Customising social sharing - open graph meta

I've written before about the importance of quality content and writing regular unique content for your company blog. If you can produce good quality material that's interesting, informative or amusing, then you're likely to have that article shared by readers and customers around the web. This is 'natural' link building and it's fantastic, but how can you control what's shared? If you manage to write an excellent and thoroughly interesting article, it won't help you if when people share it their post shows a shoddy title, awful description and an unappealing link.

Generally speaking, you can encourage people to share your links by adding social media sharing buttons to your article.

These buttons are great for encouraging sharing and making it easier for people to do so. But they alone might not be enough. What if your readers choose not to use your buttons but instead copy and paste the link to your article with their own personal comment into Facebook or Google+? Of course we can't control what they say, but we can influence what happens when that link is copied. Usually the social network will try to work out what the post is about and create a suitable title, description and image based on that. However, the system isn't all that clever yet, and the results might not be ideal. The title and description might not appear how you want them to and if the image is being chosen automatically it might not be suitable. To get the most shares and better click-through rates you need to customise the results.

The Open Graph Solution

The good news is, with a little bit of coding you can take control of the results. OG protocol (also known as Open Graph Protocol ) is a form of meta data markup that is used to set what appears as the title, description, link, image and more when you write a new post for your blog. You can control what is shared and even what the share will look like on different networks. Used cleverly you could reference yourself in the meta in order to track shares or use hashtags to get your article seen if you're covering a relevant topic.

This sort of social sharing (and the control of it) is likely to have an impact on your search engine rankings, so it's worth putting it to the test. There's no point in investing money and time in writing interesting articles if you're going to reduce the chances of them being shared with bad titles, poor descriptions and otherwise unappealing features. This article on SEOmoz “Rock your SEO with structured social sharing” talks more about how much difference this can make.

Consider just how much better your article will perform if you can choose the most suitable thumbnail image and write a custom message for each social network.