Read, cut, re-read: great advice for mobile content writing

If you’re writing content for a desktop and mobile, can you get away with writing and using the same content? The short answer is no – you can’t. You can try it, but it’s guaranteed to fail. So does that mean you have to write two sets of content when you’re writing for an audience that browses on both desktop and mobile devices? Well, not necessarily; all it means is that you’ll have to write in a different way for mobile and you’ll definitely have to write more concisely.

So why should the writing style be any different? Well, firstly there’s the small matter of screen size. You can easily go off on a tangent when writing for desktop devices; as long as you’ve got the reader hooked and they’re prepared to follow your stream of consciousness, there shouldn’t be a problem. They in all likelihood go with you and indulge your ramblings. Try that tactic on a mobile device and your goose is cooked. Every word has to count here, so brevity and punch are paramount.

So what’s the fundamental difference between writing for desktop and writing for mobile? Well, it’s basically structure. Studies have shown that when readers access content online via a desktop device, they tend to read the information in certain ways. These paradigms, or standards, are usually referred to as ‘the golden triangle’ and ‘the F-shape pattern. Research showed that many readers concentrate their attention on the top left of the screen, then read down a short way; their attention is therefore solely focused on the top left triangle of the content. Other readers tend to digest content in a manner that resembles the capitalised letter F; reading across the top line, scrolling down and reading a small selection of text half way down the page then scrolling all the way down to the bottom left above the fold.

These standards, however, went out the window with the advent of mobile browsing. Because space is limited content writers for mobile have now got to focus solely on the vertical screen. Research shows that most mobile users focus their attention on the centre of the mobile screen. Some will venture above that line, but few if any will ever venture below it. So if you want to catch the reader’s attention on mobile devices, the killer punch has to be delivered there.

So what does this mean for mobile content writing? What tricks can you employ to ensure that all your hard work and diligent efforts gets the kind of attention they truly deserve? In short, how do you grab the attention of mobile users and keep them interested?

It’s all about structure as mentioned earlier, and about optimising your content so that it packs a powerful punch:

  • Make sure the most important information appears above the fold. Try to position this as centrally as possible so that it’s in the readers’ eye line right away.
  • Use powerful headlines that grab attention and draw readers in. Keep them short, pithy and engaging. Follow that with a few lines of text to explain the headline. Think of this less as an addendum, but more of a sub-heading.
  • Avoid going off on tangents and just stick to the important points.
  • Be concise and brief, but appreciate that that doesn’t necessarily mean writing less; it means writing better. If you’re content is compelling and interesting enough readers will carry on reading past the fold. The best advice is to keep your content simple and digestible. Keep the paragraphs short and consider using bullet points and sub-headlines to improve readability.
  • Be wary of using too many visuals and images. Yes they are very popular and more likely to be shared by other users, but they come at a price. Large images can load slowly on some mobile devices and that can turn readers off. What’s more if the visual is too appealing the reader might not pay enough attention to what you’ve written. In the worst case scenario they might not even read it. So use images by all means, but be careful.
  • Perhaps the most important piece of advice of all read- cut-read again. Keep on whittling away until you achieve the perfect balance between content and readability.

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