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The Art of Writing Microcopy and Why it Matters

Author's avatar By Expert commentator 10 Nov, 2015
Essential Essential topic

Why you should pay attention to microcopy on your website and how to make it work

The great majority of advice for digital marketers and content writers is about how to write incredible landing pages, engaging content and killer headlines. And those things are incredibly important - don't get me wrong. But, the good web marketers know that there's a third category of text that's so tiny (literally) that most writers ignore it, yet so significant that it can help boost conversion rates and customer loyalty.

It's microcopy. Those tiny snippets of words that ask people to fill out a form or tell them that there was an error. For those out there that think that microcopy doesn't matter consider this: microcopy is sometimes the only actual interaction between you and your readers/customers.

It's where you ask your customers to fill something out, explain to them what went wrong and guide them on how to do it again. These little words can pack a mighty punch, so if you haven't been paying attention to them, listen up.

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Why Is Microcopy Important?

It lends a human touch

Good microcopy makes readers and clients feel like you're there to take care of their needs. It creates a feeling of confidence that if something should go wrong, there's an actual person out there on the other side that's willing to help them out.

For example, if you ask a customer to provide their phone number and make it a requirement, you can expect some ruffled feathers. People are tired of getting their inbox's spammed and receiving telemarketing calls on their cell phones. But a study by Baymard Institute revealed that adding a bit of microcopy explaining why you need certain information can make a huge difference in how people feel about giving it.

For example, instead of just providing a box for the phone number, one business added “for shipping-related questions” in parenthesis and another provided a box that read “We need your phone number in case we need to contact you about your order.” This type of microcopy can help customers feel like you care about them by taking the time to offer an explanation. In the end, it can make the difference between a sale or conversion or an abandoned page.

It helps build trust

When clients are buying something or handing over personal information, this type of trust is vital. Small businesses and lesser known brands have a lot of fears to battle on the part of the customer. Microcopy can play a major role in making them feel safe and like they're in capable hands.

Example: adding a bit of microcopy on the page where customers fill out their credit card information that reads “Be sure to enter the billing address associated with your credit card” tells your clients that you're a professional and you know what you're doing.

It can improve conversions

If someone liked your product or idea, but was thinking kind of “eh” about getting on the mailing list or sharing with friends, a bit of microcopy that speaks to them can make the difference between never visiting your site again or signing up for your newsletter. Making someone laugh, making someone feel welcome, being warm and friendly or throwing out a thought-provoking phrase can all lead to conversions.

It provides a voice for your brand

There are many layers to building a brand and creating a voice and personality for it. Microcopy plays an important role in this. It's so important, in fact, that Hubspot has a full-time staff member dedicated to perfecting their microcopy. Though it may seem like an innocuous little bit of writing, in fact, microcopy is the way you directly communicate with your readers and clients.

Reading the ad content is much more impersonal than signing up for a newsletter or placing an order. When your audience starts signing up, signing in and adding to their baskets, that's when there's actual interaction. Therefore, it's important that you provide them with instructions, messages and cues that represent your brand and make them feel good about the experience they're having with you. These prompt can be mechanical or they can be engaging and entertaining.

Ex: Social Inbox's Twitter prompt:
“What do you want to say to your beloved followers?”
Vs. a standard “Enter your Tweet”

How to Master Microcopy

Be consistent

Make sure your microcopy is consistent. If you're using all lower-case in some areas and all caps or a mix in other areas, it can look sloppy. If there are exclamation points and question marks, make sure they're used consistently throughout. The tone should also match. For example, if you're funny on the error message, but robotic on the sign-up for our newsletter page, it creates a confusing message. Consistency is key. Consider developing a style guide for your microcopy like Hubspot.

Research other microcopies

Microcopy is like any other art. Sometimes, you need inspiration. Check out other brands and see what kind of microcopy they're using. You'll know when you've hit something good. Keep those kindred microcopy brands bookmarked and use them to help you evolve your brand's voice. Are you edgy, trendy, competitive, minimalist, funny, warm, friendly? Decide which characteristics you want to represent and why.

Test it

The best way to find out if your microcopy is working is testing it. Which areas are people failing to follow through? Do they add things to their basket but fail to make it through the checkout process? What kind of microcopy can be added to help change this?

Insound found that switching their “Continue” button to “Review Order” helped people make it to the checkout successfully. A case study where the line “there will be no additional costs” was added next to the "Total amount" helped boost conversions by 11.30%. Play around, test it and adjust ad infinitum.

Microcopy not only eases your customer's interactions and provides a personality for your brand, it helps increase conversions and sales. To learn more tips, check out this article on preventing bad microcopy and this one on how to use microcopy to increase conversions.


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