Getting to grips with microcopy

Getting to grips with microcopy

4 minute read

Getting to grips with microcopy

4 minute read

Getting to grips with microcopy

Fi Shailes

Senior social media marketer and content writer

I’m a content writer who usually immerses herself in long-form, deep-dive copy and so, on discovering the term ‘microcopy’, I became instantly fascinated with the concept.

I realised all sorts of microcopy had been staring me in the face the whole time.

What is microcopy?

The original use of the word ‘microcopy’ is actually rooted in something a bit different - just take this definition from the Oxford Dictionary:

A copy of printed matter that has been reduced in size by microphotography.

Here, we’re talking about microcopy in terms of all things digital marketing, so we need a different definition here. I like how technical and business writer Rachel Renk puts it: 

... small bits of text ease concerns, provide information and guide users so that they can successfully complete a task (and maybe even enjoy it).

You’ll see examples of microcopy across websites and apps in the following places:

  • Call-to-action (CTA) buttons
  • On forms
  • Within pop-up windows (e.g. live chat)
  • As e-commerce-related ‘prompts’
  • On GDPR/cookie-related pop-up banners
  • In error messages

Here are some examples of microcopy in action:

The Guardian Newspaper use microcopy to tell of their intentions. In this example for a free trial it says 'no credit cards needed'.

Timely use microcopy to make the terms of their free trial really clear.

An image of the microcopy Timely use for their subscription terms such as 'so we know what to call you' under the first name field.

The Guardian Newspaper use microcopy to explain the intention behind some of the form fields and be helpful in another (address).

 

An example of the Mailchimp microcopy that says 'High fives' when a campaign has been successfully sent.

Mailchimp use microcopy to confirm and reassure the user that their mailer campaign has been successfully sent.

Microcopy isn’t a new idea. It’s one of those things that’s not been focused on so much as compared to the multitude of other components relating to digital marketing. I know I’ve certainly seen it as some kind of ‘incidental’ content type - compared to things like long-form content, gated content and landing page content. That is, up until recently.

Why it's important to get microcopy right

It’s always been very important - though we might not have recognised it as such until more recently. There’s a real movement going on in the world of user experience, where a growing number of user experience (UX) and user interface (UI) professionals are banging the drum (loud) for all things best practice; whether that’s accessibility, design, content or in this case, microcopy. 

And rightly so. Because using microcopy in the right way:

  • Makes things clear
  • Directs users to actions
  • Boosts conversions
  • Can alleviate doubt that a user’s next click might become a ‘misstep’ in their browsing journey.

Examples of great microcopy

There are several elements to consider when writing microcopy: 

Talk like a human

Your users aren’t robots, so whilst ‘old’ thinking might have led to more clinical and dull messages, these days the trick is to keep the end-user in mind and be more conversational (if appropriate). Try and keep any technical language in ‘plain English’ as much as possible.

Why? Because it’s more friendly and engaging.

We’re all website and app users, and we all might have the odd moment where we pause or hesitate on that next click. Use your microcopy to quell any doubt and handle any reservations a user might have in their minds; whether it’s related to subscribing, submitting an enquiry, buying or signing up for something.

For example, people may hesitate about submitting a form because of a fear of being spammed with a ton of sales mailers after they’ve hit submit. Try to use your microcopy to address any concerns your users may have - and provide reassurance (if it’s called for).

Here’s what content marketing heavyweights HubSpot say on their newsletter registration form:

A screenshot of the Hubspot blog subscription form microcopy.

Get to the point

Microcopy should be short and sweet, so with that in mind, consider what actions or results you’re looking for, and use simple language and snappy sentences to make it happen.

After all, your users won’t want to spend much time scrolling through instructions or caveats – so keep it ‘micro’!

Take Grammarly, for example. When it comes to getting started, once you’ve signed up, you’re straight into the action via a pop-up window:

Example of microcopy from Grammarly that says: Start a quick tour or skip the tour.

This breaks down as: [encouragement] + [explanation] + [tour] or [no tour?]

Keep it appropriate

You might have thought of some wording which you think will work perfectly for a button or a form, but wait a minute - does it sound right when you think about your organisation’s overall tone of voice and brand?

For example, if you’re working for a healthcare-related organisation, is it going to be appropriate to be too casual or flippant when the overall subject matter being dealt with might be quite serious?

