How Your Itty-Bitty Microcopy Can Make a Big Impact

Blog Microcopy

It’s the little stuff that counts

Remember the end of When Harry Met Sally, when Billy Crystal’s character tells Meg Ryan he loves the way she gets cold when it’s 70 degrees outside? Or how about in Grey’s Anatomy when McDreamy gives Meredith a kidney in a jar… you know, as a token of his love. It’s the little things. If rom-coms and prime time TV have taught us anything, it’s this: your one true love gets you in a special way, and you’ll know this because of the small, seemingly inconsequential details that show you they’ve been paying attention.

What if I told you that, as a brand, you have that same opportunity? Sure, it may not end in dramatic love declaration, but delighting your audience in unexpected ways can definitely lead to a long-term relationship. The answer is microcopy.

What is microcopy?

Microcopy refers to the li’l blurbs of explainer copy on your website that direct users on how to do all the things they need to do while on your site. Think contact forms, navigational hints, ecommerce directives, etc. Microcopy doesn’t directly relate to your products or services, but – if done well – it can do a lot to promote your brand. Here are a few easy ways to jazz up your microcopy.

Pretend you’re having a real conversation

When you’re writing your microcopy, imagine your website is one big party, and all the users are guests. You aren’t the host, but you’re that close friend who offers to take coats and show people where the bathroom is. You’re there on the wings to help when needed. Microcopy is like that. So let that breezy, feel-good vibe guide your tone, and remember that you are a real person helping real people find their way around an unfamiliar space. A great place to start is your button copy. Ever look at a web page and see a dozen “Learn More” buttons staring at you? That’s a boring party.

Pump up your “subscribe” CTAs

The “subscribe” call to action (CTA) is arguably the best spot to indulge in some super personable microcopy. Why? Because you’re asking someone to sign up to receive your content on a regular basis. You want users to trust that the content will be useful and entertaining enough to earn its weekly (or even daily) place in their inbox. Ann Handley, best-selling author and content marketing guru, hits just the right note with her e-newsletter signup: Get new writing, useful ideas, fresh links, and high-spirited shenanigans delivered to your inbox every two weeks. This CTA tells us exactly what to expect from the content, as well as how often to expect it. Plus “high-spirited shenanigans” gives us a taste of the content in terms of voice and tone.

Fill in forms with useful prompts

Show of hands… who uses Facebook? Everyone and their mom, right? Ever notice that when you update your status, there are already words in the text box? Yep! Facebook uses microcopy here, which reads: What’s on your mind? So simple, but actually kind of brilliant if you think about it. “What’s on your mind?” is a direct question that focuses on the user and attributes a sense of importance to his or her potential status. It feeds into Facebook’s whole mission of giving individuals a platform to share their ideas and opinions (for better or worse!). Most likely, you have forms on your website. Can you prompt users in a helpful way while subtly reinforcing your brand values?

Make the most of your 404 page

If a user lands on your 404 page, it means they were searching for something and you disappointed them. A quick, witty line or some lovable, self-deprecating humor could A. remind them that you’re human, B. make them laugh and C. actually turn a negative experience into a positive one that endears them to your brand. Offering suggestions here is also a must. Are there a few links you can send them to? A killer blog post in your stash you can recommend? And don't forget to encourage the user to let you know about the error so you can fix it.

Just don’t get carried away

Now that you have microcopy in your UX arsenal, be warned that a little bit of fun goes a long way. If you try to make every line of microcopy quirky and cool, your truly clever bits will begin to sound stale… and your brand may start to sound desperate. Other considerations include:

  • Brand voice – If “playful” and “chummy” just aren’t a part of your schtick in any way, microcopy isn’t the place to introduce these attributes.
  • Clarity – Remember, microcopy is there to instruct. If it fails to do that quickly and clearly, it fails.
  • Length – Microcopy is called micro for a reason. Keep it short, even if it means sacrificing a good punch line to get to the point.

Alright! I’m going to go binge watch Grey’s Anatomy until I find that kidney-in-a-jar episode. But, hit us up if you want some help with your microcopy or any of your UX needs. We’re so charming you might just want to make this a long-term thing.

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