You may have heard a few new terms being thrown about quite a lot lately. Things like “UX copywriter,” “UX writer,” and “UX copywriting.”
These may seem like buzzwords, but businesses are taking them very seriously… and there’s a big opportunity for writers who take the time to learn more about user experience and how they can apply it to the work they do for clients.
User experience copywriting, or UX copywriting as it’s commonly known, is a style of writing that puts the goals of the user first… even over the company’s goals of making sales.
That may sound counterintuitive. Why would a company put their user’s goals above making sales? We’ll answer that question a little further in…
But first, it’s useful to know a little more about how UX copywriting came to be a skill that’s in such high demand.
It may seem like user experience is a new idea, but it’s actually been decades in the making.
In her book, UX Team of One, user experience expert Leah Buley shares a history of user experience that reaches all the way back to early-20th-century factories where worker efficiency and productivity were pushed to their limits. Many people were critical of the damaging effects — both physical and mental — that assembly line factories had on workers.
Decades later, Toyota influenced the trajectory of user experience when they invited workers to help design the systems they participated in. About that same time, Henry Dreyfuss wrote Designing for People, which might be considered the first user experience text… although the term still didn’t exist. In his text, he talks about designing products to make people safer, more comfortable, more eager to purchase, or happier. Achieving those things, Dreyfuss believed, made for a successful design.
Later in the century, as computers became more commonplace in households and at work, companies whose computers and software were easier to use gained a competitive edge.
At Apple, they hired Donald Norman, author of The Design of Everyday Things. His title? User Experience Architect… and that may have been the moment the term “UX” was born. Norman believed that everything should be created with the user’s experience in mind… the design, the graphics, the interface, even the manual.
When the internet became the central hub for many businesses, the companies that prioritized user experience, even above their own goals, experienced tremendous growth… companies like Google, Amazon, and Apple.
With a market value of nearly $3 trillion, Apple is the most valuable company in the world. Many experts attribute Apple’s success to its unwavering commitment to intuitive, user-friendly, beautiful designs.
In its early days, Amazon invested 100 times more in UX than in advertising. In one account of how UX can impact a company, Amazon changed their buying process to allow people to purchase without registering an account. As part of that, they changed the Register button to one that read Continue. That single change — a one-word difference and allowing customers to choose whether to register or purchase without registering — resulted in $300 million in additional revenue that year.
And in 2021, Google announced that it would begin factoring user experience into its ranking algorithm. In other words, if your site doesn’t offer a good user experience, Google won’t rank it as well as a similar site that does.
Only two industries refer to their customers as users. One is software companies… the other is drug dealers. Or so the old joke goes.
For an industry focused on creating better experiences for humans, “user” isn’t the most humane of terms. Here on Digital Copywriter, we often refer to readers, visitors, operators, and potential customers instead of users… but no matter what term you use, giving your audience a good experience is paramount.
Other companies took note of the wild success enjoyed by these tech giants and started paying attention to the user experience on their own sites… including the words that helped people navigate through their pages and use the interactive elements on the site.
That led to a new UX position called the UX writer. A UX writer works closely with designers to create text elements that make a website, app, or software program easy to use.
But companies didn’t stop there. Many began to realize that the way they talk to their visitors — their potential customers and existing customers — has a huge effect on the user experience.
They want everything a visitor might read — a homepage, an About page, a welcome email, a webinar sign-up page, an order page, and everything else you can think of — to deliver a good user experience. And for that, they need copywriters who understand user experience. These companies are in search of UX copywriters.
UX stands for “user experience.” CX stands for “customer experience.”
CX is a broader term that encompasses UX. Creating a good user experience enhances the overall customer experience.
User experience is a permanent change in the landscape for anyone who contributes to content creation online — whether it’s design, video, imagery, graphics, or words.
In the coming decade, it’s almost certain that all copywriters and content marketers will be expected to understand user experience principles and how they apply to the messages they’re creating.
In fact, the Nielson Norman Group, a respected leader in user experience, predicts that by 2050, a full 1 percent of the global population will be specializing in user experience in one way or another. To give you an idea of the coming change — and the rising demand for UX — here’s a graph they created to show their prediction.
The future is bright for anyone choosing to specialize in user experience…
But what exactly does that look like for you as a writer?
Companies have shifted their focus to providing a good user experience because it works. But the reason it works so well has a lot to do with the Internet.
