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Microcontent in Action: How One Prominent Organization Reuses Their Most Important Content

By Josh Anderson, Associate Information Architect at Precision Content

Doctor working at the medical network on the tablet at the background of the city.Microcontent – that is, bite-sized, self-contained pieces of writing about a single topic that can work in any context – is something we talk about a lot at Precision Content. And for good reason; the future of content will be microcontent topics fed into knowledge graphs and retrieved by AI-powered cognitive engines.

But instead of hearing it from us again, let’s look at how one prominent organization uses microcontent. In this blog post, we would like to highlight an example of microcontent in use, spotted “in the wild” on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s website.

Create once, publish everywhere

Microcontent is well suited to provide answers to users’ real-life questions. Undoubtedly the CDC is a source that many people look to for answers to their questions about COVID-19. For the CDC, the Delta variant of COVID-19 is an extremely pertinent topic that holds relevance to a great many pages throughout their website. So instead of rephrasing the same content over and over across countless pages, wincing at the inevitability of the messaging eventually falling out of sync as time passes and webmasters come and go, the CDC has constructed a single, succinct microcontent topic that they can maintain in one place and strategically reuse wherever it makes sense. Take a look:

CDC microcontent on the Delta Variant

The CDC reuses this Delta Variant microcontent topic throughout their website.

The topic is self-contained and therefore ready to be pulled into any location. When the authors want to change it, they don’t need to try to remember every place they copied/pasted their block of content; they can simply find that topic in their content management system, edit it once, and trust that the changes will be pushed everywhere it appears.

As of the time of writing (August 25, 2021), this microcontent topic can be found across numerous pages of the CDC site, any one of which might inspire the reader to seek out information on the Delta variant. Instead of users needing to be directed to “the Delta variant page” to learn more about the variant, the information meets the users where they are.

Progressive disclosure makes for easier scanning of content

The first two sentences of the microcontent topic summarize the main points. A user could read only the short description and immediately understand the gist of the topic. Following the short description are further bits of information, helpfully broken out into easily readable bullet points. The microcontent topic ends with related links that anticipate what the user might want to read next.

There are also instances of this topic on the CDC website that use only the title and short description. (Does that make it micro-microcontent?) And guess what – the content still flows naturally! That’s because it was strategically written in a context-independent way.

CDC microcontent on the Delta Variant, smaller version
CDC microcontent on the Delta Variant

A microcontent topic can include or omit part of its content as the situation demands for different contextual reuse.

Taking it even further

The CDC’s implementation isn’t perfect; their microcontent appears to be unconnected to the “Updated” date right under the title of each page. In other words, a new revision to the Delta Variant microcontent topic does not change that “Updated” date, resulting in an incongruence that potentially could lead users to think that the CDC is choosing to manipulate their dates. If a page of content says it hasn’t been updated for months but includes new Delta variant info that is only a day or two old, that might appear “off” to user.

Furthermore, if the CDC really wanted to go above and beyond, they could detect where my IP address is located and personalize the content to my locale. Since I’m accessing their site from Canada, they could offer me up a version of this microcontent that substitutes the “Variants in the US” related link for a Canadian equivalent. (Of course, since the CDC is a U.S.-based organization, we wouldn’t expect them to do this. But the necessary technology to make it happen is available.)

What are some ways that your organization could make use of microcontent? Are there any topics you write about again and again? And if so, how are you ensuring that those disparate pieces of content don’t fall out of alignment or become outdated? Precision Content can help your organization devise a content strategy that will keep your content fresh, relevant, and accurate wherever it appears. Reach out to us today to learn more.

Disclaimer: For the most up-to-date messaging about COVID-19 from the CDC, be sure to access their website at https://www.cdc.gov/. While we’d love to tell you the CDC was a client or ours, we cannot yet make that claim. Give us a call, CDC, and we’ll talk.

About the Author

Josh AndersonJosh Anderson is an American-Canadian Associate Information Architect at Precision Content. He analyzes and structures content to reveal the insights that come from the creative organization of information. Josh was an English teacher in Japan and an SEO Specialist in the Chicagoland area before earning a Master of Information at the University of Toronto. In 2020, Josh co-organized and hosted a World IA Day event at the Shopify office in downtown Toronto. In his free time, Josh creates and listens to a wide variety of music.

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