Desktops, smartphones, tablets, smartwatches and interactive TVs – all of these devices display content differently. If you view a web page on each of them, the content may vary considerably. Multichannel appearance is a task web designers, marketers, copywriters and also content strategists need to keep in mind.
While some of these devices still need time to develop their full potential for customers, smartphones have already established themselves as a platform for daily internet use. As a German research study shows, the percentage of people using smartphones to go online is already the same as those using a desktop PC or a notebook, and rising.1
In 2015, 72% of internet users in Austria used a mobile phone to go online when away from home or work.2 These figures show that content for mobile devices – especially smartphones – has to be adapted in order to satisfy readers and (potential) customers. In this article, we’ll look at some of the key considerations that content strategists should keep in mind as they design content experiences.
Alternate reading behaviors (from F-shaped pattern to centralization)
If we think about how we see and read content on a smartphone versus a desktop, we will already recognize that there are some differences. Eyetracking visualizations show that users tend to read Information on a web page in an F-shaped pattern. A 2006 eyetracking study published by Nielsen Norman Group showed that reading behavior among different readers is fairly the same.3 Most readers start with a horizontal eye-movement at the upper left, followed by moving down a little bit while scanning across. The rest of the content is mostly read vertically in order to systematically scan if there is some additional beneficial information.
The F-shaped pattern still applies when it comes to desktop reading, but it no longer applies when we read on smartphones. The reason for this is the different screen ratio. On smartphones, people generally look at the center of the screen. This was proven in another recently published study by Google in collaboration with Emory University.4
As we can see, the user’s attention is focused on the center of the screen and at the top half of it. The results of the study suggest some important information for content strategists not only in terms of the content itself but also when it comes search engine optimization. For the purposes of this article, we’ll focus on the way copy should be written.
Writing for mobile
When it comes to writing copy for mobile, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. However, there are some important considerations to keep in mind. One of these involves headlines and search results on mobile.
When we look something up with a search engine, the results we get consist of three parts: the headline, the URL and a short preview text. Lisa Moore, a lecturer at the FH Joanneum Masters program Content Strategy, recommends using the first few words of the headline to convey as much information as possible, while keeping the overall headline fairly short.
On mobile devices where screen real estate might be limited, these ‘front-loaded’ key words give readers a better understanding of the content in each of the search results they see. This approach also benefits people reading on a desktop screen.
As the eye tracking studies above demonstrate, people on desktops scan as they read, so the more information you can front-load into a headline, the better. If people are only going to ready the first 4 or 5 words in your headline, make those words count!
Furthermore, we need to keep in mind what our audience really needs: content for the sake of content will probably not satisfy readers. However, that doesn’t mean longer content is always a problem for mobile readers. According to Lisa Moore, people are prepared to read long-form content on mobile devices, as long as it is of interest to them.
Think of how often you might read a long article during your commute to work or even a book. The key is to know your audience and deliver content in a length that meets their needs and supports their tasks. If someone wants to make a quick purchase, don’t add lots of extra content to distract them from their task.
As you write, keep mobile readers in mind and ask yourself these questions:
• Does my headline contain the necessary information?
• Is my content “short and to the point”?
• Is everything I’m writing relevant for my audience?
It’s all about suitability
The way you structure your content also has implications on mobile devices. Sometimes, you need to write longer sentences in order to deal with the complexity of a certain issue. Just remember that on a smartphone, long sentences – and long paragraphs – will take up two-to-three times the amount of screen real estate. That can make comprehension more challenging.
One option could be to work with bullet points in order to break down the complexity. The same goes for tables that can help structure content and make it easier to scan. Writers should also keep subheads in mind. These can help to break your content into smaller, more readable ‘chunks’.
• Avoid long sentences
• Use plenty of subheads
• Use bullet points and tables to cut complexity
When it comes to implementing a good content structure, content strategists need to consider more than just the copywriting aspect. From a technical point of view, you may need to consider whether you want to make a website ‘fit’ for mobile or if it would be better to create a mobile-specific website.
While a responsive site fits the content to the mobile device, a dedicated mobile site instantly redirects the user to the specified mobile page. Depending on content and resources, there are several pros and cons for each solution, based on your resources or what you want visitors to do on your sit.
For an overview there is a nice flowchart that can be helpful. Google offers a useful set of guidelines and also a webmaster tool for testing a website’s ‘mobile friendliness’.5
Writing content with mobile in mind doesn’t mean dramatically changing what you write. Instead, it means keeping your copy concise and to the point. Content strategists can support copywriters as they develop copy, guiding them in terms of structuring content and defining the appropriate content priorities in web designs.
- D21 Digital-Index 2015 (p.12): http://www.initiatived21.de/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/D21_Digital-Index2015_WEB.pdf ↩
- Statistik Austria – mobile internet usage: http://www.statistik.at/web_en/statistics/EnergyEnvironmentInnovationMobility/information_society/ict_usage_in_households/105169.html ↩
- Nielsen Norman Group eyetracking study (2006): https://www.nngroup.com/articles/f-shaped-pattern-reading-web-content/ ↩
Lagun,Dimitri/ Hsieh, Chih-Hung/ Webster, Dale/ Navalpakkam, Vidhya (2014): Towards Better Measurement of Attention and Satisfaction in Mobile Search. In: SIGIR ’14. Proceedings of the 37th international ACM SIGIR conference on Research & development in information retrieval
Pages 113-122. http://static.googleusercontent.com/media/research.google.com/en/us/pubs/archive/43224.pdf ↩
Google Webmaster for mobile friendly websites: