Understanding how facebook grabs content when you post a link

Understanding how facebook grabs content when you post a link

I just learned something fun about how facebook works when you post a link.  I hope this will be helpful to anyone striving to utilize the web for marketing.

I've always told my clients to take full advantage of the opportunity to provide a description with each page of their website within our CMS.  Usually I show them that this exact description is what Google will display as the middle two lines of a result on their search engine results page (SERP.)   For example, if one searches for "Content Management System" in Google one gets a SERP like this.

The third organic result listed for this search (under the wikipedia results) is LightCMS (which is a product of my company.)  The listing looks like this:

The middle two lines here are pulled from the description (which you can view if you select to view the page source.)


In this image I just did a partial screen capture.  The full description included all of this: 

meta name="description" content="LightCMS is a web based content management system for designers and ad agencies. 100% branded web 2.0 content management system. content management systems are also known as cms."

The fourth listing on the SERP was for Drupal.  It looked like this:

Those middle two lines don't communicate a complete thought to the potential visitor.  In viewing the source code for that page it is evident that there is no meta description to give Google a clue as to what text to display.  So Google just did it's best job in selecting text to display.

Okay, so that's how it works in Google.  How does facebook use the metatag description of a page when someone posts a link to their profile?

When there is no description metatag to reference on the hyperlinked page it appears facebook just displays the first paragraph text it runs across on that link.  But, if the hyperlinked page contains a description metatag then it appears that facebook will display that.  For example, I posted this link:


When I first posted this link to facebook the page did not have a description metatag.  So facebook just grabbed our "Complete the simple form to the right..." text and displayed it next to the only image they could find on the page. 

But that was certainly not a good description of what someone would find if they followed the link.  So, I added a description metatag to the page (because Element Fusion is kind enough to trust me with an administrator role in the CMS.) 


Then I deleted my previous post on facebook and posted the exact same link again.  This time the description text is what facebook displayed:

So, there you have it.  The moral of the story is to be sure to add a description metatag to any page you intend to promote on the web, especially if you plan to link to that page from facebook.

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