Blog: Think like a first-time user - Focus on benefits

Think like a first-time user - Focus on benefits

Marek Sotak
User onboarding

Create a great first-time user experience. Make sure new users get the benefits you promised. Focus on tasks that get users results in your user onboarding process.

First time users are overwhelmed with the variety and complexity of software they need to learn. Your software is there to solve people's problems, not create more. Focus on communicating the benefits of your software and that makes the next steps clear. Here are six ways you can think like a new user and improve your first-time user experience.

Think like a first time user

When you're immersed in your software and service, it's hard to remember what you noticed about the experience when you tried it for the first time. And like most SaaS software, it's also probably changed quite a bit. By speaking with your new users, and observing their activity, you can build empathy for their experience.

Users expect to have a smooth experience and to fly through with ease and delight. The truth is, first-time users are often under enormous pressure. They expect to ‘learn on the job’ where previous generations received classroom training.

The in-app help you offer them can be a lifeline to help them understand your product and gain the benefits of your service more quickly. Get closer to your new users by reaching out directly to them. Don't wait for them to run into trouble and contact your support team.

Try this: Ask new users for feedback right after they complete tutorials. Use the in-app feedback form.

Don’t make me think

Interaction design has changed since Steve Krug authored “Don’t make me think!” in 2000. However, the “first law of usability” hasn’t changed. When Krug said functionality should be self-evident, the websites he was writing about in 2000 were mainly informational. Real "software" was still distributed on CDs and rolled out with training.

Since then, expectations have changed around what people can do with software, particularly when web apps moved into the browser. Whereas managers once expected to roll out business process software with classroom training, now they expect their teams to be able to learn on-the-job. People expect SaaS software, in particular, to be entirely self-service and easy to learn.

Software users today can't necessarily bring prior experience with them when they learn something new. Most of our customers are delivering services where users have to learn complex processes which are unique and different from anything they have done before. For example, eToro users learn a completely new way to invest. So eToro uses Inline Manual to help guide them through the practical and conceptual aspects of being successful with these new tools.

Try this: Use segmentation to launch tutorials for users based on their behaviour or attributes.

Guiding the first time user

We define User Onboarding as the process through which users are introduced to a service over time to ensure they reach the goals or benefits you promised before they signed up. The first time they log in is your service's chance to shine.

Every user of any service has a first-time user experience (FTUE) The first time they create, configure, or communicate with your application - what does your new user need?

First-time users have three main concerns:

  • Where am I?
  • What can I do?
  • Where can I go?

Much of the art of software design is making the possibilities apparent and easy to discover in the user interface. You relay this information through interface elements such as buttons, navigation, the calls to action, and microcopy. And then you expect users to be able to parse this information in the UI. That is, without you necessarily knowing anything about the user’s prior experience or their goals.

What happens when users delve into your application and find that there are about 30 different things they can do; and that they can go in as many directions? Help new users identify their goals so you can give them help without getting in their way.

Try this: Launch a welcome message and tutorial for first-time users, based on when they created their account.

Focus on goals using action words

Address the three main concerns of first-time users by offering goal-based product tours or interactive tutorials which show users how to complete a task.

  • Where am I? Let users start from where they are. Offer relevant guidance in-context.
  • What can I do? Make sure each topic focuses on one task. Show users to get something done while learning.
  • Where can I go? Guide users step by step to where they need to go next.

Just as you would review the microcopy in your user interface, also look at your user onboarding copywriting. A simple way to make sure you're focusing on tasks is to start with an action verb. Sometimes when you add -ing to verbs, they read as nouns or adjectives, and they also sound unclear and passive. Here are two examples.

  • Instead of titling a topic "Creating a new product" use "Create a new product"
  • Instead of "Meeting Room Booking" use "Book a meeting room."

By using verbs-first, it's more clear what action the user will take when they initiate the walkthrough. When you’re planning the steps in your goal-based walkthrough, tour or task, make sure you’re helping users discover a distinct benefit, or that it leads them to an outcome. A user should be able to see a direct result or change after completing one topic.

Try this: Improve user onboarding with a copywriting style guide

Cut down tasks by focusing on goals

Our most successful customers create content that is brief and focused on a clear goal.

Rather than offering a 30 step product tour, break it down. Instead, you can create three shorter walkthroughs to guide users through distinct tasks and outcomes for each.

Identify which practical activities are the most common.

  • Which key tasks show the biggest impact for first-time users?
  • Which tasks get users creating something new with your application?
  • Which tasks get users to engage colleagues through sharing, inviting users, demoing/publishing/testing?
  • What is the least number of steps in which a user can complete this task?

Try this: Collect these task-focused walkthroughs into a User Onboarding Checklist. Now your long product walkthrough is a motivating list of ways to get clear benefits.

Cut down steps to build confidence

Reduce the number of steps in any walkthrough and be as brief as possible. Fewer steps will give users a feeling of moving through the application confidently, guided by your advice. By being brief, you build trust that they can complete any task quickly.

At the start of your product tours or walkthroughs, you may think you need steps to get users to navigate to a section. Instead, redirect users to the right starting place, and remind them where they can access it in the navigation.

Reduce the number of clicks it takes to complete a walkthrough. Use triggers such as ‘hover’ instead of click to respond to user interaction.

Try this: Chunk tasks to make them shorter and more manageable. For example, do you have steps which pop up in several of your walkthroughs? Break those steps out into a few different walkthroughs. For example, your last few steps may be common to multiple tasks, such as publishing. Instead of duplicating these steps across multiple walkthroughs, break that out into a ‘finishing’ task instead. You can add a custom button which launches the walkthrough that takes them through the final steps. It's also good so people can pick up where they left off later.


By offering a free trial to decision makers, you give first-time users a chance to experience your product and related services. First-time users can only get these benefits if they know how to implement your product and service. That is where your in-app guidance such as your knowledge base and walkthroughs come in.

Users still expect a ‘Don’t make me think’ experience. And they are supposed to complete far more complex tasks on their own than ever before. The demands of their ever-changing roles and the software landscape add to the pressure users experience. In turn, they expect your software to be easy to learn and smooth.

In this post, we’ve highlighted some ways to think like a new user to improve user onboarding. Improve the first time experience with guidance that's brief and focused on results.

Sign up to our newsletter for more tips and tutorials about user onboarding.