A newsroom’s guide to X’s big headline preview change

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X’s potentially game-changing move to alter how it displays posts with links to news articles could profoundly affect digital publishers of all sizes.

X is the social network previously known as Twitter. During its time as Twitter, posts were known as “tweets,” but they are now simply called “posts.”

How it worked before

  • Before, X and Twitter would detect if a post had a valid URL. If so, this would trigger the platform to ping the URL provided and search for metadata provided by the publisher to determine the content it would use to create “cards.”
  • These cards came in several varieties, including ones with large and small images, embedded video or a link to an app. 
  • If a page didn’t have the correct information, X or Twitter would typically try to determine a title, image and description from other tags or based on the page structure.
  • The result: Posts with links included in them would show the content of the actual post. In other words, the text the user typed into the post field. This was previously limited to 140 characters, then 280 for non-paid users. This character limit included any text, including characters found in hashtags and URLs (though the service would often truncate long URLs).
  • Article cards included headlines, a brief description and the domain name of the site the article is posted on. Publishers had direct control over what was displayed in these fields, and many would optimize the text in the headline and description (which could be different from the title displayed on the full page view) to encourage clicks.
  • In many views, Twitter and X would parse out the actual URL the user posted, but the card’s familiar layout likely became an implied visual cue that the content was clickable.

What happens now

  • As of this writing, adding a link to a post on X still triggers the platform to ping the site linked to.
  • However, the only information shown is an image and the domain name linked to.
  • The image itself becomes clickable.
  • X now displays the domain name in the lower corner of the image. It uses a layout similar to the “Alt badge” used to signal that an image has a text description.
  • There are some reports that, when first posting content with a URL, a small card with a headline briefly appears in the composer preview feature. This tends to disappear within a few moments, however (sometimes a refresh is required), and goes to the image-only format.

What’s changed

  • Publishers can no longer define a headline or description (other than anything included in the actual post).
  • The layout now looks more like a user posting an image along with post content.
  • The overall layout feels less like something that can be clicked or tapped, though the domain name tag might help encourage click through.
  • It is important to note, however, that X has not banned users from posting links to third-party sites but, in some cases, has reportedly throttled access.

Why this is a problem

  • X also appears to have made this change retroactively on posts that link to articles added in the past; this could be problematic because many publishers optimized posts to Twitter and X with the assumption that the title and post body would be visible to users (along with a description in most cases). This change means that only the post body is visible and these often were not written to serve as headlines.
  • Without the full context of headlines, post body and description, some posts could be misinterpreted or even become misleading, depending on how they were originally written.
  • By removing most cards when linking to articles, X is also removing a familiar layout that many users probably know, which means that more information can be seen by clicking or tapping. This could further compound efforts social media platforms have been making to discourage content with external links from surfacing. Now, even if your post is shown to a user, it may not be obvious it’s clickable.
  • It’s also more difficult to create cohesive, compelling social posts that encourage engagement. 

What publishers can do

  • Unless something changes, the rule of thumb for posting links to articles on X is that all relevant information that users should see before clicking in the body of the post. The increased character limit of 280 will help a bit with this.
  • Organizations that subscribe to Twitter Blue have up to 25,000 characters to play with and can also use bold and italic formatting, though the full content of every post is not shown to users on all devices; sometimes, a click or tap is required to reveal the full post content.
  • The most straightforward way to do this is to simply include your headline as the body of your X post. This doesn’t necessarily need to be the headline that’s used on the story page itself; you can still write a unique one that’s optimized for clicks off social platforms. 
  • If space allows, you could also try including short blurbs with more details (in other words, a quasi-description) in the body of the post. There have been some efforts use visual typographic elements or emojis to make these visually separate, but it’s not clear yet how effective that might be.
  • You do still need to include the full URL to the story, likely using a URL shortener to save characters, in order for the tweet to be clickable, which, despite the new design, is still likely to be an important strategy going forward.

There have been a few workarounds for this change, which are outlined below.

Keep in mind that both Facebook and X have been taking steps to reduce the amount of times posts with links to content appear in feeds, so your social media traffic has likely been dropping for some time now — and could continue to fall. This is likely to impact every post with a link in it, including ones using workarounds.

Link in body with more text after it
  • For now, one solid workaround is to create posts with a URL in the middle of the post body. For example, instead of “This is my post text https://nca.st/123” use “This is my post text https://nca.st/123 More text here.”
  • This appears to, at least as of this writing, force Twitter to display the URL as a clickable link to users, which at least reinforces, through the use of colored text, that there is clickable text in the post.
  • Keep in mind, however, that you’ll ultimately want to keep the link fairly close to the beginning of the post so that it always displays. Longer posts may be truncated as well. 
Rasterized text in images
  • Some outlets have already been experimenting with posting images with headlines and other text embedded in them as rasterized text and then use the normal body of the post to include other optimized text.
  • This could be worth testing out, but be sure to use the “alt text” feature to make the text accessible to all users (it’s also possible this text could be used to surface content in searches).
  • “Alt text” is also important for accessibility and the new way of display links to content not on X has been notably bad for accessibly
  • If your site is not already set up to use this approach, you likely will need to have your developers create a way to designate the URL path to the image with headline included in the twitter:image or og:image metadata tag
  • While both and other meta tags are recognized by multiple platforms, og:image is typically favored by Facebook with twitter:image being favored by X.
  • Depending on your CMS, this could involve adding custom fields and some code updates.
  • This strategy will also require at least some design time in order to create the alternate image. Any content in this image, including what photos or illustrations are used and the wording of the text, would still need to be optimized with both accuracy and click-throughs in mind.
  • The potential downside of using an image in this way, however, is that X reportedly uses algorithms to identify images with embedded text and tends to rank them lower, meaning posts could end up with less views.
  • There have been some reports that text occupying a certain percentage of an image has less or no effect on discovery, but this many vary from platform to platform and could change at any time.
Attaching an image to a post
  • Similar to the method above, this approach involves posting an image with an attention-grabbing visual and headline text directly to the platform. This is distinct from allowing the meta tags do the work. 
  • A variation of this is to post a photo with little or no text (this typically relies on a very eye-catching image being available).
  • You can then paste the link to your story in the body of the post along with whatever additional text you’d like.
  • Alternatively, some outlets have not been including the URL in the initial post, but rather immediately posting a reply or comment to their own post with some additional copy and a URL in that post.
  • This method essentially works similar to how if you posted a photo of your dog to your social media account and then someone commented asking where to by the collar in the photo and you posted the link to the online store selling it. 
  • At face value, this could potentially get around the issue with posts linking directly to comments, but it’s also important to keep in mind this approach is fairly formulaic and therefore it wouldn’t be challenging to write an algorithm to detect it and downplay those posts (if social media networks aren’t already doing this to at least some degree).
  • This approach also has the disadvantage of forcing users to go digging into the comments of your post to find the link. Not only does this require another click and then looking for the link on screen, but it also could expose readers to the infamous “comments section.”
  • This method has also been being used on Facebook, which notably treats comments differently than X.
Add ‘action’ language in post content
  • Another possibility includes adding leading language that encourages clicks and taps, such as “read more” or “learn more” in the body of X posts.
  • However, keep in mind that the text of the body (with the exception of URLs when they actually displayed) is not actually clickable and many users expect words such as “read more” to be links. An alternative could be “tap the image below.”
  • Another method that’s popped up is to add something such as “Story…” or “Read more…” at the end of the post content, with the idea that the ellipses help signal that the user should do something. A variation of this is a word with a colon, such as “Story:” or “Read more:” 

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