Bigger isn’t always better, and sometimes it’s the little things that count the most.

We live in a time where visuals dominate the Web; people would rather look at something they can analyze in seconds than spend several minutes reading. This is a testament to the power of short-form content, and viewers tend to prefer fewer words for the same reasons they indulge in images.

Enter microcopy, and the great potential of the snappy statement.

glassespaperImage from GollyGforce under CC Attribution 2.0

Microcopy includes headlines, calls-to-action, email subject lines, button text and slogans that are used every day to drive the interest of your viewers and catalyze conversions. The title of this post was microcopy, and the link that drew you here was probably microcopy. If you take a closer look at this page and the site that surrounds you, you’ll find numerous examples of this textual phenomenon.

But most folks may not realize the importance of microcopy or how they should be crafting it. This unfortunate fact is what brings us to the next few considerations that everyone should make when it comes to writing microcopy.

1) What am I trying to accomplish?

Before you put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), you must assess your needs and define your goals to give your writing direction. What are you trying to do with your content? Think about what facilitated the initial necessity for this microcopy.

Regardless of your individual goals, there are several rules of thumb to follow when you’re writing microcopy:

  • Keep it short and digestible
  • Make your message crystal clear
  • Keep it in context

And speaking of context, let’s start with the human interests that your microcopy should reflect.

2) Who’s going to be reading this, and who do I want it to compel?

Well, everyone and anyone who stumbles across your content is going to either read it or dismiss it as they please. But, as a business or brand, your microcopy needs to specifically hit the mark with your target audience.

These are the people who have a genuine interest in what you’re selling, and the ones you really want your copy to resound with. Here are a few questions to ask yourself about your target audience:

  • How old are they?
  • Are they a majority male or female?
  • Where do they live (are you targeting the local community/national/international audience)?
  • What do they love, and what do they hate?
  • Are their incomes, professions, moral, religious or political philosophies relevant?

Based on their demographics, put yourself in their shoes and reflect on how they’ll perceive your words. Once you’ve answered these questions, it’s time to get down to composing.

3) How big is it and where is it going?

It’s vital to consider where your words are going and how large or small they’ll appear.

Of course, your ability to manipulate size and placement of your text depends on the medium (you can’t customize text in an email subject like you can on a website). But in webpages, newsletters, banners, advertisements and the like, the placement of your microcopy can make all the difference in the message it sends to your viewers.

  • Do you have to write a headline for your services page? A headline for something like this should be bold and readily visible. Your headline should be a compelling introduction that grabs the viewer and draws them through the page. Target things like your company’s success (backed by numerical statistics) or your audience’s biggest pain points.
  • Or will it end up at the bottom of your contact form in more modest sizing? Microcopy can be big or small, and sometimes the tiniest statements can make a huge difference in conversions. Think about the privacy disclaimers you’ll find where you provide an email address on a contact form; if there’s a privacy assurance to set your mind at ease, it can make or break your decision to divulge private info.
  • Does your statement have to work seamlessly alongside existing images? Images can yield an opportunity for clever wordplay, but must be screened for sensitivity as well. For example, if your photo features a gaggle of baby birds happily trouncing through the grass, writing “Get all your ducks in a row with our streamlined accounting software” could be a witty way to boast your product’s benefit. But writing “Kill two birds with one stone using our inventory audit solutions” on the same page is in bad taste for obvious reasons.

4) What do I want them to feel when they read it?

Should your viewers feel at ease, anxious, grave, enlightened, curious, humored or irritated when they soak in your masterful microcopy?

Think about the reaction you’re trying to elicit from readers. Start by asking what your product or service does for people:

  • Does it provide comfort?
  • Does it give them peace of mind?
  • Does it provide enjoyment?
  • Does it fix something that’s bothering them?
  • Does it make them money or save them money?
  • Does it look, sound or smell good?
  • Does it inspire them or make them excited?

These are just a few of many, but asking the right questions about what you’re selling will reveal valuable insight on how people feel about it.

If you’re targeting their pain points with your words, their reaction should be one of concern for what they’re missing or need to fix. If your product gives them enjoyment or comfort, make this the focus of your copy. Money is another captivating subject, so if your product makes or saves them cash you should tout these benefits.

No matter what, your writing should make readers feel something. The tricky part is getting that “something” just right, and the next question will help with that.

5) What sort of vocabulary should I use?

This one’s huge.

Many people take the wrong route when they’re writing microcopy, popping open the thesaurus to find the biggest, fanciest words in the book. But exotic adjectives and specialized lingo can intimidate or confuse your viewers.

The best way to appeal to your audience is by using language that’s familiar and memorable. Ditch the unnecessary “25 dollar words” and speak in a way that they’ll relate with. Refer back to the aforementioned microcopy rules of thumb: keep your message short, digestible and crystal clear for the best results.

With all this in mind, you’ll want to use powerful language that’s going to catch their attention. So while you should avoid the big obscure words, there are a number of potent layman’s terms to choose from. If you’re lacking lingual creativity, take a tip from this awesome list of 317 power words to hit the ground running.