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Microcopy: The forgotten persuader

Tweet from my presentation on microcopy

Yes, microcopy does rock

A few weeks ago I presented at Interactive Minds on the topic ‘Optimising your web content to perform’.

While I think some people were expecting me to talk about SEO, I instead focused on what you can do to optimise your content to convert visitors to customers.

I talked about some of the techniques you can use to identify your most important content, how to tell if it’s performing or not, and what to do to help it perform better.

One of the tips I gave to help boost content performance was to improve microcopy.

What’s microcopy?

Think of all of the small pieces of in-context content which help visitors perform a task on your website.

It’s often an overlooked part of content development because it’s found on error pages, forms, buttons and other elements which may not be part of the ‘main’ content areas.

For example, if you have a shopping cart on your site you’ll most likely have microcopy to assist customers making a purchase. It may be a couple of words about which credit cards you accept, advice that shipping is a flat rate, or even tips on creating a password.

Why is microcopy important?

Good microcopy smooths the pathway to conversion. It reassures, it informs, it clarifies. It helps the user engage with the site. And an engaged user is far more likely to convert than a non-engaged one.

On the flip side, bad microcopy can confuse, frustrate and erode trust. Think of a bad shopping cart experience you’ve had. Have you ever abandoned a purchase because of something simple like not knowing if postage is included or not? I know I have.

Or, have you ever got an error message on an online registration form—but no clues as to what went wrong? Do you persist, or do you leave the site?

In both of these situations some well-written microcopy could have helped you stay on the site.

So next time you’re planning a content project, spend some time thinking about your microcopy and how it can help convert your visitors.

If you want to know more, I suggest reading Joshua Porter’s post on writing microcopy. Or, if you have a content project coming up which requires microcopy, get in touch with me so I can help.



Has SEO made us all lose focus?

Often when conducting a content review on a website, clients ask that the pages be re-written to ‘improve our ranking on Google’.

They consider this the holy grail – success will automatically come as soon as the site makes the first search engine results page (SERP).

While this is sometimes true, we have to make sure that we don’t lose focus of the real prize: Getting people to visit our site AND to complete whatever task they need to do once they are there.

So, if you manage a website, make some of these your 2009 New Year resolutions:

  • Understand what the true purpose of your site is. Is it for generating new client leads? Is it to sell products? Is it to disseminate news? Or, is it for existing clients to self-service?
  • Successful sites are carefully planned so sit down and identify your site goals and strategies. Don’t get caught up with your Google rankings unless this is one of the strategies you are going to use to get new visitors.
  • Find out more about how your new and return visitors use your site. Conduct some user research and use metrics to identify what is working well and what needs improvement.
  • Have a plan of how you are going to convert your new visitors to new clients, or make them purchase your products – whatever your site goals are. Too many companies become too obsessed with SEO that they forget that getting people to the site is only one step in the process. You still have to enable them to find the information they want – and then follow that through with a purchase or other task. That’s why well written content – aimed at the user – is just as important as content optimised for search engines.

And finally, don’t forget about your internal site search engine. There is nothing more frustrating than searching for content on a site – only to have irrelevant or vague search results returned. Having keyword rich content on product pages is all well and good for external search engines – but if this prevents potential customers from easily finding the product they want on your site you are going to lose sales. Investigate if your internal search engine allows you to enter synonyms and best bets to help users find the content they want.

Happy New Year.

Notes from the NNG writing for the web workshop

I’ve been a follower of Jakob Nielsen for a number of years. Love him or hate him, his theories on usability are tried and tested, and I’ve been in a number of workplaces who have implemented his guidelines and as a result have very successful sites.

Last week I went to Melbourne to attend Usability week 2008. It was great. Unfortunately Jakob wasn’t able to make it, but there were a number of excellent presenters. Chris Nodder held the writing for the web workshop.

So, as promised, here are some key tips that I picked up from his workshop. There isn’t anything earth shattering here, just some good advice on how to write quality web content.

  • Most online reading is done for research, not entertainment. Be to the point, don’t tease, and clearly have a purpose to the content you are writing.
  • Uppercase letters slows down your reading speed. This means that sentence case (which I’ve always advocated) is best practice for headings and titles. Title case isn’t completely bad; it just means that readers can’t scan content as quick.
  • It’s important to have a good understanding of the reading age of your content. By making your content suitable for a lower reading age, you not only help those with lower literacy levels, you also make it easier for those who can read at a higher level. MS Word does a basic reading age check under Tools > Options > Spelling > Readability. Most sites should be written for a primary school reading age.
  • Having a low reading age doesn’t mean that you are uneducated or stupid. Intelligent people can still have a low reading age, as can people with English as a second language, and older people.
  • Short sentences, short paragraphs, and short words all make it easier to scan text.
  • Keywords should be at the start of sentences and paragraphs as online readers don’t usually read content word-for-word.
  • Bold text can draw people’s eyes to key words or ideas within content.
  • Sub headings and bullets are great for readability.
  • Have one idea per paragraph.
  • Meaningful links are very important: they help with search engine ranking, screen readers, and allow people to know what will happen if they click on one. ‘Click here’ as a link is very BAD.
  • The first paragraph on a page should be a summary of what’s on the whole page (inverted pyramid theory).
  • Use simple words; don’t make up words, no jargon.
  • Write concisely – there should be 50% less text than in a printed document.
  • Have a consistent ‘voice’ for your site.
  • Images should have a purpose and add value to your content.

Sorry for the briefness of the notes, but I think most of them are very self-explanatory. Chris offered his del.icio.us page as a source of reading.

Looking forward to Usability week 2008

I am looking forward to this week as I’ll be flying to Melbourne to attend one of the full day tutorials that will be held as part of Usability week 2008. Some of my colleagues have been to previous NNG events over the years, but this will be my first. I’ll report back soon!