Facebook’s New Link Previews: What You Need to Know About Creating Your Own

“Open Graph meta tags” doesn’t sound like a very exciting topic.

We get it.

They affect everyone, though – including you!

And if you want your Facebook links to look as good as possible, you’ve gotta know how they work.

We’re gonna cut through all the technical details and give you the short version of how OG tags work – along with an easy solution for customizing your own.

What are Open Graph meta tags, exactly?

By definition, Open Graph “enables any web page to become a rich object in a social graph.”

Which is really just a fancy way of saying it turns this

…into this:

OG tags are what allow Facebook to take a boring ol’ URL and transform it into a beautiful link preview.

Link previews are more eye-catching and clickable than plain URLs – by giving your link an image, title, description, and more, you’re providing people with the contextual information that’ll make them want to click.

(Because these days, link trust is one of the most important factors when you’re trying to get traffic from social media.)

OG tags live in the code for every page and post on your website. Here’s what they look like for that update above (we highlighted the text that corresponds to different parts of the link preview):

Not into coding? Not a big deal! There are even simpler, more user-friendly ways to customize the tags that generate beautiful link previews.

We’ll talk about those in a second, but first, let’s focus on some changes Facebook has made to link previews in 2017, and how those changes affect your options.

Facebook’s 2017 changes to link previews

In early 2017, Facebook made changes to its algorithm to fight the spread of fake news.

In summer, they introduced another new change meant to do the same thing: limiting your ability to customize link previews.

As of summer 2017, users can no longer change the image, description, or title to a link they’re sharing on Facebook.

Users had previously been able to customize those parts of a link preview after adding the link to an update, but Facebook has found that this feature is too easy to exploit, and has eliminated it from their API.

(Which is actually pretty fair. You wouldn’t want someone sharing your link, but changing all the stuff in the link preview to make it totally inaccurate.)

Now, the only person who can decide what your link previews look like is you – and you have to do it on the backend of your website, not on Facebook or via a social media scheduling tool.

If diving into your site’s metadata isn’t really your thing, there are much easier ways to customize your OG tags (and, by extension, your link previews).

All it takes is a little plug-and-play action!

Customizing your link previews with plugins

Don’t worry about coding all of your OG tags by hand – you don’t have to know how to code to customize your link previews.

Actually, we’re gonna go ahead and repeat that, just because it feels very reassuring to hear it:

You do NOT need to know how to code to customize your link previews.

You just need the right plugin!

Adding a plugin to your WordPress site makes customizing this stuff ridiculously simple. Here at MeetEdgar, for example, we use the Yoast SEO plugin. It even gives you a little preview of what your text will look like!

Seriously – so much easier than dealing with metadata.

As for the image that shows up in your link preview, WordPress gives you the option to add a Featured Image to your post. The image you choose is the one that Facebook should pull for your link preview!

(Note: The location of the Featured Image you choose for a post depends on your blog’s layout. For example, when we choose a Featured Image, it appears in the header of that post. Here’s the post we’ve been using as an example if you want to see for yourself!)

Keeping up with Facebook’s changes

So there you have it – an easy-as-pie primer 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 2017 API changes? Well, yeah. But it’s still pretty easy to point Facebook in the right direction regarding what you want – whether or not you have a ton of technical know-how!

Facebook's New Link Previews: What You Need to Know About Creating Your Own
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Facebook's New Link Previews: What You Need to Know About Creating Your Own
Facebook's summer 2017 API changes affect how link previews work. Wanna customize your own? Here's a primer on what's new, and what you can do!
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    1. Tom VanBuren says:

      Hi Steve! Good question – here’s what to expect:

      1) If you added a link to a Facebook status update and didn’t manually change anything in the preview, it should continue to appear the same way it always has when posted.
      2) If you added a link to a Facebook status update and manually customized the title and/or description, the customized version(s) should be replaced by whatever Facebook scrapes (i.e. OG tags) when the update is posted.
      3) If you added a link to a Facebook status update and manually customized the image (i.e. uploaded your own), Facebook should post that update as an image post, with the update you wrote as the caption.