Before the Internet, people didn’t have as much access to information. It was harder to make product comparisons, to verify claims made by companies, and to see what other people thought of a product (other than the testimonials hand-selected by the company hoping to sell you the product).
Nowadays, things are a little different.
With a few minutes of searching, you can find positive and negative product reviews provided by third-party services…
You can get into discussions in groups and on forums with people who have used the product and find out what they like and don’t like…
You can do background research on the company to make sure you like how it behaves within its community…
You can hunt down the research a company has used to promote its product and quickly verify if it’s true or false… or if it’s true but tells only part of the story.
There are also more products to choose from. And it turns out when you’re shopping for a product and come across similar options, the shopping experience is going to matter to you more than the price (or at least that’s true for most people).
In fact, research shows that in 86% of buying decisions, the experience provided by the company matters more than the price. And companies that invest in providing a better customer experience typically double their earnings within three years of making it a priority. Those are huge numbers. (SuperOffice does a nice job curating the research on how user experience and customer experience affect a company’s bottom line.)
If you think about the user experience, it’s always happening. You’re always having an experience — good, bad, or neutral.
When you shop for a product, every interaction you have with the company — every page you read, every button you click or tap, every error message, every email — is contributing to the experience.
Companies that make the user experience a priority don’t leave any touchpoint to chance. They want every word to be written with care, to pull its weight within the customer journey.
That means there’s a lot of writing to be done… and they need people who understand UX to do it.
You might be wondering exactly what kinds of projects you would work on as a UX copywriter.
“Anything and everything” isn’t all that helpful of an answer, but really, all of the following can benefit from a UX approach:
Wherever your interests lie, understanding user experience principles and how they apply to different projects can add to the value you deliver to your clients — and that means bigger earnings for you.
Let’s look at a couple of possible examples…
Imagine a company that sells pet products. It’s a small boutique online shop with two dozen products in their lineup.
They‘ve heard that paying more attention to the user experience can increase their sales, so they’re looking for a writer to rework their product pages. In addition to that, they want the writer to craft a new fulfillment email for each of their products. And they want their order pages to be brought up to snuff.
Each product page is between 300 and 500 words of copy. You edit the existing copy to improve the UX. You charge $150 per page. At 12 pages, that’s $1,800.
The fulfillment emails, you’re writing from scratch. Each of those is about 300 words long, and you charge $250. At 12 emails, that’s $3,000.
Their checkout process involves three steps, with two lines of copy that is different for every product. You review and update the three steps of the overall process — another $450 — and you write the two-line product descriptions. You might charge $25 for each one, or you might do that as part of the product page work. If you charge separately, that adds $300 to your invoice.
The company also asks you to review their entire site and make broad suggestions for how they might improve the experience. For that audit, you charge $1,000.
All told, the project, which is likely to keep you busy for two weeks, will bring in somewhere in the neighborhood of $6,000 to $6,500.
Another company, this one in the wine club business, gets good results from the people who join their email list and read their emails. The problem is, not many of their visitors sign up for their list, and of those who do, not many actually open and read their messages.
They suspect they might not be providing a great user experience to their new subscribers, so they bring you in to help.
You review their email sign-up process and discover several things that could improve the user experience.
To improve the user experience, you…
This project is something you can wrap up in a week or less, and you bill a total of $2,050.
Even better, the company likes what you’ve done so much, they ask you to handle writing their weekly email newsletter going forward. You agree to do that for $500 an issue, and now you have a steady $2,000 coming in every month… just from this one client.
If you’re a member of Digital Copywriter, you can .
The possible variations are endless. Which is part of why UX is so fun. If you thrive on writing different kinds of projects for different industries, UX is a great specialty to have.
The writing itself is also fun and it feels good… because you’re helping your client by helping their customer have a better experience and really get what they want.
When a company focuses on the user experience, everybody wins. Businesses prosper. Their employees feel good about where they work. And the customers are able to buy products feeling fully informed, feeling cared for, and seeing that the company wants them to have a good outcome even more than they want to make the sale.
As a UX copywriter, you’ll help facilitate that. And that can fill you with a feeling of purpose.
Which, it turns out, is really important.
Psychological studies have found that when you have a sense of purpose, over time, everything in your life improves.
Your health gets better… you sleep better… you take more enjoyment in the things you do for fun… you have greater financial security… your mental health improves… you even connect better with the people you care about.
So, finding a kind of writing you enjoy and that feels worthwhile — and many writers find UX fills the bill — does more than help you earn a great living. It also helps you have a more enjoyable, fulfilling life.
