Words at work

– 7 min read

6 ways to avoid bland microcopy (with examples)

Kristin Hillery

Kristin Hillery

Ask any chef why restaurant food tastes better, and they’ll probably say it’s because home cooks don’t use enough salt.

Salt enhances sweet and savory, reduces bitterness, and magnifies natural aromas. Experts use it gradually throughout the cooking process, not just at the very end. Without salt, food just doesn’t taste good — it’s edible but far from enjoyable. 

If we think of digital products as dinner, then microcopy — the small bits of text that inform and guide users — is that much-needed seasoning. A product can have the greatest design in the world, but without good microcopy, the user experience (UX) probably won’t be enjoyable. In fact, it might be confusing or frustrating. 

Words matter, and microcopy can’t be overlooked just because it’s tiny. So to help show what effective, on-brand microcopy looks like and how it can make a difference, we’ve gathered some of our favorite examples from Slack, Wix, Webflow, and more.

1. A seamless sign-up process

The sign-up process should be smooth and seamless — so easy that you don’t even need to think. It’s also an opportunity to motivate new users and get them excited about using the product.

GitBook’s sign-up copy sparkles thanks to one word: “magic.”

GitBook’s sign-up page
GitBook’s sign-up page directs you to select the “magic” verification link.

Going to your inbox to select yet another verification link is tedious, but GitBook makes it less painful. We’ll take a magic link over a regular link any day.

Next, focus on a single reason someone should sign up. Not a feature of your software, but specifically how it’ll benefit someone and transform their work.

Screenshot of Wix's homepage with copy that says 'Create a website you're proud of'
A screenshot of Wix’s homepage that shows excellent microcopy: “Create a website you’re proud of.”

Wix motivates people to sign up immediately by highlighting the main value of their software: “Create a website you’re proud of.” They don’t focus on the details of their tools — it’s all about the customers. 

The microcopy under the sign-up button on Wix’s homepage (“Try Wix. No credit card required.”) addresses two big reasons someone might skip signing up: the fear of getting surprise credit card charges, or not having credit card information handy. We’re willing to bet these six words drive a ton of conversions.

2. Celebratory onboarding tooltips

Just because someone signs up for a product, it doesn’t mean they’ll actually use it. This is why onboarding can’t be an afterthought — and microcopy plays a huge role in making it a great experience that a new user will want to return to.

Onboarding tooltips get new users up and running quickly. To get into the head of your user and create great onboarding tips, go through the process yourself and take note of any moments that are exciting or confusing. Even better: talk to your existing customers. Find out what important tasks they complete with your product and how it fits into their working day. Then brainstorm ways to make achieving those milestones more satisfying and add them into your UX writing.

Screenshot of Webflow onboarding tooltip
A “well done” message in the tooltip pop-up of Webflow.

Webflow’s onboarding microcopy is stellar. As you use each website-building feature for the first time, they give you a positive message (“Great job!”). If you’re not a web developer by profession, creating a header for your first website is a pretty big deal — and it ought to be celebrated.

Screenshot of Mailchimp confirmation copy
Mailchimp gives a cute confirmation message (“…aand it’s out there”) when you publish an email campaign.

Email campaigns are a whole lot of work, not to mention kind of nerve-wracking. After you send an email with Mailchimp, you see a confirmation message that acknowledges all those feelings (“Take a breather—you’ve earned it.”) and clearly confirms it’s been sent. This microcopy sounds like a supportive friend.

3. Human-friendly explanations

Good microcopy is clear, simple, and free of jargon. But it’s also important to pay attention to how text will look and behave inside the components. Check the character limit and conduct user testing on different sized screens — your microcopy should  “provide maximum clarity in a limited amount of space.”

Trello uses uncomplicated terminology to enhance the experience. They decided to simply describe what people see: boards, cards, and lists. They also give clear explanations for complex processes, like setting up automation.

Screenshot of Trello
“Create a rule” to automate actions, like moving the due date of tasks in Trello.

Trello’s accessible language improves the usability of their software. That means people from different industries and backgrounds can operate it with ease. The great explanations with clear examples give people confidence to use the software without feeling intimidated.

4. Upbeat in-line help text

Even after onboarding, you’ll need to provide help text to guide users through your product. To ensure your messages are clear and with a positive tone, think: “How would I describe this to a new person on my team?” Create a smooth experience by making “decision-making simple.”

Slack sends in Slackbot to deliver help text and tips. In the example below, Slackbot tells a user who can see their messages and explains what exactly this space is.

Screenshot of Slackbot
Helpful hints from Slack give important guidance after onboarding.

5. Joyful transitional moments

Slow-loading content can cause frustration or make a product seem unstable or broken. Instead of a blank screen, use microcopy to tell users what’s happening and get them to stick around. Even better: Be like Front and include an animation that indicates progress. 

Screenshot of Front's loading screen
Each time you load up your email in Front, there’s a different calming message like this one: “Take a deep breath and focus.”

Opening your email for the first time in the morning can be overwhelming. Front transforms that experience by using the inbox loading time as a mindful moment. 

6. Unexpectedly delightful error messages 

It’s inevitable — no product is perfect and things will go wrong sometimes. But rather than gloomy default robotic-sounding text, think about how you can provide a positive “human” experience when something isn’t right. 

Confusing: “The requested URL doesn’t exist on the server.” 

Better: “We couldn’t find that page. Here’s where to go next.” This works well because it explains what’s gone wrong and gives guidance for getting somewhere else.

Search for any potentially negative experiences in your digital product and think about how you can turn them around. What happens when users don’t behave as you expect them to? For example, what happens if someone submits an incomplete form? 

Don’t be afraid to have fun with error message microcopy — the tone can be playful without being too goofy. As long as the information is clear and useful, your trust and authority will be maintained.

Screenshot of Mailchimp's 404 error page
A 404 page — Mailchimp style. We love the “We lost this page” microcopy and adorable illustration.
Screenshot of form field error
A fun error message on the Mailchimp sign-up page.

Mailchimp’s personality-filled microcopy is about as good as it gets. The personalizing language used clearly informs the user what’s gone wrong and what they should do. This is a good example because it shows how Mailchimp also creates a cohesive experience — everything feels on-brand even though there’s an error.

Keep your microcopy consistent — and don’t forget the salt

Now that we’ve taken you through these examples of great microcopy, it’s time for you to write. Keep these best practices in mind when writing microcopy:

  • User experience is everything, and microcopy can make or break it. Think about how users are feeling and what they need at different points in your product.
  • Use clear and simple language. Microcopy should guide your user, not bombard them with fancy terminology.
  • Delight your users by being surprising and playful.