This Is How You Reach Readers on Smartphones

Would you like to learn more techniques for getting the word out to mobile web visitors? If so, then join PRSA and Ann Wylie at Reach Readers Online our mobile-web-writing workshop, starting Oct. 5. You’ll master a four-part system for writing compelling web content that overcomes the obstacles of reading on the small screen. Save $100 with coupon code PRSA21! APRs: Earn 4 Accreditation renewal credits.

Reading your web page on a smartphone is like reading “War and Peace” through a keyhole.

In fact, the folks at the Nielsen Norman Group have identified 335 obstacles to reading on a smartphone that don’t exist when reading on a laptop. No wonder Jakob Nielsen says, “The phrase ‘mobile usability’ is pretty much an oxymoron.”

When your web visitors are reading on mobile, they:

  1. Devote less attention to your message

Readers pay less attention to your page when they’re on their phone screens than while using their laptops or desktops. That’s because mobile web visitors are likely to get interrupted at any moment.

  • They’re cooling their heels with your blog post at the doctor’s office — when their name is called.
  • They’re looking at your Facebook status updates in line at the grocery — when it’s their turn to step up to the cash register.
  • They’re researching the date of your webinar on the streetcar when they notice it’s their stop. Not only do they forget the date, but they also forget the fact that you’re having a webinar in the first place.

As a result of all of those interruptions, readers also …

  1. Spend less time with your message

People spend an average of 150 seconds on a web page visit on their desktops, but only 72 seconds on their phones, according to Mobile HCI.

This means that attention spans on mobile devices are half as long as they are on desktops.

  1. Read more slowly

People read 20 percent to 30 percent slower online, according to a survey of nearly 30 years of research by Andrew Dillon, Ph.D., of the University of Texas.

Reading on mobile takes even longer. People spend about 30 milliseconds more per word when reading on a phone than when reading on a laptop or desktop computer.

Let’s do the math: If readers spend less time and read more slowly, then they’re absorbing less of your message.

  1. Understand less of your message

Mobile web visitors also comprehend less of your message.

Web pages are 48 percent harder to understand on an iPhone than on the big screen, according to research by R.I. Singh and colleagues from the University of Alberta. In the study, web visitors understood:

  • 39 percent of what they read on a desktop screen
  • Just 19 percent of what they read on mobile screens
  1. Remember less of your message

Short-term memory is bad and getting worse. (I looked up a short-term memory loss joke for this spot this morning, but I can’t remember what it was…)

The problem is, we can only remember what we can see. With a 3-by-9-inch screen, we can’t see very much. In fact, content displayed above the fold on a 30-inch monitor requires five screens on a smartphone, according to the authors of User Experience for Mobile Applications and Websites.

  1. Are less likely to act on your message

When the IRS improved its web pages about tax law changes, employee call center accuracy increased by 10 percent, reports TJ Larkin of Larkin Communications Consulting.

When the bureau printed the exact same web pages and left them in employees’ cubicles, accuracy increased by 42 percent.

So how do you reach readers online, even when they’re reading on mobile devices? Get to the point faster, organize better, make it easier to read and more skimmable.

Ann Wylie works with communicators who want to reach more readers and with organizations that want to get the word out. To learn more about her training, consulting or writing and editing services, contact her at Get FREE writing tips here. Find more than 2,000 writing tip sheets at

Copyright © 2021 Ann Wylie. All rights reserved.

[Photo credit: flamingo images]

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