What is microcopy?
Microcopy are those texts on the user interface that are directly related to the user's actions. These texts usually consist of short sentences, sentence fragments or even single words. They are, for example, confirmation and error messages, pop-up windows, call-to-actions (CTA) or placeholders in input fields.
Microcopy motivates users to act, accompanies them during the action and provides feedback when they have successfully completed an action. It is these little tidbits of text that sweeten the user experience when interacting with websites, apps or software products.
What is the difference between UX Copy and Microcopy?
In general, UX Design tends to talk about "UX Copy". The difference between UX Copy and Microcopy is simply the scope: UX Copy is the overarching discipline and also includes texts that go beyond "small text material". UX (copy) writing includes all text types that are part of the digital experience. This also includes, for example, product texts or chatbots.
This means that not every UX copy is automatically microcopy, but every microcopy is UX copy - even if these two terms are often used as synonyms in practice.
By the way, I have never come across a definition of how long or short a microcopy may be in order to pass as such. But the following examples are definitely "micro" enough in my opinion.
Features of Microcopy - a selection
Microcopy is not always and everywhere a good idea, but only if it fulfills a feature. The range of features of Microcopy is very wide. These four I consider to be especially important:
1 – Provide assistance.
When using a digital product, there may be friction caused by misunderstandings, concerns or mistakes. Microcopy helps eliminate friction so users can complete a task with minimal (thinking) effort and get to their goal faster.
A common use for the Microcopy feature as a help feature is, for example, placeholders in input fields. This way you let your users know immediately what they can type into the field.
Slack: If you want to add someone to a Slack channel, you know immediately from the placeholder: it goes the name or email address.
Additional explanations are also a good example of Microcopy as an aid. Especially when it comes to entering numbers in a form, additional information can save your users time and effort and prevent them from making mistakes. The information where to find a customer number, tax number or other ID or what format it has often makes it easier for your users.
2 – Motivate to action
Users decide in just a few seconds whether a website, app, or specific link is relevant to them. So there's little time to persuade. Microcopy motivates users to act by communicating the value of the action clearly and simply.
Tripadvisor: Clicking on the heart on Tripadvisor saves the travel idea for later - a clear added value.
3 – Alleviate worries and concerns
The skepticism of some users is entirely justified. If you're on the Internet, you have to be on your guard, because you can quickly be offered something you didn't want in the first place. What is free today ends up in an expensive subscription later on, when you download a widget, other services are included involuntarily, and your e-mail inbox is flooded with spam. Why should your users trust you anyway? Certainly, there are reasons for it and it is necessary to emphasize them. Microcopy is a wonderful helper here.
Google: Anyone who creates a new account at Gmail is told exactly why they need to provide this data, how it will be used, and that it is safe and secure.
4 – Show humor
Humor can break the ice, improve the atmosphere, and make people feel better about themselves. As a result, your app's users are more likely to act on suggestions and take action. Thus, a little joke can be a real conversion booster! One feature of Microcopy is just to entertain, delight and sweeten an action for users with the charm of the brand personality.
Be careful not to use too intellectual humor or complex puns. Make users feel good - not stupid because they might not have understood the joke. Also, don't try to be funny, but use humor wisely.
Conclusion: It's all about trust
Even though these little texts called Microcopy don't take up much space, together they are a driving force for any user experience. The main role of Microcopy is to show users the way so they can get to their destination quickly and without hurdles. Besides, Microcopy has the features to motivate users to take action, ease their concerns or bring a smile on their face with some charm.
The ultimate goal of Microcopy is to make your users understand your product, feel good about it, and ultimately trust your brand. Once the trust is there, your users will immediately find it much easier to subscribe to your newsletter, order something from your online store or participate in a survey.
To create this trust, several factors are important, of course. The right words in the right place are certainly one of them!