The importance of microcopy

The importance of microcopy

The importance of microcopy

In the times when longform content is hailed as the gateway to top search engine rankings, there is a tendency to overlook the importance of microcopy – very small bits of content writing that you read but don’t pay much attention to.

Here’s an interesting blog post I was just reading. It talks about the importance of microcopy. Microcopy is something my clients never pay me to write and in more than 99% cases they skip the pages the require microcopy, for instance, the contact us page, or some other page requiring one or two sentences. But I remember a client, a long time ago, making me write small sentences on the contact us page to succinctly explain the purpose of individual email addresses. He paid for it like a normal page.

What exactly is microcopy?

Here is how Kinneret Yifrah, the author of Microcopy – The Complete Guide explains this form of writing:

The words or phrases in the user interface which are directly related to the actions a user takes:

  1. The motivation before the action;
  2. Instructions that accompany the action;
  3. The feedback of the user has taken the action.

As a content writer, I believe microcopy doesn’t just play an important role in making the user experience meaningful and impactful, even on normal webpages, for example the contact us page, or even the descriptions page, microcopy can significantly impact your bottom line.

Microcopy is the small strings of text in the form of 3-4 words or even a couple of sentences on a web page or a mobile notification. They are straightforward sentences.

Suppose, you have a contact us page. Unless there is really something specific that you want to communicate before people fill up your contact form, you may simply have something like, “Please submit our contact page and make sure that you fill up as many fields as possible so that we can provide you exactly the information you need.”

I know, this is a big sentence, but you get the point. Microcopy consists of a single sentence, a single phrase, and sometimes a single paragraph.

Microcopy is also used in the UI of a mobile app or any other software application. All those small messages that keep popping up when you are interacting with the mobile app, are microcopy.

These days I have been closely working with a mobile app marketing company that helps start-ups and mobile app developers launch their mobile apps successfully.

One of the jobs is writing compelling listing descriptions. Whereas, for Google Play listings, you can have around 4,000 characters as description, Apple’s App Store doesn’t allow much text. For description, you use just about 170 characters. When the count of the characters is so low, it can be considered as microcopy.

Why is microcopy important?

This post on the concept of microcopy explains it well why it is important.

As a writer I take words very seriously and as a person who wants his or her website or mobile app to be able to interact with users without ambiguity, you must too.

I often tell my clients that if they don’t take the written text on their websites seriously, they don’t take their websites seriously and hence, they don’t take their online businesses seriously.

When a person interacts with your website or your mobile app or with your software application, he or she doesn’t just come across buttons, pop-up windows, text boxes and other elements. Without words, these elements mean nothing.

You may think, if a button says, “OK’, where does the question of the importance of microcopy arise? Everyone can write “OK”.

Obviously, when I’m talking about the importance of microcopy, I don’t mean to say how you should be careful about using the “OK” and “Cancel” buttons.

Take for example the PayPal example I have given below. There are many customers who will actually decide against doing business with you if they think they will need to create an additional account to pay you. Just an extra sentence can avert this disaster.

Good examples of microcopy are error messages, tips balloons, details and explanations on the contact form, product descriptions and E-Commerce hints.

Here is a good example of microcopy:

A good example of microcopy

A good example of microcopy

Although, this page comes up when someone unsubscribes, even there the company gives the person who has unsubscribed a good reason to come back. First, in the green strip, it has a very reassuring message,

“Your membership has been canceled and a confirmation email has been sent. But don’t worry, we’ll leave a light on – just in case you ever change your mind.”

“Leave a light on” is an age-old phrase used for people who are going away but the people in the house want to tell them that whenever they want, they can come back.”

I’m pretty sure many people subscribe back after reading this message.

The post I have linked to above gives some examples of miscommunications that may occur due to a missing or a wrongly expressed sentence. A good example is, “To pay by PayPal you don’t need a PayPal account”. This is an important message and if you are accepting payment through paypal then you should inform (the ones not already informed) because many clients and customers may not do business with you if they think just for a single transaction they may have to register at a 3rd-party website.

Microcopy constitutes of tiny, seemingly innocuous expressions we assume our visitors are already aware of and that is why sometimes we skip them. For instance, while you are asking people to subscribe to your electronic newsletter, sometimes you forget to tell them that you are not going to spam them or their email addresses will never be sold. This is given, and you know that you are never going to spam your subscribers, but telling them makes them more eager to subscribe. Or if you want your customer to create an account before he or she can purchase from you, you forget to mention that after creating an account they can track the shipment or make the next purchase more easily.

As the blog post rightly says, microcopy alleviates small concern that might not look monumental but may become a deciding factor when they are thinking about doing business with you.

So should you pay your copywriter for taking care of your microcopy? It depends, but to be frank, whatever helps you do your business better, has commercial value.

3 thoughts on “The importance of microcopy

  1. Sarah Edwards

    Until today I wasn’t entirely aware of the nature and importance of microcopy, but it’s great to see some information that emphasises it more. It can be easy to forget that after the hard work put into writing good content to get people to your site, it’s then necessary to put in place further measures to increase the likelihood of turning traffic into actual business, and to ensure people are comfortable with carrying out direct transactions.

  2. Jenny Pilley

    Some good tips here I think a lot of people can learn from, Thanks Amrit. Many people forget the devil is in the detail and microcopy needs to be looked over and taken into consideration. It can make the difference between how people respond to you and, like you say, whether they make those all importance purchases.

  3. Jenny Pilley

    Some good tips here I think a lot of people can learn from, Thanks Amrit. Many people forget the devil is in the detail and microcopy needs to be looked over and taken into consideration. It can make the difference between how people respond to you and, like you say, whether they make those all importance purchases.

Leave a Reply