Onboarding Done Right – Duolingo

As a conversion consultant I nerd out on flawless onboarding processes when I come across them. I get a rush of excitement just clicking through well thought-out experiences. Immediately after realizing just how awesome of experience I just went through, I bookmark the site. Only to never come back to it again.

Well, today, I came back to one such SaaS app and went through the entire onboarding flow once again and documented it in its full glory.

Behold, Duolingo and a beautiful signup flow most companies can learn from.

Duolingo Homepage
Step 1: Home page

Duolingo starts off with a simple home page. The top section is 100vh screen size (covers the full screen), but contains other things as you scroll down.

The premise is simple: people come to duolingo to learn a language, so the app gets them started right away with a clear headline: “Learn a language for free. Forever”.

There’s nothing fancy happening here and doesn’t need to be. People are already motivated to learn a language, there’s no need for explanations, social proof, pricing, yada yada. It’s free, just click to get started.

Step 2: Pick a language

Duolingo sorts language suggestions based on the number of active learners – a small consideration but an important one.

I picked Japanese as the language I’d like to learn.

Step 3: Set a daily goal

Notice how I have not been asked to create a profile yet. I’m 2 steps in and the only mention is a button up above.

Step 4: Create an account or not

Duolingo does not use language like “Create an account” or “Sign up for free”, instead they ask you if you “want us to help you keep your daily goal?

This is clever because it reinforces the previous step of picking a goal. Who doesn’t want to keep to stay on top of their daily goals? Social login buttons make it simple to sign up, no need for any forms!

Step 5: Choose your path

After selecting Continue with Facebook and confirming app permissions, we see this screen. I am still not being asked if I want to upgrade to premium. Duolingo is staying true to its promise on the home page of learning for free and they know that the chances of me signing up for a paid version are much higher if I am able to explore the app and fall in love first.

For the sake of testing, I also clicked “not now” in the previous step and continued into the flow as you see above.

Duolingo Language Assessment
Step 6: Still no dashboard

Here we are step 6 into the flow and I still don’t see a dashboard in sight! Most SaaS applications would drop me right into the dashboard after 1-2 maybe 4 steps max, not Duolingo.

So far I have not created an account, I have not specified any passwords, clicked any emails to confirm anything, with no dashboard in sight. Instead, I am focusing on my learning journey and assessment. Duolingo completely immerses users into the flow to get them up and running as quickly as possible.

Step 7: Just leveling up with no account

No account and leveling up already? Insanity! If you watch Sid Meyer’s Psychology of Game Design video, you’ll hear him talk about rewarding the player as soon as they get into the game. Duolingo uses gamification to indicate progression and thus “rewards” people for accomplishing a step. Experience or EXP is literally the progression metric of just about every game ever created.

Sid also talks about “The Unholy Alliance” – or a set of assumptions that the player and designer agree to. One of the assumptions is that the player is good – they are above average and exhibit skills to reflect that.

In the above image, despite having done almost nothing, I am rewarded with experience – a concept that originates from psychology of game design.

Lastly, the app is setting the stage for what’s to come. I am being told that I will level up as I progress, allowing me to have something to look forward to.

If you have the time and have considered gamifying your app, I highly recommend this video (over an hour long). While it’s technically about game design, you can take away many insights to be used in your app.

Step 8: Create a profile or do it later.

Once again I have a chance to create a profile or do it later. What’s clever is that I can skip this step for the second time and still have my progress saved via a browser session.

One thing Duolingo could try here (if they haven’t already) is testing the headline with “Save your progress”. Of course, I have no way of knowing if they are already split testing this or have tried it in the past, but to me, I see more value in saving the progress I just made than in signing up for an account (although the two are the same).

Step 8: Create account – compact form and social log ins.

Per smart design, we have a form with 3 mandatory fields. The age field is required by law since Duolingo offers services to children and the law differs depending on the country.

The form is clever not to ask for password confirmation and allows to sign up with Facebook and Google.

Dashboard – no user account created

Here is a dashboard where I have not created a user account and I can still learn and keep track of my progress.

The create a profile button is prominent and the headline above reminds me to save my progress.

Dashboard – soft premium push

As I am still a new user, Duolingo knows I need to progress in order to understand the benefits of a premium membership, hence it hasn’t even bothered pushing an upgrade.

Instead, I see a soft push to remove ads.

I am absolutely sure that if I continue using the app, Duolingo will present numerous opportunities to upgrade to premium membership when the benefits of that plan make sense.

Try it free screen

The try it free Plus membership splash screen has a series of rotating images and copy to explain the benefits.

Duolingo price table – simple choices, annual pre-purchase.

By default, the app offers the 12 months plan as the most popular ones and least expensive on a month-to-month basis.

“We’ll use this if you continue after your trial ends

Most apps I know of don’t go into details to explain what a free membership means. Duolingo opts for the obvious choice of words let me know my card will only be used after the free membership is over.

Whether I agree with the 7 day trial vs. 14 or 30 day is not really important as I do not have all the data to understand their user behavior.

Welcome email encouraging me to take action.

Finally, I want to point out the welcome email. Notice how both actions encourage me to do one thing: to start learning.

If I had to take an educated guess, I would say that the free-to-paid conversion metric depends on how long the users are staying within the app. The longer I learn, the more likely I am to upgrade. Hence, their only goal is to get me back into their app to practice.

The cynic in me also tells me that the reason for specifying a goal (among other reasons like actually making progress), is to have a reason to come back into the app thus increasing the likelihood of converting to a paid plan. But who is to say that we can’t do both? If the app is great and I’m accomplishing my goals, why shouldn’t I pay for a great service? It’s a win-win.

Here are 3 questions you can ask yourself to see if any part of this process is applicable to your SaaS:

  1. Does our app require initial user preferences to be specified before the app can be used? If the answer is yes, there’s a strong chance you can add these into an onboarding process.
  2. What is the minimum experience we can create for people to say “this is awesome”? Can you get them to that moment before bombarding them with all sorts of other stuff?
  3. Does our onboarding follow one clear linear progression? ie. Do users have to jump out of the experience to accomplish something like activate an account? The goal is to keep them inside the app and keep the momentum going.

Want more great SaaS onboarding examples? Here’s your chance πŸ‘‡πŸ‘‡πŸ‘‡


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