Facebook Changed How Links Are Displayed — This is bigger than you think

by Chad Wittman on Jan 17, 2013

While most of the industry has been focused on Facebook’s new Graph Search, a quiet and new change to Facebook has taken place. Facebook has expanded the size of the thumbnail images for Links.

At first, this appears to be a small and seemingly unimportant change.

Don’t be fooled by it’s size, it’s a bigger deal than you may think.

We know that Facebook does extensive tests, examining different variables, and how it impacts bottom line usage of the site.

We also know that Facebook is in a continual effort to drive traffic and engagement. Facebook is reportedly attempting to allow users to discover more great content from the news feed, especially from links within the news feed.

Why Is This Important?

From an EdgeRank perspective, this is in important. Photos have become the go-to engagement driver in the news feed.

Typically, photos are more “fun” and more in line with what consumers chose to engage with. However, this has created an ecosystem of memes and irrelevant Page content.

Page’s are posting photos, just to post photos. I’ve spoken with some of the largest and most successful brands on Facebook and many of them have a photo only policy. If Facebook wants to mature, and not become a meme graveyard reminiscent of the current Reddit, they need to figure out a way to cut back on these memes and irrelevant photos in the news feed.

Making links more visually attractive can be one step toward that endgame.

The Game Of Engagement

Facebook analyzes the news feed continually to improve engagement.

Photos dominate engagement, but I’ve been sitting on a theory for sometime with an alternative reason for photos receiving above average engagement. Increased average engagement on photos could be the result of more visual real estate in the news feed. This could be a classic example of correlation, not causation (that photos achieve more engagement due to their content type, as opposed to their screen real estate). It is very difficult the separate the two, and it’s hard to know if Facebook has actually done the research.

The new format takes up roughly 33% more space than the original Link:

Will this cause an increase in engagement by 33%?

My guess is not quite, but I am expecting an increase in engagement for the Link content type.

Brands that heavily post links should be excited for this new change, as Facebook may have just handed you an increase in your engagement.

This should also serve as a reminder to make sure all of your brand’s content has high quality images to be used in the news feed. If people are going to take the time to link to it, make sure it encourages clicks.

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Co-Founder & VP of Product at Dolly, an iPhone and Android app that is like Uber meets U-Haul or Lyft for Moving. Former Founder of EdgeRank Checker (acquired by Socialbakers)...

  • http://www.linguisticatelier.com/ Polish translator Warsaw

    Honestly speaking, I didn’t find any answer to the main question of the article. Why are the bigger tumbnails pictures that important? If the main thesis is that the importance of picture decreases, the bigger pictures should be less important too. I’m not getting at…

  • http://twitter.com/delinkbuilder delinkbuilder

    They have to try to make money and still be not an advertising website. They are having problems finding the right game if you ask me…

  • http://www.chocolateseo.com/ A. Chris Turner

    This is one of those minor changes that has big impact. I know that there are a number of studies available as to why images in profiles, links and stories are important. It was one of the reasons Google introduced rich snippets and authorship. Looks like Facebook is gearing up to become a major player in the search market without going out and indexing websites; they’re going to maximize content generated by users of their platform. This reduces the weight of the index while improving the quality of the query answers they supply to searchers.

  • http://twitter.com/KellyWalberg Kelly M. Walberg

    Although Facebook users certainly love the visual, I’ve tested and confirmed that the pages I manage posts with JUST A LINK (and NOT including the summary box) is being fed into at least 4x as many people’s newsfeeds (ie. “seeing the post”) This, in turn, allows and has created an increased engagement rate. I think it is Facebook’s way to cut down on the amount of photos being uploaded to their servers. Example below.

  • http://twitter.com/dbrazeal David Brazeal

    I think the big question is whether photos are generating more engagement because they’re genuinely more interesting to people, or because the Edgerank algorithm is displaying photos more frequently than it’s displaying links.

    I know the engagement of links to my local media site took a dive in September. I’ll experiment to see if this change makes a difference.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jessicathomaslewis Jessica Thomas Lewis

    This is a really interesting example. Do you find that you’re still getting the same rate of interaction from readers? For example, more people are seeing the post in their feed, but less people actually “see” the post (scroll past without noticing because it’s without visual)?

  • http://twitter.com/ChadWittman Chad Wittman

    Nice example — What was the time difference on these two posts?

  • http://twitter.com/ChadWittman Chad Wittman

    The bottom line is we expect engagement to increase for links.

  • http://www.sociallysorted.com.au/ Donna Moritz

    Interesting Chad – I think you have a great point – I had noticed this too and i will be interested to see if the link engagement and stats increase. Interesting to hear that big brands have had a “photo only” policy – the results from using photos definitely lead to that being a fruitful approach. But you are right, we don’t want a meme graveyard. Images are still fabulous but can be used to provide great content and not just an endless stream of quotes. Great post.

