Getting down to details: the major impact of microcopy.

Steve Jenkinson, Wyatt International’s Creative Strategist & Copywriter has peered into the gap between copywriting and UX to uncover the truth about microcopy. If B2B brands want to connect with customers, this is a gap you really should mind…

 

Clever copy and content can work wonders. An intriguing turn of phrase, a compelling clause, or an alluringly alliterative allusion – they can all have a critical role in driving your audience to act. But, more often than you might think, it’s what you don’t see that makes the biggest difference. So, let’s take out our magnifying glasses and delve into the oft-ignored craft of microcopy…

What’s the big idea?

First things first: what do we mean by microcopy? It’s the everyday snippets of text and tags that, as some might see it, ‘round out’ digital copy. It could be anything, ranging from click-through calls to action (such as the undemanding ‘Click to learn more’, or the infinitely preferable ‘Get your free puppies here’), to search prompts, meta descriptions, image tags, and so on.

Microcopy occupies that liminal space between copywriting and UX – once-distinct disciplines that are increasingly overlapping in the post-digital world. Which is why any writer worth their salt will tell you it’s no longer just about ‘the big idea’, or the angle; it’s about how you carry it through to drive direct response.

 

We’ve come a long way.

Remember those days of yore, when SEO copywriting was about how many keywords you could stuff into a chunk of online copy? Simpler times – but not necessarily better. Today, the sheer ubiquity of apps, and the seamless integration of physical and digital (not to mention ‘offline’ and ‘online’ copywriting principles…), make microcopy the vital link between your brand and your customer.

It’s how Google’s tame spiders index you; it’s how your audience finds you; it’s how they turn your monologue into a dialogue by driving clicks, taps and comments. That’s why it’s more than just essential for digital optimisation – it’s there as an interaction point. And, when it’s cleverly executed, it enhances that customer relationship by being actively useful in guiding, directing and nurturing the user journey.

 

Minimising confusion.

Let’s face it, we’re all rather lazy – why would we want the faff of working things out for ourselves, when your UX can do the heavy lifting for us? It’s here that microcopy works its tiny magic. For example, take a simple instruction on a registration or contact form: ‘Passwords need to match’. It’s something we take for granted; the eye glances past it and we’ve already moved on. But it’s four words that add to a more streamlined, linear experience, and that crucially cut out confusion.

Of course, tone can also come into play here. Microcopy and tone are far from mutually exclusive: sure, the former helps leverage the latter, depending on how much you want or need it to. But, if microcopy is designed to minimise confusion, in itself it should be straightforward, free of tautology and very much solution-focused. i.e. Keep your tonal experiments firmly in the laboratory of your concept or main copy; keep your microcopy laser-focused on your audience’s experience.

While we’re on the subject of cutting out confusion, allow us to politely point you to another recent post of ours, on E-E-A-T – a piece that, fittingly, explores the accelerating convergence of algorithm, creativity and purpose online. Key to our argument here is that, in a similar way to how all the best copy is written, before we commit anything to (digital) paper, we need to think. That holds just as true for microcopy: what’s our audience looking for? What do they want to know, or do? And what’s the easiest pathway to enabling them to do it? Minimal confusion. Maximum effect.

 

Craft remains critical.

It’s a common copywriter comment that the fewer words you have to play with, the greater the focus on craft. This is central when we’re talking about microcopy – not just in distilling the essence of your sprawling corporate website into a handy meta description, but in driving action through the CTAs and link copy you use.

Find out more. Click here. Get in touch. They all have a place, but…we can do better. Without risking tonal overload and turning your subtle CTA into a knowingly twee in-joke, crafting microcopy means (again) thinking about what your customer wants, what you want them to do, and how we can marry those up. In a similar way to the old writers’ adage that every line you write needs to entice the reader to read the next one, your microcopy needs to do even more. So, it very much remains a challenge of copywriting craft – and copywriters are always up for a wordy challenge.

Microcopy can also guide creativity or be integral to the big idea itself. Think of Airbnb’s search prompts, suggesting a location if you’re feeling uninspired; or a H1 tag that stands out, such as Firebox’s ‘Shop For The Unusual’. It’s all useful and to the point, yes, but it’s also playful enough to pique curiosity while demanding enough to be a standout CTA.

 

Test and improve.

Like all digital content, the beauty of crafting microcopy is that we can test, test, test, and improve. Whether that’s as simple as AB testing the CTAs on your social ads to monitor how receptive and responsive your audience is to nuances in language or tone, or undertaking a full UX audit of your site as a first-time visitor, or getting under the hood with detailed keyword analysis.

Microcopy is part of your audience’s journey, and so should be your approach to it: think, craft, test, improve. Because, while clever copy and content can work wonders, they’re the building blocks to the house that is your brand – and microcopy is the mortar: bringing it all together.

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