UX copywriting: Essentials that every designer should know

21-UX copywriting

UX copywriting is a huge part of the user experience. But just how huge are we talking? Take a look at Amazon without any UX copy:

Not great, right? It certainly wouldn’t be a pleasant shopping experience.

UX writing and UX design work hand in hand and every good UX designer should have at least some UX copywriting knowledge, even if they’re not the one writing the copy.

So, let’s take a look at some UX copywriting essentials.

What is UX copywriting?

Copywriting in general is about getting your target consumers to do what you want. This might be buying a product, subscribing to a newsletter, or stopping their use of plastic bags.

UX copywriting is about getting users to where they need to be in an efficient manner. If they want to buy a product, UX copywriting makes the experience easier and more enjoyable for them.

UX copy aims to move users toward accomplishing their goal (and your goal) in an intuitive way. That’s why good UX copy is almost invisible to readers, which is kind of ironic.

The main success metric is simple enough: if the copy drives users to a defined point, then it serves its purpose. If it doesn’t, it needs to be revisited.

Let’s see how UX copywriting compares to regular copywriting and look at the main differences between them.

Copywriting vs. UX copywriting

Oftentimes, someone can be both a marketing copywriter and a UX copywriter, but for the sake of clarity, we’ll draw a strict line between them… and then perhaps slowly erase that line later on. Oh yes, the plot thickens. 😉

The main goal of UX copywriting is not to sell or tell stories (although it can help with both). The skills of a UX copywriter are different to those of a traditional copywriter.

UX copywriters should be involved in projects from the earliest planning and design stages. They work with the product team, UX designers and solution architects throughout the whole project. The UX writer’s job is to identify the context that the user is in and define the next step that they must take in order to reach their chosen goal. It’s fair to say that UX copy talks primarily to the user’s rational mind.

Traditional copywriters, on the other hand, often get involved later in the process when the product is almost finished – although it’d be better if they were involved from the start. They work with marketers and brand managers on the commercial side of business. Their copy focuses on the target persona and their desires and pain points. It wants to present an enticing, valuable solution to the reader. It wants to evoke emotions.

With that said, we’d be selling effective UX copy short if we said that it settles for mere functionality. It’s not just button text. Nowadays, it’s not usually enough to say Click here or Sign up. You want the choices to entice and the decisions to delight.

That’s where UX copy and marketing copy begin to intertwine and cooperate. Your UX copy should be a clear, guiding voice that confidently leads users through your most important interactions, but that doesn’t mean it can’t infuse the whole experience with your brand’s personality too.

Relate it to a guided tour – you’d probably want your guide to be clear, knowledgeable AND entertaining.

Great and inspired UX copy can often be visible in the bits called microcopy – buttons, 404 error messages, pop-ups, etc. Their primary purpose is a smooth user experience and they can be as generic as it gets. However, they also have the potential to reflect your brand voice and make these micro experiences delightful. One of the most famous examples of such microcopy comes from Mailchimp. Take a look and you’ll instantly know what I’m talking about:

Their UX copy, brand copy, UI, and graphic design all work together to ensure that you have a pleasant time when using their product. This is one of the key factors that makes Mailchimp so popular.

To summarize the main differences:

Because UX copy can almost seem invisible, it might come as an afterthought to some. Let’s explore why that shouldn’t be the case and why effective UX copy is so important.

Why is UX copywriting so important?

We’ll start with some numbers:

  • A great user experience can increase visit-to-lead numbers by 400%.
  • “Ease-of-use” is the most important quality of an app for 97% of customers.
  • 90% of users will stop using an app if they find it hard to navigate.

Unsurprisingly, user experience is extremely impactful and UX copywriting plays a huge role in this. It takes the guesswork out of the digital experience by making products accessible to more customers, reducing their anxiety if things look complex, and guiding them towards their goal. It achieves this through short phrases that must be universally understood.

There are many instances where a potential customer might change their mind at the last moment because of a weirdly worded payment page. One misplaced word at a key touchpoint can impact someone’s decision, and UX copywriters know that.

Look at the example below and how the microcopy covers different scenarios. In doing so, it helps users and ensures that they won’t have to look for the answer elsewhere.

Another essential job of UX copywriting is humanizing digital products. Great UX copy doesn’t treat words as purely technical components intended only to describe or direct. It replaces unnecessary technical jargon and complicated phrases with a more conversational and clear approach.

Last but not least, a good UX copywriter matches UX copy with main product goals and the business mission. Mailchimp’s goal is to encourage, delight and entertain users while navigating their product, but that might not be the right approach for a healthcare business.

How do you know which kind of UX copy to use in different scenarios? Let’s take a look at some tips.

How to improve your UX copywriting

As I’m not a copywriter and the web is full of pages dedicated to general copywriting tips, we’ll steer away from writing advice and focus specifically on UX copy tips.

Understand your audience

Whenever you’re designing, developing or writing for a certain group of people, you have to understand them. You need to know their fears, desires, frustrations and more.

That’s why successful UX copywriting begins with thorough user research. Users want more than just functionality and usability. Your copy is often the most human part of their interaction with your product. It’s where you have an opportunity to speak to the user, answer their questions, give them feedback, and prompt them to take action.

