Microcopy: how tiny words can build big business

Microcopy - how tiny words can build big business

Ask yourself, is your website converting properly? If it’s not, the answer might be the microcopy. 
Let’s get one thing clear straight away, Microcopy isn’t all about the copy.

Sure, excellent writing goes a long way, but microcopy is about creating the smoothest possible route to purchase for your customers. It’s that simple.

When microcopy is done well, it’s not noticed by the user. It’s as smooth as a hot knife through butter. Effortless, enticing and subtly satisfying.

That’s not to say the choice of language isn’t important. It’s extremely important. But before the words can be set, you need to understand what your customer wants and what barriers they face to getting it.

If your website isn’t converting, or your traffic isn’t hanging around, chances are your microcopy isn’t up to scratch. The language being used across your website isn’t drawing on the needs of your prospects.

This means it’s probably time to seek some expert advice. In the meantime, we’d recommend bookmarking this guide and studying it carefully. Here’s what we’ll cover:

What’s in this guide:

What is microcopy?

Microcopy is a branch of the UX (user experience) family tree. They are closely related and firmly go hand in glove.

Microcopy sounds scientific, but really it’s the signposting on your website that helps a customer purchase your product or service. Let’s not get it muddled.

The modern sales funnel is a complex process. The aim of microcopy is to simplify the journey your user takes from their first website visit to handing over their cold hard cash.

So, pretty crucial stuff. To break it down into simple pillars, microcopy is:

  • The language on navigation buttons in-app or on-site
  • The signposting used around your website and on error pages
  • The language on call-to-action buttons
  • The language used in headers, headlines and taglines
  • Any additional short-form copy to explain or inform a website visitor
  • The combination of the above forms the microcopy user experience

Microcopy isn’t:

  • Short-form content on the blog
  • Legal text or disclaimers
  • Teeny, tiny font-size text in the footer of your website

Bad microcopy is harming your business

We’d go as far as to say this: bad microcopy is the single most damaging thing for an online business. Get this wrong, and your organic and paid traffic is going totally to waste.

What’s more, bad microcopy means those first-time site visitors you’re working so hard to get might never return to your brand, product or service ever again.

It sounds dramatic, but it’s true. With so many online offerings out there, customers are in a great position to be picky. If your website isn’t up to speed, which includes having powerful microcopy, prospects will simply go elsewhere.

It’s incredible how many businesses overlook the need to have a watertight microcopy.

Let us explain why it’s such a painful oversight for business owners:

  • Improving your microcopy is one of the most affordable and value-driven changes you can invest in. With a small amount of research and, in some cases, minuscule changes to the language, you can multiply conversion rates. There’s really no excuse to overlook it.
  • As David Ogilvy once said, ‘bad advertising can actually damage your brand’. The same can be said for microscopy.

    If the customer can’t seamlessly pass through your website and the purchase process, they’ll bounce out immediately. 
  • Microcopy should tread the balance between being unnoticeable and gently tugging the user along, closer to the key conversion. If this balance isn’t struck, warm leads (those who’ve researched your product and are ready to buy) will go elsewhere, and colder leads won’t be enticed to engage in your site further.

Ultimately, all of this affects one thing: your bottom line. It impacts top-of-funnel engagement but more painful than that, it impacts sales, which, as we all know, impacts the success of your business.

The stakes couldn’t be higher to get this right.

Why your business should care about microcopy

Caring about microcopy means caring about your customers. Despite the digital revolution, the rules of business haven’t changed.

The customers’ needs are paramount, and what they seek from your product and service should be reflected in the language they find on your website.

  • Do you have a complex product? Provide an explainer copy.
  • Is needing a credit card a barrier for customers signing up for a trial? Tell them it is not needed.
  • Do you have a wide range of products? Provide inspirational cues.

The list goes on. But microcopy should be shunted up your priority list and pronto.

Powerful microcopy boosts sales

Insound, an online gaming company, needed to boost its online sales ahead of a holiday marketing campaign. They spent thousands on designing and coding a beautiful checkout process that was optimized for mobile. The surprise? Sales dropped.

On closer inspection, they unearthed that bad microcopy was the root of the issue. The solution was simple: rewrite the microcopy and test different versions.

Powerful microcopy boosts sales

The original CTA button ‘Continue’ was causing all sorts of confusion for their customers.

This choice of language short-handed an indefinite, long-winded process that forced hundreds of potential customers to leave the website. Not good.

Inbound did the smart thing; they revisited their microcopy. They ran “Review Order, Submit, and Almost Done!” and discovered an uptick in sales of nearly 10%! All from changing two words. Inbound avoided heavy investment in marketing or further discounts.

A simple change to their microcopy led to a more profitable campaign.

Understanding your prospects

Before pen is put to paper or fingers to keyboards, the first step to building effective microcopy is to understand your customers. This might sound arduous, but the best way to do this is to speak with them:

  • Understand why they purchased your product:
  • Why did they purchase it?
  • What were the barriers?
  • How long did it take them from first discovery to final purchase?
  • Who else did they consider before purchasing?
  • What didn’t they enjoy about the sales experience?

The answers to these questions will give you the sentiment that needs to live behind the microscopy.

