To the uninitiated, the idea of user onboarding seems relatively straightforward. Obviously, you want people to sign up for membership on your site, and also obviously, you need them to learn how it works if they are going to stay.

But onboarding is harder than it looks. You can’t write an instruction manual explaining all the details; not only will no one read it, but it will actively drive people away.

But you can’t just assume that users will click around to figure the site out, either. Sure, people will play around a little bit, but they have better things to do.

When onboarding works, users almost instinctively flow through the signup and learning process. To effectively onboard users, you need to sell the site, educate users, and assist people through strong design.

Here are five awesome examples that achieved all of these goals.

Basecamp

Basecamp is one of the premiere project management sites on the web. In terms of onboarding, it does a lot of the standard things right, such as making it easy to sign up and stating early and often what benefits it brings to its potential users.

Where it really stands out is in educating it users on the features of the site. Once you have signed in, your project’s to-do list is filled with tasks specifically targeted at educating you on how to use the site.

This encourages people to explore the site and gives them the psychological satisfaction of checking things off.

Netflix

Netflix is more than just the website that helped kill Blockbuster. Its onboarding is sensational. Starting at the homepage, Netflix clearly shows why it is a useful site.

Its signup page is very simple and only asks the user for the absolutely essential information, which increases the likelihood that users will complete the form.

Finally, the site itself is very easy to use and encourages exploration, which promotes learning about the features.

OkCupid

OkCupid is one of the premiere online dating sites. One of the reasons it is so successful is because its onboarding process helps put users at ease during what could be a very stressful activity.

It does this by minimizing the burden of answering the questionnaire.

The questionnaire is vital because it is used to help pair potential dates; but it can also be something that discourages users from following through on the process.

OkCupid gamifies the questionnaire, which not only encourages completion, it also makes the process fun for the user.

Tumblr

Tumblr is one of the most popular social media and microblogging sites today. What makes it so effective at onboarding is how it minimizes distractions during the sign-on process.

While other sites choose to show you everything they have to offer all at once, Tumblr reveals the site piece by piece during the onboarding process.

This minimizes the possibility of user confusion, and it really helps individuals learn the site.

Because users are focused on each new element that is revealed, they are less likely to be distracted by the rest of the site.

Vimeo

Vimeo is arguably the biggest challenger to YouTube for posting videos online. Its challenge is that it has to walk users through the process of posting a video the first time they visit the site.

Vimeo overcomes this barrier through colorful design and by providing the right tips at the right time.The entire process feels more like a series of discoveries and less like a confusing technical challenge.