Errors are always going to happen. But how you handle and address those errors is what matters. Users typically receive an error message when they’re unable to access something or get something done. Whether it’s a system error or a user error, it’s important to handle them properly.
When it comes to messaging, there are three essential components that should be included in a good error message:
- Clear and concise message
- Proper message placement
- Good visual design
When all three of these components are included in your error message, it makes it much easier for the user to identify the problem that’s happening and react accordingly. Making it easier for users to troubleshoot and work through their errors, if it’s on their end, makes it much easier for them to get things done, whether it’s subscribing to your email list or making a purchase.
Here’s how you can help create error messages that are more reassuring for users and that allow them to easily identify the problem they’re having:
1. Clear and Concise Message
First thing’s first – the error that’s happening needs to be stated clearly, and the solution presented accordingly. Error messages should sound like they’re written by humans for humans – because that’s what they are.
Writing your error message in computer code or complicated language does nothing to help the average user figure out and fix the problem they’re having. It should actually sound like a conversation between people, where the wording is polite, friendly and free from complex jargon. Most users aren’t going to be tech wizzes, so making the message highly understandable will help users navigate through the issues they’re having.
Giving some insight into the error that happened and how to fix it is important. It’s not sufficient to simply tell the user that an error has happened and provide them with no further guidance.
When sending users an error message, that message has got to be specific to the situation that’s in front of them. A generic error message isn’t good enough, because it doesn’t address what’s happening and how they can go about fixing it. For instance, ‘Please enter a value,’ isn’t a good example of an error message because the user may have already entered a value, but not understood the format it needed to be entered in. If it’s an email address that’s missing the ‘@’, for example, be clear about it, so users know where they’ve made an error and can quickly and easily correct it.
No matter what the error is, you’ll always want to be polite in your messaging. Even if it’s on the user’s part, you don’t want to make them feel to blame. Don’t make the error about them – avoid saying ‘You didn’t’ or ‘You forgot’, because that places blame on the user and makes them feel discouraged about continuing beyond the error.
If at all possible, and if appropriate, you can try injecting a little bit of humor into your error message. It can be an unexpected surprise for a user, adding to their experience and to your branding. But remember, only do this when appropriate.
Your error messages speak for your brand and your business, so they’ve got to be precise and get to the exact error that’s happening while outlining the fix as clearly as possible. Here are some great online resources to help you create those clear and concise messages:
- MyWritingWay and ViaWriting – Copywriting guides that can help assist you through creating clearly written error messages
- Academized and PaperFellows – Great editing tools, as touted by WriteMyAustralia.
- AcademAdvisor and Studydemic – Check the grammar in your message before making them live, with these grammar checkers
- AustralianHelp and OxEssays – Make sure there are none of your own errors within your error message by using proofreading help from these sources
- SimpleGrad and WritingPopulist – Format things properly by using one of these great resources
- StateOfWriting – Make sure your messages are not just formatted properly but are also clearly readable and understandable by users with this readability tool
2. Proper Message Placement
An error message is no good if the user can’t easily see it to understand what’s going on. The best, most highly visible spot for your error message is directly next to the elements that are being addressed. Doing this can also inherently help the user understand why they aren’t able to complete the task at hand.
3. Good Visual Design
It’s important to include good design into your error message, in order to make it clearly visible for users. There needs to be a contrast in text and background colors in order to make it noticeable and clear as an error. Sometimes red can be seen as too stressful for users, so yellow or orange may be used.
As usual, the red color is used for the error message text. “In some cases, yellow or orange colors are seen as too stressful for users. But, regardless of what color you’re using in your message design, you’ve got to make sure that it’s clearly visible, otherwise users won’t know what to do when they encounter a problem,” explains Marketing Manager Terry James of UK Writings and Boom Essays.
Pro Tip: You can use our online form designer to style your form and the error messages that go with it.
Errors happen. But how you handle those errors is what matters. Help users work through the errors they may be encountering with clear and concise messages that allow them to understand the error and the fix for it.
Ultimately, you'll be able to increase your conversions and collect more data. Speaking of which - we've got a data management strategy guide that will help you in your data collection endeavors.