By Neil Patel published April 15, 2015

How to Write Content That Engages Mobile Readers

content-engages-mobile-readers-coverYou’ve got a responsive site with a kick-ass mobile design. You’re ready for Google’s “mobilegeddon,” right?


With all the excitement over Google’s upcoming mobile-friendly search-results update, marketers are neglecting one of the most critical features: copywriting.

Those focusing too much on mobile usability are giving short shrift to mobile copywriting. Content marketers must understand how and why mobile content matters, and how to create content that mobile readers will love.

Mobile copywriting. It’s a thing.

Smashing Magazine makes the provocative point that “you may be losing users if responsive web design is your only mobile strategy.” The Smashing contributor makes the point that under-the-hood coding is an integral part of the equation. I agree.

I would take his argument in a new direction. You also need to know how to write for mobile users.

How do you create mobile-optimized copy? Following are six critical lessons in the pursuit of better mobile content.

1. Forget everything you thought you knew about reading content online

It’s time to toss the old paradigms. Reading content from a mobile device is totally different from reading content on a desktop. Here are some of the things you’ll need to force out of your mind.

Golden triangle

The “golden triangle” is a viewing pattern in which web users primarily view the upper left corner of a website or search engine page results (SERPs). The principle is derived from eye-tracking studies, in which the majority of rapid eye movement covers a triangular region.

google-f-shaped-pattern-image 2

Image source

F-shaped pattern

Jakob Nielsen’s research on the golden triangle gave rise to the “F-shaped pattern” for viewing web content. This is another nugget of wisdom that, for mobile readers, is passé.

The F-shaped reading pattern taught that users looked at the top, left to right, down, left to right, and then down further. End. It made the shape of an “F” on eye-tracking studies.

f-shaped-pattern-image 3

This principle no longer applies in the era of mobile readers. There’s not enough screen real estate for horizontal sweeps and vertical movement.

Instead, viewers look primarily at the center of the screen as indicated in this eye-tracking study from Briggsby.

briggsby-screenshot-image 4

Image Source

As the image indicates, users give 68% of their time/attention to the center and top half, and a full 86% to the upper two-thirds. Anything below this point on the screen is less important.

Instead of clinging to a belief in the age-old wisdom of web readability, we need to redefine our perspective so we can create better content for the mobile revolution.

2. People view images more than they view text

Eye-tracking studies indicate that mobile users look at images more than they look at text. Here’s a study to prove it. (Note: KG stands for Knowledge Graph – the entity results, panels, and carousel summary provided by Google.)

Louvre-knowledge-graph-image 5

This image demonstrates that a user’s eye is drawn to images over text. Intent, query, content, relevance, and location are irrelevant to the principle that the human eye is drawn to images (source).

What’s the takeaway for copy? Use fewer images. They take up precious screen space. If the image doesn’t advance your point, don’t use it for mobile.

3. Get rid of unnecessary words, phrases, sentences, or points

The famous French polymath, Blaise Pascal, wrote, “I have made this longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter.”

His point? Concise writing takes time and hard work.

For mobile content, concise writing is essential. In this case, the necessity has more to do with the screen size than the user’s attention span. Your goal is to present the user with as much on-screen information as possible without requiring the user to swipe or tap. The more cogently you can express an idea, the better.

I do not recommend that you write shorter content. Long-form content is alive and well in an era of mobile content consumption.

Unfortunately, some mobile copywriters are advised to write less. This counsel is wrong. Longer content is still appropriate. Instead of shortening your content, tighten your writing.

Make your content as long or as short as it needs to be. Do not force yourself into some preconceived idea about what constitutes the right length of an article. Instead, wipe your article clean of anything that’s unnecessary.

4. Create short, strong headlines

Your headline doesn’t need to take up several screens of space. Short and sweet are better. Why? Lengthy headlines get lost below the fold.

mobile-headline-example-image 6

Short headlines are easily viewed in a quick scan.

mobile-headline-short-example-image 7

Much of the responsibility for this, of course, rests with the designer. Mobile designers should realize that they don’t need to create monstrous titles on mobile devices. At the same time, you can help them (and readers) by condensing your titles to the essentials.

5. Front load your most powerful content

With desktop viewing, you have plenty of above-the-fold real estate. In some website designs, you can have four or five paragraphs visible – no scrolling required. Things are a bit tighter with mobile. For this reason, start your articles with a few attention-grabbing lines.

In this CMI article, I started with a few sentences crafted to attract the reader’s attention. These sentences previewed the content and pointed to a takeaway. Most importantly, the first sentence raised expectations and grabbed attention.



Whatever you do, don’t start out boring. What mobile readers see above the fold is what will compel them to read below the fold. Make it good.

6. Use short paragraphs

Readers tend to get lost in long paragraphs.

Cognitively, a viewer considers a paragraph to be a complete thought. If that thought is too long, then the reader will get impatient and move on.

Paragraphs also cause the eyes to move in a predictable and consistent rhythm through the article. A series of short, staccato paragraphs works somewhat like a cadence in a song – the reader keeps moving from paragraph to paragraph consistently and completely.

U.S. News explains, “Reading long paragraphs on your mobile device requires concentration – something people using a mobile device generally don’t have.” The solution? Write short paragraphs.

