Why Writing Mobile Content is Twice as Difficult as Web Content

Have you noticed the way you read (and work) on your phone is different than on your PC?

Size, font, layout are all culprits, but there’s more.

android-content

Research from the Nielsen Norman Group highlights that short mobile sessions means writers must create mobile friendly content in anticipation of user interruptions, slow download speeds, and user interface limitations.

For freelance web writers this is a blessing in disguise.

Writing mobile content: two problems

According to the research findings, the challenge when writing mobile content is:

  • Attention – on mobile devices our attention is fragmented, sessions are short. The average mobile session duration is 72 seconds whereas on desktop it’s 150 seconds: twice as long. This means readers are using the devices in short bursts, scanning a few pages, jumping off, coming back later. For you, as a mobile content writer, your content must reflect this. In simple terms, it means short words, short sentences, short paragraphs. You get the idea.
  • Short mobile sessions means mobile content writers must create content in anticipation of interruptions. If we accept the reader will stop and start, how can you shape the flow of content to address this? Source: NNG

6 mobile content problems

The report identifies six hurdles we face when creating mobile content.

The reasons why reading and performing tasks on mobile phones is more difficult that desktop computers include:

  1. Speed – we’ve become used to super fast broadband at the office and at home. However, as mobile devices allow us to read on the go, often in congested areas, such as trains, bandwidth can be limited. Lightweight webpages with optimised graphic partly address this.
  2. Keyboard – No physical keyboard for entering data, moving about, typing passwords. Think of all the times you use Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V every day. We’ve all got shortcuts and hotkeys on our keyboard. My phones virtual keyboard isn’t nearly as helpful. Keyboard limitations means you need to write for a user that scrolls, not clicks. Think about it. On your phone, you scroll, scroll, scroll. Write with that action in mind.
  3. Mouse – while it is possible to pinch text, and copy/paste, I don’t enjoy it. As a user, it’s the last resort. With no mouse to select text, click commands or access menus, you need to develop linking systems to counter this. In other words, use links as an alternative navigation mechanism.
  4. Screen – due to the small screen size, and the tendency of users to scroll, which they dislike doing on PCs apparently, use headings, sub-headings, short sentences, and lists to help the reader flow with the content. Instead of reading left to right, they’re reading top to bottom.
  5. Font – encourage your designers to use mobile friendly fonts. Also, remember your readers’ age profile. If you’re a news site, for example, with lots of text, using a larger font could the one difference that encourages readers to visit you. Or leave if too small.
  6. User interface – what’s intuitive on a PC, is often very difficult on a small device. Filling out a form is the best example. Can you read those field descriptions? Can you click on the drop-down menu?

An example of how difficult it can be for readers to understand web content is highlighted in this research. In R. I. Singh’s study, 50 test participants completed Cloze tests while reading the privacy policies on either a desktop-sized screen or an iPhone-sized screen. The results showed that:

  • Desktop screen: 39.18% comprehension score
  • Mobile screen: 18.93% comprehension score

Comprehension

On a small screen, comprehension is reduced as:

  1. We see less at any given time. Users must rely on their memory to understand anything that’s not explained onscreen.
  2. Less context means less understanding.

Scrolling

As mentioned earlier, the default mechanism on mobile devices is to scroll. However, scrolling introduces 3 problems:

  1. Scrolling degrades memory. The more you scroll, the more you have to remember where you were. Can you find where you were?
  2. It distracts you from what you were doing. Instead, your attention is focussed on finding the right part of the page.
  3. Which means you now have to reacquiring the previous location on the page.

Examples of Great Mobile Content

Here are some examples of how content looks on a mid-size mobile phone:

Summary

For freelancer writers, the difficulties that mobile content creates offers lucrative new opportunities. It means helping companies develop content that works on different devices, is digestible on the go, and retains rather than lose customers.

If you’re looking for work, highlight the third point to potential clients. Give examples, show stats — that should persuade them.

Reference: Evaluating the Readability of Privacy Policies in Mobile Environments, R. I. Singh (University of Alberta, Canada), M. Sumeeth (University of Alberta, Canada) and J. Miller (University of Alberta, Canada) http://www.igi-global.com

Want More Writing Tactics?

Over 127,000 readers rely on Klariti every month. Sign up now for Ivan’s fresh writing strategies, practical advice, and resources delivered to your inbox each week.