When it comes to web content, sometimes it’s worth sweating the small stuff. Like really small stuff that you probably never noticed or paid much attention to on a website. How much have you thought about the encouraging “you’re almost done” message when filling out a form or an “unsubscribe anytime!” line on an email signup form? How about Facebook’s status box that asks, “What’s on your mind”?

It’s called microcopy and it’s in the nooks and crannies of every website. How you craft microcopy and where you place it throughout your site can be that extra step toward more conversions like donating and signups.

What is Microcopy?

I like to think of it as a helpful nudge in the right direction or a reassuring pat on the back when you’re considering a decision and not completely sold – at least not yet. Microcopy lives up to its name. It’s maybe a couple sentences. Sometimes just one line. Definitely not a paragraph. Microcopy is short, sweet and usually present (and most helpful) when any type of decision-making is required. This includes all transactional situations on your website, such as making a donation, registering to volunteer or signing up for a newsletter.

Why It’s Important

Microcopy is small, but mighty. It can enhance the user experience by providing hints, context and encouragement throughout your website.

Assures users

Microcopy can go a long way toward alleviating any concerns a user might have before taking an action on your website. Closely related to this idea of assuring users is anticipating their concerns and questions. It’s like a preemptive “Psst! I know what you’re thinking. Let me tackle that for you so we can move forward.” An example of using microcopy in email signups can be a simple “We hate spam, too” or “We take your privacy seriously.” Both of these can be a concise, but effective way to help head off any concerns about spam and compel more signups instead.

Proximity is everything

Part of the reason microcopy can be more effective than a much bigger headline on a web page is its closeness to the actual point of conversion. For example, placing a reassuring “You’ll still have a chance to review your order” right above a checkout button is one way online retailers assure people while also getting them closer to finalizing a sale.

Building trust and engagement

Microcopy can be an important opportunity to make connections. What it really comes down to is going that extra mile to clarify, confirm or better explain information to your visitors. These minor tweaks can extend engagement beyond generic forms and messages, and ultimately shape how people view your organization. And since microcopy tends to be conversational and more lighthearted, you’ll be conveying a likeability and helpful persona that will make it easier to build relationships.

Examples of Microcopy

Microcopy is everywhere. Reminders, email auto responses, dropdowns, signups. Here are just a few examples of microcopy and how some nonprofits are utilizing it on their website:

Call to Action Buttons

Oxfam offers a great example of how to effectively use microcopy in your call to action (CTA) buttons. Their Take Action page has several CTAs that set the organization apart. I love that the buttons are specific and actionable by encouraging people to do more than just “Learn More,” which seems to be the default CTA for many buttons. “Let’s go!” is the CTA for hosting an event and conveys a sincere enthusiasm. The other buttons on this page include “Campaign with us” and “You can help” and shows how simple pronouns can convey a real sense of inclusion in getting involved in Oxfam’s work.

Form Field Labels

The text inside form fields can be helpful by suggesting ideas to prod people in the right direction. Action Against Hunger includes microcopy on their Donate page encouraging people to leave a comment. It’s certainly not one of the required fields in the online donation process and many donors would likely bypass this form field after they’ve taken the time to fill out the necessary information. Or a question like this could just compel writer’s block for some people. But by pre-populating the form field with suggestions, this writing prompt can help foster a connection to the organization and ask people to really consider how they value this nonprofit’s mission and impact.

Action Against Hunger also gets bonus points for including helpful microcopy next to the email form field to tell donors why an email address is required. It’s reassuring to know you’re being asked for your email to get that all-important receipt for your tax-deductible donation rather than being worried about getting a lot of unwanted emails.

Action Against Hunger form fields

Email Signup Confirmations

We’ve talked about how to optimize content for email signups in a previous post. That was about getting people in the door by signing up in the first place. But microcopy can enhance signup confirmations after the deal is sealed. A generic dialog box indicating “form submitted” or “signup complete” can be impersonal after you sign up to receive a newsletter. So why not use this as an opportunity to inject some smart microcopy in your confirmation form?

Walk Free has a signup confirmation that not only verifies signup, but also gives people a chance to extend engagement by sharing on social media. It gives people something important to do in the interim. Even framing the exit out of the form with the words “Return to the Website” at the bottom of the form is more effective at encouraging people to stick around and browse the website than just an “X” to close out.

404 Pages/Error Messages

We’ve all ended up on a 404 error page at one point. This is where you end up when the URL you’re trying to visit doesn’t match a page on the site. And it’s a great opportunity to inject some fun into your error page. That’s where microcopy comes in. Your goal is to a.) Tell them (regrettably) that the page doesn’t exist and b.) Write something that redirects to another part of your site.

Animal Sheltering has a simple message that is free from any jargon (even avoiding “404 page”) and just the words, “Nothing to see here” (with accompanying puppy image, of course). Visitors who end up on a 404 page will be frustrated, and this nonprofit keeps it fun, lighthearted, but also provides some help to get visitors where they’re going. Instead of a general directive to “Go Back,” this page offers some alternatives by providing a link to return to the homepage or to get in touch with someone for more help.

Microcopy is a chance to be more personable and treat the user experience like a conversation. Utilizing it throughout your site can represent valuable opportunities to use bite-sized content to create big impact. How do you use microcopy on your website? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.


  1. Extremely helpful to be made aware of these new trends and tips. We might have even thought of them but knowing that it is OK to use them in this manner is extremely useful.
    Great job!