Facebook Link Preview Changes: Don’t Sweat It, Get Ahead of It

Facebook is removing our ability to edit link previews. For some it has already begun and by September 12th (almost) no one will be able to edit link previews. Facebook is good at letting us all know when a change in coming. So all the talk about these recent changes to the Graph API should not be coming as a surprise. They announced it earlier in the year and they posted about it a few weeks back.

I think it’s also important to note that they’re also great at making sensible changes that improve the platform and improve the user experience. Unsurprisingly, most people do not log into Facebook to see the content from the pages they’ve “liked.” For Facebook, knowing their users and delivering what their users want—photos of friends and family, network updates, events, etc.—is paramount to their continued success … and yours!

Fake News

During the recent U.S. federal election, social media sites including Facebook came under fire for allowing algorithms to prevent certain types of content from reaching certain users. They continue to face criticism for their role in the proliferation of fake news. One of the easiest ways for Facebook users to deliver fake news is by altering the headlines, excerpt, and image attached to external links. You can see in the attached image (courtesy of Tech Crunch) that the content of link previews has always been editable.

Facebook fights fake news spread via modified link previews, Tech Crunch, July 19, 2017

It becomes an issue when someone alters the headline, taking advantage of the fact that a good chunk of folks “like” and share posts without reading any more than the headline. This allows for the spread of false or misleading information.

Local Impact

For local businesses, the ability to alter the elements in a link preview has been very convenient. If Facebook scrapes the wrong image from your website you were able to simply upload a replacement and publish your post. So, if you got metadata instead of an excerpt, you could edit the excerpt. And if you ended up with a less than optimal headline, you could fix that too.

If you are among those who are still able to edit the previews, that’s simply because, as I mentioned earlier in this post, the change won’t be fully rolled out until September 12th. Don’t sit idly by, this your chance to get ahead of this change.

So, what now? Well, firstly, I think it’s a good thing because we should be optimizing our websites for Facebook sharing. This means providing what’s needed to get it right. This gives you control over what your content looks like when shared without fear of someone changing it.

While you can no longer edit the link previews for your own content you are no longer able to edit the link previews for third-party content either.

As far as your own content goes, as noted, you have the power to change how your link previews appear when shared.

Since you do not have the power to affect the link previews for third-party content, when it’s time to share that great, relevant news article from your favourite news site, you’ll find yourself unable to share the content the way you like and, yes, I agree that sucks.

The Path Forward

First and foremost, I encourage you to do what you must to ensure your content is optimized for sharing on Facebook. If you do it—and other websites do it—then there’s no problem. Taking action now will actually contribute to the solution.

Secondly, Facebook has indicated they are looking into solutions and they’ve allowed publishers to request special permission:

“We also understand that many publishers have workflows that rely on overwriting link preview metadata to customize how their content appears to audiences on Facebook. We’re committed to a solution that supports them.”
Facebook for Developers, June 28, 2017

Thirdly, if you’ve been doing the link preview optimization work for third-party sites by editing the previews when you share content, they’ll undoubtedly notice a decline in engagement. A proper link preview with a full-width image garners significantly more traction than either of the other link preview types. Once their traffic starts to decline they’ll take the action I’m suggesting to you in my first point.

Pro Tips

Here are a couple of simple options to help you avoid bad link previews on Facebook.

  1. Install the popular and free Yoast SEO plugin for WordPress. When you are ready to publish your post you can add the information Facebook requires to scrape your site and generate a good preview.
  2. When you publish your post, check the preview in Facebook’s debugger. This tool exists so you can test your links and fix them. You will see what the link preview looks like before it ever gets shared. If there’s something wrong, you can fix it.

Need more? Get in touch, we’re happy to help you get the most out of your website and social media efforts.