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Microcopy: Tiny Words With a Big Impact

If you don’t know much about microcopy, that probably means it’s doing its job.

Microcopy is a crucial but understated part of the user experience on websites and in software apps. For the most part, when crafted properly, it goes unnoticed in our daily online activities — but that doesn’t mean it’s not important.

What Is Microcopy?

Microcopy refers to the teeny tiny words that can usually be found hanging out next to CTA buttons, around form fields, or when you make an error online (usually in red, so you know you’ve messed up).

It helps to guide users along their journey with your business, offering directions, overriding doubts, and providing clarity. At all times, it should remain a fairly unobtrusive part of the design element while still getting its job done.

When it comes to driving sales and conversions, microcopy can ensure that your users don’t abandon sign-ups and subscriptions because it’s too hard or might take too long. You’ve probably come across these messages telling you such helpful things as “Sign up takes 30 seconds” or “Free 7-day trial — no credit card needed!” Now you know signing up is going to be quick and painless because the microcopy told you so. And thus, another conversion battle is won.

Dropbox uses microcopy in the form shown below to solve the user’s eternally annoying password problems. It clearly tells the user what will be accepted in this field. Over the course of a lifetime, concise and thoughtful microcopy like this can probably save the average human several weeks’ worth of password-related anguish.


Using Microcopy to Add Depth to Your Brand

Microcopy should be treated as an important part of your company game plan. These small phrases give you an extra opportunity to add in some personality that strengthens your brand. It can help humanize your company and be used as part of your personalization strategy to make your customers feel valued and understood.

On Humor

The short, concise aspect of microcopy also gives you the perfect chance to showcase your style and any in-jokes your customers might appreciate. Working online all day, every day, is a mundane task for most people, and users appreciate a smile.

Of course, while humor is welcomed by most users, make sure this is consistent with your usual brand voice. Don’t confuse your customers by suddenly throwing in cheesy one-liners and Kanye references if your company typically takes a more formal approach.

Esquire has a solid understanding of its audience and knows it’s OK to sneak in some relevant humor. While giving some standard information with its microcopy, it isn’t afraid to serve up some gentle mockery in this form:


The Psychology of Microcopy

Microcopy might seem like a no-brainer, but the truth is, it can be harder to write than standard copy.

This is because microcopy relies heavily on human psychology and the prediction of the next thoughts and steps that a user might take as they move around online. It requires a deep understanding of your target audience and the ability to communicate using a tone that resonates with them.

At all times, it should be friendly and use the art of persuasion to overcome objections. It must guide the customer toward the end goal of taking action.

The microcopy for the form below highlights some good reasons why users should sign up. “Faster” and “free” are pretty compelling words in the digital world:


Microcopy is also used to put customers’ minds at ease about handing over sensitive information online. In the wake of the Facebook debacle and the new GDPR legislation, users are more conscious than ever about giving away their details. Adding in some extra information about your data policies shows that you care about your customers, and could be the deciding factor between getting the sign-up or the user clicking out.

Firebox leaves nothing to chance with its form:

Source: (See what I did here? This is microcopy too!)

Most companies don’t put much thought into their microcopy. The ones that do (such as HubSpot), take particular care to research their customer voices as part of their marketing strategy. They pay close attention to creating consistent and relevant microcopy to give a seamless experience throughout their content and software platforms.

MailChimp also does a great job with this. It uses an internal style guide to tie its content together, and it always adds a dash of its quirky humor. In the form below, it’s anticipated that customers might take a wrong turn, and has used its microcopy to give the user a laugh and send them in the right direction.


When you’re building or updating your website or software application, remember to stop and think about your microcopy. Is it helpful? Is it subtle? Are you using the language that your customers would use? If so, then you’re on the right track to providing a great user experience. You get bonus points if you can squeeze some humor in there to make those mundane online tasks feel more enjoyable. Remember: The devil is in the details.

Effective microcopy is just one part of a strong brand story. Read more about storytelling strategies that strengthen your brand.

(Graphic by Garrett Davis, summer 2018 intern)