If all of this is sounding pretty good to you so far, you may be wondering how you can get started in this kind of writing.
The good news is that core principles of UX copywriting are easy to master… especially once you start thinking like a UX copywriter.
Before you start applying UX principles, it helps to put yourself in a UX mindset, one where you are thinking about your user’s goal, their emotional state, what they need to know to move forward, and how you can help them in a way that creates a positive experience.
Anticipate Their Needs
The first habit to get into is asking yourself a few questions that will help you anticipate your user’s needs for the copy you’re going to write.
Writing for the user experience is all about meeting your reader’s expectations and helping them achieve their goals.
To do that, you need to understand several things…
When you have an idea of these things, you can write your page in a way that anticipates your user’s needs, goals, and expectations… and that strives to fulfill them.
Often, we think of empathy as feeling what someone else is feeling… feeling with them, so to speak.
Feeling what your readers are feeling is a big ask.
But there’s another kind of empathy that’s a little easier — cognitive empathy. This kind of empathy is all about recognizing your reader’s point of view and understanding what they are thinking.
There’s also compassionate empathy, which is all about expressing care and providing support for what your reader is feeling.
These two types of empathy will help you come to truly care about your reader and their experience and connect with them in a genuine way.
Here are some simple ways to weave empathy into your writing:
If you show that you’re listening and that you genuinely want to help them solve a problem or fulfill a need, then your empathy for them will come through.
Transparency is critical to trust, and trust is essential for anyone to feel good about making a buying decision.
You can bring transparency into your writing in a number of ways, but they all tie back to the idea of giving your reader all the information they need to make an informed buying decision. That means…
Let’s take a look at how expectations come into play when reading copy — and how you as a UX copywriter and marketer can make a positive impression by anticipating and meeting those expectations.
First, look at this ad for a company wellness app.
This ad creates the expectation that there will be more information on how to gamify your workplace with fitness challenges. Click on the ad, and it takes you to this page:
Notice how the language on the landing page reflects that of the ad. That’s good anticipation. You anticipate that someone landing on this page wants to know more about fitness challenges.
But, the headline creates a new expectation: that you can create fitness challenges in just two clicks. Now, this headline is referring to a benefit — how easy it is once you have the app to create fitness challenges for employees.
But it doesn’t jibe with the action on the page, which is to fill in several boxes and “request a demo.”
To better anticipate and meet the reader’s expectations, you could include a brief video showing how easy it is and then make the call to action a request for a full demo. That would fulfill the “two-click promise” because the reader would see someone creating a challenge in just two clicks.
Or, you could rework the copy to say something like, “Engage and energize everyone in your organization wherever they are. Set up an Espresa fitness challenge in just two clicks — see how easy it is in your personalized demo ”
That brings the two-click promise in the headline into alignment with what’s happening on the page.
Once you have a good understanding of what your user expects, the next step is to draft your copy. It often works best to write at this stage without worrying about the user experience. Based on what you’ve learned about your user and the product you’re writing for, you’ll already be focused on meeting your user’s goals and expectations, so get the words down on the page, first and foremost.
But once you have a draft to work with, you want to make the experience as good and easy as you can.
Editing for the following six principles will improve the user experience for any piece of writing:
Make sure you write using language that is familiar to your reader. If you’re writing about video sales letters, for example, don’t just call them VSLs right from the start. If you’re writing about a water filter, check to see if that’s what your audience typically calls it, rather than a water purifier. (You can figure this kind of thing out by talking to the customer service team, reading product reviews, and doing keyword research.)
Read through your work and look for sections that may be confusing. Long sentences and long paragraphs have a greater potential for confusion, so read through those closely. If you see an opportunity to make things clearer, take it.
Also, watch for sentences that could be interpreted in different ways. When you find those instances, rework them so that your meaning is clear.
Being concise helps your reader by giving them all the information they need, without giving them extra information they don’t need.
The goal of concision isn’t to make everything as short as possible. It’s to include what’s necessary and leave out what’s not. Part of what’s necessary is a strong brand voice, so don’t edit out the personality.
But do edit out unnecessary words, redundant information, and ideas that don’t strengthen the piece. Also look for opportunities to rework sentences and paragraphs so they are leaner and tighter.
Pay Attention to Context
The user experience doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Your reader arrived from somewhere — an email message, another page, a search result, a social media post, an ad.
Do your best to understand where your readers are coming from and the expectations created in their previous step. Look for ways to help them know they’ve landed in the right spot.
