Microcopy: often neglected, always essential.

UX writing, like UX design, is all about creating clear and simple journeys. As well as helping to plan the user’s overall journey, one major focus of a UX writer is microcopy. So what exactly does that mean?

What is microcopy?

The small bits of copy that guide users through a website or app are known as microcopy. These can include things like instructions, error messages, loading messages, tooltips and menu items.

At first glance, these little bits of copy might not seem that important, but the right (or wrong) microcopy in the right (or wrong) place can actually have a huge impact. At every point on a website or app, the user needs to know what they can do next – if they’re not sure where to go, they’re likely to just leave.

What does microcopy look like?

The error messages that pop up when you enter the wrong password or land on a page that doesn’t exist. The call-to-action buttons that prompt you to read more or apply. Loading screens, search bars, form fields. All places where microcopy can guide, inform or reassure users.

ASOS uses microcopy to let users know what type of things they can search for.

ASOS uses microcopy to let users know what type of things they can search for.

Microcopy can encourage users to start a journey by offering clear starting points like ‘Apply now’, ‘Enter a meter reading’ or ‘Compare price plans’. But it can also make use of ‘empty states’ like search bars, empty baskets or empty favourites lists to direct users to start a journey.

Hotel Chocolat use an empty basket to promote collections and products.

Hotel Chocolat use an empty basket to promote collections and products.

As well as starting journeys, microcopy can provide reassurance or information at points where users are most likely to drop off. This could be reassuring a user that they won’t need to give their credit card details to get a free trial, or, as Wordpress shows below, that they can go back and change their details at any time.

Wordpress reassures users that they can change their blog name at a later date.

Wordpress reassures users that they can change their blog name at a later date.

Why is microcopy so important?

So how much impact can these few words really have? Well, with the right microcopy, brands can improve conversions, reduce bounce rates and give users a better experience. Don’t believe me? Just take a look at this example from Google themselves.

During Google I/O 2017, senior UX writer Maggie Stanphill discussed how they made the decision to change the phrase ‘Book a room’ to ‘Check availability’ on their hotel search feature. This might not seem like a big deal, but this small change increased engagement by a massive 17%.

Google increased engagement by 17% with a small microcopy update.

Google increased engagement by 17% with a small microcopy update.

Stanphill shows that microcopy is about considering and understanding the user’s needs, where they are in the journey, who they are, what kind of language they use and what their concerns might be. The function and purpose of the feature is exactly the same, but the microcopy better aligns it with what the user is looking for.

“We found that [Book a room] was far too committal at this stage in the decision-making process. They were still considering rooms, and they wanted to understand what dates were available, and what prices were in that date range.”

Writing better microcopy

So now you know how important microcopy is – but what does good microcopy actually look like? According to another of Google’s UX writers, Allison Rung, microcopy should be:

Clear – it tells the user exactly what they need to know, in jargon-free language.

Concise – it’s easy to digest, with the most important information or action first. Any extra, additional, redundant, surplus words that don’t need to be there should be removed. Or rather: remove unnecessary words.

Useful – it makes sure the user knows what to do next. This could include adding a ‘forgotten password’ link in a wrong password error message.

On brand – it reflects your brand voice. Just because microcopy tends to be short, doesn’t mean it has to be dull and robotic.

Unfortunately, getting the right balance of all four isn’t a walk in the park – but that’s where UX writers come in. As the example from Google above shows, there are lots of factors to consider and a good UX writer will take them all into account each time they write a piece of microcopy.

UX at Equator

When was the last time you paid extra attention to microcopy? Think your CTAs could be working harder? Never thought to make a ‘no results found’ message more useful? UX writing could be just what you need to take your product, service, website or app to the next level.

Here at Equator, we offer UX writing as part of our User Experience Design services. We pair skilled writers with experienced designers and strategists, to help create the best user journeys for your customers.