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The Big UX Impact You Can Make With Just a Few Words

| June 30, 2015
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When we think about designing a great user experience, it’s easy to get caught up with all the things. The fonts, the colors, the overall design, the content. Everything. But there’s another component to UX that can instantly delight—or disappoint—your users that you might be overlooking. It’s small, and if you blink you might miss it, but when done right you’ll remind your users there’s a human behind all that code and design.

I’m talking about microcopy. It’s the text you include on things like forms, buttons, footers, and even 404 pages. It can offer guidance if your users run into errors, or help reassure them before deciding to commit to something. At a glance, these tiny clusters of words seem insignificant when compared to the overall site design, content, and navigational flow. But surprisingly, those few little words can derail a sale or frustrate a user if not done right.

For example, have you ever started to fill out a form, only to abandon it because you couldn’t imagine why all the requested information was needed? What if the form provided a quick explanation to reassure you your information was safe, and necessary to provide you with the best service? Baynard Institute conducted a study to observe users during the checkout process for ecommerce sites. They found that users were highly suspicious when asked to provide seemingly unnecessary information, like a phone number. But when a quick explanation was provided, users were much more forgiving and likely to complete the form or purchase.

For many companies, microcopy is an afterthought and often overlooked as an opportunity to connect with your users. But that copy, when done right, can make a huge impact on your users, and even your conversions. It’s an opportunity to connect with your users, show your personality and voice as an organization, and hopefully make your users feel at home.

But just because microcopy is small, doesn’t mean it’s easy to implement. Like everything in UX, there are multiple factors that play a part in designing and writing great microcopy. We’re going to talk about how to identify areas where microcopy can be improved, and how to do it.

How to identify microcopy opportunities

If you haven’t paid much attention to microcopy yet, it probably sounds like a big job to get started. After all, there are probably hundreds, maybe even thousands, of places on your site or app where microcopy already exists. So how do you start?

Conversion rates

The easiest place to start is with what you already know isn’t working. If you have a form or landing page with less than stellar conversions, take a look at the microcopy. You can easily run A/B tests to compare your current microcopy against a new and improved version.

Errors

Another opportunity for improving microcopy comes from user errors. If you find a high percentage of users encounter errors (think login or registration pages and checkout forms), take a look at where those errors are coming from. If a big chunk of users input their email instead of a username to log in, your microcopy might be the culprit.

Usability testing

Since everything we do in UX is for our users, start there. Usability testing is a great way to get into the heads of your users. Pay close attention not only to their actions and comments, but their tone and inflection, too. Sometimes it’s not the action that matters, but how your user felt doing it. If you hear a user sigh, and say “Ug. I have to give my email address again?” that form or field is a great opportunity for some fresh micro copy. (Or some updates to your forms.)

How to use microcopy

Speak your users’ language

Also pay attention to the words users use when interacting with your site or app. If your users consistently refer to your “Purchase Now” button as “Checkout” try updating that copy. When you speak the same language as your users, you not only make everything easier for them, you also build trust by showing them you know who they are.

Focus on context

Your content is important, but it’s not going to be effective if you’re not using it in the right context. Adding a simple note to use the billing address associated with your credit card on a checkout form, as Josh Porter did, can eliminate errors by users and immediately improve conversions.

Microcopy should follow your users’ contextual flow, and match the tone based on the situation. For example, if a user inputs an invalid email address, there’s no need to get serious. We all do this. But tell the user what went wrong, and how to fix it. You want your users to achieve what they set out to do, and your microcopy can play an important part in making that happen.

Have fun

The best part about microcopy is it’s your company’s opportunity to really show your personality. The MailChimp example above is a great example of good contextual and brand microcopy. The error message is lighthearted and fun, and in line with MailChimp’s brand.

Screen Shot 2015-06-30 at 9.41.55 AM

The 404 page is a great place to have fun with microcopy. Take a look at this example. It’s in line with the respective brand and has a bit of fun with users at the same time. It made me smile because it reminds me a lot of Marvin from one of my favorite books, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. (Click on the image to give it a whirl.)

ACM

Forms are also a surprising way to weave in your company’s personality. Take Trello’s sign in form. The microcopy not only guides the user on what to enter where, it offers a clever reference that Star Wars fans will appreciate.

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Microcopy and conversions

But microcopy isn’t just great for user experience; it can impact conversions, too. Just take ticketing giant, StubHub’s orange button as an example. Customers were dropping off before completing a purchase. User testing revealed the microcopy on a link during the checkout process confused customers. The link, labeled “See Details,” was intended to give customers a chance to view their order details. But instead, it made many feel like they were being led to a terms of service, or something else they just didn’t want to read.

To resolve the issue, the design team made one simple change with its microcopy. They removed the link and added a button with the microcopy, “Go.” This clearly told customers what to do next and kept them in the flow of the purchase.

The fix resulted in a 2.6% jump in conversions and millions of dollars in revenue.

Conclusion

Microcopy will be a part of nearly every site or app. Making it good microcopy is up to you. Include considerations for microcopy in your UX design process, and evaluate how users feel when they encounter it. Good microcopy should guide your users, help them when something goes wrong, and delight and surprise them with your personality. It only takes a few words to win over—or lose—your users, so choose them wisely.