Succeeding With Content In A Mobile World

In 2013, mobile traffic in the US almost doubled. Cyber Monday of 2013 was the year that cyber Monday went mobile. And, according to Gartner, Q2 of 2013 was the first time that sales of smartphones surpassed sales of feature phones, with the former accounting for 51.8 percent of mobile phone sales worldwide.

That last fact in particular shows the unlocked potential of the mobile web. The mobile web is on fire, and a mobile content strategy is a must for 2014.

Unlock the Potential of the Mobile Web

Unlock the Potential of the Mobile Web

Evan Britton, CEO of, kicked off the IEEE International Symposium on Multimedia conference with a very engaging keynote entitled “Succeeding with content in a mobile world.” Britton has grown to 3 million unique visitors monthly, and smartphone traffic — which currently accounts for 40% of the site’s overall traffic — has grown 400% year over year. The site profiles famous people, and part of their content strategy is that they do so in an informative and concise format which is easy to read on smartphones.

Britton’s keynote discussed the psychology and expectations of mobile users, along with a great guide as to what to incorporate in a mobile strategy. This was followed by a checklist of “hurdles” or things to avoid when creating mobile friendly content. The talk culminated with some well known success stories that have deployed these mobile content strategies.

Mobile Users Are Different From Desktop Users

Mobile users are different from desktop users. Just as you don’t get to decide what platform your visitors use to access your site (they do), the same philosophy applies to your content development.

Let your users tell you what content they want to see. How can you do this? One great way is by leveraging query logs. Look at what those logs tell you about what users want to see. Just as Google will look at query logs to determine what questions to answer next, Britton applied the same strategy to his website and let user traffic tell him which celebrities the users themselves wanted information about. When queries came in and he had no corresponding content, he created that content. In essence, user demand drove the content creation.

Along the same lines of user engagement and content driving website strategy, Google updated its ranking advice on June 16, as reported by Barry Schwartz:


“In general, webmasters can improve the rank of their sites by increasing the number of high-quality sites that link to their pages.”


“In general, webmasters can improve the rank of their sites by creating high-quality sites that users will want to use and share.”

In other words, content that engages the user and retains their attention is key. And, as mobile users are different from desktop users, here are some key takeaways in mobile content creation.

Expectations Of Mobile Users

Mobile users are different from desktop users and thus their expectations are different. They even use different devices for different things. As Bing pointed out in a recent SlideShare presentation entitled, “Choose your words carefully,” just as there is no one set of ad copy that works best across all devices — you have to tailor your content (be it an ad or the site itself) to the device.

Remember: when considering the mobile user, simple and to-the-point (concise) is key.

Mobile users are different from Desktop Users: People use different devices for different things

Mobile users are different from Desktop Users: People use different devices for different things

Consider the following about your typical mobile user:

  • They are on the go. Content must be easy to digest and directly to the point. Examples of success stories that bear this in mind are Twitter (140 character limit) and Vine, a twitter owned video-sharing app that leverages 6 second videos. i.e., content that errs on the side of being terse and to-the-point is a plus.
  • The screen is small. Vertical (up and down) scrolling is preferable — not horizontal. The challenge lies with the 320-pixel width limit.
  • Load time is critical, more so than ever. With the typical impatience of any Internet user exacerbated in an “on the go” situation (i.e., I want it, and I want it now) anything that significantly increases load time is to be avoided. Keep in mind also that Google’s mobile guidelines emphasize the importance of page speed.
  • Static is better. Avoid the use of animated content unless it is user requested. Avoid the use of animated GIFs, and make sure things like videos are click-to-play (play by default is to be avoided).
  • Less is more. Simplicity is critical, and a screen with a lot of “noisy” information can be a deterrent. As a specific example, look at the amazon mobile optimized website vs. the non optimized version below, and you can clearly see which has a stronger call to action.

