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UX writing: Copywriting tips for a positive user experience

So you think good writing equals good website copy and there’s not much that can go wrong? False! You can’t just use any text on your website, you need UX writing. Why you may ask? Easy: Good UX copy guides us through the page, encourages us to come back, and leave an overall impression of a good user experience. In this article, learn how to get started with UX copywriting and microcopy – and what it actually is in the first place!

What is UX writing?

UX writing the art of deliberately designing text across an interface to help guide a user's experience with that product or service. The goal is to make every step on the website as easy as possible. Simply put: UX writing means writing and designing content in a user-friendly way.

UX writing vs. marketing copywriting

Writing copy for marketing is often promotional in nature. It aims to create brand awareness, attract potential customers, and encourage them to take action. UX copy, on the other hand, adds value to the experience instead of creating a need. UX writing is focused on creating a meaningful relationship between a user and a product across touchpoints. That's why UX writing includes both continuous text and so-called microcopy: small text snippets such as CTAs or navigation buttons.

Microcopy-CTA-example-UX-writing writing for UX UX writing tips UX writing UX text UX copywriting UX copy UX user experience writing User Experience copywriting Content Marketing

Figure 1: Classic example of microcopy (Source: ProvenExpert)

Why should marketers care about UX writing? Here’s a quick explanation:

  • A good user experience (UX) makes a good impression, even if only subconsciously

  • Someone who can navigate the site easily will stay there longer

  • Longer dwell time is a positive signal for the search engine algorithms

UX writing + content design = positive user experience

Text is only user-friendly if it's formatted in an aesthetically pleasing way: the so-called content design. This can't be stressed enough: Content design and UX writing go hand in hand. That's why design and marketing teams benefit from first writing copy, then adapting the design, in this order.

The stricter the given layout is, the less the copywriter can actually react to the anticipated user behavior. In response, many simply default to typical sales copy, which is often just a nicely packaged box without any real content.

What does that mean exactly? Here's an example:

negative-example-UX-writing-header writing for UX UX writing tips UX writing UX text UX copywriting UX copy UX user experience writing User Experience copywriting Content Marketing

Figure 2: Negative homepage user experience example (Source: Woven)

Why is this example a problem? The header video dominates the page and the reference to any actual achievements or services (bottom) is barely noticeable at one glance and does not provide any relevant information. We can only see the range of services when we scroll down.

Conclusion: Without a doubt, a lot of thought went into this page and it does not look like it was thrown together on a whim. Nevertheless, the website is not convincing, because text elements are not easily visible and tell us almost nothing about the offer.

As you can see, what sounds sensible and easy enough, in theory, seems to be an impossible task for many websites to realize. If you want to improve your writing, keep on reading, because here are 6 tips for successful UX writing!

1. Write text that's easy to process

Let's start with the obvious: Good UX text is easy to understand. Block texts, nested sentences and daring linguistic artistry do well in prose - but for web text, they are a disaster, especially considering that few people read online content completely.

Instead, many readers scan text. In recent years, this has led to the emergence of the so-called pinball pattern: The gaze jumps (often randomly) between different elements on a page, according to a follow-up study by the Nielsen Norman Group in 2019.

UX copy must therefore be easily scannable. This works with elements like...

  • Short paragraphs (max. 5 lines) with one idea per paragraph

  • An interruption in the continuous text at least every 150 words, using enumerations, graphics, etc.

  • Subheaders as a "framework" for the text

  • A table of contents with jump labels

The big challenge with UX writing is breaking the text up into sufficiently small (or large) pieces that allow users to skim through the content while still obtaining the most important information.

One more tip: always let people know what to expect from the beginning. That way, they can judge whether your content is worth their time.

You might be wondering: where is the suspense factor in all this? Well, you should be careful with that. Because although Si Quan Ong from Ahrefs recommends setting "open loops" and thus leaving questions open for quite a while, I wouldn't rely on this concept to work. Never expect your audience to be generous with their time.

If there's one thing you need to remember, it's that writing better text means paying attention to every little detail.

If the text is "easily digestible" also depends on the target group. You have to know and understand them inside out when writing a text. Always ask yourself the question: who wants something from me, and why?

2. Optimize your microcopy

Microcopy is all the small text elements that we encounter on a page and that do not belong to a longer piece of continuous text. Usually, microcopy consist of just a few words - but that means every letter must be just right!

This brings us to the golden rules of microcopy

  • Use unambiguous wording

  • Keep it short

  • Use numbers instead of written numbers where it is possible. An example: "3 unread messages" is better than "three unread messages"

  • Highlight CTA buttons in color so that they stand out clearly in contrast to the body text

With Ryte, for example, microcopy looks like this:

Ryte-CTA-UX-writing writing for UX UX writing tips UX writing UX text UX copywriting UX copy UX user experience writing User Experience copywriting Content Marketing

Figure 3: Microcopy must be understandable at first glance.

The users immediately know what their options are. Look at how the first CTA is formulated: the benefit ("Monitor, analyze, optimize") is right at the beginning. There is no way this can be misinterpreted. The same goes for the CTA "Register for free."