However, this communication should not be based on assumptions – you need actual insights. Your UX content strategy needs to be developed by truly understanding the user and then seamlessly integrating this into the user experience. In order to do that, you need to …

Remember where your user is in the user flow

If you want to give your user the right information at the right time and place, you need to pay attention to where they are in your process or user flow. If you understand their mindset at specific stages of the purchase (or any other) process, you’ll be able to answer their questions upfront and efficiently guide them towards the desired outcome.

If you’re careless, you can easily damage your brand image and annoy your users. Let’s take a look at two bad examples:

  1. You’ve just arrived on a new site and a pop-up… pops up. 🙂

See the microcopy? Yep, you just got there and they’re already shaming you because you don’t want their PDF. Unfortunately, there are quite a few brands that do it. It’s called “confirm shaming”. It probably seems very clever and many brands think that it raises their number of leads. In reality, it makes the brand seem arrogant and alienates the user.

  1. You’ve decided to buy a product. You’re in the midst of the payment process.

When you click “Continue”, you should proceed to the last step where you review your order, right? Usually yes, but not in this case. Once you press “Continue”, the payment goes through. This might not be a deal-breaker and I don’t think it’s done with malicious intent, but it’s unclear and annoying. The button should say “Complete purchase” or something along those lines, as a lot of people like to review their order before finalizing it. Here, they don’t get a chance to do it. This might lead to more returns and frustrated customers.

Present information in a logical way

Your copy should make sense from your user’s entry point right up until they stop using your product or website. It should also be synced with navigation.

Your product might be presented on your homepage, but not everyone will land there. Some users might come to your site through your blog posts. You should offer them a way to smoothly transition to your homepage at the right moment.

When someone is starting to use your product, you want the onboarding experience to be as smooth as possible. Give them the most important information first and deliver it piece by piece. New users rely on the UX design and UX copy to guide them through the process. Never assume that they know more than you’ve told them up until this point.

Presenting information in a logical way is a huge step towards clarity. As is the next tip…

Adopt web conventions

This one is fairly simple. Users have certain expectations and following them makes your copy clearer and often easier to read. Hyperlinks should be underlined, headlines made bigger, important phrases emboldened, etc. Messages and phrases should be consistent. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. If you don’t follow best practices, you’ll confuse and lose some users.

Solve problems

Alright, by now you know that our goal is to make your user’s experience as hassle-free as possible. That’s why you need to anticipate their problems and solve them before they actually occur.

But how can you do that? By combining user research and product testing. Product testing will show you where your users struggle and get confused. It’s these steps that you need to pay special attention to and where UX copy can make or break the whole experience.

Once you think that your copy solves every potential problem…

Test your copy

Don’t just assume that your copy will aid the user well and bring them to the desired action. Real data can show you whether your UX copy is doing its job or if another version can do it better.

Switching just a couple of words can make a massive difference. If you’re not sure which copy will perform better, A/B test it. “Download your PDF” or “Get your free PDF” both look similar enough, but in reality they might convert visitors into leads at a very different rate.

Of course, A/B tests are not the only type of testing that you should do. Ask people from your target audience to read the copy, observe them, and ask them for their opinion once they’ve finished.

Tools like Hotjar are also worth considering, as they show you what elements your visitors pay attention to and where you should put your main bits of UX copy.

Remember, UX copy isn’t written in stone. Test, improve, and evolve it over time, and don’t let it stagnate. You can always have an A/B test or two running to optimize your site or product even further.

Consider space

UX copywriting is more space-sensitive than regular copywriting. There are a lot of microcopy and elements with only a limited amount of space for text.

UX copywriters have to consider things like:

  • How many characters can fit into this button or element?
  • How many lines do we want in this paragraph?
  • What’s the shortest way to convey the message? Can we do it with a symbol or an image?

Answering these questions and solving such problems is easier if the copywriter is interested in visual design, or at least works closely with a designer to agree on the optimal solution. If you look at the Mailchimp examples above, you’ll see that their UX copy and graphic design work together to deliver the desired message and tone of voice.

Use subheadings to improve UX

This tip is not specific to UX copy, but it does help a lot if you’re not yet using subheadings strategically.

People nowadays don’t really read the whole page, at least not at first. They scan it, skim the copy, and then read more if they’re interested in what they see.

Subheadings make it easier for users to quickly get the main information about your product; they allow you to emphasize the most important benefits.

Take a look at a section of the Blue Apron homepage:

If a visitor scrolls through it, they’ll get the gist of the service in a second or two and that’s super important. It’s why you should always use subheadings.

UX copywriting has the important job of moving users towards a decision. I hope that you can see why it should never be treated as an afterthought – not just a piece of text that you slap onto a button once you’re done designing. It should be considered during the earliest phases of design and developed together with the product. Hopefully this article will help you with that.

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Oh hey, I’m Romina.

Romina Kavcic profile image

I am a Design Strategist who holds a Master of Business Administration. I have 15+ years of career experience in design work and consulting across both tech startups and several marquee tech unicorns such as Stellar.org, Outfit7, Databox, Xamarin, Chipolo, Singularity.NET, etc. I currently advise, coach and consult with companies on design strategy & management, visual design and user experience. My work has been published on Forbes, Hackernoon, Blockgeeks, Newsbtc, Bizjournals, and featured on Apple iTunes Store.

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