Writing for mobile audiences 101

Canadian media theorist Marshall McLuhan has gained fame in academic circles and lecture halls across the country for his oft-quoted phase conveying the importance of how words, or copy is delivered.

“The medium is the message.”

What does this mean, and why does is matter? McLuhan’s legacy holds much relevance for modern content creators. Whether you’re writing an email, a blog post or a web page, content marketers know one thing is sure. Just like we can count on taxes every year, writers can count on viewership traffic coming from mobile devices.

According to one figure published on Litmus.com, 43% of all emails are opened on mobile devices. Knowing that messaging will be consumed on a substantially small screen, does this mean the copy should be shorter too? Should it be structured differently? Should we avoid leading with any kind of modifying phrase?

The answer is: Yes, maybe and maybe, respectively. In writing for mobile, care should be given to the medium. Whether writing for a smartphone, smart TV, tablet or desktop, the following truths can serve as a guide.

Know your rhythm

Similar to the songs spinning through a Spotify playlist, good writing has rhythm. Its length and flow fluctuates to make a point. Or pivots. Rapidly — to a new idea. Just as writers would when creating copy for a brochure, it’s important to consider how the content’s rhythm translates to the variety of screens where it will be viewed.

Also important, use the rhythm of your writing to reinforce your brand personality. Shorter sentences will help you capture the feeling behind a friendly, approachable brand. While, longer sentences can help convey a more formal, authoritative brand experience. When writing for mobile, the need to communicate your brand through sentence flow is even more important. Your audience can migrate with the slide of a finger if they aren’t engaged.

Write for the range of intention within your audience

We all eat differently. Some of us snack throughout the day. Others prefer three squares and clean their plates each time. People read differently too. Some scan for relevant information. They are the snackers. Others prefer to dig into the entire article top to bottom. It’s important to satisfy each of these different “reader” segments within your larger target audience.

To satisfy the snackers, break up content with small subtitles. These should be written so they provide value to anyone scanning the content. They can also be used to set the stage for readers who will read the entire piece.

In writing for mobile audiences, abandon traditional wisdom that tells you, they lack an attention span. True, mobile audiences have options. With the flick of a pointer finger and touch of a button, they’re onto the next piece of content. But, if they’re engaged. They will stop.

Statistics on a 6,000-word Buzzfeed article tell us a completely different story than conventional wisdom would. That would say, “Six thousand words is far too long for a mobile readership to consume on their smart devices. The bounce rate will be high. Mobile readers will never spend the time to read this.” Not true, 47% of the article’s traffic came from mobile readers who spent more than 25 minutes with the article.

The question then becomes as users are more comfortable accessing copy via mobile devices do we no longer need to worry about copy being too “long” for the small screen? Not necessarily so. See the next paragraph.

View the copy natively

There’s no need to explain it. We can feel it. You might write something that captures your message and your brand, but viewing it onscreen, the sentence length and rhythm feels off. Content feels and appears differently on a mobile device than if it was displayed on a desktop computer.

The distance to the fold is much smaller. When considering your content, and especially whether it is too “long” for mobile consider the positioning of your most important calls to action. Work on positioning those first and trimming down to satisfy length concerns if they exist later.

Circling back
Marshall McLuhan’s legacy phrase first appeared in his famous work “Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man.” Yet, it’s as relevant today for content marketers adapting copy to the ever-evolving screen.