Tag Archives: readability

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.

Feeling ignored? 7 tips to make your copy more readable

22 Jul

This isn’t about nailing a sheet of writing to the forehead of your target audience – it’s about understanding how people read on the web so that you can lay out your copy to make sure your words aren’t ignored – this is called readability.

Why is readability important?

Whether on the web, in brochures, sales letters, newsletters and reports or really anything you want people to read, the way you lay out your copy has an effect on whether your words will actually be read. 

After all, you’ll have put some time and effort into constructing some killer copy.  You may even have all your keywords in your web copy to be found in the search engines.  But if someone is faced with a wall of text they’re likely to groan and leave.  If you’ve got a great sales pitch, want to impart important or interesting information or whatever you want to achieve with the words on your website, it will have little effect if no one reads them.

How do people read on the web?

The short answer is they don’t.  Some people will read every word, but the majority of people in readability tests scan the page.  They look for words that get their interest or relate in some way to what they are looking for.  People are usually looking for fast results, and really only need to get the gist.

What does this mean for your web copy?

Knowing that people scan web pages, here are some quick tips to laying out your copy so that you’re less likely to stop people from reading on:

1. Use headlines to capture attention.

  • Make them distinct from the main text by increasing the font size so it’s larger than the main body of the text
  • Its position should be about a third of the way down the page to meet the eye line
  • Don’t capitalise you headline or place a caplital at the beginning of each word (unless it’s a proper noun) – it stops people from reading fluently and reduces the impact of its meaning.

Headlines is a big subject which will be covered in more detail in later blogs.

2. Break up long text using sub headings so people can jump to what they need to know.

3. Highlight important words in bold or italic. When people scan the page, these words will stand out and tell your reader quickly what the copy is generally about. Also great for SEO.

4. Use bulleted lists – everyone loves a tidy list of bullet points. It quickly imparts information without the added detail, organises key points on the page and is much easier for your reader to digest. Imagine if I had placed all these tips in one long block of text. Would you have read this far?

5. Place copy to the left of picturesAs people scan images from top to bottom, words on the right can be ignored.  Yes, I know I have placed an image on the left, but it’s pointing to the text and as a general rule it should be on the right.

6. Don’t write too much . Web pages are generally no more than 250 words for a normal page depending on how much information your reader needs to know. You only need to write enough to get the message across or people will stop reading.

7. Don’t use justified or centred text.

Justified text is like a newspaper column. It tends to stretch out words to fit the space and adds a hyphen (-) where it splits a word in two as it runs into the next line so it fits the text area.

Centred text is difficult to read. The next line is indented and looks a bit like this. Your reader will have to look for the beginning of the sentence every time they move down a line. People often use it because they think it livens up the look of the page or makes it easier to read the copy, but it actually has the opposite effect.

 Keep your copy left-aligned.

Lamb’s final thought

Although I have written about web copy layout for readability, it really does apply to anything you have written copy for. If you have a sales letter with lots of blocky text, a brochure, for example, with no highlighted words or quotes, a report without subsections, it all prevents people from wanting to read on.

What makes a decent website?

10 Jun

What are your favourite websites?  Why do you like them?  Your attention is being fought over by millions (indeed, squillions) of web pages, and you’ve picked those ones.  I can bet you the reasons you like those websites are because:

  1. They give you what you want
  2. You find them pretty easy to use
  3. They’re interesting
  4. You feel fairly satisfied when you leave – but not quite enough not to return again.

That’s what a good website is about.  However, there are so many things that prevent people from staying on websites and buying the products, using the services or even reading the information found there, if indeed that’s what the site is for.

It’s the same as if you were baking the perfect pie – you’d have to get the right balance of ingredients for it to taste good and for you to want more.  Websites need the right mix of attractiveness, ease of use, relevant and interesting content and engaging words to make you stick around.  Otherwise you get bored and leave.

If you’re interested in finding out more about what makes good web copy, what makes people stay on websites and a bit of social media and SEO info, stay tuned.