man staring at phone, leaning against roller gate with sign "Keep Clear"
PHOTO: Marcus Wallis

How can you make your user experience (UX) content and microcopy compelling?

Great UX content and microcopy guides users within a product and helps them interact with it. It assists users in solving their problems and helps them achieve their goals. Compelling UX content motivates the right behaviors and inspires users’ loyalty and love for your brand.

Now imagine your app’s users get stuck because the instructions on how to proceed to checkout are unclear. Or think about an error popping up followed by an error message that does nothing. It offers no explanation and doesn’t tell users what to do next.

Too many unclear instructions and errors like that and you may lose thousands of clients forever. 

Read on to discover best practices and guidelines on how to create interface content and microcopy that enhances the user experience and in turn increases conversion rates and customer loyalty.

Great UX Content Is Clear and Informative

UX writing and microcopy are about creating copy for user interfaces. This includes button and form labels, instructions, hints, CTAs, error messages and so on. Microcopy may be small and seem insignificant. However, it can have an enormous impact on conversion rates and brand perception.

What makes good microcopy? For starters, microcopy must be clear. Want someone to take a specific action or click a specific button? Don’t make them guess. Don’t confuse them.

It’s common for products to label next step buttons as Next or Continue. However, buttons like Next, Continue or Yes, I agree may be confusing. They can raise questions, such as "What is ‘Next’?" "What am I agreeing to?" "Where will this button take me?"

That’s why explaining what the next step is can create a more helpful interaction. Tell users where they’ll go next, or what will happen when they press a button. Be specific, e.g. Proceed to checkout.

You can also add a smaller-sized copy, e.g.:

  • Main button: Save and continue
  • Smaller-sized explanation: Next, we'll ask for payment info

Create more clarity for links, too. Be more descriptive than Read more or View post. Instead, provide the title of the post, e.g. "How to maximize your Christmas ecommerce sales."

Related Article: User Experience Design Is a Specialty: Treat it as Such

Great UX Content Is Consistent

To make your microcopy good, write in a consistent way. Consistency improves the user’s experience, but also presents you as a more reliable service provider.

Use consistent terminology, style and spelling. For instance, if you’ve decided to use American English spelling (maximize, color, etc.), don’t mix in random British English spellings (maximise, colour, etc.). Further, don’t use different instructions for the same type of action. For example, if you want users to send you an email and you normally say Contact us via email, don’t suddenly write Send us an email.

Great UX Microcopy Is Simple and Efficient

Communicate in the simplest possible way. If you can use fewer words without excluding crucial information, do so. 

Simplicity goes hand in hand with efficiencyEfficiency makes people's lives easier. Consider the readability formulas of Rudolf Flesch. Sentences with eight or fewer words are regarded as “very easy” to read. Most users love easy.

Compare the following sentences. They both instruct the user to take exactly the same action, but one is much clearer:

  • We’d like to kindly inform you that you should click this button if you want to be taken to the checkout page. (22 words)
  • Proceed to checkout. (3 words)

The bottom line: less is more.

Finally, review your interface content. Identify all redundant information and repetitive elements. Remove unnecessary words that add no meaning or value to your messaging.

To simplify your microcopy, use lists, subtitles and add links (i.e., progressive disclosure). Users can choose to click the linked words to receive more details. Make your content as efficient as possible. For example, Below you'll find additional details is not as efficient as Additional details below.

Related Article: What Is User Experience Design?

Great UX Content Is Reassuring and Empathetic

People like to be understood. They appreciate it when their circumstances, feelings and worries are acknowledged. They like it when someone takes the trouble to explain and empathizes with them. Be that someone to your users.

Are they concerned? Alleviate their concerns. This is what Gmail does when it allows users to undo deletions. Are they anxious? Reassure them they’re on the right track. After the deletion, for instance, you can provide a verification message, e.g. Don’t worry, we’ve emailed you all this info as well.

The best way to display your empathy is to show you care about their time. Your clarity and consistency already save time — let your design decisions also reflect your empathy, e.g. avoid excessive white space that can create lag time when reading.

