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GuidesUser experience (UX)What is microcopy in UX, and why does it matter?

What is microcopy in UX, and why does it matter?

Last updated

19 May 2023

Author

Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Tanya Williams

Have you ever loaded a web page or app only to wonder what to do next? In that case, you’ll understand that guidance is vital for a quality user experience.

A few words are all that’s needed to provide a sense of direction, but you can easily get lost without them.

Good microcopy is a small addition to a user interface that packs a big punch, even if it’s not particularly noticeable. When it’s well-crafted, it can act as guidance, reassurance, and instructions.

To produce great microcopy, you need to understand everything it has to offer. This article explains what microcopy is, why it matters, and some tips for writing effective microcopy. You’ll even find some examples for inspiration.

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What is microcopy?

Microcopy is the term used for the small fragments of text found on websites, applications, and other digital products. Yet, this kind of text probably won’t grab your attention.

Microcopy is found in many places, including form fields, popups, disclaimers, error notices, and CTA buttons. The text seems insignificant because it’s designed to be discreet. Yet, it’s there when you need it and can significantly impact the user journey.

What characteristics does microcopy need to be effective?

When you consider everything that goes into designing a single page, microcopy can easily become an afterthought. Yet, it has an important job to do.

Microcopy must have the following specific characteristics to be effective:

  • Compact – good microcopy is short, sweet, and to the point. It gets users from one step to the next quickly and efficiently.

  • Aware – awareness of user needs and intent is vital to supplying the right sentiment. When composing copy, consider each step of the user journey.

  • Action – good microcopy encourages action and clarifies how the user can reach their goals.

What are the uses of microcopy?

If you’ve ever clicked a button and nothing happened, you’ve experienced the frustration that well-crafted microcopy could eliminate. This informative text guides and reassures users at many points along the user journey.

Microcopy is used to:

  • Add context to error messages

  • Provide direction for actions

  • Explain what’s required in a form

  • Guide strong password creation

  • Reassure the user that an unwanted action won’t occur

What’s the difference between UX writing and microcopy?

UX writing describes the entire process of creating product writing for the end-to-end user journey. It covers every customer-facing communication during the customer journey.

In contrast, microcopy is a category of user interface text that falls under the scope of UX writing. It’s more a finishing touch that makes the journey delightful than the narrative arc that defines the user journey.

What is microcopy versus macrocopy?

You might assume that microcopy and macrocopy are two similar words that mean the same thing. This isn’t the case at all. The two are practically opposites.

While microcopy describes small fragments of copy found in small spaces, macrocopy describes the largest blocks of text that deliver context to the user. You would find macrocopy in purchase confirmation pages, informative messages, landing pages, push notifications, thank you messages, and other places.

Why microcopy matters

Good microcopy communicates with the user along the journey. It provides the right words at the right time to stop the user from feeling abandoned.

Microcopy matters because it:

  • Builds customer trust – the difference between a button that says “Get started” and one that says “Get started, no credit card required” could be the difference between conversion and abandonment.

  • Improves customer satisfaction – good microcopy anticipates how the customer will feel at each point in the journey. Consider that tiny message that appears when you’re creating a password. It recommends things you can do to make it stronger. It wastes your time and increases your frustration if the message only pops up after their password has failed to meet requirements. Your satisfaction as a customer would decline as a result.

  • Drives purchases – microcopy puts the customer in control by telling them what will happen next. “Quick view” will provide more information about the product, while “Add to cart” launches the purchase process. Without any of this text, clicking an item could have either result, even the one you didn’t want. A user needs clarity so they don’t abandon the page altogether.

Tips for writing great microcopy

Great microcopy does its job. Poor microcopy is vague and unhelpful. These tips can help you create amazing microcopy that engages and delights your users.

Think human

At their core, digital products are designed for convenience. Microcopy should be placed where it will get the most attention. If a popup declares an error occurred, it should be as close to the problem as possible so the user doesn’t need to scan the page (or worse, scroll) to see what went wrong.

Make it short and simple

Brevity is key to keeping users engaged. No one wants to read a long paragraph for a simple instruction. Keep copy short and add context as needed. If you need something more in-depth, consider adding a popup that appears when the user hovers over a question mark or information icon.

Know your audience

Your voice should match your audience’s expectations. For example, you’re more likely to use proper terms and concise language when selling business products than when selling sunglasses. Take age and gender into account along with the vibe of your target audience when choosing your words.

A sprinkle of fun

If you can add a touch of humor to a popup, you can brighten someone’s day. For example, error 404 pages are frustrating, but a cute image or a little humor in the explanation can go a long way.

Revisit it when things aren’t working

Microcopy is key for guiding the user journey. When analytics show that customers frequently veer from the expected path, revisit the microcopy to see if it offers the right level of guidance. Adding a single word could provide more clarity or reassurance.

Alleviate the user’s concerns

Empathy is key to gaining your customer’s trust. Free trials are a great way to encourage new users to try a product. Yet, you put up a barrier when you ask for a card. Microcopy can be used to provide an exact date when the trial will end and note that you’ll send an email reminder in case the customer wants to cancel.

By alleviating the user’s concerns, you give them the confidence to try the product.

Use helpful error messages

How helpful is an error message that simply says “error” or a form that doesn’t submit? When something goes wrong, tell your user exactly what happened. For example, tell them what’s missing from the form or password. A message that says “Failed login” isn’t particularly useful, but one that notes the password doesn’t match the username and includes a reset link provides the customer with the tools they need to achieve their goal.

Examples of good microcopy

You’ve probably seen good and bad microcopy. If the tiny words and phrases can build trust or elicit a smile, the writer has likely conducted significant research to understand their audience.

Microcopy can be used in many ways. These three examples showcase how top companies meet the needs of their audiences.

Spotify

Before a user signs up for Spotify, they will know exactly what they can get for free. The brightly colored taskbar across the bottom of the screen says, “Sign up to get unlimited songs and podcasts with occasional ads. No credit card required.” The choice is reiterated on the button that simply says, “Sign up free.”

Starbucks

The coffee giant’s cookies message gains user trust and follows up by promoting a purchase—all without losing charm.

The message begins with, “This site uses cookies, but not the kind you eat.” It goes on to explain exactly how the site uses cookies. However, the real treat is waiting when you agree to cookies because a new popup asks, “How about a real cookie?” with an option to order or opt-out.

Flickr

Creating another password is not at the top of anyone’s list of fun things to do. Flickr makes the process easy by noting what you’re missing while you’re crafting a new password. Once all the boxes are checked, you’re good to go.

Summary

Microcopy is small, but it can be the most effective text on the page when it’s well-crafted and speaks to your audience. It’s one of the many ways UX writers artfully create text in ways that offer just the right amount of communication to engage and entice users.

In the right place at the right time, microcopy can provide clarity, empathy, and encouragement. It can be the difference between consumer conversion and customer churn.

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