Small words with a lot of power!
31st January 2023
Hannah Cox, Senior Digital Designer

Small words with a lot of power!

Microcopy refers to the small nuggets of text found on a website or application. Its goal is to aid the user in navigating through a digital product as smoothly as possible.

“Word are containers for power, you choose what kind of power they carry” – Joyce Meyer

Microcopy are small words with *a lot* of power. Good microcopy will not only enhance and propel your user journey but also support conversion rates too. By creating a safe, contextual flow for a user to navigate through, you are negating the likelihood of them leaving a site with unfinished intentions.

It’s important to remember that microcopy is NOT marketing copy. Micro and marketing copy have very different goals.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a fail-safe guide to follow to get it right, each product is different. Good microcopy is dependent on research and truly understanding your users’ journey through your product. It’s important to understand who your users are, where in their journey they are and what they are ultimately trying to achieve.

Microcopy is everywhere online, it’s the short sentences that tell a user what actions are required of them, anticipates and addresses their concerns, or provides context.

Some examples of where you would find microcopy would be:

  • An onboarding flow
  • Error and success messages
  • Text field in forms
  • Buttons
  • Captions
  • Alt. text

In my experience the most frustrating and commonly used example of bad microcopy is a button which simple has “click here” as its label. Not only is it non-specific and contextless but it’s entirely useless for screen readers too. It’s not indicating to the user where they will be directed to if they interact with the button, but forces them to read around to figure it out.
It’s also worth remembering that in the context of mobile devices, ‘click here’ isn’t relevant as the action required is a tap not a click.

Thoughtless microcopy is at risk of confusing, annoying and in some cases excluding users. You want to give your users the confidence to proceed with their intended action.


Tips to consider:

Be clear
This point is the most important. If a user doesn’t understand what is happening, the likelihood is, they’ll leave! The best way to make sure this doesn’t happen is to understand your users. The better you understand them, the easier it will become to predict their concerns and shortfalls, and allow you to make the necessary changes to support them in their journey. You can use analytics to track what’s working and what isn’t, and revise the microcopy that might not be quite right.

e.g. House of Frasers payment process – make it easy for the user so they never have to work to provide the information you require!


Be concise
The more words you use to explain one point, the higher the cognitive load on the users. In the book ‘Strategic Writing for UX’ Torrey Podmajersky suggests keeping buttons to a maximum of 3 words. Whilst this isn’t always possible, it’s a good reminder to keep call to actions succinct.

e.g. Using action words instead of generic, ambiguous words makes it clear what the action options are available to the user.


Be conversational
Make sure that (as with all copy) microcopy is in-keeping with your brand's tone of voice, you don’t want it to sound like you’re barking orders at your users. Keep it friendly and light, just a gentle reminder!

e.g. Mailchimps username error, make it fun but keep it informative.


Be transparent
It’s important to make sure that users know why they are being asked to do something. Provide context and giving them this answer before they start questioning it, will give them the confidence to proceed with the action.

e.g. Letting the user know that they will be able to edit or review after they click the ‘continue’ button, alleviates the stress and finality of it.

“Words are sacred. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones, in the right order, you can nudge the world a little” – Tom Stoppard