Bootstrapped startups and the shit I learn in therapy

So, what is microcopy? 🤔

Microcopy refers to individual words or short phrases in your app or on your website. Think instructions, error messages, alerts and badges, even button labels!

Okay, cool. Why does it exist? 💬

Microcopy is a bit like salt. If you use it well, it seasons good design and user experience. If you use it poorly, it leaves a bad taste in the customer’s mouth. 😝


For example, Baymard Institute looked at the checkout processes for the 100 largest ecommerce sites. Many retailers did not add context to their checkout questions. When test subjects got confused, they chose one of four courses of action:

  • Guessing
  • Visiting help
  • Calling customer support
  • Abandoning purchase

That’s a lot of lost conversion! 💸

Bad microcopy—or no microcopy—leads to this. 😔

In contrast, good microcopy boosts conversionsincreases click rate, and earns you a lot more money. 💰

How to go micro 🔬

Make it clear. Then make it short. 🔍

Shorter is easier to understand. It’s also less stressful to read.



But short for the sake of short is just silly. Be clear and helpful. Then edit for brevity. Sometimes longer is okay, if it takes a few more words to get your customer tracking with you.

Don’t use: Lengthy sentences, complex sentence structure, or passive voice. These three work against clarity and brevity. Also avoid small text and hard-to-read colors. Part of being clear is being clearly visible. 😉

Be specific. 🎯

Choose your statements carefully. With microcopy, you don’t have a lot of words, so each word needs to be precise. Save is not submit is not update. So, which one do you mean?

Be specific in your overall message as well. What, exactly, are your password parameters? How do customers fix an error? To drive specific actions, give specific instructions.


Mailchimp nails precise password instructions. 💯

Don’t use: Industry jargon or tech terms. They may be specific to you, but they’re meaningless to your audience.

Reduce anxiety. There’s enough of that already. 😓

Giving up information (signups) and making purchases (checkouts) induce anxiety. Customers fear spam, data breaches, and telemarketers*. Little messages that clarify, reassure, and affirm these anxiety-ridden actions make a big impact.

As Nicole Fenton says, "turn your chair,” and focus on the other person.

What part of your log in, registration, or checkout is worrisome for customers? What reassurance would lessen their anxiety? Use microcopy to speak directly to their concerns and positively impact conversion. 💫



Don’t Use: Promises you can’t keep. If you aim to spam them into oblivion, don’t promise zero spam.

Also, don’t say things like “we promise we won’t spam you.” It’s played out, and may actually cause more anxiety. “I assumed you wouldn’t spam me! If you’re saying that, does that mean you’ve gotten complaints?”

*Remember when telemarketers didn’t call your cell? #goodolddays. 👴

Add personality. The kind people like. 😸

The kind of personality you add depends on your brand. Whether you add it depends on the type of microcopy you’re writing.

Some brands are snarky; others are polite. Make sure your tiny messages match whichever personality you want to convey. Second guess anything you wouldn’t say in real interactions with your customers.

Where your copy is determines what level of humor or personality is acceptable. Smashing magazine provides these general guidelines:

✖ Avoid branded copy in elements that prompt action:

  • Navigation
  • Forms and field labels
  • Instructional text
  • Selection text (drop-downs, radio buttons)
  • Buttons

✔ Consider branded copy in elements that describe results:

  • Confirmation messaging
  • Rewards (badges, points)
  • 404 pages
  • Server errors
  • Error messaging*

⚠ *Be especially careful about that last one. The more severe the error is, the more careful you should be about your tone. It’s okay to add humor to small errors. But “Oops, we lost it all!” is not appropriate when your app deletes everything. 🙈

Don’t Use: Phrases that blame, guilt, or talk down to customers.

How to get started with microcopy 🔮

Microcopy isn’t easy because it’s short. In fact, the opposite is true; it’s hard because you have so few words!

We get that, so we made a spreadsheet (inspired by Smashing Magazine) you can use to identify where you need microcopy, what you might say, and why. Seeing everything in one place will help you choose precise words, use a consistent voice, and craft helpful messages.

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