I didn’t know there was a name for the type of web content I’ve been writing. It isn’t pages of content, it’s the little bits of text in the user interface (UI) of a website. I did some searching around to see if I could find a word that defined it, and finally came across the word “microcopy,” or writing for the web. That was exactly it.
Microcopy is the language of user interfaces. It is the small amounts of copy that helps users understand the features of a website. In a very limited space, microcopy describes with precision what each screen element is for and what each action means. When microcopy does its job, it is instructional, reassuring, and most of all, human.
Currently, I’m writing the microcopy for an investment crowdfunding website. I just finished one kind of micrcopy: the mouseover text for buttons, radio buttons, checkboxes, and field names in forms. The space for writing it was confined to at most a sentence or two, a phrase, a few words, or sometimes just a single word. I tried to make it friendly, instructive, and easy-to-understand, including enough detail so users would know exactly what to do, but not so much detail that the information was difficult to process.
Since UI text and design work together to produce good microcopy, I tried to figure out where and how the text would do the most good. On a button, above a button, under a group of options. I wanted a user’s experience with the site to be a positive one.
One specific example of the microcopy was the words on the sign up button. Rather than just saying “Sign Up,” the button name says “Sign Up for Free.” By adding two more words, users might be more likely to join the site. In addition, the sentence above the button says “You can unsubscribe at any time.” This should be both informative and reassuring.
Depending on the site’s brand, microcopy should also have some personality. For example, on this site, if you forget to enter text in one of the fields of a form, it reminds you with a friendly “Oops! It looks like you forgot to enter your first name.” This is better than “Invalid field,” even though it’s a few more words.
So, now I have a name for what I’ve been doing. I can tell people with some conviction, “I’m writing the microcopy for a website.” Even if they don’t understand what I mean, it’s a good start.