If the headline of this piece seems a bit hackneyed and sub-Buzzfeed, that’s because it is. But it’s also a tongue-in-cheek example of the way in which content has changed as more of what we consume goes mobile.
The digital headline writer’s toolkit includes listicles (like this piece), increasingly ridiculous hyperbole (“The hardest SpongeBob quiz you’ll ever take”) and the ‘curiosity gap’ (“You won’t believe what happens next”), some or all of which are deployed with great (or middling) skill to get you to click. (To learn more, check out this fascinating episode of the Allusionist podcast, in which host Helen Zaltzman talks to Buzzfeed’s Tom Phillips about the art of the irresistible headline.)
But it’s not just headlines that have evolved. The way in which we, as content providers, think about content overall has shifted as we, as consumers, move from print to desktop to mobile and tablets.
At the most recent CMA Digital Breakfast, we got tips from practitioners in the mobile and social media spaces about how to optimise content – and the sites on which that content sits – for today’s mobile reader. Here are six of them.
1. Responsive, responsive, responsive.
Users want a consistent experience and the same content whether they’re reading on a laptop or their mobile phone. This means responsively designed sites are really the only game in town. As a bonus, they tend to score higher in Google’s search rankings.
2. Headlines should contain enough information to stand on their own.
Responsively designed websites often drop the standfirst as they switch to mobile mode, meaning you can’t rely on the information in that standfirst to help lure in readers. The Mail Online gets a lot of stick for its ludicrously long and detailed headlines, but it’s a deliberate choice aimed at its readers, who it knows often just skim through the site.
3. Content should drive digital design.
Web designers take note: content, tailored to key users, should come first and determine the wireframe, rather than the other way around.
4. Online content doesn’t have to be short.
The ‘rule’ that web articles should be no more than 500 words is nonsense. One of Buzzfeed’s most-read articles is this 6,000-word essay about buying a house in Detroit.
5. But it does have to be structured and designed properly.
Lengthy, in-depth and immersive content needs to be compelling and ‘sticky’, even on mobile. In terms of design, that means avoiding hard horizontal breaks, such as ads or images, that stop people scrolling down. Always have something ‘peeping up’ to indicate more is to come.
6. Take this stuff seriously.
It’s easy to dismiss sites that use clickbait headlines and other devices as silly or lightweight, but in reality, they put a lot of time and effort into optimising their content to make sure it’s read. And isn’t that what we all want?
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