Social Metadata: More Important than You Think

By Tom Pitts
Jan 12, 2016

Web metadata may seem like a subject that has been beaten to death by SEO consultants and social media experts. But despite the deluge of content about data about content, we continue to see prominent publishers make mistakes and underinvest in their metadata. Why is this?

Publishers may acknowledge the importance of social metadata, but many prominent media companies still don’t fully realize how it impacts the success of their content.

Why is social metadata important for publishers?

In the last year, social media has passed search as the most common way for readers to discover content. The ongoing growth of social content discovery has allowed publishers to build businesses around the success of their content on social media. As this trend continues, publishers who don’t make social a priority risk being left behind.

The metadata publishers create allows them to control how their content is seen when it is shared on social media. Publishers who prioritize valid, compelling social metadata position themselves to take advantage of the continued growth of social by making their content more engaging and sharable.

Which social metadata is important?

Today, Facebook and Twitter are the largest sources of social engagement and traffic for most publishers. Both platforms have their own standards for social markup. These standards include important elements that allow Facebook and Twitter to index and display content appropriately.

Facebook’s Open Graph protocol gives publishers control over how their content is displayed in the News Feed.

Twitter Cards allow publishers to control how their content shows up in the Twitter stream.

Best practices for social metadata

Requirements may vary for each publisher, but there are some common fields that should be customizable in an article’s publishing process.

Facebook title

Implementing a custom headline allows publishers to override the default article title when shared on Facebook.

Open Graph title best practices:

  • Use a clear title without mentioning the brand or domain itself
  • Keep the title brief and powerful without being vague.
  • Don’t give away the content; compel the reader to learn more.

Facebook description

Publishers often use an excerpt from their post as a description. We recommend giving more attention to each article description.
Open Graph description best practices:

  • Don’t repeat generic descriptions across content.
  • Don’t use an excerpt that ends with an ellipsis.
  • Write compelling copy that teases the content.
  • Keep the description short so it has impact and can display on mobile. Facebook often omits descriptions on mobile for posts that display too large.
  • Description copy should complement the title (headline).

Tweet text

Writing a tweet in your content management system lets you embed the copy in your Twitter share button on each article page.

Tweet text best practices:

  • Keep the copy to 88 characters or less to allow for an image and a link in the tweet.
  • Use @mentions to call out authors or subjects of the article.
  • Don’t give away the article; compel the reader to learn more.


Images may be the most important element of social posts.
Best practices for social images:

  • Use high-quality photographs or data visualizations.
  • Make sure the images correspond with the social headline and description.
  • Make sure the proportions of the images work on both Facebook and Twitter.

Invest in the development of your metadata

Don’t generate Facebook Open Graph and Twitter Card elements by installing plugins, outputting existing metadata, and calling it a day. Rather than just standardizing, publishers should optimize.

Think about what metadata should exist from the ground up. Once requirements are formalized, publishing should be updated to allow for the input of this data. Content management systems should require each article to have this data in order for it to be published.

Requiring the appropriate metadata for new content is a great step forward, but many publishers also have an archive of older content that is still being shared consistently on social media. Publishers should take the time to survey their content archive and make sure their most important historical content is packaged and optimized for social.

Investing in the social metadata input doesn’t completely fix the social metadata output. Valid social meta tags are critically important and implementation can often be more complex than it first appears. Publishers should make sure they avoid common meta tag mistakes that can cause some of their content to display incorrectly on social and underperform when shared. The development work to fix these mistakes is worth the effort and should also be a priority.

Here at trueAnthem, we work with a large number of publishers, helping them to maximize their success on social by optimizing their social metadata and social publishing processes. We’d love to hear your questions and comments.

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