Facebook has been raked over the coals for its part in perpetuating fake news, and a lot of that comes from the way scammy pages have manipulated the Facebook link previews. In a June 29 release, the social media giant announced that it would soon be making a change to one part of what they felt was helping spread that misinformation – link previews will be changing.
Those of us who have been in the social media business for a long time remember the days when changing the link preview wasn’t an option, and the social network is taking a step back in that direction. Coming soon, when you share a link on your Facebook Page, you will no longer be able to alter things like the headline, the link description, or the image that is attached to that link.
Facebook isn’t foolish – they know that publishers have relied on being able to alter those pieces, and they’re committed to a solution that works for everyone. Let’s take a look at what you can do now to make sure your site is Open Graph optimized and ready for this change. It’s not nearly as difficult as one might think.
What is Open Graph?
Even if you aren’t familiar with the term “open graph,” if you are on Facebook, you’ve seen it in action. Putting it simply, the Open Graph Protocol is what tells Facebook how to display information from your website. At a minimum, it tells it how to pull in the page title, the type (video, audio, image), the image URL that represents what you’re sharing, and the URL itself. It is how Facebook pulls in the description of the page you are sharing.
Open Graph puts you in control with regard to how your links look when they are shared on Facebook. If you do not have Open Graph tags on your post or site, Facebook’s crawler is going to crawl your page or post, look for what it thinks might work, and then use whatever information it pulls on its own.
The Facebook Link Preview Parts That Are Changing
While it may be review for many readers, I wanted to take the time to go over the parts of the link preview so that some of the more visual amongst us have a solid grasp about what is pulled in from Open Graph tags on Facebook. In this image example, you can see that I simply put in the link to this site as a potential post and the link preview populated.
The image of my logo is pulled in because that is what I have in my settings as the default image. If I don’t manually specify an image to override that logo image, my website settings will default to using this image when Facebook crawls my Open Graph data.
Right below that it says “The Marketographer”. This is the page title of my homepage. This is pulled in when my page is shared by anyone on Facebook. While I can change this title now when sharing to Facebook (and make that change in Facebook itself), once the new changes have been implemented, I will only be able to change that title on website for future posts and pages.
Right below that is the description of my page. This is also in my Open Graph data. This, too, is something we have been able to change on Facebook, but will only be able to change on our sites going forward.
Looking at the search results image to the right, you’ll see that the information above is entirely the same as the information in my Open Graph. For the majority of small businesses and photographers, this will be the case. Usually your website defaults to having whatever the meta data is for the page function as the Open Graph information given to Facebook.
When You Want Specific Open Graph Information
If you have gotten in the habit of blogging and just changing any of the above information when you share your posts, you need to change your habit. I use WordPress and the Yoast SEO plugin on my sites. So the next example is going to include screenshots of those tools. Everyone has a different content management system, so if you aren’t sure if you need to make changes, you should reach out to them (Squarespace, Wix, etc) for detailed instructions if needed.
Once the changes have been implemented, the way you’ll be able to change what your URL looks like in Facebook is via your website itself. Go through all of your Pages that are static (i.e., you don’t change them regularly and make sure your metadata reads the way you’d like it to. For most people who have their page titles and descriptions already written with keywords and in order, no change will be needed. Those pages will continue to populate the way they should, much like my Marketographer screenshot above.
With blog posts, however, you want to create a URL preview that is written well for Facebook. Now, you can create one description that works well for Facebook and for your longer-term SEO goals. That would be the easiest, but there are people (myself included), who like to use different styles of writing for different audiences. For example, Facebook audiences and Twitter audiences are quite different in the way they consume and share.
With Yoast SEO as my plug-in on my WordPress site, I can easily write the descriptions I want for SEO and my social networks before I publish my post. Then, whenever that link is shared on it’s respective place, the specified copy and image will populate as it should.
Here is how my post looks now that I’ve written it and I’ve made the changes to my title and description. This is the title and description that search engines will pull up and if I didn’t want to change anything for Facebook or Twitter, this is what would pull up as the link as well. It used to be that you could leave this alone, then share the link to Facebook and make changes there before publishing the post. That’s the part that is going away. So, I decided to change the way this post will look on Facebook. As you can see in this next screenshot, I chose to make the copy a little more enticing, so that a reader who might not be as familiar will be able to see what the post is about within a quick glance. To do this in Yoast, I simply click on the sharing area and it does the work for me. Now that I have this information designated, when this link is shared on Facebook, this title and description will override the basic metadata that Google will show, and show this one instead.
I know a lot of photographers don’t like to use Twitter, but I do, so I’ve also clicked on the Twitter tab to create different copy for that audience, as well. Twitter has limited characters, and I know that my audience there is likely to remember the days when we couldn’t modify link previews anyway. Hence, I’ve chosen copy that acknowledges that.
You can see in both of these that I could also upload a new image if I wanted to, but I like the image I’ve chosen for the post, so I’m leaving that blank. All the social sites will pull in that default image. However, if you do want to use a specific image for your post and you don’t want Facebook to pull in the first image in your blog post by default, you should upload the image that you want Facebook to show here. Don’t forget that image choice is a HUGE factor in how well your content performs on Facebook.
Key Takeaways on Modifying Facebook Links
Changing your Facebook link information before you publish your blog post will take about the same time (at least in WordPress with Yoast) on the backend as it did in Facebook itself. It’s really a minor change that shouldn’t create much, if any, extra work for photographers and small businesses.
For the most part, this will only affect your blog posts and shouldn’t mean anything for your static website pages. But, it’s still a good reminder to go back and make sure that your static pages reflect what you want to be shown on social networks when and if they are shared. Make sure that the copy used is social media friendly, and that the images are what you like.
As a bonus tip, remember that you can always paste your links into the Facebook Link Debugger and see how Facebook itself views your open graph data when a link is shared. This tool should be your first stop if you ever find yourself asking, “Why does this page look like this when I share it on Facebook?”