Why microcopy matters

Noted by Matt on 08.01.10

Web writing

When you’re writing for the web, small details make a big difference. Your microcopy should guide people through processes like registering and its tone should help them to trust your brand.

Screenshot from billing page on basecamphq.com
Basecamp uses microcopy to reassure people they can cancel or downgrade

Typically, web writing advice concentrates on longer copy. But (as with so much in life) size isn’t everything when it comes to web writing. You should pay as much attention to the snippets of copy that help people complete online forms or that explain an action succinctly as you would to your ‘about us’ page. Why? Because microcopy matters.

Microcopy guides people

As web designer Joshua Porter points out, well-written microcopy can make things happen a lot more smoothly on your site. Prompt people to enter the same address their credit card is registered to and there’ll be fewer errors. Tell them that registering lets them track their parcels and they’ll be more likely to sign up for an account.

Microcopy makes a well-designed website even more effective. And it does this mainly by reassuring and guiding people. Porter suggests letting people know what they’re getting in to by asking them to sign up to ‘this low-volume newsletter’. He suggests microcopy phrases like ‘you can unsubscribe at any time’ make people more likely to go for it because they know what’s involved.

This is good advice, and something the Basecamp sign-up page shown above does well. The microcopy helps people get over any final reservations about signing up by reassuring them that they can cancel or downgrade at any time. But microcopy can do more than this.

Microcopy reflects your brand

Microcopy should be stylish as well as functional. By paying attention to the tone of even your smallest snippets of copy, you can make sure your site is a credit to your brand. Take this simple sign-up from Moo:

Screenshot of sign-in page from moo.com

The microcopy on the right in yellow explains simply what to do if you don’t want to change your password. The other piece of microcopy (under the subscribe field) reassures people by letting them know how often they’ll get a newsletter. But, crucially, it does so in the Moo’s playful tone of voice: ‘once a month(ish)’.

Why does this matter? Microcopy that reflects your brand’s tone of voice shows people that you care about the details, that your approach to business runs through everything you do. Combine this with functional writing that guides people through a checkout or registration and you’ve got the ultimate microcopy: a killer combination of substance and style. So go on, knock ‘em dead with that microcopy.

Also in our blog: why dogs need microcopy.