I recently wrote about some of the most common UX writing mistakes that I see SaaS companies make. This time, I wanted to share some UX writing best practices.
Now, there are quite a lot of UX writing best practices that I could share with you, but I know you probably don’t have the time to read a whole book on the subject.
That’s why I’ve decided to focus on best practices that will improve product adoption and onboarding.
Use these UX writing best practices with your product and you’ll improve onboarding, and adoption will skyrocket.
Let’s jump in with number 1…
UX writing best practice #1: Turn every interaction into a conversation
A lot of the UX writing best practices I’m sharing with you today are all about putting the user at the center of your thinking.
When it comes to UX writing for your product, it’s easy to forget that an actual person is going to be reading it.
There are a few different symptoms that stem from this…
Firstly, your product’s copy ends up sounding dull and monotonous, a little like it was written by a robot.
This can put people off your product completely, and may mean they never fully adopt it. Eventually, it may even mean they go elsewhere to a competitor.
Secondly, your product will end up full of jargon. These words, phrases, and acronyms that only you and your devs can understand are what I call “devspeak”.
I like to think of devspeak as the silent SaaS killer. If you find that your users aren’t onboarding or adopting your product, then there's a good chance devspeak is turning your users away. Click To Tweet
Thirdly, your UX writing will lack context. This is a common problem when your Product or Dev team writes the copy. They’re often so deep in your product that they forget your users won’t be.
This leads to unclear microcopy that ends up confusing people — a surefire way to stop your users from adopting your product.
What’s the solution?
The solution to this is to turn your user’s interactions with your product into a conversation.
There are many ways of doing this, depending on how you and your teams like to work.
One way is to actually role play the conversation with each other. I know that probably sounds like hell on Earth but it genuinely works.
One person is your product, the other is your user. You then establish what the user is wanting to do, and then help them do it through conversation.
If you don’t feel like your acting skills are up to scratch, then you can skip the role play and simply write out the conversation. It helps to lay it out like a messaging app, with text bubbles for each person.
Here’s an example…
As you can see, the user wants to find a cab. The product is going to help them.
By creating a conversation, you can understand the order that the user will require certain information in.
This will help you establish the overall UX flow.
But we’re talking about UX writing. So, how does this help with that?
Well, when it comes to adding the UX copy, you now have a bank of conversations. These conversations include the kind of copy you should be adding to your product.
In the example above, the product asks:
“Where are you going?”
This is a good option for your product’s UX copy. Without having that conversation, you may have ended up writing something like:
“Input your destination.”
See the difference?
The conversational UX copy is easier to understand, is relevant to the user, and contains zero instances of the dreaded devspeak.
Examples of conversational UX writing
Let’s have a look at some SaaS products that have perfected conversational UX copy…
The first example is from HelloSign:
When you first sign up to HelloSign, you probably have one goal in mind: To sign a document.
HelloSign greets you with a simple question:
“Who needs to sign?”
This is a great example of a conversational piece of UX writing. This is exactly the kind of question a person would ask in this situation, and it helps drive the user to take their first step.
By kicking things off with a conversational question, HelloSign makes it easy for new users to start adopting the product.
Here’s another great example from Hotjar:
Again, Hotjar start off with a simple question:
“Which site do you want to track first?”
The user can tell Hotjar about the site they want to track. This is the first step towards implementing Hotjar on their site.
Hotjar could have used something like “Enter site details.” or “Track your first site.”
Both of those, however, aren’t very conversational. They’re more likely to put new users off, especially if they don’t have much experience with site tracking tools.
Instead, Hotjar used conversational copy and likely drove product adoption as a result.
Start the conversation
This UX writing best practice can be condensed into this one sentence:
To drive adoption of your product, treat every interaction like a conversation between two people.
Time to get role playing!
UX writing best practice #2: Focus on what your users want to do
If one thing becomes clear when you start thinking of your product as a conversation with your users, it’s that your users want something.
I mean, everyone wants something, right?
But when it comes to your product, people are using it because they want something from it.
If your product is a social media scheduling app like Buffer, then people want to save time and effort on publishing their social media content.
If your product is a user onboarding platform like Userpilot, then people want their customers to adopt their product.
When you sit down to write your UX copy, you ultimately have one aim in mind: To help users achieve their goals.
