Five Ways Not to Write Fun Microcopy
As copywriters, we’re constantly challenged to differentiate from the competition and create a distinct brand voice or personality. This now extends to website microcopy – after all, we should take every opportunity available to promote our brand and charm our customers. Shouldn’t we?
I believe we should. But as both a copywriter and web user, I also find many attempts at ‘fun’ microcopy really irritating.
(Microcopy, for the uninitiated, is the short text that guides users through your website’s sign-up form, checkout and other parts of the user interface. It doesn’t sell your services directly, but it can help to communicate your brand values. This is why social web-based services adopt that “Hey, friend!” tone of voice.)
Take the five examples below. Instead of saying “we’re really cool”, to me they say “we’re desperate for you to like us”. Instead of enhancing the user experience, I think they provide a pointless distraction. See if you agree.
1. Even good jokes get old quickly – Remember that a lot of your microcopy will be seen again and again by your website users. How funny will this example from Bandcamp be after you’ve read it twenty times?
2. User experience should come first – After reading this I was pretty certain I couldn’t take Goodreads sailing. Not 100% sure, but pretty certain. Never forget that your microcopy’s main purpose is to provide good user directions.
3. Does that informal tone really suit your brand? – “Hooray.” When your microcopy reflects the personality of your brand, it builds trust and reassures users. Microsoft’s chummy Hotmail re-brand instead felt like a copy of other social sites. The vulnerability of the service to hijackers undermined the ’everything’s rosy’ tone further, to the point where I stopped using Hotmail after 12 years.
4. Guide users, don’t bore them – The Great American Copywriters avoided quirky humour because they knew only a small section of any audience would appreciate it. Unless you’re targeting a niche you understand perfectly, your microcopy should avoid it too. This 404 page takes 60 words to get to the point and will provoke an ‘eh?’ from at least half of users.
5. Communicate clearly – Don’t make what confusing? This cheeky error message from Grooveshark comes across as over-familiar, and even a touch stroppy. And ironically, its meaning isn’t clear enough.
Avoid these mistakes and you’ll be closer to finding the tricky balance between fun and great usability. And if you can’t find that balance, put your users first and spare them the jokes – please.