Entertain, surprise or delight your users (or maybe, do all three)

Whatever industry and business you’re in, sometimes a well-placed message or nugget of info can be enough to trigger a smile in someone. There are a number of places you can insert this kind of microcopy – here are a few examples:

  • An error message/screen
  • A loading/holding page
  • A registration/sign-up form
  • A success/completion message

Let’s look at these quick examples from the Tumblr website:

Microcopy example from Tumblr when entering your password: Letters, numbers, and dashes only please. This is serious business.

Tumblr registration set-up form.

Another example of microcopy from Tumblr when you register an account: Now you're a real user. You deserve an app.

Tumblr message displayed when you complete registration as a new user.

Fun right? It’s important to note though, that this style of microcopy should be used appropriately, so before you get too brave, think about whether:

  • Your audience will appreciate the tone/style
  • Your business will be comfortable with the messaging
  • You’re putting it in the right places
  • Where you’re putting it might become too repetitive for someone (think about UI here)

Make it useful

Websites and apps aren’t perfect. So, when things go wrong, it’s helpful for users to know what’s going on and what the status is – otherwise, you might be leaving them in the dark and ultimately causing them to give up on engaging with you.

Try employing usability testing to help you do the best job possible. It’s great for uncovering insight when it comes to ascertaining which parts of your microcopy are clear, and what is just plain confusing. 

You could also just try a few logical, common-sense tweaks to see if those changes make a difference. According to UX expert Nick Babich, when software company Veeam tweaked their CTA ‘Request quote’:

Veeam website homepage with arrow pointing to call to action microcopy that says request a quote


...to ‘Request pricing’, they soon saw a 161.66% increase in clicks. This was the result of changing just one word. 


Veeam website homepage with arrow pointing to call to action microcopy that says request pricing.

Pretty impressive when you think about it, but that’s the power of microcopy.

Convince. Explain. Reassure.

If you take nothing else away from this article, remember those three watchwords above. They’re key to keep in mind when you’re concocting your next batch of microcopy and will keep you on track. Remember, it can’t fix every user issue under the sun, but do it right, and it can ‘feed into’ and greatly enhance your website or app’s UX – and to striking levels.

I’m a content writer who usually immerses herself in long-form, deep-dive copy and so, on discovering the term ‘microcopy’, I became instantly fascinated with the concept.

I realised all sorts of microcopy had been staring me in the face the whole time.

What is microcopy?

The original use of the word ‘microcopy’ is actually rooted in something a bit different - just take this definition from the Oxford Dictionary:

A copy of printed matter that has been reduced in size by microphotography.

Here, we’re talking about microcopy in terms of all things digital marketing, so we need a different definition here. I like how technical and business writer Rachel Renk puts it: 

... small bits of text ease concerns, provide information and guide users so that they can successfully complete a task (and maybe even enjoy it).

You’ll see examples of microcopy across websites and apps in the following places:

  • Call-to-action (CTA) buttons
  • On forms
  • Within pop-up windows (e.g. live chat)
  • As e-commerce-related ‘prompts’
  • On GDPR/cookie-related pop-up banners
  • In error messages

Here are some examples of microcopy in action:

The Guardian Newspaper use microcopy to tell of their intentions. In this example for a free trial it says 'no credit cards needed'.

Timely use microcopy to make the terms of their free trial really clear.

An image of the microcopy Timely use for their subscription terms such as 'so we know what to call you' under the first name field.

The Guardian Newspaper use microcopy to explain the intention behind some of the form fields and be helpful in another (address).

 

An example of the Mailchimp microcopy that says 'High fives' when a campaign has been successfully sent.

Mailchimp use microcopy to confirm and reassure the user that their mailer campaign has been successfully sent.

Microcopy isn’t a new idea. It’s one of those things that’s not been focused on so much as compared to the multitude of other components relating to digital marketing. I know I’ve certainly seen it as some kind of ‘incidental’ content type - compared to things like long-form content, gated content and landing page content. That is, up until recently.

Why it's important to get microcopy right

It’s always been very important - though we might not have recognised it as such until more recently. There’s a real movement going on in the world of user experience, where a growing number of user experience (UX) and user interface (UI) professionals are banging the drum (loud) for all things best practice; whether that’s accessibility, design, content or in this case, microcopy. 