Bad UX writing does the opposite. It distracts, it confuses, and it ends up preventing users from successfully using your product.
As a result, your product doesn’t provide any actual value to your users, and they churn.
What’s the solution?
Luckily, the solution to this is fairly straightforward.
Ultimately, you need to make sure you have your users’ goals in mind when you write your product’s copy.
The first step, therefore, is to determine what those goals are.
Depending on the complexity of your product, your users might have any number of goals. Generally they’ll have a primary goal, and a few secondary goals that they’d also like to accomplish.
You need to choose the most relevant goal for the context in which you’re writing.
If you’re writing part of a flow for a hotel booking product, then chances are your user’s goal is to book a hotel room.
If you then keep that goal in mind as you write, you’ll find that every word is relevant to that goal.
Your UX writing is going to help them find the quickest and easiest route.
Some rules of thumb to consider are:
- Keep it relevant to the user’s goal.
- Focus on the specific context and area of the product.
- Don’t distract or confuse your user by pointing them in different directions at once.
Examples of goal-driven UX writing
Let’s take a look at some examples of UX writing that helps users to achieve their goals.
We’ll start with this example from Brain.fm:
Now, Brain.fm isn’t the most complex product as you can see. But a lot of the simplicity and ease-of-use stems from their UX writing.
They don’t fill their landing screen with fluff or distractions. Instead, they simply write:
“I want to…”
They then offer three different choices, each one related to a specific goal that the user will have.
The clear UX writing helps guide the user towards achieving their goal.
(Incidentally, if you’re struggling to focus, I recommend giving Brain.fm a try. I’ve tried Spotify playlists and other techniques, but this actually seems to work. I’m even using it as I write this!)
Another example comes from Mailchimp:
Mailchimp is a fairly complex product for those new to email marketing platforms, so it’s crucial that the product’s onboarding is perfect.
The UX writing on their onboarding checklist is clear and straightforward. Most importantly, each addresses one of the user’s goals.
“Add your contacts” and “Send your first email” are both goals that the user will have in mind when they first get started. Mailchimp’s UX writing focuses on those goals to improve the onboarding experience.
Give them what they want
When you write your UX copy, put yourself in your user’s shoes, and figure out their underlying goal.
Then it’s simply a case of helping them get there as efficiently as possible.
UX writing best practice #3: Keep it simple
With UX writing, less is definitely more. Whether you’re writing a title, a description, or a button, the fewer words you use the better.
In fact, sometimes you’re better off using no words at all.
Well, to put it bluntly, your users couldn’t care less about your UX writing. As a UX writer, that hurts a little. But it’s a fact.
And it’s a fact worth remembering.
Unlike writing marketing copy for landing pages, or blog posts like this one, UX writing isn’t actually meant to be read.
Your users are going to skim it or use it to find their way around the product, but they aren’t going to engage with it in any meaningful way.
That’s the whole point.
The best UX copy goes largely unnoticed. It hides itself away and just does its job.
When you see a “STOP” sign at the side of the road, you don’t start analyzing it and pondering what it means. You just stop. Then you move on and you don’t give the sign a second thought.
That’s what your UX writing should be like.
You need to keep it simple and to the point. You need to convey your message in the fewest words possible.
A lot of people often end up overwriting thinking that’s what they’re supposed to do. But overwriting your UX copy can be disastrous.
One, your users might get bored. They aren’t here to read, they’re here to use your product.
Two, if you hide valuable information in a big chunk of text, then your users might miss it completely, and end up misusing your product as a result.
Three, your product will look cluttered, and the clean UI that your designers slaved over will be ruined.
The overall effect of overwriting your UX is that your users will end up even more confused, and unable to find their way around your product.
What’s the solution?
A funny quirk of writing is that it’s harder to write succinctly than it is to drone on for ever.
We all have a natural tendency to overcomplicate when we write. In fact, this is drilled into us at school.
We gradually learn more complex sentence structures. As we progress through school, our essays become longer and more detailed.
We’re taught that an expansive vocabulary and long, flowing sentences are the way to a good grade.
Unfortunately, this leads to a lot of bad writers. Because, as any great writer will tell you, the best writing is simple and to the point.