Great UX Microcopy Highlights the Benefits

Sometimes it's helpful to tell your customers what something does. But it’s usually better to start by telling them how or why it will improve their experience.

For this reason, try to make it clear in the first part of the sentence why to take a particular action. Explain why it's worthwhile they make the effort. Clarify why that action will improve their experience with the product.

In other words, sell the benefits, not the features. Highlight specific results and the benefits that actually matter to the user, e.g. Save 2 hours a day by activating Feature X.

Great UX Content Educates

First and foremost, your interface should be useful and practical. However, it can provide extra value by educating your user.

Imagine this scenario. Things aren't working as well as they normally would: an error message pops up or the app is processing a big load of data. This is frustrating for users because they have to wait to accomplish their task. But when these times happen — and they always do — you can use it as an opportunity to educate and/or entertain the user. 

Use this waiting time to provide tips and links to relevant articles, whitepapers and other materials. Add data, fun facts, pieces of trivia or interesting stats about your platform. Use the time to engage the user and make them love the experience with you even more. 

Related Article: Find the Gaps in Your User Experience

Great UX Microcopy Makes Users Feel Secure

Payment pages are where users usually part with some of their money. It's also where they enter sensitive information, including personal and bank details. You having this information gives you a lot of power.

No user wants you to abuse this power. Your ability to affect the balance of a user’s bank account must go hand in hand with your credibility and reliability.

For this reason, users want to feel 100 percent certain that their money and payment details are safe with you. Include messaging on your payment page that promises a secure purchase. Make your site exude safety and security.

Components like lock icons or SSL badges are critical here, too. Place these elements next to the payment form / relevant buttons as opposed to buried in the footer.

Great UX Content Helps Increase Conversions

You have the power to make your microcopy truly seductive. Each micro-moment has the potential to make the visitor say yes to whatever action you want them to take.

This may be as easy as writing 30-day money-back guarantee next to the Add to Cart button. This removes some of the risk for the user. Or if you’re selling a subscription to a service, it may be letting people know they can unsubscribe anytime. Maybe it's adding Free Shipping to the product to make the user feel they’re choosing a good deal.

Think about the moments or places where you can use your content’s potential to boost conversions. Optimizing your thank you pages is a great place to do so. For example, after completing the purchase, ask buyers to carry out another action, e.g. share their experience or purchase on social media.

Great UX Microcopy Supports Your Business Image and Reputation

If you communicate in a confusing or unprofessional way in your interface, this will affect how your customers perceive you.

For example, if you use exclamation marks excessively, you’re adding drama. Expressions such as Internet connection has been lost! Reconnect immediately! Nothing found! Fix now! scream at the user. And let's be clear: it is your brand that is screaming. You don’t appear to have your product under control. Further, by screaming you don’t appear to trust the user’s ability to judge the situation and do the right thing.

Of course at times it’s OK, or even necessary, to highlight the most important action points. However, exclamation marks are never the solution.

Whenever an issue arises, use a balanced tone that shows your ability to handle unexpected situations and give your users clear instructions on how to proceed.

Further, in all user interactions, stay human. Use micromoments to increase the overall impression of your brand’s approachability. Why not write conversationally? Jargon and technical texts rarely have a human touch. But MailChimp's See Ya Later, which appears when the user logs out, strikes a nice tone.

Finally, be interesting. Use the element of surprise. Show a randomized message from time to time. For example, Basecamp’s footer has a friendly message that changes depending on the day of week.

Related Article: How Customer Expectations Are Driving Product Thinking in Some Surprising Places

Microcopy in a Nutshell

The goal of UX writing and microcopy is to enhance the user experience. Microcopy plays the role of a guide, advisor, comforter and promoter. It has the power to remove worries and doubts.

Words have the power to make or break the user experience — so make them count. Very often, less is more. The fewer words you use, without compromising on content clarity and quality, the better.

The best experiences are intuitive and usually have simple and even minimal copy. Such copy is clear, simple, consistent and often creative.

The bottom line? If you offer a great product, great design and top it with excellent content, the playing field is yours.