“A/B testing.” “Persona.” “ROI.”

There’s so much marketing jargon out there that it’s sometimes hard to figure out what matters and what’s a waste of time.

When you hear the word “microcopy,” your first instinct might be to roll your eyes at yet another mystery marketing term.
But before you hit the back button, consider this:
Any time you sign up for a new account, make a purchase, subscribe to a list, or interact with a company online in anyway, you like to know what you’re getting yourself into.
You want it literally spelled out.
That’s what microcopy is for. And, if you do it well, you could get more people to sign up for what you’re offering.
Microcopy spells out tiny reassurances so that customers feel comfortable taking next steps towards a final action, like:

  • Signing up for an account
  • Completing a purchase
  • Subscribing to a newsletter

If I had to sum up microcopy: “small words make a big impact.”
They do, and they can make a significant impact on your conversion rates. But, first things first:
What the heck is microcopy, and why should you care?

What is microcopy?

Microcopy is any small bit of copy on a website or app that makes customer interface usability easier.

Microcopy helps user experience by:

  • Addressing concerns
  • Clarifying next steps
  • Convincing customers to take action.

Basically, it’s all of those tiny word captions below buttons, on buttons, or next to form fields that provide background information to different customer interactions online.
Not only will microcopy encourage new visitors to take action, it will also help convince your warm leads to finally take those steps they’ve been hesitant to take before.
So, why is microcopy important?
Well, because of that.
Microcopy makes people less uncertain and more likely to click on things. The goals of microcopy are to:

  • Provide transparency (No one wants to deal with Charlie Brown’s teacher).
  • Reassure customers and remove potential user concerns
  • Prompt a call-to-action and increase conversions

All of these goals work together to reduce friction along the customer journey.

How microcopy reduces friction

Microcopy reduces friction along the customer journey. Fantastic! But, how specifically does it do that?
Imagine you are out hiking in the mountains. You’ve been given a map, water, and other resources you need to successfully complete your journey.
But then…
You come across a trail that is preceded by a sign that reads “Proceed with Caution.”
Ok, great. The trail guides have thoughtfully included a note to make sure you don’t do anything dangerous that would prevent your successful hike completion. BUT, you know what might be nice to also know?
Why they want you to proceed with caution.
Where’s the fine print? Where’s the context? For all you know, you could be heading to the edge of a high cliff, or into an area known for poison ivy.
That sign really could have used some microcopy, which is why call-to-action copy often does.
In the case of CTAs that precede a customer action, you probably want to know what is beyond that button or form submission click that just reads “Sign Up Now.”
Is there is going to be required credit card info, or will you have to include your phone number? And, why do they need those things?
Context truly is key for a good user experience.
If that hiking trail sign instead said, “Proceed with Caution (Steep cliff 100 feet in),” then you can take action by forging ahead with all the necessary information, successfully completing your journey and maybe coming back to hike another day.

cliff imageMicrocopy probably would have helped about 100 ft ago.

If something sounds hard, fewer people are going to do it. Microcopy can help you make a CTA sound easy.
Which button sounds easier to you?

  • Complete your registration
  • Learn more
  • Get your free webinar

Whenever possible, avoid making the next step of the process sound more difficult than it is. In this example, “get your free webinar” is probably the best copy.
You have the right to know what you’re signing up for, and microcopy makes sure that you do by alleviates all types of customer concerns.
What might those concerns be, you wonder?

  • Data security and loss
  • Getting spammed by you or other companies.
  • Making irreversible changes (like during account set-up)
  • Encountering dreaded error messages, like 404 notices

As microcopy writers, it’s our responsibility to look at the whole picture at the end of the puzzle, not just pieces. We have to make sure that customers aren’t being surprised along the way, and microcopy takes away that unwanted surprise.

avoidAvoid causing this face. Not everyone is fond of surprises.

Now, consider the call-to-action button example that we mentioned just a minute ago, “Sign Up Now.”
Here are some popular examples of how microcopy reassures customers and prevents any surprises that would cause friction later:

“No credit card required.”