Throughout your copy, the information should be relevant and useful to the reader.
And it should provide a clear next step — along with setting expectations for what will happen when they take it.
When editing your work, make sure the voice you’re writing in is consistent with the brand voice of the company you’re writing for. You can get a feel for a company’s brand voice by asking your client how they would describe it and reading several pages on their site and several of the most recent email messages that went out to their list.
Pay attention to the emotions the writing evokes, to the typical structure, and to any unique turns of phrase. Edit your own work to reflect those same things.
Also be consistent about how you refer to things. If your reader clicked through on an ad that promised they would discover an easier way to keep their succulents alive and healthy, but the page they land on talks about caring for all plants, that’s a point of inconsistency… and it will erode their trust… not to mention make them feel frustrated with you!
Respect Your Reader
This is an obvious hallmark of user experience.
As you read through your work, be sure you’re not talking down to your reader. Also be sure that you’re not assuming knowledge they may not have.
Also look for places where your writing may be creating a false emotional choice for your reader. An example of that is the sentiment “If you don’t buy our product, you must not want to succeed.” When you come across those moments, look for a way to be more positive about the product and why the reader might choose it.
Finally, you know what respect feels like, so put yourself in your reader’s position. Do you feel respected as you read your piece?
Make It Easy
So much of user experience is about making things easy for the reader.
Being clear and concise helps with that. But so does formatting.
Look at your piece. Does it look easy to read? Or does it look daunting?
A few things you can do to make it look easier to read:
And then, at the end of your piece, give your reader a clear next step. If you want them to take an action, tell them so, tell them how, and tell them what to expect when they do.
To begin improving the experience you create with your copy, start evaluating the marketing messages you encounter for the user experience. What do you see that’s working well? What would you do differently to improve the user experience? How does your own experience with company websites, blogs, emails, and shopping carts affect your buying decisions?
The more you look for and critically access the user experience, the better you’ll get at writing to create an experience that is deliberate, purposeful, and positive for your reader.
The copy below does a good job of creating clear steps for the reader. You know what’s going to happen next. But in the description of Step 3, a question is raised in the reader’s mind… and those question can stop readers in their tracks.
The first month of the service is $19. In Step 3, they say, they’ll send you an Apple watch if you don’t have one. The reader is left to wonder if the watch is free, if it’s on loan, or if they’ll be billed for it. A bit of copy to add clarity would help the reader. To preserve the design balance while improving the UX, you’d have to find a way to clarify the cost, convey the full meaning of the rest of the copy, and still keep it to three lines.
Small changes aren’t always easy!
These three mindsets and six UX principles will help you start creating a better experience for your readers. You can start applying them immediately to produce better results for your clients and to better serve your readers.
If you want to delve more deeply into the user experience, AWAI offers a self-study program that will help you do that. You can learn more about that program here.
Now that you have an idea of what goes into writing UX copy, let’s take a look at how a UX project might unfold.
This is just one example among limitless possibilities of how you might land a UX project, what you would do at the start, the key milestones along the way, and how you can use one successful project to line up others.
Whenever you offer a specific service, it’s smart to use that service in your own marketing.
So, as you work to land clients, consider how you might provide them a good experience as part of that process.
Provide useful information
Whether you publish your own blog or email newsletter, publish blog posts to LinkedIn, or simply share useful resources that you’ve found from others, providing useful information to your prospective clients helps them trust you. And you may also help them solve problems along the way.
Even if they don’t hire you, giving potential clients useful information can make it more likely they’ll hire you in the future and more likely they’ll recommend you to others.
So think about how you can start delivering a good experience to your own audience through the things you publish and share.
Look for gaps and make suggestions
For potential clients you’ve formed a connection with — maybe you’ve connected on LinkedIn or over email — look for potential gaps on their site and make suggestions. Always do this respectfully.
It might look something like this…
I really enjoy your company’s coverage of identity theft and security. To that end I signed up for your email list yesterday. I did notice that you don’t send out a welcome message to new subscribers to your list. Welcome messages make a big difference in how soon subscribers become customers. If this is something you’ve been thinking about doing but haven’t gotten around to, maybe I could help.
Let me know if you’d like to talk.
<<Your Sign Off>>
When you tell potential clients about what they’re doing well and make respectful suggestions about how they might make their work even stronger, you’re providing a good user experience that could lead to potential projects for you.
Consistently nurture relationships
You’ve almost certainly heard it before — people buy from companies they know, like, and trust.
