There’s a saying: content doesn’t exist, only experiences do. While I don’t entirely agree with this, there’s some truth to it. When it comes to using an app or browsing a website, one aspect isn’t acknowledged enough: user experience.
People online may read your content, but they won’t remember the exact words or sentences, let alone think they’re fantastic. What they will remember is how useful, exciting, and beautiful your product was – or wasn’t. However, there are times when the product isn’t at fault for a less-than-pleasant experience, and the “packaging” is to blame.
In the digital space, that packaging equals the journey you let customers take, learning about and interacting with your product. This demands quality visual and written components. The written stuff? That’s where UX writers and content writers come in.
Why We Need UX Writers
In the online world, where content, marketing, and user experience (UX) work together in some capacity, it’s not surprising that people confuse different roles in these areas with each other. If you’ve ever been involved in a startup, it’s likely that a content writer and a UX writer have shared responsibilities, or are actually the same person. While that helps alleviate budget concerns, the fact is skilled UX writers are invaluable, especially these days. And ideally, UX writers should solely do UX writing.
Why are UX writers important? Just think about your average website with the usual ‘interactive’ components: a menu bar, registration form, shopper’s cart, buttons to make selections or sort items by categories, and other similar elements. If you navigate that site and the whole experience is easy, intuitive – that’s due to an excellent interface and, most likely, the result of a good user experience as well. And that’s tied to well-written UX copy.
That is where the mission of a UX writer lies. That person must craft text that complements the experience of the user interface of a website or app. It should make the whole ‘journey’ of those users pleasant, enjoyable, and hassle-free. Otherwise, why would visitors to your platform want to stick around beyond the first few minutes?
What UX Writing Is About
Can you think of a time when you unsubscribed from a mailing list? Did you come across a “We’re sorry to see go” message instead of something like “You have successfully unsubscribed”? Did it make you feel guilty? If yes, then the UX writer deserves a thumbs-up for that. Or how about a time when you accessed a page with a 404 Error message but instead, the first line was “Oops!” followed by a humorous sentence about “f––ing up”? That kind of UX writing makes users remember their experiences much more.
UX writing is the creation of both copy and “micro-copy” for the interface of a website, desktop app, or mobile app. It takes into account every aspect of the platform your users will interact with – page titles, menu items, labels of buttons, instructions for filling out a form, prompts for data entry fields, ‘success’ and ‘error’ messages, replies from a chatbot, and calls for action. As a UX writer, you could be writing anything from privacy policies, alerts, push notifications, confirmation emails, and even the fine print explaining parts of the page marked with an asterisk.
That begs the question: what makes UX copy and micro-copy good? Well, the less noticed the text is by your users – meaning less second-guessing or confusion – the better it is. Quality UX writing is hardly acknowledged because it seldom strikes users. It’s supposed to sound natural, relatable, and most importantly, intuitive. It should be the equivalent of a real person walking users through the entire experience, from the onboarding instructional steps to that final message once they’ve purchased the item. And also, good UX writing goes seamlessly with the brand or product involved. Consider it an extension of brand recognition, product design, and web design.
As said by Yuval Keshtcher, CEO and founder of the UX Writing Hub, “it is the UX writer's job to guide the user through the digital experience in an intuitive manner, building a bridge between the user's needs and the company's goals.” Hence, it’s as if your company or client has dozens of messages to send their users, and you’re responsible for how they’re all delivered. So while it’s not the most glamorous role, it’s crucial!
Difference Between UX Writing & Content Writing
Indeed, UX writing and content writing should be viewed as separate skills and therefore, they’re ideally assigned to separate roles. But it’s also worth noting these two have overlapping elements:
• Both are user-centric in nature.
• Both target the same audience.
• Both aim to provide added value to the customer.
• Both play a part in increasing loyalty, online traffic, and conversions.
• Both utilize the same familiar language in all writing, maintaining a consistent tone and voice of the brand.
The difference boils down to how content writing doesn’t cover the experience of the platform, but the star of the platform. That amazing skin cream. Those top-notch dental services. That world-class theater show. Writing about the actual things you want users to buy entails some persuasion and enticement. It needs flashy words that appeal to all kinds of emotions and desires. It tells a story and somewhat paints a picture of what people’s lives can be after getting that product. Meanwhile, UX writing facilitates getting those people to get it.
Though UX writing isn’t supposed to have the same ‘wow’ factor as content writing, it still requires some creativity. UX writers still need to research their target audience and master how to speak their language, while also understanding the product they’re working with inside-out. They work alongside product engineers, designers, and web developers, whereas content writers mainly consult those in the marketing team to determine what to highlight about the product.
A senior UX writer at Google, Yvonne Gando, mentions that content writers and copywriters are in charge of drawing in prospective customers at the ‘promotional’ and ‘acquisition’ phases – the upper parts of the sales funnel – and later on, the ‘leads’ will encounter what’s done by UX writers while heading towards the purchase. So this places emphasis on how UX writers need to be real product experts while constantly putting themselves in the customers’ shoes.
Good UX Writer vs Good Content Writer (Remember: You Need BOTH)
The world of UX is ever-evolving and rapidly growing, so the demand for skilled UX writers is increasing. But how would you know if someone can take on such a role? First of all, grammar, spelling, punctuation, and vocabulary matter a lot here – as it does for most other writer jobs – but experience in the development side of things is also important. As said by Anastasiia Marushevska, Head of Communication at DjangoStars.com, a UX writer has a skillset that touches on “a) UX design and usability, b) wireframing, and c) interfaces.” She also cites knowledge of behavioral psychology and decision-making as a big plus.
In contrast, you can potentially be a good content writer if you’ve worked in marketing, advertising, and you’ve had plenty of experience testing out various forms of the same message. The more of a storyteller you are, the better you can craft “sexy” copy for products and services, captivating people’s attention and making them truly want these. But – it’s big ‘but’ here – without the help of a UX-writing counterpart, that very stage of the user purchasing or registering on the platform runs the risk of failing. That’s why content writers can’t be relied on alone.
As a UX writer, you can refer to these questions that make up the perfect checklist for UX writing:
1. Is the text natural, conversational, and engaging?
2. Does it guide users in understanding the product as they continue their ‘journey’?
3. Does it help the user get closer to their end goal?
4. Does it suit the brand?
5. Does it speak to the target audience?
6. Are all instructions and pieces of information clear and sensible?
7. Does it make the whole experience with the platform easy? Enjoyable?
8. Will it make users want to come back, knowing they had no issues previously?
Ultimately, in a time when everybody’s attention span is crazy-short, and there’s so much going on online, you need great UX writing and content writing. They go hand-in-hand. It’s recognizing the importance of both aspects – and doing what is necessary to strengthen both – which leads to a win-win situation. Invest in the talent and resources for both, and you’ll find the balance between your business achieving its goals and your users/customers successfully completing their journeys.