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There’s a lot you can control about how people see, perceive and experience your online brand messages.  

But one thing you have very little influence over is where they’ll be when they do so or what device they’ll be using.

I’ve written previously on the importance of basing your content strategy on user scenarios rather than personas; figuring out where your average user is going to be when they come across your website is just as important as working out who they are.

Could they be sat on a train on their way home from work? Will they be waiting in a long queue outside a gig venue? Or whiling away a Sunday afternoon on a sunny park bench?

Are they sat half-watching a reality TV show at home, or killing time on a Friday afternoon at work, or are they trying to ignore the hustle and bustle of the departure lounge at Heathrow Airport?

Getting a grasp on these aspects has a big influence on everything from your chosen content formats through to your publishing schedule.

Responsive design is now seen as a standard approach to any new web build project by most developers, and they’re thriving on the challenge of how to get the right balance between big and small screen experiences. 

On the other side of the office are those who are tasked with creating the stuff that’s going to sit on these websites; the content producers.

It's essential that producers understand the principles and rationale that sits behind the design techniques deployed on the sites they look after, and actively liaise with development teams to find out about the capabilities of what they’re working with.

Some tips for getting responsive content right:

Know the sharing situation

The default Twitter and Facebook buttons might not always be the right option, so analyse by device how your users share and replace the icons they see to offer them a single click solution – are they more likely to Tweet from their phones, but share via email from a laptop?

Recent analysis of the Gov.uk website showed that while mobile phone users and desktop users are equally likely to use the social sharing buttons, for some individual news items, mobile sharing increased dramatically.

An article on the death of Nelson Mandela saw a 2.2% rate of mobile shares, compared to 1.3% from the desktop version.

If you’re able to understand these trends for your website, you can create better prompts and positioning for social engagement.

Make the next click count

The links that you include in your site are there to be clicked on so make sure that you are sending your users to pages that are suitable for the device that they are on.

If you’re referencing a source or linking to a document, try clicking to it from your mobile and tablet to see what your user may be facing – if there’s an unfamiliar format or tiny text, look to see if there’s a better experience you can offer them.

This is an issue commonly faced with infographics. While the flat image format has grown in popularity and has provided a highly shareable asset for many, there has often been little thought or contingency for those viewing via a small screen.

A simple responsive infographic is a much better option for both your users, and your SEO.

Don’t refer to content in situ

If you’re aware that your content is going to be moving around the page depending on how it’s being consumed, you’ll need to adapt your guidelines for referencing images, graphs or other elements sitting on the pages of your site. 

In the below example from the Daily Mail, either the guy in the top photo has names for both of his feet, or there’s been a loss in translation from the desktop to the mobile version of this page.

It doesn’t stop there. You need to consider prioritising certain elements of your content based on device, and how you can sensibly scale images so they remain. 

As digital producers and strategists we need to think about content in a flexible and fluid way, putting the technical aspects to one side and highlighting some of the opportunities and pitfalls to consider with regards to what’s actually seen on screen. 

Photo Credit: Mark A Coleman


Published 31 March, 2014 by Danny Chadburn

Danny Chadburn is Content Strategist at iCrossing and a contributor to Econsultancy. 

17 more posts from this author

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