A key part of the vision for the NHS website involves adapting our publicly available content for new technologies, channels and platforms. This gives people easier access to trusted, clinically assured information however they choose to search. Getting NHS information in Google knowledge panels is one of the first examples of this new approach in action.
Google knowledge panels
You’ve probably noticed that for some Google searches using your mobile – for example, about an actor or film – you get a section at the top of your results with a summary of information from sources like Wikipedia or IMDB.
This is what Google call a 'knowledge panel'.
These panels have been used for a range of topics for a while now, but in the UK they had never been used for health information.
From this week, thanks to the hard work of the team, anyone who searches Google on a mobile device can find knowledge panels with reliable and authoritative health information on more than 250 conditions from the NHS website. This can help more people learn about common conditions, symptoms and treatments more quickly and easily than ever before.
Adding structured data mark-up to the NHS website
To allow NHS website content to appear in knowledge panels, we had to “modularise” our content by adding structured data mark-up based on open Schema.org standards.
In a nutshell, this involves adding mark-up to our pages to identify the specific sections of content. For example, on our pages on medical conditions we can mark-up the sections about symptoms or treatments.
The sections of marked-up content can then be used by anyone who wants them, either by using the JSON+LD script in our page code or the free NHS API or widgets.
We’ve added structured data mark-up to more than 250 of the most popular topics on the NHS website.
Sections we marked-up included:
Overview – what the condition is and a summary of key facts
Symptoms – the main signs and symptom of the condition
Self-care – things you can do to relieve or treat the condition
Medical treatments – treatments you may be offered by a health professional
We also created short content summaries (up to 150 characters) to accompany each section we’d marked up.
During this work, we’ve helped develop a new open Schema.org standard for marking-up health information (called HealthTopicContent), which will make it easier for others to correctly mark-up their health content.
Adapting our content production approach
This was our first attempt to modularise NHS website content at scale, so it was a good chance for us to re-think how we produce content.
Our existing processes were designed for creating content for one platform – the NHS website – not for the modularising our content with structured data mark-up.
Modularising our content for knowledge panels allowed us to solve issues such as:
How might we make sure each section of our website content makes sense if used in isolation or in other contexts?
How might we adapt our content management system to allow content editors to easily modularise pages?
How might we update our clinical assurance process to make sure every section of content remains clinically safe and accurate?
This means we’re now in a much better position to roll out modularisation more widely and move towards it being a routine part of content production.