by Susan Solomon | When Google announced that mobile-friendliness will influence a site’s ranking on search results pages, the need to move to responsive design was never clearer.
And, although designers have been quick to change their ways, not enough has been said about the impact of responsive design on copywriters.
Yes, copywriters, those wielders of winsome words. We still exist and we spend a lot of time contemplating how our expressive text can best complement those wonderful graphics.
We know from reading social trends that users don’t like to read too much of what our craft produces, and we’re not taking it too personally. We all know that good copy is still relevant. It’s what perks up content, guides users through the most forward-thinking layout, and generally improves the experience on that optimized, mobilized, utterly amazing site.
So, copywriters out there (and other content producers), here are six tips for this brave new world where your services are still really needed.
1. Defer the desktop
Yes, responsive design is all about a seamless cross-platform user experience. You’re writing for the desktop jockey as well as the mobile user, but let’s face it: Mobile trumps desktop. And soon, wearable trumps mobile. An increasing amount of browsing and researching now happens on the tiny screen (although more buying is done on desktop).
One of the easiest ways to check that your content will work on a mobile device is to set your browser window to phone size. You’d be surprised how much you find to edit when your copy doesn’t fit the screen. You can also see what your website content looks like on different-sized screens with free tools such as responsivepx.com or responsinator.com.
And think of this limitation as a blessing in disguise: Chances are your desktop site is bloated anyway and cries for some strategic editing.
2. Write tight
Strive for text blocks of 100 or fewer words. Eliminate “that” and “which” whenever you can. Use fewer clauses and learn to love possessives to efficiently modify nouns, as in “this article represents a year’s work” vs. “this article represents the work I did in one year.” However, using possessives as modifiers means brushing up on some tortuous grammar lessons on apostrophe usage (it helps to subscribe to apstylebook.com).
But don’t scale down copy so much that you lack clarity, which could be the killer of your site. You don’t want to leave a user confused, lost, or disappointed.
3. Harness your headlines
There’s no way around it: You’re going to have to shorten headlines or write longer ones that can break without losing meaning. Go for clarity, not clever.
If possible, especially when teeing up longer pieces, write headlines that tell people exactly what to expect when reading the piece. For example, “Eight Reasons Copywriters Can Make or Break Your Campaigns.”
4. Take a designer to dinner (often)
Copywriters need to work hand in hand with designers and developers to get the requirements for the responsive site and craft the perfect copy that will complement complex layouts.
Remember that page elements will shape-shift and the copy will also be part of those moving elements. The copy is not simply words on the page any more, but part of the design. And watch out for tricky elements, such as tables, that may not shift the way you’d expect.
To understand more about what happens to your words and their arrangement, take a look at this primer on responsive design content.
5. Rethink your gig
Work on becoming a content expert. From a practical perspective, you can stop that archaic system of getting paid by the word, which doesn’t pan out well when you’re now asked to author a content-rich 300-word story instead of the longer 1,200-word piece of yesteryear.
Much more important, though, is to work on gaining the skills to develop an appreciation for the metrics and strategy of publishing. Content experts look at the user experience analytically and holistically, offering expertise on what resonates—through words, images, etc.—as they work closely with graphic artists and the entire team.
6. Love experimentation
Writing for marketing has always demanded a certain amount of experimentation, and responsive writing is no exception. Many copywriters have been in this new world for several years, but now, more than ever, everyone is going to be expected to write responsively and responsibly.
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Susan Solomon is a healthcare marketing vice-president in Southern California and a marketing instructor at four universities. She was a Fulbright scholar and she has written extensively on marketing, branding, and social media for more than a decade. LinkedIn: Susan Solomon