That’s just as true of your clients. When you make a connection with someone you know you’d like to work with, go out of your way to nurture that relationship. The key to this is doing it from a place of genuine interest — not in landing a project, but in getting to know that person better.
Share resources with them you know they might like… send them a compliment when they publish something that you find particularly insightful… recommend their company and products… ask them how things are going.
Keep in touch regularly in this way, and at least some of those connections will become clients.
When you do land a client, start each new project with questions. Interview your client so that you can gain a robust understanding of what they view as a successful outcome and also what the user is trying to accomplish when engaging with the work that you’re going to create.
Talk to your point of contact
The first conversation will be with your point of contact. This is the person hiring you or perhaps the project manager.
Ask open-ended questions like these:
And then from there, ask questions about each component you’ve been tasked to write, so that you understand the benefits you’re presenting, the client’s goal for the page, the user’s goals and expectations, the steps that come before and after, the objections you may need to overcome, and anything specific your client is hoping to see included.
Set up milestones and check-ins
Early in the project, set up milestones and check-ins, so that your client is in the loop regarding your progress. Milestones will serve to keep you on track so that you’re able to deliver your best work and do so on time. And check-ins will give you opportunities to ask questions as they come up, to field questions from your client, and also to get their approval on key ideas, so that you both stay on the same page throughout the project.
Meet the web team early
The words you write are essential to creating a good user experience. The design also plays a critical role in the user experience.
Because of this, it’s important that you work closely with the web team from as early in the project as possible.
Talk to them about any existing design constraints that may limit the length of anything you’re writing. Talk to them about the approach you’re thinking of taking, and ask if there is anything you should keep in mind regarding the design as you write.
Share your copy with them early, so they can start working on design elements early — this will help them to not feel rushed at the end of the project.
Try to establish a rapport where you and the web team feel good about asking each other questions, giving each other feedback, and soliciting advice from each other.
Even when you’re done, you’re not quite done
You’ve written your drafts, received feedback from your project manager, and made edits, and everything is approved. You’ve handed all your final drafts off to the design team. On most projects, you’d be considered finished at this point.
But when you specialize in UX, you want to continue meeting with the design team, reviewing how your work is integrating with the design, and making any small changes needed to help the words and the design go together better.
On a UX project, even after you’re technically done with your work, you want to remain available and involved so that you and the design team deliver the best result — and the best experience — possible.
Once you’ve completed a project and it’s clear that your client is happy with your work, and you also enjoyed working with your client, you’re in the perfect position to line up more work.
Build on what you’ve done
Often projects have a natural next step. If you’ve written a fantastic report that your client is using to successfully build their email list, you might suggest doing a series of shorter, more focused reports that they can offer as content upgrades. Doing this will give their readers more value and help them better segment their list.
Whatever project you’ve been hired to do, give some thought to useful ways to build on it, and suggest those to your client after the project is complete and performing well.
Address other gaps
As you work with your client, spend time exploring their site, reading their social media, following their sales funnels, and reading their emails.
Look for gaps — easy-to-do projects that can deliver big results. These also make for great pitches after a project is complete.
Ask for referrals
When you know your client is happy with your work, that is a perfect time to ask about referrals.
Your referral conversation can be as easy as saying, “I’ve really enjoyed working with you, and I’d like to find another client or two who are similar to you in values, work style, and needs. Do you have anyone in your network that fits that description and you’d be willing to refer me to?”
Referrals are an excellent way to land clients because the person doing the referring conveys trust in you and has also done a bit of screening on your behalf. Often, in the case of a referral, the new potential client is eager to say yes to hiring you. And usually these relationships work out quite well.
Talk about retainers
The end of a successful project is also a good time to talk about retainer arrangements. If your client publishes a blog or an email newsletter, is active on social media, or has several pages that need to be updated for the user experience, ask them about a monthly arrangement. They’ll pay you a set amount, and you’ll do a specified amount of work. These types of agreements help provide you with a steady income, deepen the relationship between you and your client, and often lead to additional, interesting work.
Specializing in user experience copywriting sets you apart from other writers in your field… for now. A growing number of companies are looking for professionals who have an understanding of user experience principles, so honing that skill can quickly put you on the short list of many clients looking for a writer.
Being a UX copywriter makes it easier to land projects. But more than that, it also helps you build a successful writing career that is fulfilling and rewarding… one where every project is something you can be proud of. And, really… you can’t put a price on that.