Now You’re Speaking My Language

Microcopy and the small ways you’re irritating your users

The first time I tried to pay my NYC gas bill online, I saw this:

One of the links is actually longer than the description

Notice how they “helpfully” added microcopy beneath the links to explain their purpose.

Here’s the thing, if someone’s on your website or app, they want something — be it information or entertainment. The harder you make it for users to get the thing they want, the more likely they will give up or push through the interaction and vow to avoid your product in the future. That’s why microcopy is such an integral part of the user experience.

At our best, we design products that give people what they’re looking for and stay out of their way in the meantime. Poor microcopy will undo whatever brilliant designs and UX considerations you’ve created and impede the user’s workflow.

Clear Calls to Action

Ideally, CTA microcopy will act as a signpost or clue for what to expect next. Done wrong, it will make a user unsure of what to expect next. The generic “Click Here” button is a perfect example of this. It is the creepy windowless van of the microcopy world.

WHERE. ARE. YOU. TAKING. ME?

Sometimes content creators wrongly conflate getting someone to click a link with the actual goal the user is seeking to complete. Think of microcopy CTA’s in terms of the end goal of an interaction. Do you want the user to “Click Here” or do you want them to “Subscribe”? “Click here” is a particularly poor choice of microcopy because the other words around it can get lost. The user will either ignore them or be forced to use context clues to guess where the link is taking them — wasting their valuable time. “Click here to subscribe” is better. “Subscribe” would be best; it cuts all the fat.

Consistency is Key

In the same way that design patterns on a page need to be consistent and familiar to users, so it goes with the words on the page. If you’re grouping your main navigation bar by audience (like a clothing website, for example), keep your sub navigations in that same vein.

Consistency with universal design practices is also key. That means using words users are familiar with. You may think you’re being fun and innovative by using “Cough It Up” in lieu of “Buy” or “Purchase”, but you’re really just irritating your users. Stick to familiar patterns — particularly when it comes to the purchasing or subscribing process.

The above is not an actual thing on the internet. Hopefully.

Microcopy is an Element of Design

Microcopy is a crucial aspect of user experience, so incorporate it in any pattern library or style guides you have. And when you’re doing your content audits, pay attention to the microcopy language you’re using. Notice if your microcopy is consistent throughout your site. If you want to be really thorough, incorporate microcopy in your A/B testing processes. Make those changes, and you’ll be more effective at providing a pleasant user experience.