5 Copywriting Tips That Can Dramatically Improve Your UX

By Martin Stellar

Published: December 9, 2013

“If there’s one thing that makes a copywriter great, it’s the ability to really get into the minds of other people.”

Even though a UX expert and a copywriter are two very different kinds of professionals, we have one thing in common: we both work with people. Specifically, we influence people’s minds. It’s our job to influence users, readers, or subscribers in such a way that they complete a process that we’ve designed.

Create a Better User Experience by Thinking Like a Copywriter

If there’s one thing that makes a copywriter great, it’s the ability to really get into the minds of other people. My ability to do this lets me get site visitors to do essentially what I want them to do.¬†Fill out a form? No problem. Buy a product? I can make that happen. Refer friends or share on social media? Easy.

Here are five copywriting tips that you can quickly put into practice to make your Web site’s UX design much more effective.

Tip 1: Everything is a sale, and every user is a intrinsically a buyer.

“As soon as a visitor lands on your Web site, you’re selling that person something….”

As soon as a visitor lands on your Web site, you’re selling that person something—no matter what kind of site it is. Why? Because, from the very first moment, that person is expending his or her valuable time. For a visitor to continue to be willing to spend that time on your site, it has to be worth it.

People buy things because of the benefits that they expect to receive from their purchases. If you’re able to sell people on completing a form or looking up some information on your site, they do what you want them to do because they expect a benefit.

I often see sites where the copy is dry, merely factual, and too practical. While “Click to join” might work, it won’t work as well as “Join now and get instant access.” Whenever possible, try to present the benefit to visitors—whether through copy or images. You’re asking visitors to spend time on your site. Make sure they understand how they will benefit from doing that.

Tip 2: There is only one user.

“The most successful copywriters spend days on research, trying to figure out who the ideal customer is. Then they create a profile of that ideal customer that is as detailed as possible….”

Ever wondered why Stephen King is so ridiculously successful? Here’s why: He writes for only one person. Every time he writes a book, he just wants his wife to like it. He doesn’t care what the rest of the world will think.

This trick is a little secret from the copywriting world that makes it so much easier to really get into the mind of the user.
The most successful copywriters spend days on research, trying to figure out who the ideal customer is. Then they create a profile of that ideal customer that is as detailed as possible—age, income, type of breakfast, number of unmatched socks, average time behind a PC, number of kids, flavor of toothpaste. They want to know everything.

Only once I’ve defined that customer profile, do I start writing. The result is super-tight copy that is 100% relevant to that ideal customer. Using the same method when designing a user experience or an information architecture gives you the ability to really think like the user. It will make your work much more relevant.

You could argue, “But not all users are the same. My projects are for huge sites with wildly varied user demographics.” That may be so, but there is still only one ideal user: The one who completes the task that you want him to complete. The demographics don’t matter. Whether man or woman, of any age, and any race—the people who match the profile of the ideal user are the ones who stayed on your Web site and did what you needed them to do.

Figure out who that ideal user is, in the most minute detail possible, then design your site’s user experience for that person. Try it, it works!

Tip 3: Speak your ideal user’s language.

“People respond to words, phrasings, and tone of voice depending on their own personality—not because you’ve chosen the correct word.”

To communicate effectively to your ideal user, I recommend that you ditch UX laws and conventional wisdom. While it may well be that, statistically, “Click here” outperforms “Join now,” you’re dealing with people. And people aren’t statistics.

Once you start testing copy—more on that later—you’ll see that there are some counterintuitive forces at work. People respond to words, phrasings, and tone of voice depending on their own personality—not because you’ve chosen the correct word.

This is where user profiles come in handy. They enable you to communicate with people in a way that’s natural and logical to them. And that’s what results in the best user interactions. You wouldn’t tell a small child, “That statement is illogical and, therefore, not valid.” Instead, you would say: “That’s not how it works. Let me explain.”

Another thought: keep your copy short. Most people talk too much, and clients are notorious for loading far too many words onto a page. Copy can always be shorter and, in most cases, shorter, tighter copy gets better results. Whenever possible, recommend shortening and tightening up copy. Create microcopy for the win!

Tip 4: Communicate benefits, not features.

“If you tell people why they should do what you’re asking them to do, they’ll be much more likely to actually do it.”

This is another little copywriting trick that you can use. If you do, you’ll instantly look smarter. And you’ll improve your site’s user experience, too.

Here’s how this works: In copywriting, there are always two things to consider: features and benefits. Features are what something does, how it works, what it looks like, and what it costs. In other words, features talk about what’s in the box. The problem is: features don’t sell. People don’t buy a mattress because it’s “100% natural Amazonian latex.” They buy it because “with a natural Amazonian latex mattress, you’ll sleep better than ever before in your life.”

In UX design, you can follow this features-and-benefits principle: Don’t sell 8mm drill bits. Sell 8mm holes.

It’s easy to say “Click here to sign up.” But if you’re asking people to sign up, you’re selling them on a feature. Instead, communicate the associated benefit: “Click here to sign up and get instant access to our articles.”

In other words, if you tell people why they should do what you’re asking them to do, they’ll be much more likely to actually do it.

Tip 5: Always be testing.

“Testing guarantees that a user experience will work. The same goes for copy.”

You already know this—but, very likely, your client might not be aware of quite how powerful testing copy can be. If, at any point, you feel that a piece of copy, microcopy, a button label, or a call to action might not be the best, create several variations and test them. Testing guarantees that a user experience will work. The same goes for copy.
And never miss an opportunity to let visitors tell you what they prefer.

Conclusion

So there you have it: the insider secrets that I’ve learned in the copywriting trenches. Put these tips into practice, and you’ll see what the psychology of copywriting can do to help your user experience work even better.

4 Comments

Well, a lot of academic students research and take influences from other artists from gallery and museum visits, as well as researching online. What is the difference between taking theory or influences from books, magazines, or newspapers? Online research improves my creativity.

In my freelance jobs, I had a hard time selling the copywriting time to the client as an important part of the UX design process, especially when it comes to shortening and change of tone. What would you suggest in this regard? Maybe you could write an article on designer / client communication. :) Great article. Thanks.

The first paragraph in #3 is incomprehensible to me. If the statistics aren’t people, there is something wrong with the study. If “click here” actually outperforms “join now” that would mean that it actually works better with actual people. Am I missing something, or is this just contradictory?

This also confused me.

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