This line of microcopy is simple, straight, and to the point. Imagine this copy below the “Sign Up Now” button.
“Sign Up Now” is pretty ambiguous, and it doesn’t really tell you what comes with that sign up later. This microcopy’s subtext says “no commitment,” takes away that uncertainty, and prompts a customer to keep clicking through the process.

“Never shared, never spammed.”

Remember before, when we listed data security as one of the customer concerns? Microcopy like this is how that concern is addressed.
If the example button were on a form that a customer was filling out with required, personal information, microcopy that explicitly ensures privacy and not allowing any spam will go a long way in that future customer relationship.
BUT WAIT! Small disclaimer
While it’s a nice gesture to reassure customers about something they wouldn’t want to happen, be careful when using the concept of spam in microcopy. They might not have even thought about the possibility of being spammed, so don’t inspire them to.
Using other language to describe it or making sure it makes the most sense in context could be helpful.

full mailboxMailbox full.

“You can always change it later.”

When a customer is signing up for a new account, it’s comforting to know that they don’t have to make all of their decisions right away. Want to change an address or the name in an account? Great. This microcopy that makes it clear they can.

“Free 14-day trial. No credit card. No nonsense.”

No strings attached, no hassle, no financial commitments, no headaches. This microcopy assuages multiple concerns in just one line.
Microcopy like this makes clicking a CTA button that says “Sign Up Now” a whole lot easier.

“Add to Chrome (it’s free).”

Who doesn’t jump at the opportunity for free stuff? Nothing says “let’s move forward” to a customer you want to finish an action than literally saying that call-to-action won’t cost them a thing.
This says they get something that will benefit them, and that there’s no work to get it. Win-win for everyone involved.

How to create great microcopy

Do you ever read all of the fine print on a privacy agreement or every rule and regulation for an online contest entry form? Probably not, because they typically go on forever, and you have a life.
So, don’t make your customers do it.
Although lengthier microcopy is sometimes necessary (like terms and conditions), it’s best to strive for making your point in as few words as possible. Also, don’t make those words burdensome laborious hard to understand.
When we talk about content, including microcopy, we talk about keeping the language simple, human, like you’re actually talking to someone.

microcopy fine printYeah. Nobody has the time for that.

People reading your content are likely to be content scanners who only want a short and simple line that tells them everything they need to know at that moment.
Did you know that:

  • Most people scroll through 50-60% of online content.
  • A 2008 Nielsen report (that’s still relevant today) showed that, on average, users read less than 20% of a website’s content, which wasn’t surprising news because…
  • Another 1997 Nielsen study found that short, scannable writing improved usability by a whopping 124%.

content scanner statisticOnly 20% of an entire website’s content? Better make it count.

So, why is this important to know for designing microcopy?
Scanners are literally scanning copy for the main points, or for something specific in the interface that brought them there in the first place. Scanners are more looking for the gist that gets simply and straight to the point.
That’s microcopy.
Microcopy lets you get that fine print in front of people’s eyes without always going on forever. It can give your leads and conversions a boost, but only when done right. To get it right, there are 4 rules to keep in mind when you’re creating microcopy.

The 4 rules of creating microcopy

Remember those examples before of microcopy in action, alleviating customer friction? Following these 4 rules are why they were successful.

1. Be concise

“Keep it short and sweet.” It’s a common expression for a reason, and it definitely applies to microcopy. In a content scanners world, you don’t want to be overly wordy or use high-brow language.
If you can be creative while being clear, great! But the most important thing is to get your message across with the first read using micro words.

2. Give context

Microcopy shouldn’t be a novel, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be a few lines if necessary. Context is an important and helpful component to help leads become customers, so don’t feel constrained by trying to keep microcopy short every time.
No customer will blindly give their information. They want to know what they are getting themselves into and what you’ll do with their information, so strive for transparency and make sure they have all necessary information at each step of the CTA process.

3. Inspire action</