Long paragraphs work like speed bumps to derail the flow of the article. Nowhere is this truer than on mobile devices. An innocent five-sentence paragraph on desktop may not look all that intimidating, but it can easily turn into a wall of text on mobile.

Here’s a great example of a writer who uses short paragraphs to break up his content into readable chunks. It’s the perfect method for mobile.

bufferapp-short-paragraphs-example-image 8


What’s the secret to creating awesome mobile copy?

Don’t write less. Write better.

Mobile readers still read articles. In fact, they might read more content on their mobile devices. The time has come to realize that the mobile revolution doesn’t just affect viewports and require responsive tricks. It requires a reorientation to the art of writing.

How has the mobile revolution affected your writing style?

You know how necessary mobile is in your tactical efforts. Now learn more about which tactics your peers are turning to for more effective content marketing creation and delivery. Read Content Marketing Institute’s e-book, Building the Perfect Content Marketing Mix: Execution Tactics.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Neil Patel

Neil Patel is the co-founder of Crazy Egg, Hello Bar, and KISSmetrics. He helps companies like Amazon, NBC, GM, HP and Viacom grow their revenue. The Wall Street Journal calls him a top influencer on the web, and Entrepreneur Magazine says he has created one of the 100 most brilliant companies in the world. You can connect with him on Twitter @neilpatel.

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  • Amber Edmison

    The only part I disagree with is using fewer images. I know that it was qualified with the image having to further a point, but I think all images should be a part of the content strategy. Every image used should further a point, otherwise it’s not necessary to be included in the desktop views either.

    • Neil Patel

      Amber, great point. I addressed this concern in one of the comments above. Basically, one should be mindful of the balance that should be struck with great written content and imagery.

  • Daniel Caughill

    I hate that our attention spans have shriveled to the point that we require one-sentence paragraphs. A sentence isn’t a paragraph . . . it’s a sentence. But alas, it’s a battle I won’t win. Editor problems.

    • Tom Slage

      One thing’s for sure: copywriting of the future is NOT about dotted-i writing mechanics. I think we’re talking about stripping fluff, which is never a bad thing.

      • Neil Patel

        Daniel, great point. I have heard many people share the same sentiment. It’s about conveying information not cutting corners.

        Tom, avoid fluff at all costs because it’s very transparent when people are using fillers.

    • Alex Braun

      I can’t argue that our attention spans are being shredded by the day, but the frequent line breaks on mobile are kind of exhausting without shorter paragraphs. You’re also fighting the issue of eye strain with backlit screens.

      If you’ve ever tried to read Joyce on a 3rd-generation iPhone, I think you’d be compelled to agree with Neil.

  • Mike Myers

    Hi Neil. Thanks for your thoughts here. Your conclusion of “don’t write less, write better” is spot-on and refreshing.

    I completely agree that mobile communication deserves specific attention and that copywriters should be looking at mobile differently (and I think many do).

    However, your takeaway about using fewer images is a bit concerning to me. Fewer images may make sense, but we need to strike a balance, right? Too few images can also be a problem.

    Here’s my concern: taking away too many images in favor of copy could cause a reader to abandon our message altogether. And if no one reads our message, it doesn’t matter how well written it is, right?

    Pictures being worth a thousand words and all, I believe copywriters should be
    more concerned with developing copy that works together with images to form a
    more complete and effective message, mobile or otherwise.

    Thanks again!

    • Neil Patel

      Mike, you bring up a great point. I definitely think there should be a balance that should be struck. With that being said — I suggested less images because often times people overcompensate with images and don’t have enough compelling text. The point is to convey information and words should be used to do that. Photos and images should be a supplement, unless of course, the content is an infographic.

  • Tom Slage

    So basically mobile is forcing us to become better writers and even better editors. Sounds like a win-win!

    Fascinating read Neil, thanks.

    • Neil Patel

      Tom, it definitely is a win-win! Quality content will thrive under these new guidelines.

  • Nandini Friendsmoo

    I like this blog very much because these articles are very helpful for us as we are providing digital marketing services in Hyderabad through our company

  • CP

    Great point on the importance of writing better – not necessarily less! Some say our attention spans have decreased. But maybe our BS detection is just better.

    • Neil Patel

      CP, as more content is shared around the web people have definitely become more skeptical of content. That’s why writing well is important.

  • Trevor

    For a B2B mobile site would you recommend the product photos positioned to the left or right side? I’m finding out that when styled to the right they get lost below content.

    • Neil Patel

      You should really test out what works best for you. Often times Right work best because people’s eyes naturally gravitate towards the right.

  • Mel Fugazzotto

    Great read, Neil. I like the use of ‘white space’ for mobile users… I’ve got older eyes so I’ve got a larger mobile screen (Galaxy note3) and I favor using larger fonts to reduce eyestrain. I’m also a scanner (like the ‘F’ readers). More white space or shorter paragraphs or bullets are a win!

  • deepika A

    Hi Neil, Nice article. I have a confusion with one point. Stats says that, more than 800 word account holds better results. But in case of mobile content, we should write short and crisp. So, if I have responsive design, my desktop and mobile site will be same. Then how content may differ on two devices?