  • http://www.sociallysorted.com.au/ Donna Moritz

    PS Chad, were you also aware that there is a Facebook Ads/Sales rep going around Australia doing presentations and making a big deal of the fact that Edgerank was never “Facebook’s” term but coined by someone else. ie that there is no such thing as Edgerank… I really think they are all getting wound up in “names” as Facebook definitely has an algorithm, no matter what they call it… so what it is called is really not that important but I am just curious if you have heard that before? I could find no trace of Facebook saying it (and conversely claiming it not to exist). I have laughed at everyone in a flurry here over it as it is really not the point (ie take the name away – they still have some sort of algorithm going on haha) but given your business name was wondering if you have come across it.

  • http://twitter.com/KellyWalberg Kelly M. Walberg

    Thanks Chad. The posts were made within an hour of each other, both at mid-day (just before 3pm and 4pm). I’ve attached another screenshot to illustrate the types of posts (by icon) made on the same exact day with the resulting reach and engagement. As a graphic designer, it does take a bit of adjusting to transition from a beautiful timeline full of color and imagery to primarily text, but at the same time… the purpose of facebook is to connect with your audience, right?! So my visual happiness is trumped. More eyeballs per post is far better for the partners we promote and our brand awareness.

  • http://twitter.com/KellyWalberg Kelly M. Walberg

    Hi Jessica. Primarily, the more eyeballs I receive per post is resulting in an increased interaction from readers. I have noticed a few cases, in the past two weeks, of an image w/message or summary box with message having a high engagement level with fewer folks “seeing” the post. However, the content of those posts were oh so very “Nashville” that they were almost guaranteed to be popular.

  • http://twitter.com/ChadWittman Chad Wittman

    I actually did recently come across that. The backstory is flat out wrong (watch Facebook discuss EdgeRank in 2010: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T2XYIitg0V4). Thankfully, you see the irony of the discussion. EdgeRank? News Feed Algorithm? GraphRank? Who cares? Let’s analyze it and give companies that are trying to invest in marketing on Facebook some direction!

  • http://socialfreshacademy.com/ Jason Keath

    Sounds like this guy needs to do a little more research.

  • http://socialfreshacademy.com/ Jason Keath

    So what is the right game @twitter-491628117:disqus ?

  • http://socialfreshacademy.com/ Jason Keath

    Good question. I think there are several elements at play. Size, ease of consumption, visual provocation of emotion, etc. Facebook is reacting to a human preference for images.

  • http://www.sociallysorted.com.au/ Donna Moritz

    Exactly! Thanks for the link Chad – I just thought I would ask as I figured you would know. I was just so sick of hearing everyone talk about something that as you say is not really about the name, it’s about what is going on behind the name. And Jason is right, he obviously has been given some “interesting” information. I will be watching how links go now! Have a great weekend!

  • http://www.sociallysorted.com.au/ Donna Moritz

    Absolutely – it sounded strange and I was sure I had heard Mark or one of their engineers talk about Edgerank before – an entire industry didn’t make it up lol…. seems this guy needs to focus more on their ads, business and development in his seminars rather than mythbusting (or not busting!) name origins! Interesting!

  • http://humanwebsite.com.my/ Kent

    Hopefully it helps in conversion rate.

  • http://twitter.com/ChadWittman Chad Wittman

    That’s an intuitive and excellent observation!

  • http://twitter.com/ChadWittman Chad Wittman

    Interesting… Thanks again for sharing!

  • http://twitter.com/eerburu Emmanuel Erburu

    I don’t really think that the improvement in the views was because of the image in the link, instead it’s because the content is more interesting, and then the people share it more.

  • http://www.facebook.com/caitlinobrient Caitlin O’Brient

    Has this change actually gone into effect yet?

  • http://mikethoughts.com miketempleton

    I’m one of those people that would LOVE to see brands stop posting shortened URLs and photos just to try to game the system. If you want to share a link, you should post it as a link — Facebook’s got a much cleaner way of displaying links natively versus dumping a bit.ly URL into the photo description. Hopefully this change to how link thumbnails are displayed will have publishers rethinking their strategies; in the end it would lead to a much better (read: cleaner and more consistent) experience for users.

    Also, Chad, do you mind editing this post to include the original thumbnail size specs and how large the new thumbnail image is? I feel like I’m constantly Googling for the size specs and this post comes up near the top, but it doesn’t have the specs listed. Thanks!

  • http://socialfreshacademy.com/ Jason Keath

    Thanks for commenting Mike. Question, how are they gaming the system when Facebook allows them and many times encourages them?

  • http://socialfreshacademy.com/ Jason Keath

    Yes, it is rolling out.

  • http://mikethoughts.com miketempleton

    I realize people are just trying to use what works, but if they want to post a link, why not just post it as a link. Throwing up a photo (because they get views) and then including a shortened link in the status just feels tacky — basically like they’re hacking the system to make it do something it shouldn’t — even if it does work.