How to Write For Mobile

Overcome the obstacles of reading on the small screen

You’ve read the numbers. You know that more than half of your audience members are receiving your emails, visiting your webpages and engaging with your social media channels via their mobile devices, not their laptops.

How to write for mobile

Don’t get left out of the mobile revolution: Reading your webpage on a smartphone cuts comprehension by 48%[1], attention by 50%[2] and reading speed by 20% to 30%[3]. Now what?

Problem is … reading on a smartphone is as different from reading on the web as reading on the web is different from reading print:

  • What’s irritating on a laptop can be overwhelming on a smartphone.
  • Reading your webpage on a smartphone is like reading War and Peace through a keyhole.
  • It’s not easy to get the word out on a 3×6-inch screen.
The phrase 'mobile usability' is pretty much an oxymoron

Mobile meltdown? It’s not easy to reach readers on their smartphones.

In fact, the folks at the Nielsen Norman Group have identified 335 obstacles to getting the word out on mobile devices that don’t exist on laptops.

“The phrase ‘mobile usability’ is pretty much an oxymoron,” says Jakob Nielsen, principal of NNG.

In this environment, how do we reach readers online?

The good news is, best practices for web and mobile copywriting can help. In fact, just three simple tweaks have been proven in the lab to boost usability more than 124%.[4]

Do your team members know those tweaks?

“Simply life changing!”
— Jose Romero, technical product manager, NXP Semiconductors

Agenda: one-day workshop

At my one-day How to Write for Mobile workshop, your team members will learn how to:

Lift Ideas Off the Screen

Reach nonreaders with display copy

People spend 96% of their time on websites looking, not reading, according to a Xerox PARC critical incident study.

Lift ideas off the screen: Reach nonreaders with display copy

“People read paper,” says TJ Larkin, Larkin Communications Consulting. “They use the web.”

Because even highly educated web visitors read, on average, just 20% of words on the page.

Indeed, web visitors read, on average, 20% of words on the page, according to an analysis of 50,000 page views of European computer scientists, psychologists, sociologists and engineers.[5]

So how do you reach nonreaders on the small screen? In this session, you will learn to:

  • Pass The Palm Test. Improve reading time, comprehension and satisfaction with one quick trick.
  • Take five simple steps to write links that get scanned and clicked.
  • Use a six-step process to transform your bulleted lists into freestanding information packages that lift key messages off the screen for nonreaders.
  • Bust the myth of page view time: Measurably boost understanding, memory, satisfaction — while costing readers 50% less time.
  • Pass The Skim Test: Make sure even flippers and skimmers can get the gist of your message — without reading the paragraphs.
“”Not a tiny tweak but new form of writing.”
—  Eve Gelman, APR, director of marketing, communications, events and business development, Peddler’s Village Partnership

Get to the point faster

Because web visitors spend 80% of their time above the fold

Consider the numbers:

  • Web visitors spend 80% of the time above the fold, or on the first screen of a webpage, and just 20% below the fold.[6]
  • Material near the top of a webpage gets 17x the attention of that near the bottom.[7]
  • The average difference in how users treat information above vs. below the fold is 84%.[8]

Get to the point faster

But where’s the fold? Content that shows up above the fold on a 30-inch monitor can take as many as five screens on a smartphone.[9]

Reach readers where their eyes are.

So how can you reach your readers where their eyes are? In this session, you’ll learn to:

  • Pass the 1-2-3-4 test to put your message where web visitors’ eyes are. Tip: Try this simple test on your smartphone for best results.
  • Make it a mullet — and 4 more steps for writing effective web heads. (No. 5 is the most important thing you can do to improve the ROI of your site.)
  • Optimize webpages for Google and humans with our three-part test. Note: If you’re still using SEO tricks you learned in the ’oughts, Google may be penalizing your pages.
  • Don’t drop the deck. Learn to make the most of the best-read element on your webpage.
  • Steal headline-writing tips from the BBC — the source of the best news heads on the web, according to Nielsen.
“All writers of mobile content should attend.”
— Cean Burgeson, senior content creator, Whirlpool Corp.

Master the Temple Structure

It’s been proven in the lab to be more effective than the form you’re using now

Are you using a structure that’s been proven in the lab to:

  • Attract 300% more readers and 520% more reading?[10]
  • Get more social media shares?[11]
  • Boost readership, understanding, engagement, interest, satisfaction and more?[12]

Master the temple structure

If not, why not?

Learn a structure that’s been proven in the lab to increase readers by 300% and reading by 520%.