And rightly so. Because using microcopy in the right way:

  • Makes things clear
  • Directs users to actions
  • Boosts conversions
  • Can alleviate doubt that a user’s next click might become a ‘misstep’ in their browsing journey.

Examples of great microcopy

There are several elements to consider when writing microcopy: 

Talk like a human

Your users aren’t robots, so whilst ‘old’ thinking might have led to more clinical and dull messages, these days the trick is to keep the end-user in mind and be more conversational (if appropriate). Try and keep any technical language in ‘plain English’ as much as possible.

Why? Because it’s more friendly and engaging.

We’re all website and app users, and we all might have the odd moment where we pause or hesitate on that next click. Use your microcopy to quell any doubt and handle any reservations a user might have in their minds; whether it’s related to subscribing, submitting an enquiry, buying or signing up for something.

For example, people may hesitate about submitting a form because of a fear of being spammed with a ton of sales mailers after they’ve hit submit. Try to use your microcopy to address any concerns your users may have - and provide reassurance (if it’s called for).

Here’s what content marketing heavyweights HubSpot say on their newsletter registration form:

A screenshot of the Hubspot blog subscription form microcopy.

Get to the point

Microcopy should be short and sweet, so with that in mind, consider what actions or results you’re looking for, and use simple language and snappy sentences to make it happen.

After all, your users won’t want to spend much time scrolling through instructions or caveats – so keep it ‘micro’!

Take Grammarly, for example. When it comes to getting started, once you’ve signed up, you’re straight into the action via a pop-up window:

Example of microcopy from Grammarly that says: Start a quick tour or skip the tour.

This breaks down as: [encouragement] + [explanation] + [tour] or [no tour?]

Keep it appropriate

You might have thought of some wording which you think will work perfectly for a button or a form, but wait a minute - does it sound right when you think about your organisation’s overall tone of voice and brand?

For example, if you’re working for a healthcare-related organisation, is it going to be appropriate to be too casual or flippant when the overall subject matter being dealt with might be quite serious?

Entertain, surprise or delight your users (or maybe, do all three)

Whatever industry and business you’re in, sometimes a well-placed message or nugget of info can be enough to trigger a smile in someone. There are a number of places you can insert this kind of microcopy – here are a few examples:

  • An error message/screen
  • A loading/holding page
  • A registration/sign-up form
  • A success/completion message

Let’s look at these quick examples from the Tumblr website:

Microcopy example from Tumblr when entering your password: Letters, numbers, and dashes only please. This is serious business.

Tumblr registration set-up form.

Another example of microcopy from Tumblr when you register an account: Now you're a real user. You deserve an app.

Tumblr message displayed when you complete registration as a new user.

Fun right? It’s important to note though, that this style of microcopy should be used appropriately, so before you get too brave, think about whether:

  • Your audience will appreciate the tone/style
  • Your business will be comfortable with the messaging
  • You’re putting it in the right places
  • Where you’re putting it might become too repetitive for someone (think about UI here)

Make it useful

Websites and apps aren’t perfect. So, when things go wrong, it’s helpful for users to know what’s going on and what the status is – otherwise, you might be leaving them in the dark and ultimately causing them to give up on engaging with you.

Try employing usability testing to help you do the best job possible. It’s great for uncovering insight when it comes to ascertaining which parts of your microcopy are clear, and what is just plain confusing. 

You could also just try a few logical, common-sense tweaks to see if those changes make a difference. According to UX expert Nick Babich, when software company Veeam tweaked their CTA ‘Request quote’:

Veeam website homepage with arrow pointing to call to action microcopy that says request a quote


...to ‘Request pricing’, they soon saw a 161.66% increase in clicks. This was the result of changing just one word. 


Veeam website homepage with arrow pointing to call to action microcopy that says request pricing.

Pretty impressive when you think about it, but that’s the power of microcopy.

Convince. Explain. Reassure.

If you take nothing else away from this article, remember those three watchwords above. They’re key to keep in mind when you’re concocting your next batch of microcopy and will keep you on track. Remember, it can’t fix every user issue under the sun, but do it right, and it can ‘feed into’ and greatly enhance your website or app’s UX – and to striking levels.

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About the author

Fi Shailes

Fi works at digital agency Twogether as a Social Strategist. She specialises in all things social and content, and freelances part-time at Digital Drum.

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