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Content Ops
March 2, 2022
xx min read

What’s The Big Deal With Microcontent?

What is microcontent? Microcontent refers to small, bite-sized pieces of content that follow detailed structuring rules and are rich in metadata.

Over the years technical content has moved away from document-based to microcontent-based. This allows content to be reused and deployed in emerging technologies. It also makes customer experience better by making it easier for customers to find answers to their questions. But microcontent isn’t simply small. I could write a short, 3 sentence snippet and it wouldn’t necessarily be microcontent. Microcontent is all about structure. To be considered microcontent it has to have lots of metadata and fit into a larger taxonomy. Let’s break down those ideas.

What is metadata?

Metadata is simply data about your data. It communicates information about what you are writing. The ability to document data is one of the subtle superpowers of structured content. When you use metadata, you’re essentially “tagging” your content with information so future writers and customers know exactly what kind of content you’re creating. With metadata you can document:

  • What kind of content you’re creating (topic, list, picture, video, instructions, hazard statement, etc)
  • Who created it
  • When it was created
  • What language it’s in
  • Who the target audience is
  • What skill level the content is for

And that’s only the beginning. With metadata, you can create tags that are specific to internal and external audiences. Creating content that’s rich with metadata allows for incredibly specific searching.

What is a taxonomy?

A taxonomy provides a framework of information about your service or product. Having a taxonomy strategy is vital to your organization. A taxonomy is how we classify things according to their kind. Taxonomies track distinctions and essential features that already exist. Taxonomies answer questions like:

  • What is this product or service?
  • How does it work?
  • What are its key features?
  • What makes it similar to our other products?
  • What makes it different from our other products?
  • How does it fit into our organization?

Organizations are constantly doing this without even realizing it, so it’s important to create a taxonomy with intention. Taxonomies help us classify products with ultra-specificity. The more precise we are, the better our microcontent will be.

So how do we know what qualifies as microcontent?

Microcontent Infographic

Microcontent has 4 characteristics:

  • Focus- A chunk of information needs to focus on answering a particular question. Now, this same chunk can be used to answer many questions, but it needs to focus on one.
  • Structured- It has to use repeatable words and structures so that users can predict how the content is written. This helps them ask better questions.
  • Context- We need to be able to understand how each chunk of content is related to each other. Even though it’s microcontent, it’s still connected to a larger framework. The modular blocks build on each other and create a robust knowledge base.
  • Intentional- Microcontent is created with the user’s intent in mind. It underscores what a user might be trying to learn from the content.

When creating microcontent, technical writers follow their organization's information architecture and chosen methodology for these atomic bits of information. Each company's approach will be different based on their needs, but some common practices do exist. One method we've seen work well is the Precision Content Writing Methodology.This methodology employs rigorous titling standards and substructures to represent different types of information. This requires a bit more work upfront but can be used in endless ways after.

Why do we need microcontent?

Microcontent might seem counterintuitive at first. After all— isn’t it better to give our customers lots of information rather than small amounts?Longform content is great for customers who want to deep-dive into your organization. But they aren’t great for specific searches or questions. Microcontent is important because when users are looking for information or have problems, they don’t want to wade into longform content like blogs, PDFs, or user manuals. They want definitive answers— fast. And that’s exactly what microcontent gives them. When users can’t find what they’re looking for quickly and easily, they’ll abandon ship and look elsewhere for their answers. Because microcontent is structured, we can use it to give customers hyper-personalized experiences. Since the microcontent was created with metadata and a laser-sharp focus, we can give customers information that’s relevant to their specific needs. This improves user experience and builds trust with your customer base.

How do we create microcontent?

Ok, so now we have the basics covered, but how exactly do we go about creating good microcontent? Working in a Component Content Management System (CCMS) makes it easy to create bite-sized pieces of information. A CCMS is intentionally designed to author in small chunks rather than in linear form. Here’s how to get started with writing microcontent:

  • Write your content. Keep it short. Remember, the whole point of microcontent is that it’s micro.
  • Use your taxonomy as a guide. Keep in mind the categories your microcontent belongs to.
  • Tag it with metadata. The more the merrier.
  • Publish to appropriate outlets.

So what does this look like in action?

Let’s say you have a manual for assembling a bike. It’s a dense manual full of helpful information, but it’s long and may have too much information for your average user. If a customer has a question about how to put together the left pedal, they’ll have to search your website for the manual, then slog through until they find the page with the info they need. That’s a lot of work for a customer. But, if you’ve created your manual using microcontent, the customer can simply search your website for information about the left pedal, and immediately the answer will pop up. Not the whole manual, just a small piece of content that is exactly what they’re looking for. Much better. Once you start to see the benefits of creating microcontent, you’ll never want to go back.

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