If the awareness and education of your service are new (i.e. there’s nothing else like it on the market), you might need more microcopy that informs and explains along the way.

If there’s high familiarity, you need to pick prompts and labels that whisk people through and smash down any cause for concern. e.g. ‘we never include hidden charges’.

You’ll only know what the sentiment is when you speak with your existing customer set.

Microcopy and mobile

This almost goes without saying, but microcopy has become even more essential with the rise of mobile sites.

According to Hubspot data, in 2021, there were 7.1 billion mobile browser users contributing to 54.4% of global traffic. That means if you’re overlooking mobile, you’re overlooking potentially half of your customer base.

All microcopy should be considered from a mobile format first and foremost. Chances are, if it works for mobile, it will scale up for desktop.

Here are some specific pointers for mobile microcopy:

  • Step 1: Recognize the moments when your customer has a specific need. Your microcopy must enable them to achieve what their needs demand.
  • Step 2: One need leads to another. Have a chain of microcopy elements placed along your funnel. Short and clear instructions should help make a user’s journey as frictionless as possible.
  • Step 3: Double-check whether you are providing them with an immediate solution. Work on minimizing the number of steps your customer needs to acquire what they want.
  • Step 4: Examine and analyse the user journey from the start of the cycle to the last point of interaction. This is usually where the final microcopy optimization phase occurs.

    The principle is simple: the more you can put yourself in the shoes of the user, the better an experience you can offer.

7 Examples of powerful microcopy

The best way to improve your website microcopy is to steal from the greats. That means looking at the biggest and best eCommerce brands and analyzing how they do it.

These guys have built extremely well-oiled sales funnels that hinge on effortlessly effective microscopy.

Let’s dive into 7 stellar examples.


Spotify Microcopy

This microcopy from Spotify lands brand, product and tone all within a succinct few sentences.

Language with this brevity and punch has built a billion-dollar platform. The kicker is the CTA ‘Get Spotify Free’, short, compelling and irresistible to click.


Flickr Microcopy

This isn’t about impressive language or poetic prose. This is about understanding the user, what frustrates them and what might be a barrier to signing up.

Flickr knows that generating a complex password can be tiresome, so they show you the requirements as you type. Genius.

Bored Panda

Bored Panda Microcopy

This is about expressing brand values in a functional way, which proves it can be done.

If there’s something about your site that you know might have the potential to annoy the visitor (email pop-ups, sales banners, ad blockers), then use microcopy to explain it. Empathize with where the user is at.

Uber Eats

Uber Eats Microcopy

Cast your eye on the search bar in the top right. Uber Eats uses intelligent microcopy to draw on their users’ inherent need: hunger.

It’s only a couple of words, but it’s persuasive, compelling and draws the customer to go deeper into the sales funnel.

We love the use of the word ‘craving’ here. Very relevant for the category.


Tumblr Microcopy

The ‘nevermind’ at the base of Tumblr’s post selector is an excellent use of microcopy. It conveys personality and a nonchalant tone. It also helps to build trust with the user; they don’t feel forced to act.


Starbucks Microcopy

It’s a really fine balance with microcopy. It’s easy for websites to overdo the tone and personality to the point where it negatively impacts the functionality.

With microcopy, functionality should always come first. But, if you can find room to entertain and engage – as Starbucks has done here – then weave it in. It’ll make for a memorable brand experience.


Dribble Microcopy

In an ideal world, your website never throws up a 404 message. In reality, it happens. It usually means a 100% chance of bounce rate.

We love the combination of intelligent UX design and irreverent microcopy here that is bound to keep the user engaged for longer than the typical 404 messages.

Those precious few seconds might be enough for your website to redirect the user back to something more useful. It also translates to your business having a human side; things can go wrong – customers get that if you explain it.

The essential guidelines for powerful microcopy

Looking at these 7 best practices, we can glean key principles for effective microcopy. Those would be:

  • Brevity
  • Transparency
  • Empathy
  • Personality and tone (but not too much)
  • Functionality always comes first
  • Draws on genuine needs, e.g. ‘craving’

The ecosystem: balancing website, UX and microcopy

Never before has the relationship between writers and UX designers been more important.
The design and copy should work together to ensure a user’s journey is as seamless as possible. It’s often a fine balancing act.

The copy has to read well within the design and mustn’t interfere with the aim of the message.

The best way to understand the relationship between microcopy, design, and UX is to look at the 7 case studies we featured – it’s all working in harmony.

Consult an expert on microcopy

The truth is, that business owners are busy, and they can’t be masters of everything.

Microcopy might look small, but there’s a lot of groundwork to be done. Before the copy can be penned, there needs to be a deep understanding of the user’s needs and concerns.

Sometimes this takes a sprint of customer research, which you’ll reap rewards from in the long term.

The best route to success is to contact a marketing expert who’ll take the workload off your plate and deliver microcopy that’s engineered from industry best practices.

Get in touch with us today for a FREE microcopy consultation. 

About John Kramer

My name is John Kramer, and I am a Malaga-based SEO fanatic. Marketing is my passion. With over 15 years of experience in digital, I am constantly energised by the ever-changing landscape of search. A seasoned marketer with a passion for helping small and mid-sized businesses succeed in the digital age. Proud father, husband, and outdoor enthusiast.