A startup operating an online job board presented me with an interesting microcopy challenge: how to motivate job candidates to complete professional and demanding profiles, and also encourage them to apply for more jobs.
The company’s UX designer surprised me when he told me that he learned a lot from dating sites because they face similar challenges, and that was where I’d have the best luck finding great microcopy solutions.
Though I’m quite happy with my partner, I opened accounts on three of the most popular dating apps worldwide. This is what I found.
Challenge 1: Motivating and helping users to answer questions and share information
How microcopy can help: a winning combination of labels and placeholders
On the OkCupid website, the users answer a series of closed (body type, smoking habit, horoscope sign, education, and so on), and open questions. The open questions are naturally more of a challenge:
First, the users are afraid their answers will be met by judgmental readers; second, the questions are quite broad, and the users don’t know where to start or what would be the right frame of mind to answer them; and finally, answers to open questions require a lot of thought, peace of mind, and time, which are all scarce resources.
OkCupid deals with this by combining labels and placeholders (the text that appears inside the field before the user provides a value).
Instead of asking general questions, the labels on the profile form usually start a sentence that users need to complete, such as,
These truncated sentences focus thinking in one specific direction, turn a general question (like “What you’re good at?”) into something more concrete, and stimulate users to automatically complete the sentence.
Under each label is a text box with a placeholder completing the picture:
The placeholder tackles the emotional difficulty of writing something good about oneself; users who are uncomfortable bragging are told that it’s okay and that they should brag, and those who are afraid of being judged are placated.
The following example also presents a safe haven in the placeholder and provides concrete suggestions that can stimulate the user to think about what best fits them. The three different examples together are giving the user the freedom to write about the mundane or the fascinating, so long as they write honestly.
Here the site motivates action with the placeholder and uses the value that’s most important to the users: that their match will recognize or identify with the similarities and see that they are suitable for each other.
And another two to finish:
To wrap things up, the combination of labels and placeholders in the OkCupid profile:
a. Stimulates users to complete each field
b. Directs their thoughts
c. Provides suggestions to start with
d. Removes emotional barriers
e. Shows them how they can best achieve what they are searching for — finding the right match.
OkCupid’s microcopy significantly reduces confusion, scattered thoughts, and fears, and makes the completion of the profile simple, safe and (really!) fun.
Challenge #2: Motivating users to complete a l-o-n-g form
How microcopy can help: supporting and encouraging users during the hard moments while reminding them the value of their efforts
eHarmony sets a challenge for its users by building the user profile from a series of dozens of questions (possibly more than 100), of which none can be skipped. Luckily, most questions are closed, and the open questions have tips, but still — so many!
How do you motivate users to power through and answer them all?
eHarmony divides the questions into few chapters, in a way that feels like going up through the levels of a game, and this is where microcopy enters: between each chapter appears a short text encouraging users to continue and removing obstacles.
Calming fears of being judged:
Reminding the users why they are doing all this:
Patting them on the back and explaining to them what’s going to happen next:
Another pat on the back, and also a lovely motivator to honestly answer the personal questions that are coming up:
And when it really gets hard, the microcopy reminds users how worthwhile it is and how important it is to them, and even tells users how awesome they are:
There are messages like these all over the platform, and occasionally I felt that it was a bit over the top, but I always enjoyed reading them.
I felt like someone was accompanying me on this journey, a personality that was funny and lent a hand when needed. The combination of playfulness and the messages was fun, and it seemed that in no time at all I had completed the profile.
Challenge #3: Motivating users to jump in and initiate
How microcopy can help: touching pain points
On the Tinder app, users don’t need to provide details about themselves; compatibility is based on photos, common friends, and common areas of interest, all (except photos) taken from Facebook.
If you don’t fancy someone, you simply swipe left; if someone catches your eye, you swipe right. If you swipe right on someone who did the same, you’ll both receive a Match message and can contact each other.
But the question is, who starts the conversation? That’s Tinder’s challenge.
On the Match screen, under the person’s photo, and above the chat field, there’s a sentence that motivates you to start the conversation (and no, to everyone’s disappointment, Mr. Darcy is not on Tinder).
Every time you access this screen, the message changes. I stopped counting after 40 variations. All the sentences are excellent, and they are excellent because Tinder is never satisfied with something cute, but always touches a pain point or something interesting that their users say to themselves.
For example, if they don’t start the conversation, it could be the missed opportunity of their lives:
And using positive motivation, it could be that right here and now is the beginning of the rest of their lives, and they’ll even tell their grandchildren about this moment of hesitation:
Sometimes Tinder’s motivational sentences act like the placeholders we mentioned earlier, providing a starting point for user interactions; here also it’s because they understand that sometimes users want to start a conversation but simply don’t know how, or because they need some guidance to take the next step:
Sometimes the sentence sounds like the inner mom, but it’s still funny and drives users to actually do something for themselves, which is why they joined the site in the first place.
And how do they know which pain points to write about? By doing the research and hearing from the users themselves, and then refining the voice and tone to fit their needs.
Summary: 3 ways to motivate action using microcopy
- Labels and placeholders help users answer open questions and motivate them to share information, even on personal and complex issues.
2. Supportive messages encourage users, remind them why all the effort will be worthwhile and help them cope with filling in long and complex forms or profiles.
3. Touching pain points or the deep reasons that brought users to the site in the first place will encourage them to jump in and initiate.
It’s worthwhile remembering that even though users go to the site with a clear understanding of the product’s value, we still need to remind them of the value they’ll receive, give them a helping hand when needed, and touch them in the places that brought them to us to begin with.
Who knows? Maybe it will end with a happily ever after.