Microcopy refers to small bits of copy usually found in digital communication channels like mobile apps, websites, and emails that help clarify, explain, and instruct users on what to do and how to do it.
A few examples of microcopy include:
- Clear descriptive and instructional text explaining how to use, subscribe, or order
- Copy that guides users as to how to fill out a form – headings, error messages, form labels and drop-down menus
- Onboarding tutorials that walk users through their first usage experience
- Validation, confirmation, password reset and Thank You emails
- Call-to-action button copy
- Error (404) pages
These tiny sentences might seem unimportant and can sometimes even go unnoticed during a major website launch when so much focus is placed on strategy, visual design, responsive coding, and content. Yet, research into digital user experience (UX) and conversion rate optimization (CRO) has shown that microcopy matters because it can have a major impact on onboarding, conversion, and customer delight.
Best Practices to Maximize Microcopy
Regularly Test & Optimize
A/B tests and optimization are digital marketing must-dos. Utilize online usability testing to gain insights as to what parts of your digital communications are clear and what might be confusing the user or even hindering them from taking action. In some cases, user testing services provide audio and video of an actual user talking out loud while they complete tasks, providing you invaluable feedback in real-time. Listen for any instances where the user pauses to question their actions, or appears confused or frustrated. Also pay close attention to incoming questions to your customer service channels and most popular FAQ pages and use that information to add microcopy that addresses these common questions more clearly.
Through analyzing a customer’s journey and via user testing, common objections and worries can be drawn out. Microcopy can then help alleviate the user’s concerns when placed in the right places.
Some common user concerns include:
- Spam – will this site share my email address with others?
- Auto-post – will this app automatically tweet or post to social media on my behalf?
- Need to Print – should I print this confirmation or will this site email it to me as well?
- Payment – Is it really free to register? Will this service auto-renew? Is it safe to enter my credit card here?
- Flow – What do I do first? What happens next? And then what happens?
Place conversational microcopy in the right places to alleviate these concerns, using natural language that is clear and direct.
Netflix microcopy clearly outlines free trial payment terms and paginates the order workflow into easy to understand steps.
Facebook microcopy addresses anticipated user concerns about storing passwords.
Better Your Buttons
Long gone are the days of “Click here” and “Submit” text on buttons. If you see this copy anywhere on your digital communications, your first move should be to change this. Button text should always be clear and indicate the action the user will be taking when they click.
BlueApron.com button microcopy “Get Cooking” is clear and direct.
StitchFix.com button microcopy includes an arrow and uses contrasting color to stand out.
Helpful Error Messages
Think of an error message as a call for help. Your user has experienced a hang-up and the microcopy explaining how to fix it needs to explain exactly what happened in simple language in order to make it as easy as possible to understand how to fix it. To eliminate user frustration, the last thing you should convey is to blame them. Instead, be specific about what the problem is with short and very clear microcopy and reassure that it’s easy to fix. Eliminate any technical jargon and err on the side of making it even easier than you think it should be.
MailChimp’s sign-up page humanizes error messages just enough to impart their brand tone while also helping the user fix form entry errors.
Flex Your Brand
Think of microcopy as your brand’s opportunity to showcase your core values. If you consider “friendly, approachable and helpful” as key characteristics of your brand’s customer service team, your microcopy can be the extension of those same values – just in digital form. For example, instead of text that says “Error – 404 Page Not Found”, consider this an opportunity to infuse branded microcopy that aligns with your company’s tone and voice and helpfully provides links to popular pages. Just don’t go overboard with the quirky or fun messages so as not to frustrate users just looking for simple instructions.
Slack’s 404 error page animates a peaceful scene as it helps lost users find their way.
Microcopy can represent a simple way to dramatically improve your marketing communications. Pay attention to the details. They matter. But also remember that no amount of instructional text can make up for poor UX design. If you find yourself continually needing to add hints and tips and explanations, yet see no improvement in conversions or no reduction in customer service volume, it may be time to step back and reconsider the design holistically.
Over to You
What websites or apps do you feel are playing a strong microcopy game these days? Have you ever been impressed or delighted by a brand specifically for how they handled guiding you through a problem or welcoming you? Let us know in the comments.