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Why we need to rewrite content for mobile users

29 Sep

The latest research shows that mobile users are getting more demanding about content. Result: we have to rewrite (and redesign) sites for mobile if we want users to be happy. (By mobile users, I mean people who read content on smartphones or touch phones.)

Jakob Nielsen, who I think does the best research into usability, says:

“Websites (and intranets) must design a separate mobile version for optimal usability. Specifically, complicated content should be rewritten to be shorter, with secondary information deferred to subsidiary pages.”

I couldn’t agree more, having got frustrated with one of my favourite newspapers. Have you ever tried to read The Economist’s latest stories on a BlackBerry? Well, I have and it’s not easy. You have two choices:

  • go to the full site. Headlines and stories are scrunched. Type is too small but when you zoom it’s too big. Scrolling around is difficult.
  • go to the mobile version (below). Problem is it doesn’t show the top stories (on the day I tested it anyway. To be fair, it is in beta according to a message at the bottom of the page).

    The Economist mobile site

    What you see at m.economist.com - but the main stories aren't there

Contrast this with the mobile site of UK newspaper The Guardian. The full site wouldn’t work on mobile, so it’s completely reconfigured but still contains the essential stories. It’s a dream to read – even on a BlackBerry.

What you see at m.guardian.co.uk - top stories from the main site

So, how do you repurpose content for phone screens? This blog is about writing, so we won’t go into design. Here’s what you need to do with the words.

1. The opening screen of your mobile site

Taking the information from your full site, rewrite it to be even shorter, simpler and more to the point. The first two words are particularly important because sometimes that’s all users read. Here’s an example of how Guardian sub-editors rewrote headlines on 2 top stories.

Full site – 2 headlines, 24 words: Bank of England warns of ‘severe’ market strains + Financial policy committee says banks might need to eat into capital to keep credit flowing

Mobile site – 1 headline, 9 words: Financial markets face ‘severe strains’, warns Bank of England (The headline is turned around so the first words talk about “Financial markets” – which readers are more likely to care about.)

2. Secondary screens on your mobile site

Give secondary information on secondary screens says Jakob Nielsen.

“How to be super concise and still offer the info people need? By deferring secondary information to secondary screens. The first screen users see should be ruthlessly focused on the minimum information needed to communicate your top point.”

The Guardian mobile site has clear, concise headings on the opening screen. If you want to read the full story you click – and get the full site version.

Conclusion: we have to adapt content for mobile sites. But it doesn’t have to be a huge amount of work – maybe just a new headline.

Take a look at another example from Nielsen – how to write a coupon for mobile. It follows the same principles.

Obviously there’s a huge amount more than this to writing successful mobile content – but it’s a start. I write all types of content, so contact me if you need help or training.

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