Don’t Gamble with Automatic Feedback Copy

Angie King

As a writer or a content strategist, it’s your job to advocate for useful, useable, and on-brand web content. Like it or not, that responsibility includes unsexy stuff like error messages, functional copy, and automatic feedback copy.

Like most users, I never thought twice about automatic feedback copy until I ran into some bad examples of it. But since my experience, I’ve done a lot of thinking about it.

What is automatic feedback copy?

Automatic feedback copy—also known as “automatic validation copy” or “real-time inline help”—is content that displays immediately after a user interacts with online content. It’s meant to guide the user’s actions to help them complete a task.

For example, it’s the “invalid email” message you get when you forget the “” part of your email address.

When automatic feedback copy goes awry

I recently signed up for email alerts from the Stratosphere hotel in Las Vegas, where I planned to stay. Filling out the contact form should have been a quick, easy task. Instead, I spent minutes struggling to understand their automatic feedback copy:

(click to see full-sized image)

What makes it bad automatic feedback copy?

They may seem harmless, but “Good Email” and “33 is perfect!” interrupt instead of support the user experience.

Here’s why. The copy:

  • Doesn’t fit tone of the site
  • Doesn’t move the user toward a goal
  • May alarm the user

Using the wrong tone

Automatic feedback copy can be sassy—as long as it matches the site’s overall tone. A departure in tone makes for an inconsistent—and therefore unprofessional—website.

Missing the user goal

“Good email” is probably the Stratosphere’s way of saying “valid email address.” But what’s the point of patting your user on the back for their data entry skills?

“33 is perfect!” is equally problematic. I’m not sure the message is the appropriate response for age verification. A “thank you” or simply removing the default message—“You must be 21 to sign up”—would suffice.

Alarming the user

For many users, red font screams: Caution! Danger! Error! But instead of a warning, the red text gave me a compliment. “Good Email” just didn’t make sense to me in that context.

Why automatic feedback copy matters

Like every piece of content on your website, automatic feedback copy is an extension of your brand. Be mindful of how your online brand reflects—or detracts—from the brick-and-mortar customer experience.

If our rooms hadn't already been booked, I may have reconsidered staying at the Stratosphere. But in contrast to a frustrating online encounter, my in-person experience at the hotel was more satisfying than busting a blackjack dealer. I’m glad I took the gamble.