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7 Ways to Optimize Your Copy for Mobile

By Paula Polley

It’s happening as you read this. There. It just happened.

Mobile has surpassed desktop for Internet searches. And looks like there’s no going back…

Mobile vs Desktop

Using phones, tablets, and now phablets, our time on the Internet is growing, while screen size is shrinking. The average display is between 4 and 5 inches.

What does that mean for copywriting? Here are 7 ways to rethink copywriting for mobile sites.

1. Write even shorter.

The mantra for great headlines has always been ‘shorter is better.’ But that’s when we were writing for 13” laptops back in 2012.

Look at the difference between PayPal’s clean minimalist copy two-years ago — to today’s approach. A great example of how ruthlessly to pare.

Streamlined copy in June 2012
Super-streamlined copy in June 2014
Pizza-Eye Tracking Study
Say it with an image.

2. Write nothing.

The best copy is often no copy — it’s just an image instead.

Great copywriters know when to shoot and when to give the assist to a mouthwatering photo or infographic.

In this eyeball-tracking study, the hot spot is the pizza, not the copy. Because especially in mobile, a picture is worth, well, you know…

3. Narrow it down.

There’s little chance you’ll fit all your copy on one mobile page — especially if you include heart-tugging images.

So before you even type a single word, plan for a narrow window — set your margins close together, or create a 4” text box.

You’ll produce more powerful content if you’re seeing it the same way your readers will.

4. Don’t repeat yourself.

Clients love repeating names, features and benefits. But with mobile there’s little space (or time) for repetition. Plus, it’s unnecessary.

For starters, your readers may have already searched for your brand name (Starbucks or Fiat). Or maybe they typed a request (“best Mexican food in Chicago”) in which case the heavy lifting comes from your SEO and Google.

5. Lose control.

Maybe you already write for ‘responsive design’ sites — those single sites that can morph to accommodate different screens.

The cool thing is they automatically reformat for all sizes and orientations (landscape, portrait, sideways…).

The uncool thing is that you may lose control over where your lines break. If, like me, you’re OCD about line breaks, work with your designer. Find out which heads/subheads can stay intact and which can’t.

In this responsive design for Starbucks, the copy in the green box doesn’t scale, keeping control over how the headline breaks.
In this responsive design for Starbucks, copy in the green box doesn’t scale, keeping control over how the headline breaks.

6. Stay inside.

Limit outside links. This is the exact opposite of the desktop web strategy, where more outside links = higher page ranking.

The difference here is that on a desktop we’re surfing — happy to break concentration for new information. Tabs and back buttons easily bring us back to where we started.

On mobile we’re hunting. We don’t have the time or bandwidth to poke around. We came to your site for a specific reason.

So limit your mobile links to lead-gens and conversions — just like Anthropologie did here — to keep your readers on the inside.

In this mobile site for Anthropologie the two choices are simple: lead-gen or conversion.
In this mobile site for Anthropologie the two choices are simple: lead-gen or conversion.

7. Scroll with it.

You may have noticed that more and more websites are adopting this long scrolling page design. It’s no coincidence that it’s happening just as mobile is taking the lead here.

Here Intuit uses short copy, photos and a video in a scrolling design that works well for desktop and mobile.
Here Intuit uses short copy, photos and a video in a scrolling design that works well for desktop and mobile.

On a mobile device, it’s way easier to scroll or swipe than to click to an all-new page:

  1. because of bandwidth issues
  2. because mobile is inherently designed for swiping, not clicking.

So when creating content for mobile, imagine how the reader is going to interact with your words: swiping, flicking, tapping, spreading and, of course, scrolling.

Paula Polley

About Paula Polley

Paula Polley has worked as a copywriter in major ad agencies (in L.A., Chicago & San Francisco) as well as freelanced on big brands and micro-brands alike. She’d love to talk to you about advertising, marketing and sustainable living. Eccentricity alert: she collects stained vintage tablecloths from the 40s and 50s.

4 thoughts on “7 Ways to Optimize Your Copy for Mobile”

  1. … the ideas are not new to me – but you articulate the
    web site vs. mobile site dichotomies in a way that pops;
    it is very clear – virtue!

    I haven’t seen much like the blunt PayPal before/after,

    You synthesize a gritty topic cleverly w/ concatenation
    and great linking copy. Very strongly target your writer

    I want to show it to a colleague overseeing the creation
    of a company web site with an eye to mobile for another
    internet portal attached to home banking for document

  2. All great points Paula. Especially about how visual the Internet has become. I’m curious however, if the folks that are searching for content I. Their mobile care so much about the visual. It seems that they would be more interested in the content unless it’s a a ute for fashion, let’s say. What do you think?

    1. Tracy, Thanks for responding!
      I think that if someone is doing an organic search—just for you—then they already know something about you and are looking for specific data—either location or product info. So we don’t need a lot of copy to ‘sell’ them. That said, if it’s a query, like ‘best app for writers’, a clean, open site design with strong short copy and some sort of eye-catching visual is still going to have stronger appeal than a copy-dense site. And to get more data in, it can be a scrolling site. Make sense? : )

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