Amazon mobile optimized website vs non-optimized: Less is more

Amazon mobile optimized website vs non-optimized: Less is more

Eliminate User Hurdles

User hurdles can be major obstacles, sometimes causing the user to instantly abandon the site. Britton gave the following checklist of potential hurdles and how to avoid them:

  • Unnecessary logins. Ever encounter those annoying login screens while on your mobile and suddenly lost attention or looked for an alternative mechanism to entertain yourself or find what you need? Make sure to avoid login screens when possible.
  • Too many steps: “Less is more” is a repeated and not to be underestimated philosophy in mobile design. Too many steps can make things overly complicated and time consuming, something the mobile user especially does not have time for.

Too Many Steps (Less is More)

Too Many Steps

  • Pop-ups. Make sure to eliminate popup usage for mobile content. Not only are these annoying to the user, they place an additional burden on load time.
  • Large logos: These take up most or all of your screen real estate on mobile — and don’t accomplish much else.  ”A picture speaks louder than words” is a great philosophy to adopt and adhere to, but if you are using that picture to assist in explaining a piece of content, it probably ought not to be your website’s logo.
  • No clear call-to-action. Remember, mobile is about simplicity, not being “fancy” or “slick.” Make your call-to-action large. Do not try to brand on mobile; rather, focus on the user experience.

Examples Of Successful Mobile Content Strategies

This section details some of the preferred and effective strategies for handling content on mobile.

Headlines Work Better Than Stories

Headlines work better than stories for content discovery. Although the user will ultimately end up reading the story they are interested in, using primarily headlines is effective from a navigational perspective, as there is only so much screen real estate available in mobile.

Headlines Work Better Than Stories

Headlines Work Better Than Stories

Keep It Short And Concise

Typical success stories of companies that have adopted this strategy would be Twitter (140 characters) and Vine (6s video sharing app that is now owned by Twitter). Summly (purchased by Yahoo for $30 million) is another typical success story that was based on this design philosophy for mobile: simple, concise, less-is-more.

Consider Entity Search

Understanding the impact entity search has had on mobile is also critical. Since search results themselves are now entities, this enables and paves the way for a far better user experience, as entities (and hence SERPs) can themselves be actionable. They can contain relevant images, calls-to-action, navigation within a website to the appropriate location, directions to a location and/or the answer to the search query itself.

Typical entity results can be seen by looking at rich snippet examples in SERPs or Knowledge Graph search results. You can clearly see how entity search and entity results in SERPs provide a far better mobile experience for the user. Google Now cards are a classic example of an effective utilization of this strategy in mobile.

ENTITY SERPS in Google Now

Entity SERPS in Google Now

As you can see from the images above, the left-hand side results depict mobile entity SERPs where the entity is of type “event.” The right-hand side results depict where the entities in the SERPs are of type “tourist attraction.” Clearly, any search where the result set is a list of entities of the same type is ideally suited for a carousel-type display. Interestingly enough, when Google first acquired Metaweb, this was one example of the use of entities in search results which it cited as follows:

With efforts like rich snippets and the search answers feature, we’re just beginning to apply our understanding of the web to make search better. Type [barack obama birthday] in the search box and see the answer right at the top of the page. Or search for [events in San Jose] and see a list of specific events and dates. We can offer this kind of experience because we understand facts about real people and real events out in the world. But what about [colleges on the west coast with tuition under $30,000] or [actors over 40 who have won at least one oscar]? These are hard questions, and we’ve acquired Metaweb because we believe working together we’ll be able to provide better answers.

In other words, when all the entity results are of the same type of entity, there are all kinds of engaging visual displays that are possible, depending on how the information is aggregated. I presume A/B testing is conducted in real time on a wide scale to determine which specific result displays convert into the optimal user experience.

You can see how the desktop version of the same search will actually result in different display formats. Many of the entity SERPs (or rich snippets in this case) have different action items available.

ENTITY SERPS on a desktop - where all entities are of type "Event"

Entity SERPs on a desktop, where all entities are of type “event”


Final Thoughts

The tips provided above address the expectations of mobile users as well as hurdles to success in the mobile world. Success stories with respect to mobile content emphasize the need to keep things simple and concise. There is also a need to look to the future by considering entity search.

Remember that optimization for semantic search is, in fact, applicable to mobile. Check out 5 ways to unlock the benefits of semantic search for more ideas!