August 19, 2017

‘Short is too long’

4 ways to optimize long stories for phone reading

How long is too long for the mobile screen?

Short is too long

Think small People will read long pieces on the screen. But only if they’re amazing. Image by Steven Depolo

“Only the biggest/most complex stories should go above 600 words,” counsels the BBC in its guide to writing news for the mobile screen. “But it is worth remembering that even a 500-word story looks long on mobile.”

That’s because the small screen makes columns narrower, so the story carries on for screen after screen after screen.

“Short is too long for mobile,” writes usability expert Jakob Nielsen. “Ultra-short rules the day.”

Indeed, a participant in one of Nielsen’s usability studies recently complained that the Boston Globe mobile site was not optimized for her phone because the pages were too long and she couldn’t find what she was looking for.

Readers expect mobile content to be short.

People will read longer pieces on their devices.

That doesn’t mean that people won’t read a longer piece on their phones.

“I might read a 24,000-word article that really interests me,” says BBC mobile editor Nathalie Malinarich, who reads most of her news on her phone.

I do think that it’s easier for the BBC’s newsies to write an article “that really interests me” than it is for a corporate writer. Not that BBC reporters are better writers than you, they just (usually) have more compelling topics and fewer restrictions on how to handle them.

Optimize long pages for the small screen.

But let’s say you do have a fascinating topic that deserves more than 600 words. How do you optimize longer stories for mobile screens?

In other words, make it hyper-tight for the mobile world.

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