Great user experience content and microcopy helps users interact with your product, solve problems and achieve various goals — and can lead to customer loyalty as a result.
Microcopy is any messaging in a user interface (e.g. labels, instructions, error messages) that relates to the actions users take. Microcopy instructs, but also motivates action and provides feedback after it’s taken.
This article contains practical tips for creating different microcopy messages in the hopes it will help you write microcopy content that works, converts and delights.
UX Writing and Microcopy Tips For Forms and Labels
If you want your user to fill out a form, start with some fundamental questions, such as Which fields are mandatory? Are there any values the system won’t accept?
If your form requires file uploads, make sure the microcopy informs users how many files and what type or size of file be can uploaded. Otherwise, users may attempt to upload something the system won’t accept, resulting in a frustrating user experience.
Remember to prompt formats for dates or addresses. Specify the field with an example and break it into several subfields. For instance, adding DD/MM/YYYY in the date field educates the user on the format you require.
When writing labels, use simple language and make the labels near-invisible. However, use placeholder text with high contrast so it’s easy to read. If the text is so faint that it’s difficult to read, you probably don’t need it at all.
Try to be there for your users at all times. All the instructions, hints and notes regarding filling in a form or taking any other action should always be available. They should be permanently visible or in a tooltip which the user can return to and read.
Finally, try to preemptively address all user concerns. For example, Modcloth has an effective method of combatting shopping cart abandonment, explaining why it wants personal information — like a phone number — in its checkout with a note: "In case we need to call you about your order."
Editor's Note: Read the first part of this article — Best UX: Tips for Writing Microcopy that Converts
UX Writing and Microcopy Tips For Error Messages
Errors can be a very sensitive and, at times, emotional topic. Use language in error messages that's easy to understand and apply a friendly, non-technical and non-threatening tone of voice. Avoid using negative words, e.g. Form submission failed! No data entered!
Error is a negative concept in itself so there's no need to amplify it by describing it in too negative a way. This can make users believe they’ve done something terribly wrong. The distress such situations can cause can also trigger negative emotions, which may ultimately affect users’ perception of your brand.
When an error comes up, remember three basic things. First, take the time to explain. Second, show empathy. Third, be helpful.
Good error messages don’t blame users and include enough information on how to solve the problem. They educate the user if needed. They tell them what happened, what’s wrong and how to fix it, e.g. The credit card number entered appears to be too short.
When errors do happen, try to preserve as much of the user’s work as possible. It’s much better for users to be able to edit their original action rather than do everything all over again. You can reduce the work of correcting the error by trying to guess the correct action and enabling users to pick it from a short list of fixes.
Related Article: Emotion + Analytics = Speaking Your Customer's Language
UX Writing and Microcopy Tips For Empty States
Empty states denote the placeholder for page elements that contain no data or have not yet been loaded with data, e.g. an empty basket. Empty states are good opportunities to keep your users engaged with your brand. They’re also great to encourage users to take any action you’d like them to take.
In the case of an empty basket, you can show current sales, the most popular products or social proof, like how many customers have already bought something lovely today.
In the case of empty states, ask the right questions, e.g. What does the report show when there’s zero revenue? How can we help users find what they’re looking for in the case of no search results?
If there’s no data to display, try to populate it with data. This can be sample data, suggestions, tips or instructions of what actions to take next.
The bottom line: use the empty space to drive conversions and improve overall user experience.
Related Article: What Is Conversational User Experience?
UX Writing and Microcopy Tips For Branding
Interfaces are great spaces for incorporating your brand’s voice. But beware: don't try to inject your brand everywhere or always. Above all, avoid over-branding copy whenever the user is trying to take an action, e.g. in forms and field labels, instructional text and selection text, such as drop-downs.
However, it’s great to enhance your branding moments in the content that results from actions. Thus, consider incorporating your brand’s voice in confirmation messaging, 404 pages, error messaging and rewards (badges, points). In such cases embrace the user’s success or try to mitigate a failure.
When incorporating branding, make sure you understand the product you’re selling. Every product has a unique personality and this should be reflected in your content. Again, what helps is asking the right questions. Think about how you’d describe your product: what’s unique about it, what benefit it provides, what pain it alleviates and so on.
Related Article: How Cultural Differences Impact Customer Experience
Test Your UX Content
Finally, test your copy. You may assume that changing one phrase or word to another will increase clicks by X%, especially if it worked for another company. But reality may surprise you. What has worked for one company or product or audience may not necessarily succeed in every context.
Luckily, you don’t have to guess. Come up with a couple of variants and see what makes your users tick and, more importantly, click.
Testing is especially important once you go global. You’ll speak to users who come from different countries and various backgrounds. Among other things you’ll have to deal with different languages, cultural setups and customer behavior.
That’s why, in the case of global audiences, microcopy tends to get toned down. Experiment and test to see how people respond. Draw conclusions and adjust the content in your interface.
UX Writing and Microcopy in a Nutshell
Microcopy directs users’ actions and provides clear instructions and feedback. But sometimes your users simply need good words that will soothe them. Microcopy messages provide space for that: they can help you build extraordinary relationships with your customers, for both good and bad times.
UX writing and microcopy should enhance the user experience and improve your brand’s image. If you write microcopy that guides, advises and comforts, it will add to your company’s image. And the opposite also holds true: useless, poor or confusing copy is unlikely to position you as a reliable company.
With a practical approach and a little bit of human touch you should be able to create microcopy that will serve people and your brand well.
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