A Solution To The Facebook fb_xd_fragment Problem
Back in December, Danny Sullivan provided clarity for us on social signals that Google and Bing count as ranking factors. More recently, I spoke with Stefan Weitz who let me know that my results may be personalized if a friend of mine has “Liked” something related to my search query — i.e., that page my friend Liked will show up higher in the search results.
What this suggests is that having those Like buttons on the appropriate pages of your site. In addition to the SEO benefits, it may also show up on the Walls of the friends of the person Liking the page (more on this in a moment). So you should put Like buttons on all the pages of your site, right?
If only the web were so simple!
Not so fast! There are some additional interactions you should know about before you do this. The problem is that the use of the Like button appears to create a phantom page for your site with the query string ?fb_xd_fragment appended to it. Worse still, the pages can be found and indexed by the search engines, and the existence of these pages does appear to impact your search traffic.
You can see how big an impact this has by searching on “inurl:fb_xd_fragment” in Google. This brings up 199,000 results, most of which are similar to ones you see in this screen shot:
Your instinctive reaction might be that this creates a duplicate content situation, but it is more complex than that. Instead, what happens when you go to one of these pages is you get this:
Yep, a big ol’ page full of nothing. In fact, the actual content of the page appears to flash quickly in front of you, and then the blank page comes up.
How Big Of A Problem Is This?
Unfortunately, it costs you search traffic. We implemented Like buttons on a client website in January of 2011. Then after a few weeks, we noticed that we had seen a drop in traffic of about 8%. Because of the constant tuning of search algorithms, we did not think much of it at the time. We certainly did not connect the traffic drop with the implementation of the Like buttons.
But then a week or so later, we noticed in Google Analytics that we were getting traffic to pages that had this ?fb_xd_fragment parameter attached to them. We knew that we had not created those so we began to dig into the matter more, and we learned that the Like button was creating these pages for us. We implemented a fix for this (discussed below) and within a week or so our traffic recouped the 8% that it had lost.
This taught us that the issue was a serious SEO issue, so we began to dig into the options. One of the first things we learned was about the mechanics of the Like button as it works today.
Understanding Like Button Mechanics
When a site visitor clicks on a Like button it brings up a window that looks like this:
Notice how it offers the user an opportunity to enter in a description. This is an option, and if they decline to do so, they can still click Post to Facebook and the page they “Liked” will get posted to their Wall.
However, if they enter in a description, Facebook goes further and will post the fact that the user Liked the page on their Wall and the Walls of their friends. This results in a much broader distribution of the Liked content. This behavior is similar to what the Facebook Share button does.
How To Solve The fb_xd_fragment Problem
Fortunately, there is a way to address this. Unfortunately, it is not that well documented and you need to stumble across it by accident. So here is what you need to do:
Step 1 – Create a simple html file with the following code in it:
Step 2 – Modify your FB.init file. This is a file you need to have on your page anyway to implement a Like button, but with the right tweak you should be all set. Here is what it looks like with the correct code in it:
The Channel URL defaults to nothing, and you need to set it to point at the HTML file you created in Step 1. As you can see in this example, I named the file channel.html.
Note that you will see suggestions on the web that you can use the Like button in a frame to get around the fb_xd_fragment problem, but the downside of that solution is that it does not offer the user the opportunity to enter a description and will not post anything on the Wall of the friends of the person who just liked your page.
What About the Share Button?
You might ask why not focus on using the Share button instead? You can do that, and it does work for the time being, but Facebook has indicated its intent to stop supporting the Share button. However, it requires the user to enter the description and automatically posts the update on the Walls of the visitor’s friends. That’s a good thing!
And What About The Send Button?
In my opionion the Send button is an interesting option. It allows users to ship content to be people on a more select basis. You can email it to them, post it to their wall, or post it on the wall of a Facebook Group.
You can go ahead and use the Share button for now since it still works and it forces the user to enter in a description and shares the content with their friends. However, I expect this to stop working at some point in time, and I don’t want to have to think about that. Our preferred solution at Stone Temple Consulting is to use the Like button with the patch outlined here and you should be able to avoid the fb_xd_fragment problem, and then add the Send button in cases where it seems appropriate.
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