Google+ Game Changing Update: Full Image Teasers
5/9 UPDATE - Google finally released documentation confirming all requirements for the Article Rendering. You can read them here.
3/14 UPDATE - The original link preview rendered images at a consistent width of approximately 500px, but offered a scaled height which allowed images to display at "full" height (according to the ratio). Google has implemented an adjustment that puts a maximum height of approximately 500px on images, and then scales the width accordingly. This results in tall images having an appropriate amount of white space to the left and right. The full image is displayed, but now the resulting image space is a square approximately 500x500.
3/15 UPDATE - As of this morning, all link previews have reverted back to the original link preview style of a thumbnail image, title of the link and URL for the link. Whether or not this is a permanent rollback or just a temporary update remains to be seen.
3/16 UPDATE - According to Google, this was a temporary rollback and the new treatment should be live again Monday. Thanks to Stephan Hovnanian for the heads-up on this status.
3/18 UPDATE - The "new" link preview treatment has returned. Link shares are once again begin displayed with large images. Currently, the images being displayed are in line with what we were seeing as of 3/14, with a fixed height and scaled width. Once the dust settles and confirmed dimensions and site criteria are established, I will post that information here.
For businesses and bloggers who have been sharing links and articles to Google+, there's been a great debate going on for months. Whether an article should be shared as an image or as a link preview? On the one hand, the larger image tended to bring bloggers greater levels of engagement and interest from Google+ users. On the other hand, sharing links as link previews have greater SEO benefits.
Debate no more.
Google+ has shocked and excited many of us by quietly rolling out Full Image Teasers for articles and links shared.
Now, instead of a small thumbnail image and the title of your post, businesses and bloggers who share articles will be treated to the much larger version of their primary blog post image. And along with the title of their article, the article description is now included.
Additionally, the post includes the name of the site from which it was shared, as well as an icon to circle the site, both of which show off the site's Hovercard when you mouse over them, as long as the website is linked to a verified Google+ Page.
If this looks vaguely similar to Facebook posts or even Twitter Cards, that's not surprising. These social networks have realized for a while now that imagery is becoming extremely important to social media users and marketing.
What's the Big Deal?
The BIG Image is the BIG Deal. It's something that cannot be stressed enough. Studies have shown repeatedly that posts that have interesting images receive three to four times as much engagement as other kinds of posts.
But this is better than just sharing an image like we used to do, because now the image is clickable.
With the old image shares, you'd have to include a link within your post description, and the image would just be there to attract attention. Now, the image is linked to your post, so readers can click on the image or the linked page title to get to your content. This creates a larger click-through opportunity for readers.
Studies of social media shares have shown through link click heat maps that article shares which present more opportunities to click through to the post generate more click-throughs. This is what made the question of whether or not to share a full image versus a link preview such a hard one to answer. The larger images were more compelling and attracted more attention, but the link previews were better for website traffic. So in sharing a full image, you were hoping that the image would be so good as to over-compensate for the lack of click-ability of the post, and result in a net gain of traffic and engagement.
The inclusion of the Description text also presents an additional opportunity for businesses to attract readers. Businesses should already be using the Description tag to create interest, but now even more so. Just make sure that the introduction or commentary that you offer when you write your actual post is different. Your description field should be used to present the Value of your content, while your Google+ post introduction should provide commentary and context. And note that the description text is displayed below the image even in the stream, meaning that readers and followers can see the text without having to click on your post specifically, even though your introductory text is limited to a few lines. The 200 or so characters of your description just became quite a bit more important.
These elements should combine to create far higher click-through rates and referral traffic for Google+ users. Are you ready to get your business or blog on board yet?
How Do I Get The New Google+ Posts?
The new, larger Google+ link preview posts work whether you're sharing the post from your personal profile or a business page. But they do not, as yet, display any differently on mobile. The larger preview remains consistent with post shares as well.
For bloggers and businesses, there are a couple of steps that you may need to take, if you haven't already, to make sure shares of your content get the best possible presentation on Google+.
First, be sure to use larger images. If your content that is being shared has no image or an image that's too small, it will be shown as the old-style link preview with a small thumbnail image only. According to Google, images need to be at least 506px wide, and a maximum ratio of 5:2.
And just like we've been discussing for some time now, your images need to deliver. They need to be interesting and have text added to them so that readers can glance at the image and be enticed to read more.
Second, to ensure that Google+ recognizes which image you want to share, make sure that you have Open Graph or schema.org implemented so that you will have Meta Tags in place to specify the full image URL. You can learn more in Designating Images for Social Media Posts.
