Microcopy: details that revolutionize people’s experience

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Unveiling the incredible power of microcopy: a silent guide to user experience excellence


404 error page

Let’s try to imagine talking to a person in the most natural form of communication: a face-to-face dialogue in which the interlocutors are in the same physical space and at the same time. You immediately understand that what you exchange are not just words.
The message leaks with other meanings of which verbal language constitutes only a minimal part compared to experiential language: facial expressions, exclamations, unexpected and contextual third facts, tone of voice, gestures, just to name some elements typically belonging to the fascinating world of “Not verbal”.

Let’s now try to bring the situation just described into the digital experience, for example, of browsing a website. The company, the brand, is telling us something through information, more or less captivating phrases, photographs and images, videos and animations, graphic suggestions.

But are we sure that the browsing experience only translates into the aforementioned elements (the so-called “contents”)?

The so-called microcopy come into play to guide, complete and improve (or even worsen) the global experience of those who browse: short fragments of text that populate buttons, labels, forms, notifications, error signals or waiting moments. Unlike traditional content, the primary purpose of microcopy is not to inform or entertain; rather, it aims to facilitate navigation, encourage action, and provide clarity in moments.

It is for all these reasons that microcopy can be considered a bridge between design and functionality.

When well designed, the microcopy should go unnoticed and, at best, increase the satisfaction of the person who experiences it, and consequently their affection towards the brand.

Little things, done right, matter.
Well designed moments build brands.

The 4 major features of microcopy

  1. User Guide. Microcopy acts as a silent guide for users, helping them understand what to do next. Clear, well-written microcopy can reduce confusion and frustration.
  2. Building trust. Well thought out microcopy fosters trust. When users encounter concise and clear messages, they feel more confident about their digital interactions.
  3. Reduction of errors. Error messages and validation descriptions are crucial to preventing user errors. Microcopy can gently inform users about problems and guide them towards a solution, for example preventing them from leaving the page.
  4. Encouragement to action. Call to action (CTA) buttons rely deeply on microcopy. A well-formulated CTA can have a significant impact on conversion rates, as well as the overall experience.

Tips for Creating Effective Microcopy

So how can you ensure you create effective microcopies?
The objective to always keep in mind is to ensure that the user uses the minimum mental and temporal effort to understand the message and carry out the required action.

In general therefore:

  • The microcopy should be short and concise. You need to use as few words as possible to convey your message.
  • The microcopy should be clear and direct. By avoiding ambiguity, it will be much easier for those who use it to instantly understand the intent of the message.
  • Microcopy should maintain consistency. It’s critical to use a consistent style and tone throughout the microcopy ecosystem to create a cohesive experience.
  • The microcopy should be tested. Some testing activities (for example: A/B testing) can help determine which microcopy variations work best. As a result, microcopies will need to be refined based on user feedback and data.

Who has the role of microcopy management?

To answer, we must start by saying that nowadays we are increasingly talking about fluid or hybrid figures: in the digital and web fields, each area is intrinsically linked to the others.
And as we saw above, microcopy is considered by definition a bridge between design and functionality, aesthetics and usability, words and thought.
Most likely, if by UX/UI designer we mean a figure who puts the study and design of the “user” experience first, then it is he who will be in charge of drafting the microcopies, supported by copywriters and sometimes also by SEOs specialist.

Examples of effective microcopy

One of the contexts where microcopy takes on the greatest importance is that of e-commerce, and the reason is easily understood: the person who follows a purchasing path (premeditated or not), wants to be sure not to make a mistake (object in the act of purchase, financial amount, place of delivery/collection, …).

Among the most frequent CTAs (buttons aimed at carrying out an action) are “Add to cart” and “Buy”.
If we try to analyze the microcopy, the difference between the two is clear: the first suggests a less demanding action, while “Buy Now” implies urgency.
The choice of words on the e-commerce buttons and their position in the purchase funnel can consequently influence the user’s decision and the continuation of the operation.

Amazon buttons

(in the image, the Amazon buttons)

Another very sensitive area concerns data entry by the user: input fields should be clearly labeled and integrated with useful suggestions that simplify the process, reassure those who fill in, and reduce potential frustration.

The case of the 404 pages

The case of 404 pages is very fascinating, i.e. pages in which an error is reported (called 404) which causes a sudden and unexpected interruption in the user’s browsing.
I leave you a fun video in which Renny Gleeson speaks at TEDx about exactly this: “404, the story of a page not found”:

It is clear how the treatment of the error page is not only important in managing the user’s frustration, but can even represent an opportunity to make oneself known more deeply and to create a relationship of affection between the brand (company) and the person who experiences the error.
In this context, copy, microcopy and visual treatment, in addition to preventing the user from abandoning the browsing experience with a certain level of disappointment, can manage to establish a different type of connection thanks to creativity and empathy.

The error page therefore goes from being conceived as a “message that something is wrong” to becoming a way to remind the user why he loves that brand.

A simple mistake can tell me what you aren’t.
Or remind me why I love you.

Why is the topic of microcopy important according to TSW?

Because we like to define ourselves as “translators”: a bridge between the world of those who design and the world of those who live the experience.
And because the digital experience (and not only) is the object of our work, and microcopy, however small and apparently not very influential, has an enormous impact on digital experiences. It is considered a silent hero that guides users, builds trust and encourages action.

Thoughtful, well-designed microcopy can transform an ordinary interaction into an extraordinary one, leaving a lasting impression on users and enhancing your brand’s reputation in the digital world.

Simple when you are not forced to ask yourself too many questions. Natural when you live it spontaneously. Rewarding when it makes you happy and satisfied. (point 10 of the TSW manifesto)

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19 October 2023 Agnese Zanetti

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TAG: experience design SEO UX and UI CRO