The magic in small things

Back in November, I wrote a short blurb on Microcopy. Since then, I’ve had more requests to expand upon that topic than any other, and it seems like a natural segue from the past couple of weeks of friend-making/marketing. If content represents the grand gestures of our human relationships, microcopy is the little moments that make our lives richer. Sound like I’m going woowoo? Let’s break it down.

Microcopy is all of the words, phrases and short sentences that help guide your customers as they interact with your website. These may explain features, clarify possible confusion, or provide prompts for action. It is an opportunity to add personality and tone to your site, and in doing so, help your user feel comfortable and confident in their choice to engage with you. Simply put, microcopy builds trust. Its importance cannot be overemphasized. Here is the motherlode of examples.

Alas, microcopy often is overlooked during site development. If you’ve DIY’d it, you’re probably tired of looking at the template, ready to get something launched, OR, because so many integrations have prewritten microcopy, you just don’t see that something can be customized. If you’ve paid for it, your devs might have overlooked it. The good news is, it’s fixable. You may well be able to make these upgrades yourself, but even if you have to call in your webmaster, these shouldn’t be costly requests.

When in doubt, create delight.

More of me harping on human behaviour, but let’s face it, a lot of people are struggling with happiness these days. The best work we can do as marketers is to engender joy and delight for our customers; sometimes we do this with overt expressions of personality, and sometimes, we merely make someone’s life easier by removing mental stumbling blocks (psych jargon: reduce cognitive load). As we go through the list below, think about ways that you can either alleviate worries, add personality, show gratitude, or simplify your customer’s journey.

Here we go:

Account creation pages. Here is a place where honesty and clarity go a long way. If you have restrictions that would prevent someone from enjoying your product, puh-lease tell them BEFORE they make an account, because it’s super frustrating to hand over our details only to discover we can get nothing in return. Age and shipping are the two biggies in the wine industry. A good starting point for your account page is a clear list of benefits (why would someone give your their info) and a clear list of restrictions (so they don’t waste their time). I’d also recommend a contact link for anyone who has questions before signing up.

Buttons. Imagine your reader skipped all the copy around that button, could your button alone tell them what they are committing to? Instead of “submit” (submit to what?), why not “start learning,” “discover something new,” or “stop procrastinating.” Your button should begin with an action verb, such as build, grow, learn, discover, explore, stop, start, or find. Whenever possible use first person possessives, such as “start MY learning, instead of “start YOUR learning.”

Forms for checkout, club memberships, bookings, contact. Not everyone is a digital native. And some people are freaky about security. Explain why we need personal information (especially DOB).

tooltip copy
simple form copy

and mustn’t forget this one!

checkout copy

Newsletter Sign-Ups. Ditch the “subscribe.” Here’s a list of 37 alternatives, any one of which would be an improvement.

Search Bars. Instead of boring placeholder text or, gasp, no text, how about:”Jump to favorites” or “what are you shopping for today.”

Thank you & Confirmation messages. This is the copy that presents after someone has submitted a form on your site, and in this case, I’m referring to a submission or contact form, not a checkout form. These are one of the easiest changes you can make! Head into the settings for whatever form builder you are using, and search for something called Confirmation Message. You should easily be able to update that to anything you want. I recommend mentioning your normal response window and providing your email address where they can contact you directly (they’re never gonna write that down, but it makes them feel better).

While this is by no means an exhaustive list of edits you might make, it’s a good start. Next week, we can talk about best practices for microcopy, and some bad google-fu that we can’t put off much longer.

Portrait of Polly Hammond

Polly Hammond

Polly Hammond is the Founder and CEO of 5forests, which means every buck stops with her. As the public face of 5forests, she splits her time between Barcelona, Auckland, and California, consulting, writing, and speaking about the trends that impact today’s lifestyle businesses.