Ever want to pull your hair out when you try to share one of your posts on Facebook?
Yep. Me too.
When you put you hear and soul into publishing a piece of content on your site, it’s frustrating when you try to share it on Facebook and it shows up in other people’s feeds looking really….well….weird.
Sometimes Facebook shows the wrong image when you share your post. Sometimes it doesn’t show an image at all. Occasionally it grabs the correct image, but crops the photo in an awkward way.
And it’s not just Facebook that frustrates content creators.
Sometimes we have the same problem on Pinterest. Will our readers pin the right image to their boards? Will that image be cropped strangely, or will it be too small to view correctly?
This is not only a common and annoying problem, it’s a big one. If your posts don’t show up the “right way” when people share them on social networking sites, your social shares are going to decrease dramatically.
Here are two examples of how things can go wrong when sharing links on Facebook:
Luckily, there are steps you can take to prevent these types of Facebook headaches.
To take control of how your posts show up on social media, you need to harness the power of social metadata .
Don’t freak out – we’re going to talk about metadata
I’m going to make a confession. My eyes usually glaze over when I hear the word “metadata.”
If you feel the same way, I want you to bear with me for just a bit.
A couple of years ago, I learned some metadata basics so I could perform some (very) simple search optimization on some of my posts. After that, I just didn’t have the patience to sift through confusing and overwhelming jargon about meta descriptions and keywords, so I stuck my head in the sand and hoped metadata would just….go away.
But it turns out, metadata’s more important than ever – so we’ve got to talk about it. But I promise you, I’m going to be brief, clear and practical in this section.
Metadata is simply the key words and phrases that describe the contents of a particular web page. Essentially, it’s data about data, and when we’re talking about writing blog posts, that means it is data about your blog posts.
Most metadata isn’t easily visible to your readers, but it can be detected and read by other websites and tools (like Google’s search crawlers).
If you’ve ever changed the meta description of your post (in order to optimize it for search engines), then you have edited metadata.
The social metadata of a post is designed specifically so social networks like Facebook, Google+, Twitter or Pinterest can detect and read it. Social metadata determines how your post will appear when people share your content on one of those social networks.
For instance, Facebook reads metadata to determine what image will show when people post it on their walls. Metadata also determines how that image is cropped, and what words will be shown in the “title” area of the Facebook post.
Unfortunately, social metadata can cut both ways – your post might look amazing in social network feeds, or it might be a hot mess.
For instance, if Facebook can’t find Facebook-specific metadata within your post, it will grab any data it can find. Then it will use that random data to cobble together a Facebook post when together when someone shares your post with her friends.
That cobbled-together post is what leads to strange photo crops, odd post descriptions, and other social media faux pas.
Manipulating metadata for fun and profit
So if you don’t want to be at the mercy of Facebook, you need to take action. You’ve got to grab the social metadata bull by the horns, and decide exactly how your posts show up when people share your content.
Here’s what you need to do:
Step One: Install a WordPress plugin that lets you edit your social metadata.
Yoast’s SEO for WordPress plugin is a great choice, but there are other options, too. You need a plugin (or a set of plugins) that lets you edit social metadata for Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.
To install the Yoast plugin, click Plugins > Add New from your WordPress dashboard, then search for “Yoast SEO” in the search box on the right side of your screen. It should be the first one listed.
Then install and activate the plugin.
Step Two: Configure the Yoast plugin for social metadata.
Next up, you need to edit the plugin settings so you can view and edit the social metadata from your WordPress visual editor for each page or post on your site.
To edit your settings, click on SEO > Social from your WordPress dashboard.
Edit the following settings:
- Facebook: Click on the Facebook tab and make sure the box next to “Add Open Graph meta data” is checked. If you checked it, click “Save Changes” at the bottom of the page.
- Twitter: Click on the Twitter tab, and make sure the box next to “Add Twitter card meta data” is checked. If you would like Twitter to display an image when people share the link to a post on your site, select “Summary with large image” in the “Default card type to use” dropdown menu. Then click “Save Changes” at the bottom of the page to save your updates.
- Pinterest: No setting changes needed.
- Google+: Click on the Google+ tab, check the box next to “Add Google+ specific post meta data,” then click “Save Changes.”
Step Three: Edit the social metadata for your next post.
Next time you write a post, here are the steps you need to take to edit the social metadata:
Edit the Facebook metadata.
After you’ve written your post, scroll down to the “WordPress SEO by Yoast” box, underneath the main content area in your WordPress visual editor. Then click on the “Social” tab.
Enter a title in the “Facebook Title” field. If you’re following the rules of smart headline writing, you’ve already created an attention-getting headline for your post, so you can add that here.
There’s no need to add a “|” and the name of your site – your headline will stand on its own.
For instance, this:
Is better than this:
Add a short description to the “Facebook Description” field. Again, short and sweet is better here.
