You’ve written a terrific post, or an important page on your site. The title is good, the words are right, it has some relevant pictures. People are likely to link to the page from social media sites, or in DMs or text messages, or find the page in web search results.
Question is, what will readers of those sites and messages see about your page? Just the link? Or a picture, title, a bit of text? If the latter, which picture, what text?
The sites where the links appear ultimately control that, but there are ways to influence them.
SEO plugins like Yoast SEO (my top pick) give you places to enter the information these other sites are looking for on your page to make these choices.
It’s also smart to consider how your posts and pages will appear in your own internal site searches, assuming you’ve provided a search field.
The settings I talk about in this section control how your pages and posts appear in your own site’s internal search function and archive pages. Here, for instance, the description in the search results is text you won’t find on the page itself.
Other sites may also pay attention to these settings, or not.
WordPress offers a “featured image” setting that lets you choose which image represents that page or post. Not every link source will pay attention to this, but it also affects how your page appears in internal search results, so it’s a good idea to set this.
Every post offers the ability to set an excerpt. This bit of text overrides the automatically generated excerpt that WordPress creates from the first 55 words of your post.
Pages can also have excerpts, but many themes don’t provide a way to edit the page excerpt. You can fix this by installing the plugin Torknado Page Excerpt.
Search engines and many other websites pay attention to the “metadata” in your page to decide how to render a link. Like the featured image and excerpt above, this is information you don’t (necessarily) see while viewing the page, which provides a summary of the page data. The featured image is considered metadata, and Yoast SEO plugin provides the fields to edit the textual parts of the description.
If Yoast is active on your site, scroll to the bottom of the editing page to find these settings.
I’ve added numbers to comment on parts of this screen:
- The focus keyphase doesn’t affect how your site appears in search results, but it can influence whether it appears and how near the top.
- Previews for Google search results include mobile and desktop — not a bad idea to check both.
- The SEO title just looks like a bunch of purple ovals but these are “variables” you can add to with the Insert variable button — or you can type text here, interspersed among the ovals. The preview shows the result for this particular page.
- Unless this is a new page/post, changing the “slug” is a bad idea. This is part of the URL, and changing it breaks links to your page from your own site as well as elsewhere. Search engines do consider it when deciding what words are important on your page.
- The screenshot shows in the preview where the meta description text appears. If you leave this blank, some websites may use your “except” text, while others will ignore the excerpt and try and find some relevant text on the page. Search engines may ignore whatever you put in and show a snippet from the part of the page that contains matching search terms.
Social Media appearance
Referring to the above image, notice the Yoast section has tabs, including one for “Social”. This tab is specifically for Facebook and Twitter, providing a way to override their selections for image, title and excerpt when a link is placed on their sites.
Facebook and Twitter will also use the other settings discussed above, but they might not do so in a way you like. This tab lets you override some of those choices — or at least provide suggestions for those specific platforms.
Facebook has standards regarding the image it displays with your link. Your metadata must specify a featured image of sufficient size (I believe currently at least 200×200 pixels), or it’ll rummage around on the page and find one it likes, probably a stupid one.
I’m not sure what Twitter does. I’m on strike from Twitter until the idiot is no longer running it and they have more reasonable moderation practices.
After you save a page, you can use the Facebook “Sharing Debugger” to check out how Facebook decided your page deserves to be presented. If you don’t like it you can edit the page and click the “Scrape Again” button to get them to check again. Facebook caches the data, so if your page was previously examined, you have to “re-scrape” or people will keep seeing old information for an unknown time.
I don’t know of a similar tool for Twitter. You can spring for Yoast Premium (I never have) to see a preview, or just hope for the best.