How to use microcopy to improve search UX

User experience (UX) is often what separates an OK search experience from a truly helpful one. Well-placed microcopy can increase the usability of your site by guiding users through search and navigation. Employing microcopy is a simple way to improve the user experience for your site and your search interface.


What is microcopy?

Microcopy is the term for short, punchy text that guides users through a site. Microcopy often accompanies pictures or graphics that prompt, guide, or teach users how to do something. 

Related searches on the search results pages and placeholder text in the search bar are instances of microcopy that many users are familiar with. But microcopy can be used anywhere, including the homepage, autocomplete fields, no results pages, surveys and forms, and almost anywhere else on a site that users need to take action.


Why does microcopy matter?

Today’s users have high expectations for the experience on the site due to the smooth, personalized experiences crafted by leading companies like Amazon, Google, and Netflix. Your site has a high standard to live up to, and usability improvements like adding microcopy can help you achieve it. 

Additionally, user search skills are weak. Weak search skills can often mean lackluster results, and only 1 percent of users know how to shift search strategies to get more effective results. This isn’t necessarily the user’s fault. Every site has a different search experience, and it’s hard to get the best results out of sites that have a great search vs those that don’t. According to research by KISSMetrics, 12% of a website’s visitors will leave and opt for a competitor’s site after an unsatisfactory search. You don’t want to lose users because they don’t know how to find what they’re looking for. Simple additions like microcopy can help users craft better queries.

Using microcopy strategically throughout the site can bring clarity to the search and navigation process, improving the overall UX. Microcopy guides customers through the basics of a website’s functions by prompting them to search, click, and explore certain areas of the site. It can also inform users when tasks are being executed on the backend so they know they’re making progress. These helpful hints and guides are the figurative road signs directing users towards a smooth, engaging experience.

Birchbox search


3 examples of effective microcopy for search and navigation

With microcopy, even the smallest details can have a huge impact on the overall UX. Let’s look at three ways you can employ microcopy on your site.

1. Placeholder text and the search bar 

The vast majority of users know what to do when they see the search bar or magnifying glass. But you shouldn’t take for granted that they know how to craft the perfect query. Placeholder text in the search bar can give users their first hint of what queries will be successful and might even expand their horizons on what they can search for. Here are a few examples:

GOAT: The search bar expressly directs users to take action, and introduces the major product categories on the site.

Goat's search bar expressly directs users to take action


Coursera: By asking the user a question such as “what do you want to learn,” the search bar microcopy primes the user to input on-target queries, while subtly reinforcing the company’s mission.

Coursera's search bar microcopy primes the user to input on-target queries


Birchbox: Placeholder text in the search bar invites the user to search their French site for more than just products, hinting at the federated search capabilities this search experience is equipped with. 

Placeholder text in Birchbox's search bar invites the user to search their French site for more than just products


2. Autosuggest or query suggestions

Autosuggest, also referred to as autocomplete, predictive search, or query suggestions, is a capability that extends the search from just being a box in the corner of the website to becoming a true experience for the user. Well-designed autosuggest is like an interactive conversation with the user–each time the user adds another character, the search builds and refines and offers new suggestions for that user. 

For instance, on the ManoMano site, the query ‘lawn’ returns users with a variety of options related to the maintenance of their yards. Differences between the suggestions are conveniently bolded so users can quickly identify which query best fits their needs. 

Manomano's search bar

By providing suggestions users can easily click through to find results, this advanced form of microcopy:

  • Reduces search time
  • Offers queries known to produce results 
  • Promotes popular content and products to users

For strategically targeted results, queries should be based on internal analytics data for most popular searches, business rules, and external analytics engines like Google Analytics for a truly valuable autocomplete feature. 


3. Related and recommended searches

Related and recommended searches are forms of microcopy that represent a key part of the discovery experience. Distinct from autocomplete recommendations, they guide users to search for something they were not originally looking for. The recommendations can be offered on the home page, on the search results page, individual product/content pages, or anywhere else you want to seize the opportunity for cross-selling, upselling, and helping users finding things they didn’t know they wanted.

Underarmour leverages recommended searches on individual product pages to guide users to new interests and hopefully new purchases.

Underarmour leverages recommended searches on individual product pages

This type of microcopy also can predict user needs by leveraging popular searches or be entirely based on business priorities.


Best practices for using microcopy

To reap the benefits of microcopy on your site, here are a couple of best practices to follow:

Anticipate the needs of your users

Microcopy should be added to places on the site where a user could use extra guidance or not sure where to navigate next. If a site contains a contact form, for instance, think about the questions a user might have in the process. Are all the fields required? What should the user expect to happen after filling out the form? Are there certain fields where you can select multiple options? Think through these potential questions, then use microcopy to help guide users through the form and increase conversions. 

In the context of site search, think about what types of options can help searchers. Will they want to know all the possible categories they can choose from, or maybe just a select few? Can they search for products and written resources from the same search box? How will they refine their search afterward? Companies can help users optimize searches with tools for search recommendations, related search, and visual search—all of which are helped by intelligent microcopy.


Keep your microcopy short and to the point 

Short, sweet, and informative should be the motto when creating microcopy. So long as these brief phrases, advice, and notifications are helpful, the shorter the microcopy is, the better it is for users. The intention should be to engage users and keep them informed of what they’re doing so they can actually do it as quickly as possible.   


A/B test search UX with microcopy 

When you’re deciding on where and how to place microcopy on your site, it’s important to validate your choices and make sure they are most effective at improving the user experience. A/B testing is a great way to do this. You can use it to test different CTAs, banners, and other microcopy throughout the site and leverage user feedback to develop a more friendly and personalized user experience.


Improve your site UX with microcopy

Microcopy can make a vital difference in the overall usability and UX of your site and the search. Algolia provides an easy-to-use search API with a well-designed search interface that leverages microcopy to enhance the customer experience and ultimately increase your conversions. Read our e-book Search Beyond the Box  to learn how to expand the capabilities of search on your site.

About the authorElliott Gluck

Elliott Gluck

Senior Product Marketing Manager

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