Microcopy for masochists

Shel Holtz's picture

A curious trend is proliferating around the web. You arrive on a site and, while reading whatever it is you came to read, a pop-up appears. You look for the prominent X to close it, and instead you see two options. One is the call to action, something like, “Yes, I want to know more!” The other insults and demeans you with a prompt along the lines of, “No, I’m not interested in doubling my income while saving innocent kittens from torture at the hands of terrorists.”

Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but nevertheless, closing the pop-up requires you to agree with a statement that basically suggests you’re an idiot for taking that path. Here’s just one example:

More microcopy for masochists

I wonder who was in the room the first time such a prompt was crafted and how their discussion went. “You know what will get prospective customers to think of us as thought leaders and perceive us as trusted guides so maybe they’ll do business with us someday? Let’s call them idiots if they don’t make the decision we want them to.”

To be fair, some of these marketers may have thought this language would serve as a second chance, a pitch that points out the visitor to the site is passing up something really, really great. Every time I read one of these, though, it just makes me want to blacklist the site from my list of resources.

These condescending snippets are part of a category of writing called microcopy, which is getting more and more attention. Microcopy has been defined as “small bursts of copy which helps you along”). It can be the call to action in a button, clear instructions in a form in order to prevent confusion that has led to mistakes in the past, the words used in an error message, the messages you see while waiting for a page to load, and a lot more. In one case, a usability company changed the microcopy on a struggling e-commerce site and increased the number of customers making a purchase from the site by 45%. Micropy matters.

However, the fact that you can be more creative in crafting these snippets of text doesn’t mean clever insults will improve your performance. It is far wiser to demonstrate respect for a visitor to your site, whether or not she decides to take you up on your call to action.

UPDATE: Thanks to Ghost Girl, I’ve found a site the curates the The Cruelest Opt-Out Forms. There’s some truly clueless, counterproductive marketing going on here!.

Microcopy for masochists



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