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How to Track Mobile App User Onboarding with Custom Events

When you’re assessing how well users are taking to your app, you don’t want to only track new downloads or first sessions. While those metrics are undoubtedly important, it’s just as crucial (if not more so) to track other metrics that can help you see how far users are progressing in the onboarding process.

Plenty of users, after all, may download your app, open it, and then never come back again. As many as one in four users will abandon an app after opening it for the first time, so this is a significant concern that app developers need to be thinking about.

Keeping an eye on onboarding makes it easy to detect potential concerns, find optimization opportunities, and assess how relevant your app is to the people you’re attracting. All of this can boost engagement, retention, and (of course, best of all!) revenue.

So, how do you track mobile app user onboarding outside of downloads or first sessions? The answer is tracking onboarding through custom events, and in this post, we’ll show you how.

What is Custom Event Tracking?

Custom event tracking in mobile app analytics software allows you to track when users take certain actions, or how often they take them.

There are standard events that most app platforms track, like a download or a first session. That’s great, but maybe you need to know when users complete a tutorial, make it past the first level of a game, or use a specific feature.

A social media marketing app, for example, might want to track when brands link their accounts or when they schedule the first post.

A fitness app might want to see if you connect your Apple Watch to the app, and when you complete your first workout.

App analytics software with custom event tracking is crucial here, because you can use it to track essential steps in the onboarding process to really get a good idea of what’s happening.

Why Tracking Onboarding with Custom Events is Key

When it comes to onboarding, a lot of apps end up relying on somewhat generic metrics like new users, new paying users, or the number of first sessions. They want to see how many people are coming to the app, and they may look at the number of users that don’t return.

That can help you see that something is or isn’t working with onboarding, but it’s absolutely not going to tell you any more than that. It’s not enough to give you a real understanding of which aspects of onboarding aren’t working.

And since onboarding plays an essential role in the “stickiness” and retention of your app, you need to find ways to optimize and improve that onboarding experience.

This may mean that your interface needs a change, or that you’re asking users to make in-app purchases way too soon.

Or you might need to have a walk-through guided tutorial right when users first open the app.

Any of these small things could make the difference between large numbers of users sticking around or not, but you won’t be able to determine any of that without tracking custom events to see what actions users are actually taking.

How to Track and Troubleshoot Onboarding with Custom Events

Setting up tracking for custom events is easy with the right app analytics platform. You can track specific events as they happen and then see performance data in the analytics tool.

See how to set up tracking with custom events here.

Once the custom event tracking is set up, you just have to wait for the data to come pouring in so you can start optimizing and troubleshooting.

Let’s look at a real example of custom event tracking for onboarding through MyTracker — a free analytics and attribution platform for apps and websites.

While analyzing an app’s performance using MyTracker’s Quick Reports feature, we saw that there were stark decreases in this app’s user activity:

user activity decrease

Step 1: Make sure the problem is related to onboarding

The first thing we did was ask ourselves “what’s new?” During the time when the app started bleeding users, we knew that we had released the latest version of the app. The biggest change for that app version was a new onboarding process.

So, the first thing we’d do is check that the newest version was up and running, and that it was being installed and launched more than the previous version of the app, where there was no onboarding.

We used MyTracker’s Report Builder and filtered “launches” and “app version” to assess performance based on those factors.

track app onboarding

Thanks to the reports above, you can see that the answer is yes, the new onboarding has been released, as the majority of users were launching the newest version of the app (which was version 2.0.61).

Step 2: Map out events in the app and set up their transfer to MyTracker

The next step is to think about mapping out specific events from the app. Which actions are users going to take during the onboarding process? Knowing how to map custom events is an important part of this process, so be thorough.

Once we did this, we went to check and make sure that we could receive them.

To do this, we went to our Report Builder and selected the “Events” and “Event name” filters to see what events, if any, were being tracked. If nothing is popping up, no mapping has happened.

map out custom events

In the screenshot above, MyTracker has identified three events that perfectly match the logic of the onboarding flow. Now, using these events, let’s build a funnel to see where the problem is.

Step 3: Build a custom events funnel to identify bottlenecks

Next, let’s build a basic funnel with the above events to see where things go wrong in your onboarding process.

Here’s what our onboarding funnel looks like, with three different onboarding steps before the app asks users to register.

onboarding steps funnel

According to the data from the funnel, there is a clear issue with the steps users go through during onboarding, so let’s take a look at common reasons why the mobile app onboarding might be struggling based on where users are dropping off.

8 Common Reasons Why Users Drop Off During the Onboarding Process

When users are dropping off during the onboarding process, there could be any number of reasons, but in most cases, you’re looking at one of eight possible culprits. Let’s take a look at the most common reasons why users fail to complete onboarding and what you can do to resolve them.

1. You’re Showing Ads During the Onboarding Process

The last thing you want to do is show ads too soon, even if featuring ads in your app is a core monetization strategy.

