5 tips for writing mobile articles

Herb Scribner | Web Writer, Deseret News National | @herbscribner | March 1, 2015

Mobile has become the hot spot for reading content. People will often see a story on Facebook, Twitter or other forms of social media while on their smartphone and immediately engage. Others will sort through content on their commute to work. Some may even listen to podcasts, watch videos or swipe through slideshows.

All of this is to say that the age of mobile content has arrived.

So, if you’re a writer like me, you’ve probably been told by an editor or two to start thinking about mobile-first content or to think of new and innovative ways to write content for mobile.

But making things work on mobile seems more like a developers job, right? Not so fast, Linkalist. There are some small things you can do to help your content shine on mobile.

The key to mobile is making content noticeable and quick to sort through. People often use their phones for multitasking, whether it’s while walking around the mall, sitting on a train or while they're on a lunch break. Readers don’t have time to read everything on your site, so you need to make sure they’re fully engaged with your article.

Here are some tips for writing content for mobile that will serve the reader and your news organization.

Get to the point. Quickly. Users spend two hours and 51 minutes a day on mobile news stories, according to the Business Insider. Most users only spend about 15 seconds on an individual article. So it’s important to get your point out quickly and serve your audience in the limited time they spend on your page.

Don’t focus on your diction or style — tell the readers what they need to know. If you tease something in the headline, make the answer easily available. The last thing a reader wants to do is fish through paragraphs to find an answer to the headline that brought them to the article in the first place.

Bold the important parts. Readers want to know the main point of your article quickly. One of the easiest ways to do this is to bold the important parts. The reader can pick those parts out of the article and come out with the main takeaways.

Here’s an article I wrote back in January about ESPN broadcaster Stuart Scott, which featured bolded phrases and words that we felt would help users understand our story and learn some takeaways.

Listicles for the win. Forget the slideshow lists. It’s 2015 — listicles (an article in list form) are what’s hot. Listicles — with bold headlines to identify different parts of the article (see: the article you’re reading now) — allow readers to quickly skim through and find the important parts of the article. If the listicle is fun and engaging, it’ll keep the reader on your site longer and engaged with your content.

Listicles are something at which BuzzFeed, one of the most successful news organizations right now with near 200 million unique users, excels. They include photos, gifs and videos with their lists to make list-reading a fun and enjoyable experience. Readers then will share the content across social media.

Mobile offers you the perfect platform for making listicles, which readers enjoy and which can serve a wide audience.

Links can be a highlighter. Sebastian Kersten recently wrote for Medium about how important links are for users. He wrote most news organizations don’t use links to their advantage, and often times, they’re a distraction for readers.

But you can use links to help readers, too. Links can highlight something you want your readers to know. They can also identify the source to which you’re linking. But the better practice may be to identify a key point or phrase that you want readers to takeaway from the story. Instead of a distraction, links, then become essential to reading the mobile content. Plus, links are often a different color than the text. So when skimming an article, the mobile reader may pay more attention to what’s highlighted.

This allows you as a writer to be creative, too. It forces you to find the more important parts of your story and show them to your readers. Imagine the highlighter picks out the words you would use to fill in the blanks in a Mad Libs game — they’re the important parts that create the story.

Keep up with what others are doing

We can all attest that media is constantly changing, and mobile is still very much the Wild West — although a wild west that’s being explored quickly. Apps like Snapchat, Vine and WhatsApp are reaching younger crowds with mobile specific content, showing that video and SMS sharing may be the future. Microsoft, a company many thought was being left behind in this new wave of digital news, has lately embraced mobile, too, and will be looking to add mobile news to its repertoire. There’s always a new app and product looking to help change the mobile game.

That’s why it’s important to follow what other leaders are doing. BuzzFeed’s Stacy-Marie Ishmael, for example, is always tweeting out links to good mobile ideas and stories that can help you stay ahead of the curve.

It may also be important for you to read other websites on your smartphone so that you can see what practices you like and don’t like. This gives you the mindset of the reader, which will help you make better decisions about how you frame and build your content for the mobile user.