The Power of Microcopy: How Small Words Can Make a Big Impact
The details are not the details. They make the design.
- Charles Eames
Words alone provide 95 percent of the information we need for communication. So every bit of content counts, even the small words.
You may have the most fascinating, and innovative interface design but without the right words to build trust and guide the user, the design is incomplete. Including one little piece of microcopy can help carry the entire design to reduce ambiguity and improve user retention.
In this article, we’ll define microcopy and discuss why they matter to you and your website. You’ll also get lots of pointers on how to enhance your microcopy writing abilities.
What is microcopy?
Microcopy, also known as UX microcopy, is the short, instructive, or instructional text that appears on forms, buttons, search prompts, tip boxes, and other similar elements of a website or application. They inform and guide users in completing certain activities, such as looking for items.
Microcopy is written with the following to keep in mind:
Simplicity: increases users' ability to interact with your copy
Context: aids users to determine what to do
Action: employs terms that assist users in completing a task
Authenticity: builds trust with users and encourages them to take action
The importance of microcopy
Simply removing microcopy from a screen would result in a confusing mess without any guiding text, which clearly demonstrates microcopy's significance.
Microcopy is important because it makes digital products easier for customers to understand and utilize. Clear microcopy helps users find and complete the activities they have in mind.
It can be used to encourage people and establish trust, for example, by clarifying why you’re gathering their personal data.
It has also proven to have a significant impact on conversion rates since it is deeply connected to the activities a user performs. Selecting the correct words and displaying them at the right time in the user journey can make the difference between a user completing a purchase flow and dropping off.
In essence, microcopy provides an excellent opportunity to enhance a product’s entire experience. At the same time, it needs to be coordinated with the voice and tone of your business.
The impact of microcopy on your website
Effective microcopy tries to anticipate user expectations. When a consumer visits a website or uses an application, they may have a lot of questions. With a few guidelines, microcopy can address these questions throughout the customer journey.
UX microcopy can also be used to increase engagement, delivering empathy and transparency, as well as creating a sense of clarity and control.
1. It provides clarity and control
When users visit your website or application and your message isn’t clear, they’ll often leave the site. Microcopy can help reduce this risk, allowing you to effortlessly redirect users' attention with concise and clear messaging on various UI elements.
For example, Slack uses clear microcopy to let users know exactly what is happening or will happen. Using microcopy on or around buttons tells users what occurs next in a sign-up process, which makes them feel more in control.
Effective microcopy doesn't have to take up the whole page to express clarity; it can be straightforward and concise. Your main goal is to minimize anxiety and better inform users, and that’s exactly what microcopy does for you.
2. It builds user empathy
By combining microcopy with emotion, you can increase engagement and build a greater connection with your users.
Users are drawn to brands that make them feel good about themselves. This type of emotion can be determined by the brand’s design and what your users desire.
So, how can you create empathy with users? First, you need to know what your users are looking for by doing extensive user research. Then having a deep understanding of the users' behavior and unmet requirements, helps create a strong empathetic microcopy.
For example, Slack refined an error message to convey a sense of empathy, particularly when a situation is negative. As a result of this approach, the microcopy strategy for each situation can shift the user’s feelings from unpleasant to enjoyable.
3. It provides transparency
Since the digital world is full of security and privacy problems, users may be skeptical when you ask for their personal information or invite them to make a transaction on your website.
Microcopy can help change that by establishing trust and improving transparency, telling users why your requesting information and how it will be used.
For example, during the signup process for LinkedIn’s premium service, they explain why they require credit card information and how to prevent getting charged in the process. Using this type of microcopy to show transparency helps develop brand trust.
So, rather than expecting users to provide all that information without question, you can let them know what happens afterward and assure them that their information is safe with you.
This will assist users complete actions on your site. However, be mindful of disclosing too much background information. Instead, try to reassure your customers.
4. It nudges users to take action
The goal of every UX designer is to get people to interact with the website or application. Microcopy can help in this process. It encourages visitors to interact with the content and complete activities.
People are often skeptical about taking any action on a website. However, using effective microcopy can engage your audience, get people to complete tasks, and inspire them to go further and achieve more.
So how do you encourage new users to take action? By giving them a reason to do something. For example, Grammarly uses simple, concise content on their homepage to guides users.
The button could have simply stated "Add to Chrome," but they added "It’s free" to instantly reassure the user and add a sense of urgency.
Four tips for writing effective microcopy
To improve your microcopy, remember to write according to your company’s goals and brand identity. There are a lot of ways to improve your writing skills but we’ll give you four tips on how to make your microcopy concise and appealing.
1. Define your voice
If your company or product already has voice and tone guidelines in place, you’re already ahead of the game—just make sure everything you write matches those standards. If you don’t already have voice and tone rules, you should create them.
2. Be concise
User interfaces often have space limitations. But this isn’t the only reason to use as few words as possible while maintaining clarity.
The more words you use, the greater the cognitive strain. Aiming for a maximum of three words per button might not always be attainable, but it’s a good starting point.
3. Keep it clear
A good piece of microcopy speaks your user’s language. Users will leave if they don’t understand what’s going on. And how can you know what is clear?
By conducting background research and soliciting user feedback. Talk to your users, learn how they communicate, and then shape your writing around them.
4. Test your copy
You should test your microcopy with real users, just like you do with everything else in UX. This will help you assess its clarity and ensure that your intended audience can understand it.
Just because a piece of content works well and makes sense to you and your team, doesn't guarantee it will work for all your users. Test and then repeat and test again.
Ready to improve your website's microcopy?
Overall, microcopy offers clarity and context, it promotes importance, and establishes clear expectations for users. It also has a significant influence on satisfaction and conversation for such a small amount of content.
At Morphosis, we love helping clients with UX writing and microcopy that is aligned with UX design. You can check out our work for more references and see how we can help you create a great website that includes effective microcopy.