Why Microcopy Matters

Microcopy might seem like a small detail, but it can make a huge impact on user experience, engagement and even conversions. Treat it as an afterthought and you may send your users fleeing, but well-strategized and well-crafted microcopy can not only direct but delight users.

So what exactly is this tiny copy that holds such big influence?

Why Microcopy Matters

What is Microcopy?

Simply put, microcopy is all the little bits of copy that inform, advise or otherwise direct the user. This includes:

  • Forms
  • Calls-to-action (CTAs)
  • Navigations
  • Footers
  • Error messages
  • Transaction instructions
  • Legal disclaimers

These kinds of copy items aren’t usually high on a copywriter’s list of favorites. Microcopy may be considered boring, bland, or boilerplate. But nothing could be further from the truth. Microcopy is critical to user experience and it can be fun! (More on that later.) Ironically, while so much attention is paid to the headers and body copy on a webpage, it is the tiny bits of microcopy that matter so much and yet are often given no more attention than the time it takes to write, “Learn more.”

Why Microcopy Matters to User Experience

If you’re thinking in terms of the customer journey, microcopy is all the road signs along the way.

Without clear microcopy, your user can get lost or worse, abandon the journey altogether. This isn’t theoretical — research indicates the number one reason users leave a website is poor navigation. Microcopy can give you clear directional text that keeps your users on the page and encourage them to progress to the next.

The same study ranked a registration requirement as the 5th reason users were likely to bounce from your site, and here too microcopy matters. If you are asking for information, a quick line of microcopy stating why you want or need the information and what you are, and are not, going to do with it can go a long way to reassuring users.

The wrong word choice can drastically affect user behavior. Have you ever wanted to untag yourself from a photo in Facebook? Not too long ago you would have sent a form letter through Facebook to the person who had tagged you. The form would have said something to the effect of, “Sorry, but I don’t like this picture. Could you please remove it?”

But Facebook noticed that people weren’t using the form. Instead, they’d write to Facebook support and ask them to have the photo removed. What was the problem? The word “sorry.” It made people feel like the problem was with them, not the photo. Facebook removed that one word, and form usage increased exponentially.

Think about the implications there. One wrong word and your users may turn away from a tool you created to be helpful. Microcopy is that important.

Think Big About Microcopy

Microcopy is not only a place to instruct and clarify — it’s an opportunity to delight. Headers and body copy are great for brand voice, but a clever moment of microcopy in an unexpected place shows your users you’ve thought about every step of their journey. Copy on forms and transaction pages is read more closely than standard body copy, so these are excellent opportunities to inject a little bit of brand voice in your microcopy.

Branded microcopy can even turn a negative outcome into a positive interaction. Users may be frustrated when they get an error message, but if the message is humorous, they’re more likely to smile.

How to Avoid Bad Microcopy

Now that you know what microcopy is and how important it is to user experience, how can you avoid bad microcopy? Here are a few tips:

  • Make microcopy part of your website strategy. Map out every place microcopy will be needed.
  • Don’t settle for boilerplate. Even if you’re using a website builder, don’t settle for the microcopy navigation, CTAs and form fields it supplies. Look for ways to infuse microcopy with your brand.
  • Never sacrifice clarity for cleverness. Witty writing is fun, but if your microcopy isn’t clearly communicating, it’s not doing its job.
  • Test microcopy effectiveness. Word choice and phrasing can have a big impact, so test several iterations of your microcopy to find the ones that work for your audience.

Microcopy is all around you, online and off. Start checking out the disclaimers, transaction instructions, form fields and other moments of microcopy. What works for you? What doesn’t? Not all of the microcopy out there is good, but hopefully now yours will be.