Upload an optimized image for Facebook. The Yoast plugin tells you the current optimum size for the image (currently the best size it 1200 x 628 pixels). You may want to create a special image that is sized specifically for Facebook – experiment a bit and see what works best for your audience.
Edit Twitter metadata.
Enter the Twitter Title and Description fields. You can either use the same title and description you used for the Facebook fields, or you can edit them to suit your Twitter audience.
Keep in mind that the information you put in these two fields is going to show up below the tweet in which your post is shared (not within the tweet itself) so you don’t need to adhere to the regular 140-character limit. See the example toward the bottom of this post to see how a Tweet will look when people share a link to your properly-optimized post.
Upload an optimized image for Twitter. The Yoast plugin tells you the current optimum size for the image (currently the best size it 1024×512 pixels), but in my experience, I’ve found you can often get away with using the same images for your Facebook and Twitter metadata.
Edit metadata for Google+.
Enter a Title and Description for Google+. Again, you can use the same information you used for Facebook and Twitter, above, or you can edit them for your Google+ audience.
Upload an optimized image for Twitter. The current optimal size is 800 x 1200 pixels.
Step Four: Make your post Pinterest-friendly.
You don’t need to make any specific social metadata changes for Pinterest, because Pinterest’s Rich Pin validators will read the social metadata you’ve added for other social sites.
However, there are a few things you need to consider to make it easy for people to pin your post. Make sure to:
- Embed at least one large image in the content of your post. Images at least 700 pixels wide are best for Pinterest, so plan on including one somewhere in your post.
Need some ideas of how to do this?
Michael Hyatt makes his posts exceptionally Pinterest friendly:
Select an image as the “Featured Image” for the post. In most cases, a regular Pinterest “Pin It” button within a post will allow your readers to select and pin any image on particular page – but some “Pin It” buttons (particularly ones that are built into social sharing toolbars) only let your readers pin one particular image within the post.
The simple and elegant Genesis Simple Share plugin, for instance, only lets readers pin one image from any given post.
If that’s the case with your social sharing buttons, you to select the individual image you want your readers to pin from your post.
To do that, you need to select a “Featured Image” for your post, in WordPress. It’s a quick step that will make things far easiest on your Pinterest-using readers.
Check your work and make sure everything looks share-worthy
Bottom line: If your post doesn’t show up in an attractive, readable way in social media, it’s not going to get shared. That’s the practical reality of our current social networking climate.
So after you’ve edited your metadata and optimized your content for Pinterest, you’ve got to check your work and make sure your images and post information are rendering correctly.
Yes, this is a bit of a pain at first, but it’s worth it. You really don’t want to kill your chances of going viral before you even start promoting your post.
Here are the steps you need to take to check your work:
STEP ONE: Use Open Graph Debug on Facebook.
To see how your post will look when readers share it on Facebook, use the Facebook Open Graph Debug Tool.
Paste the URL of your post in that debug field, and it will give you a sneak peek at your post’s metadata code, and give you a preview of how the post will appear when someone shares it on Facebook.
STEP TWO: Validate your Twitter Card.
Use the Twitter Card Validator to see how your post will appear when people share it on Twitter. Just copy and paste the URL of the post into the Card Validator and click on “Preview Card.”
STEP THREE: Check your Rich Pin Status on Pinterest
To make sure your content is rendering correctly as a “Rich Pin” in Pinterest, run your URL through the Pinterest Rich Pin Validator. For more information about Rich Pins on Pinterest, check out this post.
STEP FOUR: Share your post manually.
Your last step is to share your post on all four of the major sites (Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Pinterest), if possible. This is the very last check to make sure everything looks great during the sharing process.
It will also get you in the habit of promoting your own content after you publish it – which is always a good idea!
Here’s a basic idea of how your posts should look on each of the social sites, if you’ve done things correctly. Keep in mind there will be variations in how your content will look, depending on your specific images and post text.
If anything looks strange when you run your posts through the social validators (or when you share your post manually), go back to your original content and update the appropriate metadata. You may need to wait a few moments for your new metadata to propagate before you run the tests again.
Practice makes social metadata perfection
If this process sounds arduous, take heart. It will get easier with every post you publish, and you’ll get faster at it each time.
It’s a good idea to create a checklist for yourself, so you can whip through these steps in just a few minutes before you hit “publish.”
The one thing you can’t do at this point is ignore the importance of social metadata.
Visual marketing on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Pinterest is here to stay, and if you close your eyes and keep wishing it will go away, you (and your clients) will suffer the consequences in terms of fewer social shares and decreased traffic to your site.
So dig in, use this post as a primer on how to conquer this process, and get comfortable going through these steps for every piece of content you publish.
Start practicing today, and before you know it, you’ll be a social metadata rock star.
Beth Hayden is an author, speaker and content marketing expert. Want to find out how to build your list and get more traffic to your blog? Get your copy of Beth’s free report, “How One Smart Blogger Doubled Her List by Taking One Brave Step.”