If people are just trying to get used to the app and they see an ad that requires them to watch a video for 15 seconds, they’re going to be annoyed. If they need to click through multiple ads before onboarding is completed, they’re going to think that the app is practically unusable or a waste of time, and they’ll delete it… and potentially go on to leave poor reviews after the fact.

Make sure that you wait to show ads until users have completed the initial onboarding process and ideally have completed the first few actions in the app. You don’t want to show an ad before they start the first level of the game they’re playing, for example, or before they go in to log their exercise for the day; wait until they’re going for a second or third action.

2. There’s a Misalignment Between the Audience Targeted and the Actual Target User Base

Sometimes, the user base that you’re targeting or reaching through marketing doesn’t truly align with who your highest value audience would actually be.

For example, you may have a fashion app. You’re targeting fashion-focused women, ages 20 to 35, with your marketing campaigns, including sponsored placements and ads.

You end up reaching mostly women on the older end of the spectrum who are busy professionals and often parents, and who do not have time to log every item of clothing they own into a clothes-tracking app.

Instead, you need to focus more on the younger audience, as they’re more likely to pay for a mobile app and have time to use it in this case.

Think about who would actually find the most value in your app, and start there.

3. The Length of the Onboarding Tutorial Isn’t Right

The onboarding tutorial process is vital, and you need to get it right.

And unfortunately, there are a lot of ways to get it wrong.

There might be a walkthrough tutorial and users aren’t sure how to get started (this applies to games as well as service-based apps). Unclear steps or unlabeled buttons can be disastrous without a walkthrough process.

'It’s also possible that you could overdo the walkthrough tutorial. You’ll want to start small, threading brief tutorials in through the user experience, and introducing features to users as they go, in some cases, to prevent overwhelming them.

You also don’t want to have lengthy or mandatory videos that users can’t skip around in (or end), because that can drive them to click away and find a simpler tool that allows them to get started faster. Keep in mind that mobile users can be particularly impatient; give them what they need, when they need it.

4. Users Dislike the Interface or App Design

Is the interface clunky at all? Are there too many options, buttons that aren’t well-labeled, or a confusing se-up process?

Does the interface have a navigation system that’s way too complex, or that makes it difficult to find certain features?

The overall interface and app design are important… and keep in mind that can go for branding, too.

If you have an app that has an inherently feminine design, even if it’s meant for all genders, there’s a chance that male users will assume it’s not for them or that they won’t like it and dismiss it automatically.

Think about your target audience and the type of interface they’d respond to; that’s a good place to start.

5. You Ask for a Login or In-App Purchase Too Soon

Do you ask users to log in as soon as the app first opens during the onboarding process? Or do you push for an in-app purchase during the onboarding process?

If so, either of these issues could be driving users away.

Users are most likely to create a login immediately if it’s an app that they’ve already paid for, or if it’s an app that requires a login to function (like a dating app or a social media app). That being said, if we’re talking about a game, educational, or service app, they will likely want to try it out first with no obligation required on their end.

6. There’s a Privacy or Confidentiality Concern

If people don’t trust your app to keep their information safe, they’re going to stop onboarding immediately.

Having a terms of service and a privacy policy featured near the home screen or during the onboarding process is an easy way to assuage these concerns, and it’s a good practice to have in general.

You can learn more about mobile app privacy polies here.

7. There’s a Technical Issue

Technical issues are a common culprit that can cause your onboarding to go sideways.

Is there a glitch that prevents users from clicking on a button? Is the app slow-loading? Does it fail to save their progress or otherwise glitch in any way?

These issues can be easy to spot during the initial onboarding process, so it’s imperative to make sure that your mobile app works well on every device type that your audience might be using.

8. Users Don’t Understand the Value of Your App

It’s entirely possible that you’re failing to share the necessary information up front, and users are assuming that their app isn’t serving the purpose that they need.

If they don’t see or understand the value of your app, or feel it isn’t consistent with what was advertised, they are unlikely to complete the onboarding process.

Let’s use a photo-editing app for example. If an ad showed that the user could eliminate a pimple or smooth out wrinkles on a t-shirt by applying a filter, they’re clicking for that use case.

But then when they get into the app, if they’re seeing complex photo-editing software more like Adobe, they’re going to be overwhelmed; they wanted something simple, and that’s not what they see when they first open your app, especially if that magic filter is buried under ten different features.

Make sure that you use onboarding to show users where they can find your most valuable features, and have those features consistent with your advertising content.

If you're looking for inspiring app onboarding examples, check out these 7 Inspiring App Onboarding Examples That Will Help You Retain Users.

Final Thoughts

Tracking your onboarding process with custom events is the only way to see how far users are making it into the onboarding process and to start to get an idea of what’s driving them to keep going (or what’s driving them away).

MyTracker can help, offering detailed analytics with custom event tracking so you can get the kind of actionable insight into your app performance that you need to optimize the user experience moving forward.

Ready to get started with custom event tracking for onboarding? Request your demo here.

Tags: product analytics marketing analytics metrics & reports