even mean that they’re an app user. Getting someone to download your app is the easy part of the customer lifecycle. Where things get tricky is with what comes next — when users enter personal information in an app and actually start using it.

The stats around app download versus app usage support this. Leanplum found that 20% of users abandon any given app within 30 seconds. If your app clears that initial hurdle, things don’t get any easier. Branch found that the average mobile app loses 71% of its users 24 hours after download, 90% of its users a month after download, and 96% of its users three months after download.

It’s little wonder that onboarding as we know it has been redefined. Since getting downloads is so much easier than retaining users, true onboarding starts at the point of activation — when users are exposed to the core value of an app and they begin to share personal information. How can users be attracted and retained throughout this process? In short, by keeping it simple, smooth, and personalized.

Make Sure Onboarding Isn’t Driving Users Away

Typically, app users need to enter specific information the first time they engage a new app. This could include a home address, credit card number, purchase information, or anything else that the app needs in order to function as intended.

Unfortunately, these multi-step processes increase the risk of dropoff. Users are likely to get frustrated, bored, or distracted during the onboarding process, and each extra step offers them the opportunity to quit. That means the more steps an app’s onboarding process has, the smaller the percentage of users who make it all the way through will be.

It’s important for app developers to think about the questions they’re asking new users — which ones are absolutely essential, and which ones can be asked at a later time? Remember, any steps that are removed from the process ultimately lead to more users completing it.

Even registration may not be immediately necessary — it’s worth considering if it can wait until a user gets a taste of what your app can offer. On that note, you’ll also want to think about just how interactive the onboarding process should be. Is it better for users to be greeted with a tutorial, or for them to explore your app and get answers by themselves? It might be worth creating an A/B test — where a small group of users is exposed to one option, and another group is exposed to the other — to find out which works better.

Personalizing the Experience

The heart of creating a good onboarding experience is making sure that it’s personalized. If users feel that the process is specifically designed for them, they’re more likely to remain engaged. One simple way to do this is by referring to the user by name throughout the process. Still, there are more complex (and ultimately, more rewarding) ways to craft an onboarding process that’s tailored to each individual.

If you create questions that are designed to lead a user down a customized pathway, their onboarding feels more personalized. For example, sales app Tradesy asks users what they want to sell, then drills further down with a few quick questions. Before long, the app knows what the user wants, and can help them accordingly.

Another way to personalize an experience is to gamify the process. Introducing a completion or “achievement” bar can let new users know exactly if they’re using the app properly while also creating a sense of fun around the experience. Users will be more likely to stick around if they want to see how far they can get. Apps such as Waze and Lookout make use of gamification to strengthen user engagement.

Deferred Deep Linking

The most effective way to personalize an onboarding experience is to figure out exactly what customers are looking for and cutting directly to the chase. This practice — taking the user directly to the right page in your app based on their previous behavior — is called deferred deep linking.

Deferred deep linking sends user data to an app even before the user downloads it, so when the user installs and goes through onboarding, they’re brought directly to the right place. According to a webinar conducted by Branch and Apptimize, when users are brought directly to the proper in-app content, the results are better for everyone: 1.8 times the signups, 1.9 times the user retention, and twice the engagement.

In an example also offered in the webinar, ticket sales hub GameTime used Branch’s deferred deep linking to simplify user experience. As a result, users who clicked ads for Brooklyn Nets tickets were taken (post-download) straight to the GameTime in-app page for Nets tickets. They skipped all the extraneous information and had their needs addressed directly.

Branch co-founder and COO Mike Molinet summarized the need for deferred deep links, saying, “There’s no better onboarding experience than taking the user to whatever it is, post-install, that they wanted to see when they downloaded the app.”


When onboarding app users, it can be difficult to strike the right balance between offering too much assistance and not offering enough. Whether a user feels harangued or abandoned, they’ll lose interest in the app, and the result is the same either way — one less app user and potential customer.

By personalizing the onboarding process — offering users unique experiences that directly address their needs — app developers can minimize dropoff. Deferred deep links are an especially effective form of personalization, as they bring users directly to the in-app pages that they’re seeking. To learn more about how Branch can help you with deferred deep linking, click here.