UX writing & microcopy

Part One: the bridge between man and machine

Christa Schwandtner | © punkt & komma
Christa Schwandtner
Content management & editor

When we communicate with each other or look for information, we usually do so using words. People prefer to get the information they need via written or spoken words. If this need isn’t sufficiently met, they react with an outburst of emotion. We’ve all experienced it ourselves: If a website doesn’t answer the question we have or the checkout process doesn’t work as expected, we get frustrated.

Knowing this, we can optimise the usability of our websites. How? The best way is via UX writing & microcopy. We want to dedicate two articles to this extensive topic. In this first part, we will talk about what microcopy is and what it can do.

The birth of microcopy

Usability expert Joshua Porter coined the term UX writing & microcopy when he published the blog article “Writing Microcopy” in 2009. In this article, he reports that five to ten per cent of online transactions on his website failed to be completed. Potential customers terminated the purchasing process during checkout every time. Porter solved this problem with a single sentence telling website visitors to be sure to enter the billing address associated with their credit card. Minimal effort – maximum impact. Microcopy was born. 

What are UX writing & microcopy?

With UX writing & microcopy, we want to ensure a positive user experience. Friendly and, above all, concise copy motivates people to follow prompts (call-to-actions) or provide the correct information. Microcopy is crucial across the board in online marketing: web copy, newsletters, social media or online shops.

Ideally, microcopy accompanies the entire interaction from start to finish:

  1. Microcopy can spur motivation before the desired action, e.g. appealing headlines and slogans
  2. Tips and information are useful during the desired interaction, e.g. hints and explanations in order forms, a CTA at the end of a post or blog article
  3. If the desired interaction has been carried out, microcopy provides immediate positive feedback: e.g. a thank you message after completion of the form.
It’s not what you say but how you say it.

Tone of voice

Microcopy is characterised by short and concise sentences that address the reader in a friendly and direct way. Let’s imagine UX writing & microcopy as a narrow bridge between man and machine: What “wood” does it need to be made of to be able to gain the trust of my target group? Do I reach them better with humour or professional wording? Does the language fit the brand image of the company?

These questions should be answered as soon as the branding process begins. But at the latest when new products are launched. Brand, product, design and language must be congruent with each other to strengthen the customers’ trust in the product.

The 4 principles of motivation

Writing microcopy that actually achieves its goal can be nerve-wracking. We need to know the motivation of our target group and get them to take an action with just a few words. To simplify this process, author Kinneret Yifrah has listed four principles in her book “UX Writing & Microcopy”. We’ve summarised them for you: 

Principle #1

The added value counts, not the method

If you want users to make a purchase or sign up, show them the benefits. Avoid long descriptions of what they have to do. Simple, clear wording helps website visitors to understand what they need to do and answers their questions immediately.

  • Don’t: Get 10 % off your next purchase when you complete a registration!
  • Do: Register and get 10 % off your next purchase!
Principle #2

Inspire your audience!

Humour can help people feel better about themselves and build a personal connection with the other person – even if that other person is the web interface of your online shop. Remember: Humour needs to fit your brand and not discriminate against people. If you use complicated puns, you run the risk of users finding it difficult to follow your insinuations. Less is more in this case.

Impress your users with likeable humour that fits your company’s style!

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  • Do: Our website uses cookies (omnomnom cookies). Ok, they’re digital only, but they help us improve your experience on our website: Find out more here.
Principle #3

An invitation on your website

Aggressive prompts only lead to short-term success and can scare off many potential users. To build a long-term relationship with your users, invite them to do something! Think about how you would invite friends to dinner. With an aggressive invitation or a friendly, respectful offer? Now formulate the call-to-action in your content the same way.

  • Don’t: Click here or you’ll miss the most important life hacks for content marketers!
  • Do: Looking for the latest life hacks for content marketers? Find them here!
Principle #4

Social proof: Make them part of the imaginary group!

Humans are social creatures. We trust the feedback and recommendations of our fellow human beings. We visit new restaurants after they have been recommended to us by friends or online reviews have convinced us. So go ahead and publish success figures, write case studies about projects or give customers the opportunity to write reviews! Influencers can also support you in this. That’s how you can gain the trust of new users and reinforce your customers’ decision to buy.

What happens next?

We now know the basics of microcopy and what you can achieve with UX writing & microcopy. In the second part of our series, we will share more practical examples and concrete CTAs. If you want to stay in the loop, subscribe to our newsletter and learn more about UX writing & microcopy!

Need assistance with your microcopy? (Remember principle #3?) Send us an e-mail! Our experts will be happy to help.

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