"F for fast." That's the provocative opening for a fascinating article describing how people read web content (1). It continues: "That's how users read your precious content. In a few seconds, their eyes move at amazing speeds across your website's words in a pattern that's very different from what you learned in school."
The article provides details of an F-shaped reading pattern revealed by an eye-tracking study which rendered reading patterns in eye-tracking heat maps, which by now you might already be familiar with. Readers first read horizontally across the upper content area. Then they read down the page a bit and then across again in a second horizontal move that usually covers a shorter content area than the first horizontal scan. Finally, readers move on down the page to scan the content on the left side.
Mobile is different, of course, but there are similar insights into how readers consume content on mobile screens. This same source offers a half dozen tips for effective mobile copy which we'll share in this post. We think the advice is timely because given the growing dependence on mobile, there is—or should be—new urgency for optimizing your content for these devices.
1. Leverage the "Golden Triangle." "Once again, eye-tracking studies show that mobile users consume content in what's called a "Golden Triangle" viewing pattern." This corresponds roughly to the top and left of the mobile screen.
"Mobile users spend 68% of their time and attention in the center and top half of the mobile screen, and 86% of their time in the upper two-thirds of the screen. Anything beneath this point on the mobile screen is deemed less important, so any key messages below may be lost or ignored altogether."
2. Say a lot with a little. In other words, maximize the information you share but minimize the words you use to do so. No fluff. Every word has to carry its own weight.
3. Grab attention with riveting headlines. Mobile audiences are on the move. If you don't connect in a couple of seconds, you've lost the chance. Be relevant, descriptive—and brief. Try for 65-70 characters.
4. Start strong and finish the same. Build strong introductions and wrap up with engaging summaries. No room in mobile for windy warmups, and they don't want or need you to "set the stage." Just get in and get out.
5. Show and tell. Leverage the capabilities of newer mobile devices which are optimized for images. Complement your text with compelling images and graphics. Studies of usage patterns of Twitter and StumbleUpon reflect significantly higher rates of sharing when text is supplemented with images.
6. Leverage lists and links. "Lists and links are the lifelines of an effective mobile story.
Mobile readers love lists. . . . Lists are succinct and easy to read. They clearly show the reader where one point ends and another begins. This makes lists ideal for scanning or browsing.
"Many people scan before they read anyway, and this is especially true among mobile users, who quickly try to determine whether it's worth reading the entire article.
"Recent surveys have also shown that mobile users are inherently suspicious readers. They will question an author's credibility if any embedded links do not relate to the topic. So, make sure that any and all links are highly relevant, and that they actually work."
So there you are—a handful of useful tips you can begin using with your next mobile writing project. There is probably no better proving ground for "less is more" than the mobile landscape.
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