Back in 1997, Jakob Nielsen looked at how people read on the web. Blow away the layer of dust, and the advice is good: pull out the important stuff, use literal headings and make life easy for the reader.
But hey! According to research from the University of Alberta, it’s roughly twice as hard to read from a mobile screen than a big monitor – there’s a summary of the study over on the Nielsen Norman website. So what should you do when writing for mobile?
The short version: do more of what works when you’re writing a desktop site. Which got us thinking: are the rules of writing for mobile genuinely specific to small screens?
We reckon quite a lot of them aren’t.
“H1s need to be shorter. A lot shorter.”
Forget monster headlines. On mobile, they’re going to wrap onto two, three or four lines – taking over the whole screen, and quite possibly trashing your house when you’re away for the weekend.
Nobody wants that.
Then again, why write huge H1s in the first place? Surely you’d want to put important words at the beginning of your (short) H1s, whatever the platform?
“You need to reduce the cognitive load on the reader”
Mobile users are likely to be doing something else besides looking at your site – perhaps they’ve got one eye on the telly, or they’re thinking about work during the morning commute. Fact is, they’re at least partially distracted – so we should do our best to keep everything crisp, condensed and monumentally clear.
Then again, why assume desktop users have plugged their synapses directly into your site – blocking out every phone call, Facebook request and email that comes their way?
Let’s face it: these days, everyone’s distracted – no matter what device they’re using. So forget about the platform, and write as if you’re battling for each reader’s attention.
“Write shorter, more honest meta data”
Yeah, yeah – we all know that page tiles and page descriptions are truncated on mobile search engine results pages (SERPS). So you need to write shorter page descriptions and page titles.
But if you’re smart about search, you’re doing that anyway – 55 characters has become an absolute upper limit for page titles, not a target. And if you craft an especially short and clear page title, you’re going to stand out amongst the shouty, keyword-bloated competition.
Is writing for mobile the same as writing for desktops?
Not quite. With issues like breakpoints, touch zones and touch-friendly forms, there’s still quite a lot of extra work to do. It’s just that most of the time, it’s about amplifying your existing efforts.