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Don't let poor Microcopy ruin the customer experience

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

You’re visiting your new, favourite website.  Since coming across each other a few days ago, you and this site have become close.  The design is cool.  The images are striking.  The content is great too - not too waffly - and there’s something about the style that strikes just the right engaging tone.

This site has quickly become your new ‘best friend’.  So, it’s time to consummate this friendship, to properly engage with your new pal and sign up for the newsletter ...


Here we go …

To the submission form …

Username/email address - done.

Password … whoops!!  What’s this?

“Password rejected.  Your password must contain at least one uppercase letter, one number and one special character.”

Hmmm … what a let-down.  I thought we were friends ☹

So - what’s happened here?  Well, the designer of the website has done all the hard work.  He’s produced a friendly, engaging website.  The Call-To-Action has worked a treat and prompted you to sign up for the newsletter.  All was going well until … all that great design effort was ruined by a piece of ill-thought-out, robotic and, frankly, grumpy microcopy.

So - what is this ‘microcopy’?
Well it’s not tiny words for a start.

Microcopy isn’t exciting.  In fact, it’s often hidden from view.  If microcopy were at a party, it would be directing people where to hang their coats, while sales copy was busy being the life and soul.

Microcopy is those little snippets of text that tell you what to do next, like -

  • error messages
  • little nudges or explainers
  • ‘where to click next’ instructions

You wouldn’t think those little instructions and notifications matter.  But they do.  Massively.  They make a huge difference to how your visitors feel about your website

The purpose of microcopy is to smooth out your visitor’s experience - to alleviate their concerns and ease them through the potentially tricky parts of your website.

Microcopy is a critical part of ‘closing the sale’.  You’ve done the hard work.  You’ve persuaded your visitor that your product or service is irresistible.  Now - don’t spoil it with impersonal, unfriendly instructions and warnings.

Not such friendly microcopy

Here’s one -










In fact, it barely counts as copy at all.
A mistaken entry results in a somewhat unfriendly exclamation mark.

This one is from Firefox - 

northampton copywriter









It's OK but who’s the funny little two-legged creature?  Not a fox, surely?  And what’s he holding?

This one also - not too helpful ...












You just might have spotted this next one somewhere before (maybe about 47 times a day?!?)

Yes - it’s from that nice Mr. Zuckerberg, who, when he’s not busy defending to Congress his company’s appalling security lapses, makes time to ask me the perfect question.  (OK, seeing as we haven’t even met, the ‘Steve’ bit is a trifle over-familiar.  I prefer ‘your honour’ till we know each other a little better).

In all seriousness, ‘What’s on your mind, Steve?’ is a great question.  Imagine what the Facebook team might have used instead -

  • Share something with your friends
  • What are you thinking about?
  • Say something
  • Type here

Some better than others - but what they ended up with is perfect.

Here’s another from Facebook -















See what they’ve done here.  they’ve taken two big issues that might put people off from signing up and addressed them head on.  (If only young Mark had mentioned that signing up might prompt the rapid descent into the bottomless perdition of social media addiction).

1. One day I’ll be forced to pay
2. Facebook will want to know loads of stuff about me

The form explains both that the service will always be free and why they want our birth details.

Here’s a nice one from Timely. It deals with all the potential user concerns in one neat little sentence.







See how warm and friendly this is.

You see - even with microcopy, you have the chance to build that all-important relationship with your client - to communicate the personality of your brand.

How to write good Microcopy

1.     Make it conversational
Don’t be too formal.
‘Your form contains errors. Try again and resubmit’.
Isn’t this better?
‘Oh dear - something’s wrong. Why not try again?’
But don’t go overboard.  Don’t cross the line into cheesiness.

2.     Be positive
Don't make your website visitor feel small.  Just be nice.



There - isn’t that friendly?

3.     Don’t try and be whacky
It’s not cool to try and be too funny or quirky.  It smacks of desperation - ‘Please like us!’
Tell us your email address’ is so much better than ‘Shoot us your edeets’.

4.     Keep it brief
We’re all short of time.  Remember - you’re writing microcopy; not 73-word-paragraph-copy.

5.     Right time - right place
Only show microcopy when you really need to.  Don’t interrupt you reader’s flow unnecessarily

Use Microcopy wisely

Microcopy really makes a real difference to how your website visitors respond to your brand.
Use it wisely.
Your readers will love you for it.  they really will.

Some questions for you -

1. Did you write your own microcopy?
2. Does your website have a fun 404 error page?
3. What’s the worst piece of microcopy you’ve ever seen?

Answers below -

Till the next time.


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