3. Cut to the chase

Comprehensibility is important, that’s nothing new, but the simplest wording is of little use if the content has no storyline. Always remember: the easier it is for your audience to go through the content or find information, the better.

Therefore: reveal the most important things first. You can always go into detail later or refer to one of your other articles. We know this inverted pyramid structure from journalism, where the main information is at the beginning of an article.

You can even break down "the most important things first" on a sentence level. This is especially true for microcopy:

  • Not great: "Click on the banner to open the checklist."

  • Much better: "Open the checklist by clicking on the banner."

The first version first demands action and then reveals how you might benefit from it. In version 2, the benefit is presented at the beginning. If you are in doubt, however, you can always run an A/B test to see which version performs best.

4. Use the question-answer pricinple

The bottom line is that content marketing (and thus UX writing) is always a dialogue of questions and answers. Your job as a marketer or UX copywriter is to answer all these questions or, better yet, not to let them arise in the first place. The question you have to ask yourself never changes: is everything really clear in my text? As long as you answer with "Well, I think so...," there is still room for improvement.

Imagine giving the text to your parents or grandparents to read in complex situations. Would they immediately understand what you want to say? Can you use terms like UX writing, content, or online marketing freely without having to explain anything further? That's an exaggeration, of course, but the point is you want to help with your answers, not create more confusion.

Google SERPs is a valuable indicator in this question-answer game. The suggestions from the "People also ask" feature can often be copied and pasted. For the search query "usability," for example, these w-questions appear:

people-also-ask-google-UX-writing writing for UX UX writing tips UX writing UX text UX copywriting UX copy UX user experience writing User Experience copywriting Content Marketing

Figure 4: W-questions tell you what your audience is looking for (Screenshot: Google)

The problem: not all questions can be answered as clearly as these examples. Sentences like "It depends" or "You can't say that in general" won't help your readers. In that case, stick to the closest concrete information and put it into perspective afterwards.

Let's assume that someone is looking for the optimal temperature for baking bread. This person has long known that it "depends" on what dough etc. is involved - you don't have to mention that separately. What you can provide instead is an estimate: "220-225°C is a common temperature for baking bread.” Then you explain which factors are involved.

5. Proofread, proofread, proofread

Every little mistake gets in the way of the reading flow. It may not be consciously noticed by your target group, but nevertheless the comprehensibility suffers from mistakes in punctuation, typing, spelling, etc.

Proofreading and revision is just as important as the writing itself. Every text can only benefit from a thorough quality check! Taking a close look is important, among other things, with regard to...

  • Repetitive words (the classics are also, but, if, ...)

  • Punctuation

  • Grammar mistakes

  • Active instead of passive voice

  • Sentence length

  • Scanning aids such as bolded terms or enumerations

Ideally, the 4 eyes principle applies, i.e. someone else corrects your writing. Watch out: read it over again by yourself as soon as it's finished. This way you can make sure that the style is still consistent and that there are no additions that don't fit your existing text.

One more remark concerning comprehensibility: maybe you've heard the argument that adjustments to be gender-inclusive language disturbs readability. You should consider how you want to use gender-sensitive language. How you want, not can, because in the end it remains a question of preference.

It is by no means impossible to create a text that is both comprehensible and inclusive. Leaving the generic masculine behind is a matter of habit - and a habit that is quite appropriate. Remember that a considerable part of your audience might be female readers. Will they be bothered by the fact that you actively address them? Probably not.

6. Keep things visually simple

Last but not least, let's circle back to the visual side of things. Because as I said before: UX writing only works well when text and design harmonize perfectly. If you don't believe it, take a look at this (german) article on readability. Even if you don’t understand the language you will see: there is plenty of useful information there, but it's buried in a wall of text that is almost overwhelming.

Imagine having to read this text on your smartphone. Not very tempting, is it? That's a problem, since many websites are accessed via mobile devices nowadays. There's a good reason Google has long since introduced the Mobile First Index. So never, never, never lose sight of mobile usability! For a deep-dive into all things Mobile First, check out this ebook.

Good usability, in the end, means concentrating on the essentials. "The more the merrier" is a thought that is best abandoned immediately because the more fonts, colors, CAPITAL LETTERS, etc. you use, the more confusing the overall picture becomes.

You can orient yourself by these recommendations:

  • Be careful about using huge header images without context

  • Keep headings approximately the same length and as a single line

  • Leave enough white space

White space can make a big difference. Particularly, it can help long texts appear more readable.

Conclusion: UX writing is a question of empathy

Good UX Writing is text that doesn't ask too much of the reader and, at the same time, provides everything they need. Really good UX Writing is when said text and the visual design are a well-established team.

This only works if empathy is involved in the content creation process. You as a UX copywriter must be able to put yourself in the reader's shoes. What situation makes them end up on your website? What do they want to find there, and how can you make sure that they find it quickly?

You, yourself, are the best judge of your target group. Combine this knowledge with the tips you've read here, and you can't go wrong with UX writing!

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Published on Nov 5, 2020 by Josefa Niedermaier