Most of my clients and Facebook friends encounter problems when sharing URLs on Facebook. This includes Youtube videos, Amazon products and blog articles. I have also seen my share of frustrating Facebook posting mishaps. What to do when your shared story comes out all wrong? This article will help you share your content so that it appears beautifully in your friend’s news feed.
For over 10 years I have developed crawlers and spiders. Based on very simple AI, my ‘Crocodile Crawler’ (yes it had a name) worked independently to search for certain information on the Internet. This technology was mostly used to aggregate large collections of products, publish auctions quickly on eBay, or refresh information dynamically on my websites. I still use my software to save me time in collecting content to turn old-ish sites into WordPress (or other CMS) but today we have AJAX, RSS and APIs to make all of this effort less time-consuming for developers. Old style crawlers are still very much in use today by Google, Facebook and newfangle aggregators like Pinterest.
Most crawlers are simply tasked with discovering a topic/title, an excerpt and a picture in your page and then associating this information to your URI (webpage address). People share millions of webpages every day on Facebook so Facebook devised a system to cache page information and therefore increase performance. On the most obsessively neat website ever built, sharing remains Facebook’s weakest point because so many people SEE it fail everyday and it results in user frustration. Sharing on Facebook is well-engineered but it cannot make complex editorial decisions… YOU have to help it do that.
Here’s what to do when share fails on you.
Facebook’s crawler system is URI-based. It fetches and saves relevant information from the page. Compared to Google which caches much more content from your site, Facebook only cares about the picture, the title and the caption (or excerpt). This saved (cached) information is refreshed every Nth time the URI is shared. If you are the original seeder of the info, it pays to share it right the first time.
How FAIL! happens
When a blogger shares a brand new article on Facebook, they will usually notice that the content doesn’t appear. This is simply because the URI is new to Facebook and not in the cache yet. Cancelling and re-sharing the item a few moments later might work, but if you want to take matters into your own hands, you need to force Facebook to read your content. By visiting the debugger, you will be able to insert the URI of your page and insert or refresh all the information in the Facebook database. If you notice errors in the way Facebook reads your content, you can make adjustments and pass it through the debugger again.
When a vlogger shares a brand new Youtube video on Facebook, the preview may not appear right away. Before you pass your URI through the Facebook debugger, make sure you are sharing a link that makes sense to Facebook. You should remove all useless information from the URI when you share.
For example, in this URI, the part in red is useless in the sharing process:
By removing the useless part of the URI you will be accessing a clean version of the content and your video will be playable directly from the Facebook timeline.
In order to help people share your content, you should make sure your share functionality contains a URI that is clean of dynamic parameters. Parameters like the session id, referrers and client info are different for every user and pollute simple spiders and crawlers with millions of versions of the same base URI. Long dynamic URIs with parameters pose a certain security risk as well, giving social media sites (and people mining them) mountains of information that can be cross-referenced to guess proprietary information about your business! Optionally, you can insert campaign metrics parameters in the URL you share to keep track of the early propagation of your shared stories (page owners have additional tools and statistics to do this). If you CAN control sharing then you SHOULD invest in making sure it is well done.
You should also make sure each page contains a set of Open Graph metas so that you can control exactly the title, caption and picture that people share. I am taking my own medicine in the next version of this blog by implementing the suggestions made in my own article about optimizing websites for social media sharing!