From a basic error message or call-to-action button to an assurance that your private data is safe, short bits of copy, known as microcopy, are a key way to communicate with users online.
Microcopy is everywhere, and the reason is simple: these little snippets of text carry a big (and practical) punch—and greatly enhance the user experience. Effective microcopy benefits from techniques from a variety of disciplines, including persuasion and rhetoric, technical writing, neuroscience, and user interface design.
Read on to learn more about microcopy and for best-practice examples and tips.
Microcopy refers to brief bits of copy on websites and applications that communicate important information.
Websites and apps use microcopy to:
Just a few words can influence consumer decisions in numerous ways.
At its best, well-written microcopy not only informs, but also strengthens the consumer relationship with a product and brand. It encourages users and empowers them to accomplish what they came to your business to do with prompts and context. It anticipates needs and concerns ahead of time and proactively addresses them. And because it’s often providing direction and context closest to the point of conversion, good microcopy removes barriers to completing actions.
Microcopy can show your audience that you understand them and it can lighten a user’s mental workload, making the task of consuming information seamless and almost unnoticeable.
You can thoughtfully and methodically use microcopy to facilitate movement through your site.
Using the right type of microcopy at the right time will help deliver an intuitive and rewarding user experience.
By knowing your users and thinking from their side of the screen, you can make informed microcopy choices that address user needs, questions, and concerns before they even arise.
Explore your audiences’ goals and expectations to determine the type of microcopy to use to best reduce or remove friction points that lead to dissatisfied users.
Some types of microcopy include:
The following are examples of microcopy in action that will show you how to provide maximum clarity in a limited amount of space.
Getting a user to act takes work–but not a lot of words. Whether you want a user to request a quote, provide an email address, or hit “Buy,” you’ll need meaningful microcopy.
And, when it comes to action-oriented microcopy, every word must have a purpose and a motivational component.
In short: If it doesn’t bring clarity—cut it.
This example from Buymeacoffee.com—a site that helps artists get financial support for their work—skillfully (and simply) executes microcopy to move users along with ease. Without using long-form copy, the site provides lots of important and relevant information to help ensure a conversion.
Yelp makes decision-making simple with in-line microcopy that gives easy-to-understand examples of how to search. Tacos, cheap dinner, Max’s—these bits of copy work double-time to let the user know they can perform a search while guiding them to the types of searches they can perform—all without using the generic word “search.”
TIP: Don’t go heavy on the sales language; instead, be clear, concise, and authentic about the value / benefit to the user. Write copy that prompts the users to easily complete the action without overloading them with distracting and unnecessary words.
As humans, we like to see concrete movement toward our goals. Microcopy can help fulfill this inherent desire and keep the user moving forward with clear and concise progress markers. Letting a user know how much of a task they have completed or what step they are on and what comes next helps users complete what they came to your site or app to do.
Sleep and stress reduction app Headspace beautifully integrates graphics and microcopy for a minimal yet motivating progress tracker. Taking advantage of sequencing numbers (yes, numbers count as microcopy) and design cues, users are guided to their bigger goal.
Mailchimp succeeds in adding a little conversational fun to its status message. This is the confirmation message a user sees after they publish an email campaign.
TIP: Simultaneously give confirmation, encouragement, and direction to users. For example, a progress bar that clearly maps out the steps and the user’s place in that process helps to benchmark goals. Pair this with microcopy that confirms a step has been completed and you’ve got a gamification experience that’s not only validating, but also motivating.
Online audiences have little time or tolerance for ambiguity. They want to know exactly what they’re doing, what your site is doing, or why. Users are leery of hidden costs or how personal information will be used. Context microcopy stops those concerns in their tracks.
This example from Gusto provides clear guidance to a user about how to refer another small business. Gusto uses microcopy to tell a user clearly what they get for referring another small business and then goes on to walk the user through the steps and options for sharing information about Gusto. The icons along with the copy explaining how it works make the page easily scannable.
We’re revisiting the Buymeacoffee.com example because the contextual microcopy on the signup page makes it clear that there is no cost. With simplicity and directness, this microcopy addresses two scarcity concerns that can prevent a click: money and time.
Speaking of time, Webflow knows that even after an initial sign-up, a user’s motivation may dwindle. We all juggle a long to-do list and have limited time; without knowing how long a process may take, a user may lose interest or patience and never complete the task.
Webflow’s microcopy addresses this head on with transparency. It lets users know that in two minutes they will have the knowledge to build a simple layout (no coding needed). Who doesn’t have two minutes to complete that goal?
TIP: Be transparent—in other words, provide context. Microcopy is a powerful tool for reassuring users and making them aware of exactly what they are signing up for—or reinforcing the benefit of the time the user has invested. This type of microcopy is also an opportunity to address possible user concerns.
Companies can use small details in surprising ways to create delight for users. With creative, thoughtful microcopy, a mundane task can be turned into a memorable moment.
Adobe opts for a conversational tone and imagery—and skips the common “404” message. Adobe also offers multiple routes to help get users back on track.
With a name like Mailchimp, no one expects a stuffy microcopy experience. And Mailchimp adheres to its brand voice when delivering this playful error message.
TIP: To develop this “wow” factor, identify areas of your site or application that dampen the user experience the most. Staying in line with your organization’s tone and personality, generate ideas to elevate the user experience to the unexpected. Consider playful microcopy if it aligns with your voice or product. If playful isn’t the appropriate angle, simply using a personal tone paired with a relevant and friendly message can be enough to create delight. Using this type of microcopy can turn the frustration of an error message, load page, or 404 page into a great experience..
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“Microcopy can show your audience that you understand them and it can lighten a user’s mental workload, making the task of consuming information seamless and almost unnoticeable.”
- Content Science
Last Updated: September 14, 2022
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