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Microcopy: What is it & How to Get it Right

Designers often get caught up in the more visual aspects of website design, like colors, imagery, typography, etc. that they sometimes overlook the seemingly minor aspects, like microcopy.

What is microcopy?

Microcopy describes the tiny bits of content on your website that helps guide users as to what to do. This includes the text on buttons, error messages, thank you pages, captions, 404 errors, the print at the bottom of product pages, the text in forms, placeholder text, and more. Microcopy is all over your website, and it’s all too easy to overlook.

Compared to the other elements of your website, it’s easy to underestimate the importance of microcopy. But, the truth is that microcopy is significant. It guides users as to what to do next, informs users about functionality, engages users, and plays a key role in the user experience. Think of microcopy like a narrator; it guides the experience visitors have on your website, and if you don’t give it the weight that you should, it’s a missed opportunity.

What are the risks of bad microcopy?

When you get the microcopy of your website right, it helps your visitors connect with your brand and provides them with the guidance and information they need. But, when you get it wrong, it can make you look careless and unprofessional, and it can create a negative user experience on your website.

An example of bad microcopy is a spelling error in a call to action button, which could be an immediate turn-off if someone doesn’t fully trust your brand yet as it is. Another example is a form error that doesn’t tell the user what the error is. This can create a poor experience because it leaves the user guessing as to what they need to do to correct the error.

How to get the microcopy right on your website.

#1. Make it reflective of your brand.

The content on your website, on blogs, and in social media posts all has a consistent voice — or at least it should. This voice is part of what defines your brand. Some brands with notable and unique voices include SlimJim, Dollar Shave Club, Cards Against Humanity, and Barkbox. And, that voice is carried over into each of these brand’s microcopy.

For example:

“Cards Against Humanity is available under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 2.0 license. That means you can use, remix, and share the game for free, but you can’t sell it without our permission. Please do not steal our name or we will smash you.”

Even the creative licensing on Cards Against Humanity’s website encapsulates its fun, snarky tone. This is an example of microcopy done right because it has plenty of personality in it.

#2. Keep it conversational.

Not every brand will have a fun, humorous tone like Cards Against Humanity does, but even if you want to strike a more professional tone, it doesn’t mean that your microcopy has to be cold or robotic. If it is, it can reflect that same kind of tone on your brand. So, make it a point to make your microcopy more conversational.

Just as the main copy of your website should be for real people, so should the microcopy on your website. It’s a mistake to use a lot of technical jargon or formal language in your micrcopy. Instead, pretend like you’re talking with your users face to face by striking a more casual, conversational tone.

#3. Make it helpful.

The whole point of the vast majority of microcopy on your website is to guide your users to take a next step or keep them informed. So, if you get nothing else right when it comes to microcopy, you should always make it a point to ensure that your microcopy is helpful.

Here’s a great example. The microcopy on a 404 page could easily just say “Page Not Found” and leave it at that. After all, it encapsulates the situation perfectly, but it’s a missed opportunity. Instead of simply creating 404 pages that say “Page Not Found,” make the most out of them by making suggestions on where they can find the information they need on your site.

#4. Keep it short and sweet.

There are lots of situations where it’s OK, and even beneficial, to be a little wordy, like on your blog, for example, or when describing your products or services. But, the microcopy of your website isn’t one of them. This copy should have personality and be relatable, yes, but don’t get caught up trying to make it too prolific. The best microcopy is short, sweet, and to the point.

When creating the microcopy of your website, try to always figure out the best way to convey your message using the fewest words possible. It’s also important to utilize verbiage that your readers are used to. For example, refer to your store as an online store rather than an e-commerce store.

Microcopy might seem like a minor thing, but it’s important to get it right. I hope that this blog will help you do just that.

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