Chances are, your first draft is going to be overwritten. Even the pros do that.
That’s why editing is crucial. And there are three things you need to look out for…
You need to cast a stern eye over your drafted UX copy, and see how you can trim it down.
At this point you’re probably wondering how long is too long. So I thought I’d share some handy guidelines.
Obviously these can change depending on the context of your product, but generally these will provide the best results…
- Titles should be no more than 5-7 words. 3 or 4 words is ideal.
- Descriptions should be no more than 30-40 characters. Aim for half of that.
- Buttons should be 3 words maximum. Two is better.
There are other important UX elements that I haven’t listed above, but generally your descriptions will be the longest. In other words, every piece of UX writing in your product should be under 40 characters.
Unfortunately, a lot of people tend to combine multiple words into one longer, more complex, word.
That’s why your next run-through needs to focus on the vocabulary.
Two things you need to look out for are crazily long words that nobody actually uses in everyday speech, and jargon.
When you edit your UX writing, keep an eye out for any words that you wouldn’t normally say. The best way of spotting these is to read it aloud.
You’ll soon realize that words like “applicable” and “latency” might look good written down but sound awkward when read out loud.
As for jargon, try to forget everything you know about your product and imagine you’re using it for the first time.
If you don’t think a new user would understand what a “Container” is in the context of your product, then reword it.
You should now have UX copy that is shorter and uses simple words. The final check is that it’s clear and actually makes sense.
Clearly the only way to do this is to read it and see if you can make sense of it. In fact, the best option is to have somebody else do this part, as they’ll have no previous context to help them understand.
I think the best way to show you these edits is with an example. Here’s some awfully bad UX copy that I created for this purpose.
“If you want to invite an acquaintance into the app, then you can use a referral code. Head to your settings to find your unique identifier.”
Okay. That’s terrible. But it’s not too dissimilar to copy you’ll find in actual products.
So the first stage is length. Can we shorten this? I think we probably can.
“Want to invite an acquaintance? Head to settings to find your unique identifier.”
This is already better. It’s shorter for one, and a little clearer as a result. It’s more engaging.
Now let’s look at the vocabulary.
“Want to invite a friend? Head to settings to find your unique code.”
Having taken out some of the more complex words and jargon, this reads a lot better.
Finally, can we make it clearer?
“Invite a friend. Find your unique code in the settings.”
There. Not perfect, but a vast improvement.
That’s the power of editing with simplicity in mind.
Examples of simple UX writing
Here’s a great example from Font Awesome:
When it comes to setting a password, everyone knows by now that there are often certain requirements. For example, making sure you include a capital letter, a number, a special character.
Rather than specifying those things, Font Awesome encourages users to choose a strong password by using simple, clear UX writing.
They even inject their fun personality into the copy.
Take a look at this next example from JIRA:
This is a message that shows when a search has yielded no results. Note how they use hardly any words to convey that the search hasn’t found anything.
They also use simple language, clearly explaining what’s gone wrong, and prompting the user to try something else.
Say less, do more
The simpler you keep your UX copy, the less distracted your users will be.
You don’t want them to spend ten minutes reading all your UX writing, you want them to actually adopt your product.
Keeping your microcopy simple is how you can do that.
UX writing best practice #4: Steal your marketing copy
For some reason, a lot of SaaS companies have incredible marketing copy. The kind that makes you instantly want to try out their product.
But then they fall flat when it comes to their UX writing.
Of course, the obvious reason is that not enough people place any value on their product’s copy.
The other reason is that writing marketing copy is completely different to writing UX copy.
Or is it?
So far I’ve explained that the purpose of UX writing is to help your user achieve their goal.
It turns out there’s another way your UX copy can help drive product adoption — by selling the benefits of a particular feature.
Fail to sell the benefits and you’re simply explaining the “how”, not the “why”.
Without a meaningful reason to try out a specific feature, your user may not be motivated enough to use it.
What’s the solution?
Take a look at the marketing copy on your site and I’m fairly sure it’ll do an incredible job of selling your product.
At least I hope it does!
The key to writing good marketing copy is to focus on the pain points your prospects are facing, and then explain how your product solves them.
That’s marketing 101.
But you can use that same formula in your UX writing. That might seem a little strange, given that people using your product are already using your product, but bear with me.