Your content must also use the appropriate Meta Tag for Type and be marked as an Article, Blog or BlogPosting.
Additionally, in order to take advantage of the hovercard and Google+ Page link, you should have a business Page set up that is linked to your blog. There should be a link to your blog on your Google+ Page, if you add a snippet of HTML code or embed one of the Google+ widgets, your Page will be verified. As Mark Traphagen has pointed out, there does not appear to be any requirement for having a Page to get the full image treatment.
It is unclear at this point what, if anything, else a blog needs to have implemented. Since the feature is just now being released and rolled out, we cannot yet tell if there are other technical requirements. Your blog posts may have to use those additional Meta Tags like OG:Image (Open Graph) to specify the correct image to use, or Google+ may just scan for large enough images like Pinterest does. We also do not yet know for sure what the minimum image size is, but George Sepich has suggested that a minimum width of 506px is required to trigger the large image preview.
Regardless, once it's working for your site, anytime you or anyone else shares a link from one of your articles, Google+ will automatically populate the new link preview with the larger image and additional information.
Unlike Pinterest Cards, these improvements do not seem to be retroactive. They're more like Facebook posts where they're only going to work for new posts that you share, once your site/page have been enabled. It should also be noted that unlike Facebook, the images from these link previews are being treated as though they are attached images in regard to size. Meaning, larger images are being displayed as larger images, sometimes even taking up the full screen and spanning multiple columns for Google+ readers. On Facebook, link preview images are still limited in size and ratio.
UPDATE: Many readers have noted that some Pages and profiles are seeing old posts receive the same large image treatment as new posts, so it would appear that the update is retroactive, at least for some accounts. As of yet, The Social Media Hat is still seeing old posts in the old format, so we will continue to monitor this.
The new expanded posts will display regardless of how the links are shared, so you can still use HootSuite or Buffer or another third-party tool to create and schedule Google+ posts.
The SEO Ramifications of the New Link Preview
As Stephan Hovnanian has pointed out though, there is a potential downside to this update. Whereas link posts were once Do Follow, it would appear that now all links from Google+ are No Follow. (There is one hidden link that may be Do Follow and we're trying to determine if that link will be counted. Joshua Berg is investigating this closely.) The difference is that when a link on a website, page or post is a normal link, it is considered "Do Follow" which is an open invitation for search engines like Google to use that link to discover more content and websites and index the results. Furthermore, once indexed, that link is then saved within the search engine's database as a backlink to that URL. Since Google+ posts are essentially their own webpages, each time someone shared a link post to Google+, they were essentially passing "link juice" to the linked website and URL. However, when a link is set to include the No Follow attribute, it's a Stop Sign to search engines not to index beyond that link and not to count that link as a backlink to that URL.
Previously, links shared within the description of Google+ posts were automatically marked as No Follow, while links shared as link posts with a link preview were Do Follow by default.
So this means that, going forward, links shared to Google+ will no longer have any impact on a website's backlinks or search engine ranking, nor will simply sharing a link to Google+ cause the URL to be indexed.
Previously shared links should not be impacted since they are not being converted to the new display format; only new shares.
It certainly remains to be seen what, if any, real impact this will have on search results and rankings for individual sites. The greatest impact might be on the speed of indexing that some sites were enjoying as a result of their Google+ shares.
But regardless of the SEO impact, it's safe to say that this update will be a huge boon to businesses and marketers who understand the importance of visual assets and take the time to create and assign appropriate imagery to their content.
Many thanks to Martin Shervington who brought this update to my attention when he shared this post and noticed the change himself:
There is, as yet, no official announcement from Google. If there is, or if other features or requirements are discovered, we'll update this post accordingly.
5/9 UPDATE - Google finally released documentation confirming all requirements for the Article Rendering. You can read them here.
If you have more questions about this update, or how to leverage Google+ for your blog or business, contact me.
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By Mike Allton, Content Marketing Practitioner
Mike is a Content Marketing Practitioner, award-winning Blogger and Author in St. Louis, and the Chief Marketing Officer at SiteSell. He has been working with websites and the Internet since the early '90's, and is active on all of the major social networks. Mike teaches a holistic approach to content marketing that leverages blog content, social media and SEO to drive traffic, generate leads, and convert those leads into sales.
Mike is the author of, "The Unofficial Book On HootSuite: The #1 Tool for Social Media Management", "The Ultimate Guide to the Perfect LinkedIn Profile.", and "Blog Promotionology, The Art & Science of Blog Promotion."Follow @Mike_Allton
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