Why Microcopy is a game-changer for your user experience

Why Microcopy is a game-changer for your user experience

4 minute read

Why Microcopy is a game-changer for your user experience

4 minute read

Why Microcopy is a game-changer for your user experience

Fi Shailes

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

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I realised all sorts of microcopy had been staring me in the face the whole time! Let’s dive into what microcopy is, why it’s important, and how you can use it properly for your brand.

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.

However, 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 defines microscopy:

... 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:

  • On 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 good microcopy in action:

Timely, a productivity app, uses microcopy to make the terms of their free trial really clear. All you have to do is quickly glance at the content, and you’ll know the terms of the free trial - 14 days, no credit cards needed.

Timely Free Trial Signup
Timely’s free trial sign-up is a great example of microcopy that helps users understand everything they need to know in just seconds.

The Guardian Newspaper uses microcopy to explain the intention behind some of the form fields and be helpful (as with the address). In this case, the microcopy is instructional.

Guardian newspaper membership form
This is a great example of how you can use microcopy to explain something so users have no question about what you expect and why.

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

Mailchimp campaign confirmation
This microcopy from Mailchimp ensures everybody is on the same page with a quick confirmation.

Microcopy isn’t a new idea. It’s just one of those things that often takes the back burner to other types of content. 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 to nail your microcopy, even though we might not have recognised it as such until more recently. But now, there’s been a shift in focus in digital marketing to prioritize the user experience.

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

  • Makes it clear for the user what they should do and why.
  • Directs users to the exact actions you want them to take.
  • Increase conversions by drawing attention to the CTA.
  • Can alleviate doubt that a user’s next click might become a ‘misstep’ in their browsing journey.

Tips and examples of great microcopy

There are several elements you need to consider when writing microcopy. Here are some tips for writing great microcopy with examples of what it looks like in real life:

Talk like a human

Your users aren’t robots, so while the old way of 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 to 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 UX microcopy to quell any doubt and handle any reservations a user might have in their minds; whether it’s related to subscribing, submitting an inquiry, 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 HubSpot says on their newsletter registration form:

HubSpot blog subscribe form
HubSpot’s microcopy clarifies what the user can expect and reassures them they aren’t giving their email to a spammer.

This microcopy not only explains what subscribers can expect to get but also reassures them that they can unsubscribe at any time.

Get to the point

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

💡 Tip : Your users don’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:

Grammarly product tour prompt
Grammarly’s micro-copy gets you started right away with a quick but optional tour.

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

Keep it appropriate

So you’ve thought of some wording 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 might be quite serious?

Entertain, surprise or delight your users (or maybe 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 a quick example from Tumblr. First, here is the message that Tumblr displays when you first register to become a user:

Tumblr registration set-up form.
The microcopy is still effective in informing the user, but it’s also fun.

And here’s the message that Tumblr displays after you’ve become a new user:

Tumblr new user confirmation
The message is fun and light-hearted while still directing users to a specific place to take a specific action.

Of course, Tumblr wants you to download their app. But they make it more likely that people will do it now rather than later with lighthearted, fun copy that makes them feel good about it.

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
  • If it might become too repetitive for someone (think about UI here)

💡 See Also - Style, tone and voice: The whys, wheres and hows

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 insights when it comes to ascertaining which parts of your microcopy is 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 a quote’ to ‘Request pricing,’ they soon saw a 161.66% increase in clicks.

Here’s what it looked like before:

Veeam home page before change
Veeam’s website originally used the words ‘Request a quote’ to describe how users could get pricing.

And after the one-word change:

Veeam home page after change
Veeam’s site after making one simple change to the copy by changing ‘quote’ to ‘pricing’.

All they did was change one word, and it had a major impact on their click rates. 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, microcopy can’t fix every user issue under the sun. But when you do it right, it can ‘feed into’ and greatly enhance your website or app’s UX – and to striking levels.

Interested in learning more about microcopy and writing for UX? Check out these related articles:

I realised all sorts of microcopy had been staring me in the face the whole time! Let’s dive into what microcopy is, why it’s important, and how you can use it properly for your brand.

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.

However, 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 defines microscopy:

... 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:

  • On 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 good microcopy in action:

Timely, a productivity app, uses microcopy to make the terms of their free trial really clear. All you have to do is quickly glance at the content, and you’ll know the terms of the free trial - 14 days, no credit cards needed.

Timely Free Trial Signup
Timely’s free trial sign-up is a great example of microcopy that helps users understand everything they need to know in just seconds.

The Guardian Newspaper uses microcopy to explain the intention behind some of the form fields and be helpful (as with the address). In this case, the microcopy is instructional.

Guardian newspaper membership form
This is a great example of how you can use microcopy to explain something so users have no question about what you expect and why.

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

Mailchimp campaign confirmation
This microcopy from Mailchimp ensures everybody is on the same page with a quick confirmation.

Microcopy isn’t a new idea. It’s just one of those things that often takes the back burner to other types of content. 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 to nail your microcopy, even though we might not have recognised it as such until more recently. But now, there’s been a shift in focus in digital marketing to prioritize the user experience.

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

  • Makes it clear for the user what they should do and why.
  • Directs users to the exact actions you want them to take.
  • Increase conversions by drawing attention to the CTA.
  • Can alleviate doubt that a user’s next click might become a ‘misstep’ in their browsing journey.

Tips and examples of great microcopy

There are several elements you need to consider when writing microcopy. Here are some tips for writing great microcopy with examples of what it looks like in real life:

Talk like a human

Your users aren’t robots, so while the old way of 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 to 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 UX microcopy to quell any doubt and handle any reservations a user might have in their minds; whether it’s related to subscribing, submitting an inquiry, 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 HubSpot says on their newsletter registration form:

HubSpot blog subscribe form
HubSpot’s microcopy clarifies what the user can expect and reassures them they aren’t giving their email to a spammer.

This microcopy not only explains what subscribers can expect to get but also reassures them that they can unsubscribe at any time.

Get to the point

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

💡 Tip : Your users don’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:

Grammarly product tour prompt
Grammarly’s micro-copy gets you started right away with a quick but optional tour.

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

Keep it appropriate

So you’ve thought of some wording 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 might be quite serious?

Entertain, surprise or delight your users (or maybe 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 a quick example from Tumblr. First, here is the message that Tumblr displays when you first register to become a user:

Tumblr registration set-up form.
The microcopy is still effective in informing the user, but it’s also fun.

And here’s the message that Tumblr displays after you’ve become a new user:

Tumblr new user confirmation
The message is fun and light-hearted while still directing users to a specific place to take a specific action.

Of course, Tumblr wants you to download their app. But they make it more likely that people will do it now rather than later with lighthearted, fun copy that makes them feel good about it.

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
  • If it might become too repetitive for someone (think about UI here)

💡 See Also - Style, tone and voice: The whys, wheres and hows

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 insights when it comes to ascertaining which parts of your microcopy is 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 a quote’ to ‘Request pricing,’ they soon saw a 161.66% increase in clicks.

Here’s what it looked like before:

Veeam home page before change
Veeam’s website originally used the words ‘Request a quote’ to describe how users could get pricing.

And after the one-word change:

Veeam home page after change
Veeam’s site after making one simple change to the copy by changing ‘quote’ to ‘pricing’.

All they did was change one word, and it had a major impact on their click rates. 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, microcopy can’t fix every user issue under the sun. But when you do it right, it can ‘feed into’ and greatly enhance your website or app’s UX – and to striking levels.

Interested in learning more about microcopy and writing for UX? Check out these related articles:

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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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