If you’re wondering what UX copywriting is all about, you’ve come to the right place.
In this post, we’ll:
- Begin with a definition of UX copywriting and why it’s important.
- Give you lots of examples of good (and bad) UX writing in action.
- Discuss the differences (and similarities) between UX copywriting and “conventional” copywriting.
And lot’s more.
UX copywriting offers exciting opportunities for writers like you to make a handsome living. Ready to learn more?
Before We Begin — What is UX?
Let’s start with an understanding of what UX is, shall we?
UX, or User Experience, is the experience a product creates for the people who use it. UX Design is the execution of physical and digital product design with the user experience in mind.
Jesse James Garrett, The Elements of User Experience
That carafe that pours coffee all over the counter every morning?
That seamless Mailchimp account registration?
And user testing demonstrates time and again just how much it matters. As Garrett says:
Good user experience is good business.
Let’s use iTunes, or Apple Music, as an example. Apple makes some very nice products, but that doesn’t mean they’re perfect, as this screenshot shows:
This long list of options violates a central tenet of UX: Keep it simple.
Or as Steve Krug wonderfully makes the case in his aptly-titled book: Don’t Make Me Think.
A dozen different app designers could have shown Apple how to do that, but Spotify’s easy mobile interface is proof that some companies understand music should relax, and not frustrate:
Apple Music and Spotify each demonstrate the importance of UX .
And in an age where choices abound and user dissatisfaction easily goes viral, getting it right has never been more important.
UX copywriting, or microcopy as it’s called, is a big part of a successful UX formula.
Let’s see what it’s about.
What is UX Copywriting?
UX copywriting, or microcopy, is the short form copy that guides users through the critical touch-points of an app or website’s customer journey. It tells the user what to do, how to do it, what next steps to take, and when they’ve succeeded or need to reattempt a task.
There’s lots more to microcopy than just that, but you’ll typically see UX writing in and around these points of the user interface:
- Warnings and error messages
- Instructional prompts
- Form submission explanations and confirmation (success) messages
- Onboarding and “next-step” instructions
- Login prompts
- Timed-out messages and 404-page messages
- Chatbot scripting
- Search bar options
- And more
Simply put, the role of UX Design and UX copywriting is to move the user painlessly and continuously forward, leaving them satisfied that they got what they came for. Functional visual design is clearly important in this endeavor, but microcopy is the difference-maker to achieving that goal.
Read on to find out why.
Why UX Copywriting Matters
User research has made it abundantly clear.
It’s the small details that matter. An elegant, beautifully designed app or website will fail without clear instructions and easy-to-understand options.
Let’s demonstrate with a few examples.
|Related Reading: 10 Marvelous Copywriting Examples (& Why They Convert)|
In the screenshot below, the user receives the best opportunity imaginable to confirm a delete decision:
In eCommerce, a smart business knows the best way to ensure successful user experiences and better conversion rates is to let somebody painlessly buy what they want.
For seamless checkout, microcopy is the key to assuring the user knows where they are in the process:
Knowing what to expect is a big part of user satisfaction. Let’s see how microcopy impacts (form submission) success messages:
This is good. Kind of. The user knows the form’s been sent, but nothing else. Good UX copy lets the user know what’s coming.
Better. The user knows their booking’s in the bag and that it will be confirmed by email.
Now, for the Best:
Confirmation? Check. What to expect and when? Check. And the well-wishes add a nice, human touch.
Ultimately, good UX copywriting matters because it positively impacts two important groups of people.
Business owners are pleased because:
- They get better conversion rates and repeat traffic.
- They stand out as industry leaders.
- They enjoy better customer satisfaction, repeat sales and fewer returns.
And the user is happy because:
- Their time isn’t wasted.
- They get what they want.
- They feel good about the relationship.
Is any of this asking too much?
But it can only happen with clear communication, and that’s what UX copywriting does.
Good (and Not So Good) UX Copywriting In Practice
Instructions Must Die!
So says Steve Krug in Don’t Make Me Think, his immensely popular book on Web (and Mobile) usability.
This may sound a bit confusing. After all, we’ve said that the job of the microcopy writer is to help the user with instructions and guidance. We’ll let Krug further clarify:
Your objective should always be to eliminate instructions entirely by making everything self-explanatory, or as close to it as possible.
Thus, the collaboration between UX copywriter and UX design team must make things so easy to intuit that what needs to be said is, in fact, very little. The following book excerpts illustrate the minimalist objective of microcopy:
(Source: Don’t Make Me Think, Steve Krug, Author)
Obviously, the UX copywriter’s function goes beyond editing flabby writing. Let’s see how sharp design and microcopy come together, beginning with arguably the most critical of them, onboarding (account registration & setup).
Let’s go back to Apple Music. Apple’s onboarding process is, umm, hard.
And though it’s not exactly apples to apples (pun intended), the art of microcopy is clearly seen in how Slack makes onboarding so easy. Screen-by-screen, simple, clear instructions, it’s a very calm, over-the-shoulder walk-through:
Slack’s onboarding captures good microcopy in a nutshell — always moving the user forward, making sure they get what they want.