If you want your users to adopt a certain feature, then you need to draw their attention to it.
You can do this in a number of ways. You could use your onboarding flow to point them in that direction. You could make it the first feature they see when they log in.
But no matter which of these methods you choose, you’re still going to have to convince your users that it’s worth their time and effort.
Obviously you don’t want to go overboard with the selling when it comes to UX writing. The primary goal is still to guide your users and provide a great user experience.
Having said that, there’s no reason why you can’t explain the “why” as well as the “how”.
If we started a social media platform, one of our key adoption targets would be for a user to add a certain number of friends.
We could encourage this by saying:
“Add more friends!”
But without knowing why they need to add more friends, users are less likely to actually do it.
Instead, we could say:
“Add more friends. Have more fun.”
(For the purposes of this example, we’re assuming the ultimate goal for our users is to enjoy themselves.)
So now, our users will see this and think, “Yeah, I want more fun! Better add more friends!”
Simply adding the benefit to your UX writing can have a massive impact on adoption.
Examples of benefit-driven UX writing
The first example we’ll look at comes from Drift:
On the left-hand side, Drift’s UX copy walks you through the steps you need to take in order to integrate their chat widget with your site.
That’s the “how”.
But they also include a testimonial on the right-hand side. This little bit of UX copy is essentially marketing the idea of integration.
That’s the “why”.
By including both the how and the why, Drift make it easy for users to integrate, and convinces them that they should.
Another example is from Hootsuite:
When you first navigate to the scheduling feature of Hootsuite, it provides you with a modal that explains what this particular feature does.
But that’s not all. It also explains the benefits of using this feature. You’ll “save time”.
By subtly including the benefits of the feature, Hootsuite are able to increase adoption.
Always be closing
Just because a user has signed up to your product doesn’t mean they’re a customer for life. You still need to drive them towards full product adoption.
Rather than only showing them how to use your product, you should also explain why they should use your product.
That way your users will be more motivated to put the time and effort in.
UX writing best practice #5: Talk like your users talk
The last of my UX writing best practices concerns the style of writing you use.
The tone of your UX writing is really important. It has to reflect your brand’s personality, otherwise it won’t engage your users.
The best UX writing, however, goes one step further. It speaks the same language as the users who are reading it.
I’m not talking about internationalisation (though that definitely helps) but more the words you use in your product.
Imagine that you have an email marketing platform that allows people to send “Blasts”. These blasts are essentially email campaigns.
Now, chances are your users are more likely to call them campaigns than blasts. In fact, they probably won’t even know what a blast is.
This mismatch of wording is going to cause major headaches for your users. It means there’s more of a learning curve, and adds more friction to the onboarding process.
In turn, this means it takes longer for users to adopt your product, and that’s assuming they even bother to do so in the first place.
What’s the solution?
The best way to communicate with someone is to use the same wording and phrasing that they use.
When it comes to everyday conversation, we actually do that automatically. It’s called mirroring, and it works the same way with body language.
It’s a way of “tuning in” to the other person.
Next time you’re speaking to someone, try to notice how you’ll often start using the words that they use, even though you might normally never say them.
The same principle works for your UX writing.
So go out and speak to your users about your product. Don’t just listen to what they say, but focus on how they actually say it.
What words do they use? How do they describe that particular feature?
If possible, make recordings for you to keep returning back to whenever you’re about to write some UX copy.
Then, once you’ve immersed yourself with your users, start using their own wording in your product.
If they tend to say “Add a team member” instead of “Invite a colleague” then use the phrase they use.
These UX writing best practices will improve product adoption
There you have it!
5 of the most useful UX writing best practices that are guaranteed to improve product adoption and onboarding.
Most of these aren’t too difficult to put into action and you don’t even have to start from square one. Simply spend a couple of weeks tweaking your existing UX copy and you’ll see a massive difference.
UX writing is ultimately about providing the best possible user experience.
The best practices above will help you do exactly that.
About the Author
Joe is a UX and content writer, with several years of experience working with SaaS startups. He’s been working with SaaS startups that are focused towards product management, product marketing and customer success for the past couple of years. If you want to fix your UX copy, feel free to reach out to Joe for this: https://joedaniels.io/