Craft Effective Content. 10 UX Writing Tips to Help You!
Copywriting is too often disregarded when it comes to design, but it's actually one of the most important.
The words on any website are going to be the key driver to convert visitors into customers, establish your brand's voice and craft the user experience overall.
Don't ever underestimate the power of the words you craft.
One simple, but carefully crafted word can be the difference between a visit and a sale. Whether it's the copy of the page to even the micro-copy on one CTA button, there's real power in the content you write.
To that end, we've come up with 10 writing tips that we hope will help you craft effective content, including how to test it and get that all-important buy-in from those with a stake in its success.
These work whether you're writing for yourself or for your clients. You're welcome. ;-)
1. Research Your Audience To Understand Their Intent
Our number one tip takes place (hopefully) before you've even written a single word. The first step in crafting effective content is to make sure you understand:
Who your audience is
What you hope their intent is going to be once they've read your wonderful content!
Not only do you need to understand where you want them to go, but you also need to understand where they're coming from. In other words, how did they get to this web page and where would you like it to take them next?
If you want them to take some action once they've clicked on a particular Call To Action (CTA), do the words on the screen match the promise of that CTA?
What we're saying is you need to be clear on both the intended flow and the intended action. Once you understand that, it's much easier to come up with language that can create the user experience they're expecting.
2. Be Clear
Copywriters, especially new ones, often fall into the trap of confusing 'clear' with 'minimal'. Being clear about the message you're crafting doesn't necessarily mean using the fewest words possible.
Often the people involved in the process (including UX designers) become obsessed with chipping away at what's there so it takes up less and less space on the page, or believing that fewer words will mean customers pass through faster because there's less to read.
Yes, speed is important, but it's far more important to focus on the clarity of the message.
Fewer words can mean your message is misunderstood or misinterpreted and that's not what you or the customer needs. This is especially true when you're talking about private or sensitive data.
It's important for them, in that example, to know why you need that information (or why you need to store it) or, if they are going to delete something, what repercussions that might have. Fewer words aren't going to help here.
If you're asking them for something, be VERY clear on what AND why you need it.
3. Be Consistent With Your Words
It's always nice to craft a piece of prose that's ornate, full of pomp and highly detailed and there's absolutely a time and place for that kind of writing, but crafting copy for a sales page probably isn't it.
You could always add more flowery language in an email campaign where you have more space to craft a more detailed piece, but when it comes to writing for a user's experience, it's best to be consistent and craft something that gives them what they want. You'll probably find that keeping a consistent style will work much better.
Whilst it's nice to have a thesaurus at hand and look for every conceivable synonym, sticking to one that's easy to comprehend will often work much better.
If, for example, your CTA button says 'Buy' then use 'Buy' throughout. Changing it to 'Reserve' or 'Purchase' or anything else at random points won't help.
This works just as well whether you're dealing with field labels, product specs, prices, postage rates or links. Staying consistent in your terminology will mean less confusion for your customers and a faster checkout process.
4. Use Appropriate Tone and Voice
One of the biggest mistakes many people make when writing effective copy is to discount the brand's tone and voice. They're obviously incredibly important for the brand in question, but also for the user experience too.
Think of the 'voice' as the personality of the brand, it's who they are, visualised through the words you write, and the 'tone' as to how you would expect the brand to behave online.
If you think of it as trying to manifest your brand as a person, then you want the words to create someone who visitors want to spend time with.
It's important to bear in mind that your tone should also reflect the different stages of the buyer's journey by understanding just what they're trying to do at each point.
This might mean that your tone is more reassuring and encouraging at the beginning of the sale to encourage them into buying.
It might also mean, as we'll touch on later (#6), that if something goes wrong then your tone becomes more honest and to the point whilst also remaining clear and consistent.
5. Avoid Jargon
Whilst what you (or your clients) sell might be unique, the user experience on your website probably won't be. Visitors will be used to how an online store works, they will be familiar with the process and understand the vocabulary that accompanies it.
As such, helping guide them around your site should play into this by avoiding unnecessary jargon that muddies those waters.
Use words and phrases that users will recognise and equate them with the actions you expect them to take. You're trying to create a common language between you.
It's natural that you want to stand out from the crowd (and your competitors) but don't do it just for the sake of it as it can alienate customers.
Words they see and understand without thinking about them will help to orient them. They'll feel more welcome more quickly because of it.
Similarly, it's also essential to pay attention to the way your ideal customer speaks. Whilst you're obviously not going to be able to hear them physically, you can craft a page that understands the lexicon you'd expect them to use. Write it as if it was two people talking to each other.
To test it, rather than read it in your head, read it aloud. This will give you an understanding of its parlance, rhythm and tone.
If it sounds too formal, robotic or littered with marketing or corporate buzzwords, it's probably time to redo it.
6. Be Transparent on Errors
We all make mistakes. Whether that's in the code on your site, the way the checkout operates or mistakes in your policies.
It might be you, it might a supplier/contractor or it might be caused by a piece of third-party software you're using, but it's part of being human for mistakes to happen now and again.
When they do, it's important for you to be transparent about them and explain how, what or why they've occurred.
When they do, think through the following process to move forward; Avoid, Explain and Resolve to reach the best resolution.