In this session, you’ll learn a structure that’s been proven to grab readers’ attention, pull them through the piece and leave a lasting impression. Specifically, you’ll learn how to:

  • Start your webpage with a bang with four types of web leads to try.
  • Avoid three leads that reduce online reading — including one that’s been proven in eyetracking studies to make people skip your first paragraph.
  • Tap three secrets of successful subheads. This “may be the most important thing you do” to improve usability of your webpage, according to the authors of How People Read on the Web: The Eyetracking Evidence.
  • Get mobile visitors past the first screen of their smartphones with best practices for mobile menus.
  • Get out of your own way by removing four items from the top screen that may be getting between your mobile visitors and your message.
“How to shape writing for mobile – very concrete take-aways for evaluating my program’s communications.”
— Aimee Fasnacht, associate director, alumni relations, Franklin & Marshall College

Cut Through the Clutter Online

Because ‘short is too long for mobile’

“What’s slightly annoying” on a desktop can be “overwhelming” on a smartphone, according to the authors of User Experience for Mobile Applications and Websites.

Cut through the clutter online


  • It’s 48% harder to understand messages on a smartphone than on a laptop.[13]
  • People read 20% to 30% slower online. [14] But they read about 30-milliseconds-a-word slower on mobile devices than they do on desktops.[15]
  • Attention spans on mobile devices are 50% shorter than on laptops.[16] So while mobile reading takes longer, people spend less time on a page when reading on their phones.

How do you avoid overwhelming mobile visitors?

Learn three tweaks that will increase webpage usability by up to 124%.

In this session, you will learn proven-in-the-lab best practices for increasing webpage usability up to 124%. Specifically, you’ll learn how to:

  • Pass The 1-2-3-4-5 Rule for online paragraphs. Tip: Test it on your smartphone for best results.
  • Increase usability by 58% with one simple step.
  • Make long webpages easier to read on a smartphone with three quick tips.
  • Use a cool — free! — tool for testing your webpage’s clarity. Get a paragraph-by-paragraph analysis of ways you can measurably increase readability.
  • Avoid The Mobile Paradox: The No. 1 activity for mobile users is wasting time. But mobile users get “visibly angry” at verbose sites that waste their time. How do you avoid enraging readers?
“This was the best writing workshop I’ve ever taken. It was packed with best practices backed up by research.”
— Liz Carmack, senior communications specialist, Texas Association of Counties

Practice sessions

Master the techniques we learn in class

It never fails: After attending our one-day writing workshop, the No. 1 thing participants wish we’d had more time for is extra time for practice and feedback.

Get a web writing workout with Ann Wylie

But when you make your workshop a two-day Master Class, your team members will have time to practice the skills we learn in class, get feedback from me and the group, and leave with a totally rewritten piece.

Make Ann your team’s personal writing coach.

In these practice sessions, your team members will:

  • Master the techniques you learn in the workshop by applying them immediately. (That’s how we put the “Master” in the Master Class!)
  • Gain valuable insights on your work from your peers and from Ann.
  • Learn to analyze and improve others’ writing — the best skill you can develop for editing others or improving your own work.
“The piece I worked on at the workshop has improved measurably.”
—  Scott Worden, manager, corporate communications & PR, Magna International

Writing guidelines

Walk away with ‘the book’ of best practices

The workshop is over. Your team members are on their way back to their offices, bubbling over with excitement about all the best practices they’ve learned.

Now what?

Writing guidelines: get readers writing in the right direction

Maximize the return on your training investment with writing guidelines.

With writing guidelines, you can:

  • Help participants apply the techniques they’ve learned in class with a handy reference guide. Forget a step? Can’t read your notes? Had to step out of the room to take a call while we were covering an important detail? No worries. Participants can always look up and refer back to key concepts in the guidelines.
  • Institutionalize best practices throughout the organization. Regardless of how many people attend class, we can’t train everyone in the organization. Even if we did, tomorrow, you’d have a new hire on your team. Roll out the best practices we learn in class to new employees, reviewers and approvers. It’s the best way to get everyone on the same page.
  • See how Ann would have written your pieces. I’ll customize your writing guidelines with before-and-after examples of your team’s own work. BONUS: That means we’ll be able to show these rewritten headlines, leads — even full stories — in class, offering your team members examples they can use to model their own pieces on later.

Don’t be left out of the mobile revolution.

Book your team’s How to Write For Mobile workshop today.


[1] R.I. Singh, et al., University of Alberta

[2] Mobile HCI

[3] Andrew Dillon, Ph.D., the University of Texas

[4] Nielsen Norman Group

[5] University of Hamburg, University of Hannover

[6] Nielsen Norman Group

[7] ClickTale

[8] Nielsen Norman Group

[9] Briggsby

[10] Groove HQ

[11] Reuters Institute

[12] The Poynter Institute, The Readership Institute, the American Society of News Editors and the Newspaper Association of America

[13] R.I. Singh, et al., University of Alberta

[14] Andrew Dillon, Ph.D., the University of Texas

[15] Nielsen Norman Group

[16] Mobile HCI

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