Microcopy

“The microcopy injected new life into our site. Visitors feel that someone is communicating with them
and accompanying them through the whole purchasing process.”
Yoav Golan, CEO of an Israeli start-up

How it all begun

In 2009, Joshua Porter wrote a blog post with the title “Writing Microcopy”. In the post he described a checkout form he created for an e-commerce project, where 5%-10% of the online transactions were failing because of billing address errors. What did Porter do? He added one sentence next to the billing address field: “Be sure to enter the billing address associated with your credit card”.

“And just like that, the errors went away…” Porter wrote, “saving support time and increasing revenue on the improved conversion.”

Porter shared with his readers an idea that he had been mulling over for a while – just adding a few words in the right place at the right time could completely change the user experience. Not only that, he coined the name for this type of copy: microcopy.

Definition & goals

Microcopy is the words or phrases in the user interface that are directly related to the actions a user takes: The motivation before the action, instructions that accompany the action, and the feedback after the user has taken the action.

Examples are buttons, error messages, short explanations in tooltips, confirmation messages, what’s written next to fields and also inside them, and more.

The goals of microcopy are to drive action, provide guidance, excite when needed, remove barriers that prevent an action being taken, improve usability and conversions, and sometimes just being funny. It engages users, helps them identify with your brand, enriches their experience, and resolves frictions before they even arise.

In the two short videos below, you’ll see real-life examples of microcopy, and will experience for yourselves the difference it makes to user interfaces. The videos are in Hebrew, with English subtitles.

How it works

When? The best time to write microcopy is between the UX design and the visual design, but it can be written anytime, even when the site or app is up and running.

Who? If you have content writers in your team, they can write the microcopy themselves. The market team and UX pros can also write great microcopy. The book can be very helpful with that. If you don’t have writers, there are microcopy pros that will be happy to assist.

How? Before you start writing, design the voice and tone of your brand, and then meet with your UX pro and your developer and get an in depth grasp of all the screens, flows and situations. Once you really know the voice and tone and the interface, start writing the microcopy.

How can microcopy change every screen into an exciting experience?
6 surprising minutes about the power of words on interfaces (Hebrew w/English sub)
How can microcopy help users complete a process easily?
How to improve usability and increase conversions (Hebrew w/English sub)

Do it yourself

If you are good with words and interfaces, you can write microcopy yourself