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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.



{ 4 comments… add one }
  • Gabby August 24, 2011, 9:25 pm


    I loved this short piece (appropriate, isn’t it?) on microcopy. It can be so often overlooked, but makes such dramatic improvements to conversion rates or other metrics.

    Yeah, I’m using such fancy terms as “metrics” now thanks to Mr. Crumbles who often says “People don’t really read microcopy.”

    I was confused by this originally. What I think he means is that visitors to a website often don’t read every word of well-placed microcopy, but are comforted by its mere presence. In the Joshua Porter article you reference, he claims microcopy can “reduce commitment by speaking directly to the thoughts in people’s heads.”

    Putting this to good use then, Crumbles might say that when dealing with issues on a page or site we should consider where the emotional blocks are, not necessarily the information needs. We need to comfort and encourage visitors at these places with microcopy, not inundate them with lots of content.

    Like most conversations with friends, we do this with short, well-chosen words. And we remember it’s most important to simply be there when needed.


    • Snappy Sentences August 24, 2011, 10:02 pm

      Gabby I think Mr Crumbles is right. People don’t sit down to read microcopy. Well GOOD microcopy anyhow. Bad microcopy is read, then re-read, then read again because it doesn’t offer an answer.

      Microcopy is the gentle nudge when a visitor is often already in the conversion funnel. And that’s why it’s often overlooked. So much effort is poured into the call to action (DO THIS NOW!!) that when a visitor does decide to request a quote, add to shopping cart, register online etc suddenly there’s no support to make sure they actually complete the task. There are no comforting words, helpful observations, or subtle reassurance.

      (As an ironic aside, I just got an error message from WordPress after pressing ‘reply’. But all it said was ‘error’. Error for what?!?!)

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