Words are the most important tool marketers and ad men have. To prove it, I’ll show you a picture.

The chart beneath the Bee Gees shows that 60% of people prefer a ‘print experience’ to something ‘whizzy’, on a tablet app.

Obviously, ‘print-like’ doesn’t just mean words, it also refers to typography and, to some extent, pictures. However, in this post I’ll be focusing on copywriting, on an achingly small scale.

I’ll be highlighting titbits of copy that are done well, in keeping with a company’s brand, and make a web experience enjoyable, as well as some that aren’t so good.

In the spirit of new media, I’m calling this ‘micro-copy’. And, to the dismay of the A/B testers, I’ll posit that some of my examples are qualitatively ‘better’ than others.

Taken from The New Statesman, originally in The Atlantic

Stealing a phrase from Econsultancy CEO Ashley Friedlein, I see these snatches of copywriting and the little experiences they are part of as important ‘door clunks of online that reinforce a brand in a thousand small but very important ways’.

Topshop: refreshing ‘tired’ email newsletter signups

The email newsletter sign-up field is a great place to find micro-copy. Marketers place inordinate value on the customer email address (too much perhaps?), and signing up to a newsletter can often feel, to the customer, a little like a one-way street. ‘Here’s my data, I’m not sure what you’re going to send me by return’.

If you’re not going to town by offering actual discounts to customers signing up to an email newsletter, a là H&M below, then you have to get the copy right here.


Below is an example of a bog-standard email newsletter sign-up field from FCUK. Nothing doing.


ASOS’s attempt, below, is slightly better. The good part is the productising of the newsletter itself, as ‘style news’. However, they’ve missed a trick here by not capitalising ‘style news’, failing to reinforce the legitimacy of the newsletter.

Making the newsletter into a product is a good way of thinking, and we do the same at Econsultancy with our Daily Pulse.


Topman does things slightly better.

‘SIGN UP TO STYLEMAIL:’. Capitalised, productised, a strong call to action.

But Topshop takes the biscuit and the plaudits here. It combines a call to action, a perceived benefit and a sense of urgency, with the sublimely simple ‘KEEP UP TO DATE:’.

The customer is savvy enough to know that filling in this field with their email address will mean they receive Topshop’s email newsletter. There’s almost a compliment implicit here: ‘We know you’re cutting a dash already; stay ahead by keeping up with what’s new in at Topshop’.

Next does very well, too, with a little more exposition to suit its audience. 

Lots of clothes retailers have made the most of highlighting the newsletter sign-up.

These are all the minutiae of a web experience, but I’m trying to put forward my world (wide web) view of the almost imperceptible changes that can make a homepage feel coherent. 

Google Flourishes

Ashley Friedlein, coining the ‘door clunks’ of online, was referring to one of Google’s alert messages, below, as a good example of one of these clunks.

Ashley picked out the copywriting, the simplicity and the light box effect as contributors to a nice customer experience.

Here’s another I picked up when using Google apps:

At the time, I tweeted a snapshot of this and wrote that I was surprised by the use of the word ‘folks’ instead of something more prosaic, like ‘users’. Although this quirky copy may seem a little ‘maverick’, Google is, after all, based in California and does have the brand image that allows for this lighter tone.

The advantage of taking this kind of tone, is that those ‘thousand door clunks’ become easier to knit together (excuse the mixed metaphors) across a site by using this unifying style of copy.

Anecdotally, I can point to the way I use Gmail at Econsultancy, to sum up why a consistent tone of voice and style is advantageous.

We used Outlook a few years ago, when its search function wasn’t as prominent or ‘classy’ as that of Gmail’s. Some people were reluctant to change email client, but the discovery of Gmail’s superior search functionality helped many to make the switch.

This is because, with a lot of users, words stick in the mind, and with Gmail I do very little filing and ‘foldering’ of emails, as I know I’ll remember all sorts of left-of-centre words used within messages.

Similarly, Google’s maverick copywriting offers the user little reminders of whose house they’re in (metaphorically). 

Microsoft Cheese Pics

Not copy, but an example of the danger that pictures bring. Pictures aren’t kernels of ideas in the same way copy is; pictures are more easily misinterpreted or unsuited to a particular audience or culture. 

Here, Microsoft uses apples and tonic water (with a twist), and some sort of idealised mother and daughter email scenario to try to get me to sign up for Hotmail (as an ‘80s child, I already have) and upgrade to Windows 8.

These pictures are visual musak and I include them here to highlight how easy it is to get it wrong with stock photographs, when a bit of micro-copy may just do the job better.

Here’s another of some skiers.

Microsoft and the limp product names

Microsoft has come under fire for a perceived lack of leadership over the branding of Microsoft RT, the operating system for its Surface tablet, which looks a lot like Windows 8, but isn’t.

A great post by Michael Horowitz points out that RT doesn’t really stand for anything (it actually stands for run time) and something like ‘4T’ (for tablets) would have worked better.

Furthermore, why call it ‘Windows’? It doesn’t have much in common with previous Windows products, so something like ‘Surface OS’ might have been more of a leap of imagination that would help more prospective iPads buyers to consider the Microsoft Surface as something new and exciting.

This might sound like a branding issue, but branding is effectively ‘high stakes micro-copywriting’ (again, comments below if you have an issue with me creating jargon). 

LinkedIn and the lame profile status

I can understand LinkedIn wanting to incentivise users to fill out their profiles, and showing us how complete our profiles are is probably a good thing, but calling me an ‘All-Star’ is a little sickly. 

I don’t need praise for filling out my profile, as it’s a self-motivating activity. A simple percentage would work better here. I can see how something a little more emotive may work for scanty profiles e.g. ‘minimal’.

This example shows how copy for copy’s sake isn’t a good idea either.

Lambast me

I may take some flack for highlighting almost imperceptible bits of customer experience, and it may be that changing some of the words described above has no effect on conversion rate, customer confidence or brand sentiment.

But, I think a wider point remains. Look at any really successful website or brand and it can only be that their copywriting is beyond reproach. Improving these tiny experiences improves pages, I’m sure.