Avoid - Obviously the first step is to avoid errors in the first place, whether that's through how the system works or the sales funnel's flow. If so, change where you can to eliminate the error from showing up at all.
Explain - If the error can't be avoided, then be transparent and explain what's going on. If it's something the customers can't do anything about, e.g. a server or website error, then let them know that you're working on resolving it.
Resolve - The final stage is probably an obvious one, resolve the error. Where you can, provide as much information to allow the customers to fix the issues. If, for example, they're trying to upload a file that's too big or in the wrong format, don't just tell them it's wrong, show them how to resolve it. Remember to stay focussed on what the customer is trying to do.
7. Reinforce With Data
Another common mistake copywriters make is to focus solely on the words and whilst there's obviously importance to them, you can gain a deeper understanding of the customer's behaviours by looking closely at the data behind the words.
This is sometimes known as 'data-driven copywriting'. This assumes you can get access to it of course, but if not, ask!
If, for example, you can see that the site gets high traffic but low sales, then it might mean that you need to look at the page's message more clearly.
Alternatively, you might notice that people are dropping out early in the sales funnel. This might mean that value the product offers isn't being fully communicated. There are a number of ways to see this in action.
Just blindly looking at the data won't resolve these problems necessarily, but it does give you the opportunity to test your writing to see what helps.
You also can do this by utilising tools like Google Analytics, Mailchimp (which will also allow you to test email marketing copy) and Hotjar.
8. Empathise With Your Audience
As a copywriter, your role in crafting a message needs to encompass a number of facets; your words need to explain, they need to sell and they need to provide legal cover amongst many other things they need to do.
At the same time, they also need to be clear, engaging and concise. That's a lot of targets to hit at once, but one other aspect that gets too often overlooked is empathy. Yes, seriously.
Empathising with your audience is a key part of writing effective content as it gives you the opportunity to not only show empathy (obvs) but to advocate for those who use the product or service.
Where possible, liaise with other team members (if you have them), whether that's sales, legal, web developers or engineers.
Think about the processes from the perspective of the users; what can be implemented to help them navigate the process?
This could incorporate everything from the layout of the store, the section headings or the terms and conditions customers are expected to e-sign.
Putting yourself in their shoes and understanding their mindset will pay dividends. It will also help different departments to see the whole process and build on it for future work.
9. Favour 'Understanding' Over 'Clicks'
Once your writing is complete, you might think it's job done, but in some ways, it's just the beginning.
Sure you've poured your heart and soul into crafting the perfect copy, but the real test comes when visitors engage with it.
Once complete, look at your words objectively.
Are they understandable?
Do they resonate?
Do they meet the real-world needs of customers?
Do people act on them?
These questions (and others) go far beyond whether it gets those important click-throughs or ranks highly on searches. They might, but how will you know if the words really work if you don't test them?
One of the most useful tests is the A/B test, also known as split testing.
In A/B testing, 'A' refers to the ‘control’ or the original, whereas 'B' refers to a ‘variation’ or a new version of the original testing variable.
To establish it, set up a randomised testing process where two or more versions of a variable (whether it's a full web page or just one page element) are shown to different segments of visitors at the same time.
The aim is simply to determine which version, 'A' or 'B' (hence the name), gives the maximum impact and, as such, will help drive business metrics.
Essentially it eliminates all the guesswork out of the experience so you (or your client) can make data-backed decisions.
It's a great tool for understanding 'which' version people like, but not necessarily 'why' they like it.
For all the copy you write, it's important you have some evidence that customers will 'get' what you're trying to say.
Evidence might mean, for example, that it has a high readability score. Don't just assume that it will work, put some time into gathering tangible evidence that it actually does before it goes live.
10. Get Stakeholders On Your Side
Copywriting will just be one small cog in a larger machine, but without it, the machine doesn't work at all. Trying have a store with no words on it at all and see how many sales you get.
The thing is, the power to change is with the writing itself. Communicating your needs is in your hands through the words you can conjure up.
By talking with other departments within this machine, you can have a real impact on the overall experience.
Let them know that your work is more than 'just writing' and that it can have a real benefit to business and technical discussions, whether that's on the launch of a website or new products.
Showcase your passion for your work, your eye for detail, your ability to craft a message and put yourself in a position to make a substantial difference throughout the entire process.
Let all the stakeholders see you in the best possible light and for the contribution, you can make.
SQUARING THE CIRCLE
There's no denying that writing can be a dog-eat-canine world so be prepared to be bold, stand up for the choices you've made and explain those decisions with heart and weight, especially for those who may look down on the writing process.
No matter who asks the questions, have prepared answers on how you can add value and be ready for the opportunity when it comes.
Show them that you know your stuff and promote its value to the bigger picture. Even if you only have qualitative information, let stakeholders know how you're going to go about getting some quantitative data that strengthens your corner.
By utilising one, some or all of these tips we believe that you can put, not only your writing but your involvement in the overall process at the heart of that same machine.
Take all of this to heart, and you might be surprised how much of a difference UX writing can make to your client’s business!
If you've got any tips of your own, we'd love to hear about them in the comments below, or even if there's something you think we've missed, let us know that too!
Blog photo courtesy of Mika Baumeister via Unsplash