If you've been scheduling and posting links to Facebook lately, there's a good chance you've noticed that not all posts are hitting the feed in picture-perfect form. Here's an example of a post we published just yesterday that looked a little...off:
Seems like something's missing...hmm...what could it be...
Ah, an awesome image.
If you've been in a similar boat as us, you're probably thought, "Wait, we scheduled that post correctly and it gave us a great looking post preview—but the post went out and is now missing the actual image. What the heck!"
Trust us, we know how exactly how you feel. This week we looked into it and discovered not only why it's happening, but a pretty handy workaround.
So There's This Thing Called Metadata
Metadata is coded information that determines how a social network like Facebook picks up and views the pages and content on your website. And if you want your website links to look as good as possible when they hit the Facebook feed, then you’ve kinda gotta know how certain parts of your metadata work.
We're not going to bore you with a bunch of technical jargon. Instead, we're just going to provide the short version of what matters in your metadata—called "Open Graph"—so you can ensure your Facebook link previews generate those lovely images you’re looking for #every #single #time.
Side-note: Not into coding? Don’t sweat it—we’ve got some super easy shortcuts we’re going to share with you near the end of the article.
Here's How It All Really Works:
Open Graph, by definition, “enables any web page to become a rich object in a social graph.”
What these incredibly smart cyber geniuses are trying to say is, Open Graph turns a post including an url (like this):
...into a handsome post that's ready to shine in front of your audience (like this):
You Probably Already Know This—But Here's Why It Matters
Link previews are more eye-catching and clickable than plain URLs. Just think—accompanying a link share with an image, cool headline and solid description provides your audience with more contextual information—information that’ll increase the chances of attracting their interest and earning their click-through (and web traffic).
In the past, ensuring that the basic Open Graph tags corresponded to all the elements of a post preview was about as complicated as it got—but in 2017 and 2018, Facebook has made changes to how link previews and tags work (which can be largely attributed to Facebook's fight against the spread of fake news).
Facebook simply wants to ensure that it only pulls the most accurate information when generating link previews, including images, which is why it generates the previews it displays in the News Feed using information it gathers from your site’s metadata.
As of early 2018, Facebook began making slight tweaks to when and how it pulls that information—and the truth is, it totally impacts whether or not your previews generate properly.
Here's what FB had to say about it:
“When content is shared for the first time, the Facebook crawler will scrape and cache the metadata from the URL shared. The crawler has to see an image at least once before it can be rendered. This means that the first person who shares a piece of content won’t see a rendered image.”
What they're trying to say is: When a link gets shared for the first time on Facebook, Facebook hasn’t yet cached all the information it needs to generate a preview – therefore, Facebook can’t create the link preview you expect until someone shares your link a second time.
Fortunately, there is an easy way you can get around that. Here's what we mean:
How to Ensure Your Facebook Link Previews Work on the First Try
The easiest way to ensure your link previews appear properly is to use this Facebook’s Sharing Debugger tool.
When you plug a URL into this tool, it grabs all the information Facebook needs in order to generate a link preview in the future. Facebook then stores that info internally so when you get around to actually sharing the link, they’re able to generate the proper preview—even the very first time you share it.
Here's what using Facebook's Sharing Debugger looks like in action:
Earlier in this post, we showed you an example of a Facebook update that couldn’t properly generate a link preview with an image:
The reason it didn’t generate an image is because that link had never been shared on Facebook before.
To fix this, just throw the URL for that page into Facebook’s Sharing Debugger before you schedule to share it. When you do that, Facebook will generate a link preview that will allow you to verify everything is there and ready to go!
Now, when we schedule and share that URL on Facebook again, we can see that it pulls the image and posts correctly the first time:
Now, whenever we publish a new blog post, we just plug the URL into Facebook’s Sharing Debugger as soon as it’s live, and we know that the link preview will generate without a hitch when anyone (including us at Social Report) shares that URL on Facebook.
Keeping Up with Facebook’s Changes
So there you have it—an easy-as-pie lesson on Open Graph meta tags, and why they matter so dang much.
Is it slightly less convenient to customize them than it was before Facebook’s latest tweaks?
Still, it's pretty easy to point Facebook in the right direction regarding what you want via the Facebook Sharing Debugger and ensuring your post (with link preview) always comes out picture-picture.