The following screenshot demonstrates successful (and less successful) microcopy in chatbot conversations:
This example shows us how microcopy makes things quick and efficient for the user, getting them to their solution quickly:
Microcopy also matters when it comes to error messaging.
In how we explain the problem:
In the clarity with which the problem is expressed:
And, by knowing the user’s likely state of mind when they’re onboarding, how best to convey the problem:
Finally, no discussion of microcopy would be complete without a glance at buttons.
Long gone are the days of You’re out of luck Windows 98 style buttons that gave the user little in the way of help or guidance:
Nowadays, UX Copywriters use buttons to move the user forward to where they want to go:
and motivate them with microcopy closely tied to the call to action, like this:
And far from the days of vague and unmotivating “Contact Us” messages, microcopy is now used in buttons to create contact options and motivate specific actions, again directly related to the CTA:
Finally, microcopy adjacent to the CTA button can be used to highlight features or guarantees:
Whether it’s error messages that lead to solutions, painless onboarding that welcomes, or buttons that motivate, smart microcopy is the user’s assurance that there is a well-designed path to follow.
And that means no wasted time for the user, no missed opportunities for the site or app owner.
That’s why effective UX copy matters.
How Does UX Copywriting Differ From “Conventional” Copywriting?
Because it’s a fairly recent writing phenomenon, there’s a lot of debate over the difference between UX copywriting and “conventional copywriting.” Some even consider it technical writing (it’s not).
So, in fairness to the question posed in the subhead, the quick answer is:
In every way imaginable, but one.
And that one similarity is vital if the app or website is successful in doing what it’s there to do.
Please the user and make money for the business that designed it.
Let’s begin with how the two types of writers are different.
At their most fundamental, microcopy is navigational, conventional copy is persuasive. In practice, the UX copywriter advocates for the user, the copywriter represents the product. Microcopy is aligned with successful interface design, persuasive copy is aligned with the successful conversion of the visitor.
But here’s how the two disciplines are critically similar.
Though the UX copywriter’s’s role is facilitating a smooth and efficient movement of the potential customer, it’s done with conversion objectives in mind.
Similarly, the copywriter MUST understand the navigational objectives of the site so that the pages he writes — Home page, Informational page, even the Product page — succeed in helping the visitor complete their user journey.
And, because both UX copywriting and conventional copywriting represent the unique voice of a company like MailChimp, or the style of a company like Forbes, they’ll be expected to conform to the best practices of their unique disciplines and to their respective client’s brand voice guidelines
Bottom line, the copywriter and UX copywriter both work with conversion and UX in mind. It’s only their first priorities that are different.
So, now that you know how copywriting and UX copywriting differ, which one’s right for you?
The following section will help with that.
Special Skills of a UX Copywriter
We’ll begin with this:
UX copywriting, conventional marketing copy and even content writing each approach their work with a user/reader-first mentality. It’s the target audience — not the client, not Google — that their content strategy centers on.
Consequently, according to Heather Robson of American Writers and Artists Institute, each prepares their work similarly by knowing:
- The user’s demographics and psychographics.
- How the user thinks and talks about the problem the page is there to solve.
- How the reader arrives at a given page.
- The user’s emotional state, concerns and point of view as they reach the page.
- What the user’s expectation is for being at that page.
- What the user’s next step will be from the page they’re on.
From there, as we’ve already articulated, the writing within the different roles is objectively different. The UX writer will follow a user-centric path that’s closely tied to the design process of the site or app. And the copywriter’s role is either objectively persuasive or conversion-focused.
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What’s needed to be a UX Copywriter beyond that?
Does a Copywriter make a Good Microcopywriter?
So, can someone who writes good persuasive copy also write good UX copy?
Of course they can. But let’s be clear, both UX and copywriting require significant study and practice.
And, experience in one is not preparation for the other.
But if you’re a great copy or content writer, you certainly have what it takes to write effective UX copy.
It’s just a matter of preference, and the environment you prefer to work in. If you have a zest for persuasive writing, direct response copywriting is your thing. If you have a particularly strong sense of empathy, content marketing may be your home.
And if you have a talent for paying attention to detail, if collaborating with a UX designer and a team of digital marketing specialists is your idea of the cat’s pajamas, well, you’ll probably love microcopy.
Bottom line, you can do any of these if you’re willing to do the work.
Does UX Copywriting Sound Like You?
So, there you have it. UX copywriting.
By now, you can appreciate the difference it makes, and why it’s such a fast-growing opportunity for freelance writers.
And though it’s different from other forms of writing, your objective is still the same.
Make the user/visitor happy, and get your client what they want.
If this sounds like you, there are some excellent resources out there for learning.
Do some reading, take a course, or, maybe even dip your toes into UX design.
Someday, that’ll be you guiding your users to a satisfying experience.
Go for it! And good luck.