By Gwen Pearson, Ph.D.
You’ve built a spiffy website about your insect research, or written a new extension bulletin about the latest pest. But for some reason, it looks weird on Facebook, and never shows up in Google Search. Why not?
The reason may lie behind the scenes, in the code of your website. Fortunately, you don’t have to be a code-wonk to fix this problem! There are a few simple changes you can make to spiffy up your presence on the web.
It’s worth the extra effort: Google and Facebook are giants in the online sphere, accounting for about 78 percent of traffic referred to websites. You can maximize your success by just following simple data protocols.
A Web Makeover Turns a Facebook Fail Into Success
For a web page to be display well on social media or search engines, it has to have three essential components: A meaningful title, a short description that is inviting and informative, and a featured image related to the topic.
None of those are on this example of a Facebook Fail.
You have no idea what this publication is about! Most people aren’t willing to click a link with this little information.
That web page is actually an extension bulletin offering helpful advice on choosing a termite treatment service. The website listing on Google search results was even less illuminating.
Our webmaster forgot to put in metadata, bits of code that tell Google, Facebook, and other sites how you want your web page described. With the addition of just two lines of code to the web page, a meaningful title and description now displays when the link is posted. As a bonus, we moved to the top of Google search results in our region.
Post-makeover Google results:
This title clearly tells the reader what to expect when they click this link. Most social media users only scan titles, so short and sweet is good (less than 65 characters).
Data from marketers suggest that putting a “call to action” in the description increases clicks. A call to action is basically a sentence telling the reader what they should do next:
- Learn how to control Emerald Ash Borer
- Download a free app to help control turf pests
- Watch a video with Stink Bug control tips
Wait, I’m Marketing My Website Content?
For a lot of entomologists, marketing is not a comfortable thought. We like to think we are providing “just the facts,” and hype and clickbait are not tools we use. Think of these alterations as providing different paths to your content.
Some people will have specific bug questions, and start searching. Others may have a few free minutes spent quickly scrolling through Facebook; providing an eye-catching image and description will encourage them to pause.
We also know many people will share links on social media without ever reading them. (Fess up, you know you’ve done it too.) So presenting your material in the best light will encourage its spread.
All About That Metadata
So how do you harness the power of metadata to choose the words Google describes you with, and what images you want to show on Facebook and other media channels? With metadata you can control:
- How your web resource looks on Google and other search engines
- How easy it is to FIND your resource on Google or search engines
- How your resource looks on Facebook and other social media sites
Taking the time to inspect your webpage metadata helps you compete with all the other, sometimes not great, information on the Internet. You’d better believe commercial and quack websites know all about how to optimize for web search and social sharing.
You won’t see metadata on the page in your browser; it’s HTML instructions for robots, not people. If you aren’t already involved with web page coding, that might sound a bit intimidating. But entomologists are all about data and Standard Operating Procedures, and that’s what metadata is: structured data created using a formula.
Here’s an example of how Google displays search results for an entomology website with clear metadata:
And here’s the code; it matches the <meta content> description perfectly (including the typo of “and” instead of “an”):
The same information works to tell Facebook how to describe you; note that the text here again matches the metadata!
Metadata is just data about your web content. I’ve shown the gnarly code bits here, but most web content systems have an easy way for inputting metadata that doesn’t require you to fiddle with scripts. Find it and use it, or talk to your webmaster about how to add these three bits of code in your website header.
If you’ve put time and energy into creating good information, a little extra effort to also include good metadata on your website helps you stand out in web searches and in social sharing.
If you want to learn more (I promise to keep the wonkery to a minimum!) come to my presentation titled “How to optimize your extension website and publications for maximum sharing on social media” on Wednesday at 5:10 p.m. at the Joint Annual Meeting of the Entomological Societies of America, Canada, and British Columbia.
Free Tools: Facebook Debugger
Facebook Debugger will help you figure out what’s going on when web pages post strangely. It will even tell you exactly what code is missing, and how to fix it.
Free Tools: Google Mobile Page Test
Google and other search engines want your pages to be mobile friendly. And if they aren’t, they will not show your web page or resource as one of the top search results. The Google Mobile Page Tool will tell you if your page is rated as mobile friendly by their criteria.
Sample Metadata Template:
<!-- Place between <head> tags of web page --> <title>Title of your web page</title> <meta name="description" content="Page description of about 150 characters" /> <!-- viewport and other metadata goes here if you are using it --> <!-- Open Graph data for Facebook -- > <meta property="og:title" content="Title of your web page” /> <meta property="og:image" content="web address of your image" /> <meta property="og:description" content="Description of about 180 characters usually same as meta" />