      We’ve recently added a new Preview feature to Edgar, so you can see what you should expect an update to look like when it’s posted. Here’s how that works: https://help.meetedgar.com/video-tutorials/preview-your-posts-before-they-publish

      And if you’d like some personalized assistance with the content saved in your own account, our team is here to help! You can shoot an email over to support@meetedgar.com, and we’ll be able to sort through the changes with you.

      • Hey Tom, thanks for the reply as I had the exact same question. Anyway: We previously shared one article with up to 5 different Images/Previews. From my understanding this will not longer work as all of them will default to the values of the open graph tags on the actual article.

        Do you know if there is another way to share one article with several different images? I know that Facebook caches Open Graph Tags and they are not updated until you do so yourself with the Facebook Debugger. So creating a Plugin which randomly switches the value of the Open Graph Tags wouldn’t work. I feel that we are now loosing on a lot of potential as people previously might have clicked on one image but not another for the same article.

        • Tom VanBuren says:

          Really good question! You’re right – Facebook is going to default to the values of the open graph tags on the actual article. To alternate the images used in the link preview for a URL, you would have to change the tags, then use the debugger to clear the cache, just like you said. It’s possible, but it’s also a not-inconsiderable amount of manual upkeep.

          Basically, the short version is that there isn’t a legitimate shortcut for accomplishing what you want to do, because it’s a behavior Facebook is specifically trying to discourage. Their reasons for doing so are understandable, but in situations like yours – in which the reasons for wanting to customize the preview are perfectly legitimate – the new policy is rather hobbling. Hopefully in the future, they’ll develop some kind of middle ground that regulates this feature without completely eliminating it.

    2. Rachel says:

      I am still able to customize my Facebook link previews directly in my scheduling tool AND directly on Facebook. Is this something that will be rolled out slowly in the coming months?

      • Tom VanBuren says:

        Hi Rachel! Facebook actually announced this back in April, with a 90-day deprecation on customizing link previews – which puts it right around mid-July. So even though it isn’t necessarily rolling out everywhere at the same exact time, you can definitely expect this feature to disappear from more and more places in the immediate future.

    3. dare2gocom says:

      Isn’t the featured image set by the WordPress user? On the right hand side of
      the post editing (where you also add the category and tags for the
      post). That’s what I keep doing, and our featured image is not always
      the top one. So far it hasn’t failed me, neither on Facebook, nor on
      Google+ or Twitter.

      • Tom VanBuren says:

        Exactly! Where the featured image shows up on the actual page itself depends on your WP layout, but it should be the one that Facebook scrapes for your link preview regardless.

    4. Tom VanBuren says:

      You’re completely right, and this is a perfect example of a legitimate use for this feature. It’ll be interesting moving forward to see if/how Facebook amends this policy to accommodate this sort of thing!

    5. Christina Meagher says:

      Hi, any recommendations for plugins that work with SharePoint? Or how to customize the OG tags on a SharePoint site (easily)?

      • Tom VanBuren says:

        Afraid we don’t use SharePoint ourselves, and can’t really claim much expertise with it – if any other readers do, though, feel free to jump in!

    6. Tom VanBuren says:

      Squarespace interfaces with Facebook a little differently from WordPress, but you still have some options! This might be a good place to start: https://support.squarespace.com/hc/en-us/articles/115009564587

    7. raynadiane says:

      Cool thanks – excellent break down of what OG tags are and much appreciated.

    8. Justin Pakdaman says:

      Any solutions for a Shopify site?

    9. Tom VanBuren says:

      Hi Will! If you’ve added a Facebook link to the library, changed the title/description in the preview, and deleted the actual URL from the update, that update should still publish to Facebook with a link preview – it’ll just be with the default info that Facebook scrapes automatically, rather than the version you manually created inside Edgar.

    10. Tom VanBuren says:

      Not a Wix user, but it looks like it automatically generates title and description for you, and doesn’t allow you to customize those tags: https://support.wix.com/en/article/header-code-meta-tag-guidelines

    11. Andrea Wilson Woods says:

      I read that Facebook is implementing this strategy with ads. Is it true? If so, advertisers will no longer have control over the headline, ad text or photo! It will all be dependent on the URL. What a nightmare. Please advise.

    12. Thanks for the simple and clear explanation of what is going on with Facebook and how it handles new links.

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