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Writing slick content for mobile users

4 Aug

A neat bit of information has been published by usability guru, Jakob Nielsen and the team at Nielson Norman Group, about writing for mobile phones.

Websites and social media are no longer limited to the laptop, Mac or PC – people are carrying around the world’s information in their pockets via mobile devices such as phones and iPods. 

That means it’s useful – and important – to know how people use these devices and to ensure your content fits with how they’re used so that your product, service, brand and advertising messages gets across – and it’s likely to be different again from how people usually use the web. Mobile use has an impact on design, but on us copywriters too.  

Jakob Nielson’s research included how people use mobile websites, apps and email newsletters. I’ve distilled these fascinating findings (if it floats your boat) down to these few pointers when writing content for mobile users:

Main point:

  • The overarching aspect is to focus – the first screen has to contain only the most essential information


  • The narrow field of view of a mobile device makes it harder for users to comprehend content as there’s little visible context. 
  • People are usually in a rush when using mobile devices – less time is spent looking at emails and newsletters on a mobile
  • If faced on the first screen with lots of text, people are turned off.


  • Therefore, when writing for the web it’s important to be concise – and even more so with mobiles. Place only the most important information on a single page and place secondary content (the more in depth explanation and detail) on another page. 
  • Mobiles benefit from the progressive disclosure principle – meaning you reveal content piece by piece using hypertext to take the user to the detail. That way you save the basic information on the first screen and the rest is elsewhere. It allows users to click to the section they are interested in rather than scroll down the page
  • Don’t make your user work hard to find information – make everything as obvious as you can
  • Don’t clutter the page  – no big picture taking up useful copy space.

Jakob’s final thought

It’s better keep the initial screen focused and let particularly interested users delve into the detail – your customers will be more satisfied, you’ll get more traffic and your mobile content works better for your business.

Read the full blog update on writing focused content for mobile users by Jakob Nielsen.


Oh my God, you’re annoying – 5 ways to turn off your web visitors

27 Jun

Have you ever clicked on a website and suddenly a song starts playing really rubbish music?  Perhaps a pop-up appears with moving graphics or some guy starts telling you about himself before you even know where you are.  How distracting is that?

If you actually enjoy that stuff and can honestly say it’s not made you quickly search for the ‘off’ switch or indeed ‘back’ button, you’re in the minority my friend. 

It’s one of many common problems with websites that soon switch off your viewers.  When people arrive on your website, they need to know you’ve got what they want, or are at least likely to be able to provide for their needs.  What they don’t need is anything that will distract or annoy them enough to put them off their task – the back button is very easy to push.

Starting with noises and pictures, here are five of the worst culprits:

1.  Music, sounds and whizzy graphics people can’t control

These are the bells and whistles that some web developers, novices or overly-excited web designers love to put on websites, often simply because they can.  Don’t follow their lead.  If you must put moving images, music or noise on your site, place the controls in the hands of your user and make it easy for them to turn off and on.

2. Where are you taking me?  Poor navigation

This includes links that don’t go where your user expects them to go when they click them.  It happens a lot  – you press the link and it either doesn’t work or goes elsewhere.  People arrive on your site and scan the page for things that look like they fit with what they’re looking for or are interested in.  They’ll look at your navigation and select the most likely option to get what they want.  If it doesn’t work, or most commonly it’s labelled confusingly, they’ll be annoyed.  Annoyed people won’t stay long.

3.  It looks nice, but does it work?  Overly-artistic web design

Some websites, due to the nature of the subject they represent, are designed in extraordinary ways.  There’s nothing wrong with a bit of creative flair, but it is widely held amongst usability professionals that web designers have to work within certain conventions in order for people to feel comfortable using a website.  That means placing content such as navigation, search boxes, copy and logos where people expect to find them.  Anything that requires too much brain power to find will make people irritated and more likely to leave.                                              

4.  Why are we waiting…?  Flash intro nightmares

Flash is the programme used to make moving graphics and those intro pages that take ages to load – usually with the word ‘loading’ or a loading bar and an ‘Enter here’ button.  Yawn.  They are pointless and annoying and if they take ages to load, people get bored and leave.  If you’ve used the web a fair bit it’s likely you’ve experienced it.  I assume it’s like a book cover (or because someone likes playing with Flash) – but what works in print certainly isn’t the same for the web.

5.  Corporate jargon which utilizes the exact phraseology to exemplify their working practices – or such bore-speak

Yes, I made up the word bore-speak.  But how annoying and dull it is when you come across a website that spouts nonsense at you – and it happens all too often.  You have to assume that your reader knows nothing about you or your company, so you need to explain in your copy what your site can do for them in terms they understand.  That means knowing who your audience is and how they express themselves in order to make the connection. Keep it simple and everyone is happy.                   

If there are any other aspects of websites that really get to you, please feel free to share them in the comment box below and we can all have a good old moan together. Hopefully it will help a few people to improve the experience for their users – and their sales.