Effective Copywriting Tips for Better UX

We’re delighted to welcome Andrea Zoellner, Chief Content Creator at SiteGround. In this guest post Andrea gives us actionable and very effective copywriting tips for better UX, explaining the concept of microcopy. It maybe micro, but it’s very important!

By Andrea Zoellner, Chief Content Creator at SiteGround

This blog post is inspired by a talk Andrea gives at WordCamps around the world. You can watch a recording of this talk here. Andrea gives us actionable, effective copywriting tips for better UX, introducing a crucial new element.

There’s a common misconception in web creation that a site’s content and design are separate parts of a development project. Not only is that wrong, but there’s one significant overlap in copywriting and UX design that can make a big difference in the success of your website: microcopy.

What is microcopy?

Microcopy is the word for those little bits of text throughout websites and application interfaces that guide, warn, and prompt users. These could be labels, menus, pop-ups, warnings, help text, hover text, placeholder content, and more. Generally, microcopy strings are under 10 words, which explains the name. They are designed to either elicit an action (ex: call-to-action buttons) or are triggered by actions (ex: confirmation messages).

Unless you code websites from scratch, you probably use themes, templates, and third-party solutions to build sites. This is a great time-saving strategy, but if you skip customizing the microcopy, you could be missing out on the powerful impact of tailored copy.

Copywriting tips for microcopy: What is good microcopy?

Good copywriting provides accurate information to the right person, at the right time, and in the correct format. Copy shouldn’t be a crutch for poor design, but you CAN use it to:

  • Help users get started
  • Let users know what to do next
  • Explain new features
  • Suggest users take a specific action
  • Reassure users
  • Help users in a moment of failure

Your microcopy should both reduce the cognitive effort required to successfully navigate a site and leave users feeling empowered. Most websites have a goal, such as getting users to subscribe, spend money, or otherwise engage with them. Good microcopy should lead them to complete those actions quickly and with confidence.

Align your microcopy with your brand

Content doesn’t exist in a silo, it cuts across every aspect of an organization. Even small bits of web copy should be informed by the overarching brand direction and tone-of-voice of the organization. If you’re still finding your voice, it can be helpful to ask yourself: If you could picture the brand as a person, how would they act and sound? Is it friendly or professional? Funny or serious? There’s no wrong answer, it just has to match your industry, your audience, and your company mission.

“If your product sounds human, it’s easier for people to trust it.”

The fun thing about copy is it can make a product sound human. Picture your microcopy as a conversation. It’s a quick way to make your UI more friendly and less robotic. If your product sounds human, it’s easier for people to trust it. Having a clear idea of a brand persona will inform everything from your slogan down to smaller copy choices, like microcopy. This is one of the best copywriting tips for better UX via microcopy: write for humanity.

Making these decisions early on can also help you be consistent across your interface screens. Choose the labels and words you’re going to use for each part of your site and stick with them. Not only does this make you look more professional, but it also limits confusion for users.

One of Andrea Zoellner's copywriting tips for better UX: be consistent when you choose a term.

Design with empathy

Writing microcopy isn’t just about your brand, it’s also about managing user emotions. Most interactions with a site have the potential to create fear, and every design choice should be made with empathy for the visitor’s state of mind.

  • Some of those fears can be:
  • Fear of irreversible changes when making decisions in an interface
  • Fear of data loss when filling out forms
  • Fear regarding personal data security
  • Fear of getting spammed
  • Fear of wasting money

By walking through the different paths and interface flows on your site, put yourself in your user’s shoes and note any moments of confusion, frustration, or fear so you can edit the microcopy to addresses those emotions. That could mean adding a reminder about a return policy above a checkout button or letting users know there’s one more screen before they confirm a purchase.

Error messages are another vital place to customize your microcopy. They have the potential to make users feel empowered to carry on, or they can exacerbate their feelings and make you lose a customer.

One of Andrea Zoellner's copywriting tips for better UX: be helpful with your error messages.

Keep it simple

At the end of the day, simplicity always wins. For copywriters, it’s tempting to be clever, to employ unique jargon to set your brand apart, or to use puns to tie a theme together. There is room for that, just not in the crucial steps of a signup form or a checkout.

Welcome emails, product descriptions, friendly greetings — these are spots to inject some personality. For interface copy, keep it as clear and unambiguous as possible. Avoid jargon and idioms. These can be alienating and ultimately counter-productive.

Have someone totally foreign to your project test your site. Pay attention to the words your tester uses out loud when navigating the interfaces and flows. This can help you keep your microcopy natural and conversational — how a real person thinks and speaks.

Microcopy is not designed to be long because people don’t read. Walls of text will scare users away. If you can’t explain what a user needs to do in eight words or fewer, then consider reviewing the actual design.

Copywriting tips for better UX: make sure you strike the sweet spot when you give out instructions.

Getting started

You don’t need to be an expert to make impactful changes to your website microcopy. Start by doing a quick audit of your site for inconsistencies or to personalize the generic text to match your tone-of-voice. Then, focus on the most high-traffic flow on your website.

If you’re running an eCommerce site, review your checkout process. If your site’s goal is to collect signups or registrations for an event, focus on fine-tuning these forms. Or, find the pages and flows that aren’t performing well. You never know, a few microcopy tweaks could make all the difference.

Andrea Zoellner is the Chief Content Creator at SiteGround and the lead organizer for WordCamp Montreal. She trained as a broadcast journalist and worked in corporate communications before trading it for a career in tech. Now, she spends her days developing brand messaging, copy editing, and blogging. When she’s not at home in Montreal, Canada, she’s sampling the digital nomad life and documenting her adventures on her travel blog The Capsule Suitcase.

Are you interested in improving the UX of your websites? (Who isn’t…) Check out the blog post ‘User Experience Design – for Everyone’.

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