When we think about designing a great user experience, we tend to focus on big things: the flows, the screen layouts, the content. But there’s another component to user experience that can have a tremendous impact that product teams tend to overlook. This component is called microcopy.

What Is Microcopy?

Microcopy is the term for the small bits of copy in the user interface that help users figure out how to do things. Examples include error messages, labels in a contact form, pop-up hints, among others. At a glance, these words seem insignificant in the grand scheme of product design. Surprisingly, though, those tiny words have a massive impact on conversions.

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Why Microcopy Matters

Just because microcopy is small doesn’t mean it’s easy to design. Multiple factors play a considerable role in creating great microcopy, including knowing the user context, the language the users speak and the tone of voice they expect to hear. Here are just a few tips to remember when you want to make the most of your microcopy design.

Tips for Creating Microcopy

  1. Rewrite copy that doesn’t work well for users.
  2. Write copy that alleviates common user fears.
  3. Write helpful error messages.
  4. Help users make decisions.


1. Rewrite Copy That Doesn’t Work Well for Users

Good microcopys first and foremost property is making the interface more usable. Usability testing gives you insights into which parts of your product are clear to your users and which ones create confusion. Small changes in the user interface often make a huge difference here. So, analyze the microcopy when things aren't working.

Start with areas in your product where you can measure user conversion. For instance, Veeam noticed through their on-page survey that many visitors were looking for a price. The term “quote” was unfamiliar to some groups of users (here, non-native speakers). 

Screenshot of Veeam's website
Image: Screenshot by the author.

They tested changing the phrase from “Request a quote” to “Request pricing” and saw a whopping 161.66 percent increase in clicks to their lead gen form.

Screenshot of Veeam's website
Image: Screenshot by the author.

Takeaway: Conduct usability testing and optimize your copy based on insights gained from it. 


2. Write Copy That Alleviate Common User Fears

Microcopy can assist users during their journey in your product. It can alleviate users’ doubts during registering, subscribing or buying from you. But to make this happen, you should anticipate their questions at any step of the way.

Here are a few common examples that are relevant to almost any product:

Fear of spam 

Connecting social media accounts to a product is a very common feature today. When you ask users to link their Facebook or Twitter account to your product, they should be able to take it for granted that the sign-up won’t be auto-Tweeted. At least, that’s true if you want them to have a positive experience. But many users are still afraid that their accounts will be used to send promo messages. You can craft microscopy to get out in front of this fear.

Fear of data loss

When your app provides essential information such as personal ID numbers, sign-in codes, or any other vital data, users tend to be afraid of losing this data when they close the dialog box, which puts a lot of unnecessary pressure on them. But microcopy can be used to mitigate this stress. Basecamp, a project management tool, reassures its users that they dont need to worry about their data when creating a new account in the system.

A screenshot of a success message
Image: Nick Babich.

Fear of sharing personal information

It might not be apparent to users why your service is asking for specific information. Some users will be afraid that their private data, such as phone numbers, will be used inappropriately (i.e., that their phone numbers become publicly available for other users). This is especially true for social network services. Here, Facebook makes it clear why its service asks for specific information.

A screenshot of a Facebook sign-up box.
Image: Nick Babich.

Takeaway: Microcopy should address all potential user concerns.


3. Write Helpful Error Messages

An error state is the most frustrating part of the user journey. Nobody wants to see error messages when they use products, but they must from time to time. When something goes wrong, a user appreciates knowing exactly what happened. After all, if you arent explicit about the error, your users will have a hard time figuring out how to fix it.

MailChimp, an email automation service, clearly explains why users cannot log in their accounts. 

A screenshot of a MailChimp error message
Image: Nick Babich

Takeaway: When you show an error message, try to explain what’s happening in simple terms so that anyone can understand the problem.

When writing microcopy for error messages, use simple language and short sentences. Users don’t want to read long blocks of texts about how to complete a single task. Ideally, you should offer one or two short sentences that clearly explain what happened and what users can do about the problem.  


4. Help Users Make Decisions

Microcopy can motivate users to complete an action, especially when they have some doubts. For example, when potential customers see how large your customer base is, they are more willing to complete a sign-up procedure.

A screenshot of the Basecamp sign-up page
Image: Nick Babich

Here, Basecamp’s sign up form tells users that more than 11.000 companies use Basecamp, boosting its credibility. 

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Use Microcopy to Improve UX

Microcopy is more than just small bites of text. When used correctly, it becomes a powerful tool that acts as a helpful hand that guides users in their journey. The life of a design is in the detail, and when you care about your users, you write copy that helps them get the most from your product.

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