Instructional vs informative: Two kinds of tooltips you should know
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Mariam Hazrat
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Instructional vs informative: Two kinds of tooltips you should know

Published : April 9, 2021 | Updated : May 20, 2024

In the past few years, digital products live and die by quick and frequent feature releases.  And the success of product teams is often measured by the speed and timing of these releases.

While a new feature presents an opportunity to add value to users, its adoption is an equally critical success factor for any product team. But a feature will only see significant adoption if users are aware and start actively using it.

This is why feature discoverability becomes an important part of driving feature adoption.

Among the several strategies that product teams deploy to facilitate feature discovery, the use of tooltips for in-product education is popular, prevalent and extremely successful across web and mobile apps.

Tooltips are simple annotations that are used to explain something without intruding or obstructing the user experience — usually triggered when a user lands on a page or after an interaction with any specific element on the app or website.

What makes tool-tips popular?

Being highly contextual, relevant and short messages, tooltips fit into a number of use cases like user on-boarding journey, announcement of new features, in-app guidance and many more.  According to the NN/g, “web users are notorious for not reading, and mobile users tend to be even worse due to limited time and fragmented attention.”

Since digital apps don’t come with an instruction manual, they deploy tooltips instead.

And, it is more effective to focus on a single interaction rather than attempting to explain every possible area of the user interface. So, by minimizing the amount of information on a tooltip, product teams can direct a user’s attention on a single, primary action or point of interest that is most relevant to a specific user.

By its function, a tooltip can be of two kinds – informative and instructional. Informative tooltips describe what a feature is or does, while instructional tooltips are more behaviour-oriented, calls to action that might not fully describe what a feature is.

Both these nudges represent different approaches to behaviour change. 

Two nudges with thin line of difference between the two kinds of tooltips - instructional and educational

Further in this piece, we draw the thin line of difference between the two kinds of tooltips.

  •  Informative Tooltips

These are tooltips that carry essential information that a user needs to know — think of them as an FYI for app users. An informative tool-tip basically tells a user what they can do with a particular feature and how is that going to benefit them.

Informative tooltips are useful in scenarios where an app wants to drop an advice that can benefit the ongoing user experience, or point to a feature that users can use later.

Here is an example of YouTube highlighting where all the subscribed channels can be accessed.

An example of YouTube with informative tooltip highlighting where all the subscribed channels can be accessed

It is important to note that informative tooltips don’t ask users to take action — they aren’t exactly a call to action, but serve more as a reminder or a heads-up or an update.

The app informs the user about a particular feature or offer, but the CTA is such that the user continues with what he/she was doing without interrupting the flow This is also why informative tooltips come with passive CTAs like “Got It” or “Ok, Understood”.

And in terms of UX writing, these tooltips never lead with an active verb, as they are not directional. Here is another example from Kindle.

Another example of tooltips used in kindle
  •  Instructional Tooltips

Instructional tooltips are those that encourage or incentivize users to take a particular action.

A lot of these tooltips lead with a VERB — an action that the user should be performing to achieve a certain task — something as physically distinct like Tap, Swipe, Press, or objective like Select Here, or Try Now.

During the onboarding process, an app usually deploys instructional tooltips to help users to interact and grasp the function of a feature. This is usually done with the aim of creating a habit loop. Here is an example from Vine, the short-form video hosting app from a few years back.

Vine, the short-form video hosting app which uses an instructional tooltips to help its users to discover features

Vine uses an instructional tooltip to help its users discover features — in this example, how to follow accounts and curate content on their home screen.

Its ability to persuade a user to take a certain action makes instructional tooltip a powerful nudge — used not just during on boarding, but also with feature adoption and re-engagement. You are basically guiding your users to the next desired step/action you want them to take.

Think about any gaming app that you recently installed. Most of these apps deploy instructional tool-tips that would guide you to the steps you should take to play the game.

Even the e-commerce apps would usually nudge you with instructional tool-tips that would push you to say maybe add a product to the cart or click on the check-out page.

You will find plenty of these examples around and every tool-tip serves the purpose of educating your users about the features you offer, how to use those features in the best possible manner and what value a user ultimately gets by using these features on your app.

Concluding thoughts

The beauty of tool-tips lies in its subtleness and ability to grab a user’s attention without annoying the users, when used at the right time, right place and in the right context. Navigating through the app becomes a lot easier for users and in a matter of a few clicks here and there, a user is able to get exactly what he/she came looking for in the app.

Employing both informative and informational tool-tips, product teams are able to offer smooth on-boarding experiences, drive feature adoption of both existing/new features, take users to the core features of the product and ultimately drive away user churning and make way for enhanced app engagement and increased user retention.

Guess what? The effort that goes behind deploying these tool-tips is not something you need to worry about. Netcore’s No-code Product Experience Platform gives product teams the much needed agility to deploy these tool-tips in no time and with the least engineering efforts.

P.S. We’ve put together some resources around nudges for you to explore! Check out this e-book on nudges for feature adoption in 2020 an observational study.

We would be happy to connect with you and help you further with more information. Feel free to contact us.

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Written By: Mariam Hazrat