Are Facebook Comments Spiderable? Implications for SEO

by Aaron Bradley on March 1, 2011

in SEO, Social Media

Are Facebook Comments Spiderable?

I just encountered Mike Melanson's ReadWriteWeb article Facebook Now Powers Comments All Around the Web (I love that in the opening sentence he refers to this as Facebook's "much-feared commenting solution").  The SEO in me immediately had to know, are these babies spiderable?  Will Google be able to index Facebook comments as part of the textual content of the URL to which they are attached?

The Facebook Social Plugin page for Comments didn't address the subject directly, and was not particularly rich in technical details about how the commenting system works.  Like others at that page (based on the example comments that were displayed there) I was unable to get the site code for comments to generate (amusingly, one user suggested a hack which put the code in an <iframe>).  Doubtlessly Facebook will address the code generation issues soon; in the interim I decided to look in the wild for real life examples.

I began investigating by looking at one the early implementers of the commenting system, Sporting News, and found a recent article which contained Facebook-fueled comments.  Viewing the source, only the call to Facebook was appearing in the code:  the comments weren't (whitespace removed in the code snippet):

<div class="containerHeader">
<h2>Share Your Comment</h2>
</div>
<div class="facebook-comments" style="margin: 10px 0px 20px 0px;">
<fb:comments width="650" href="[URL]" numposts="10"></fb:comments></div>
</div>

Since I don't see an <iframe> here I'm assuming this is an XFBML implementation, but as I'm not a developer there's every likelihood that further speculation will make me look like a fool.  I enthusiastically invite my technically savvy readers to provide insight on how the Facebook commenting function works in my own (non-Facebook fueled) comments section.

Facebook Comments and the Google Cache

Facebook Comments on a Sporting News Post Compared to the Google Cache

One way or another it does not appear to me that search engine robots can index the text that appears in the comments section.  Mi code es su code.  Just to verify this, I looked at the Google cache of the aforementioned article, which fortunately contains a fully spiderable offset time stamp of when the piece was published and updated.  Unless my calculations are off, if the comments were spiderable they would have appeared in Google's text cache, and they do not.   I welcome any correction to my conclusion that Facebook comments are, at least in this implementation, not spiderable (and certainly if there is an <iframe> implemenation, those comments will not be indexed with the rest of the text for the URL on which the <iframe> appears).

If I'm correct there are clearly SEO implications for any site which may choose to use the Facebook commenting system.  One of the endlessly-touted benefits of encouraging readers to comment is that these comments then become part of the spiderable content of a page, and as such are beneficial for search engine optimization:  search engines observe that a page changes over time, giving them more reason to revisit it; short pieces become progressively longer as more comments are added; and, perhaps most importantly, the keyword universe of a page is both reinforced and enlarged as a result of the content that readers add (and these comments are as often as not likely to be semantically-related to keywords used in the post or article itself).

Additionally, it does not appear to me that there is any way that these comments can be referenced as permalinks.  That is, many commenting systems (including the one used on SEO Skeptic) support permalinking of comments, usually as a hashtag anchor (e.g. [URL]/#comment-2554).  This promotes the generation of links to particularly engaging pieces of content, as commenters or interested readers may link directly to a comment from an external source.

As a search marketer this would certainly make me hesitant to implement Facebook comments on most sites, particularly those which have a record of high reader engagement.  But more generally as an Internet marketer, I can certainly understand the benefits of making comments personally meaningful to readers connected through Facebook, as well as some of the functionality the Facebook commenting system seems to offer.  Something of a hard call – what do you think?

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Marjory March 1, 2011 at 1:26 pm

First, I agree with you. The comments do not appear to be indexable. I think that the value of the comments as searchable user-generated content as well as any indication of connected structure or post popularity would be lost.

What happens on Facebook? Do the comments show up there anywhere that would make them valuable for social media marketing efforts using a Facebook page as the locus?

If there’s no SEO or SMM benefit, it should definitely cut down on spam. Other than that, I’m not sure of the value.

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2 Aaron Bradley March 1, 2011 at 2:27 pm

Vadim Lavrusik at Mashable has a nice summary of Facebook features and benefits. You can read them there, but chief among them are:

  • Commenting in the context of other Facebook users
  • Best comments are listed first
  • Users can mark comments as spam or as being abusive
  • Conversations are threaded

What you say about comment spam is true. As, currently at least, you need to be a Facebook account holder to leave a comment, I don’t know of any way that bots can be unleashed to generated spam comments, and both user reporting and publisher moderation should reduce the amount of manually generated spam comments.

Of course, the fact that comment functionality is currently limited to Facebook account holders highlights a problem as well – namely that system presents a barrier-to-entry for non-Facebook account holders.

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3 Noam May 22, 2011 at 6:24 am

There is a one big problem with the Facebook comments…
I have many many pages with the facebook comments plug in and there is no one place that concentrates the comments for me. There is no easy way to manage it and to answer my reader’s questions… It is a very serious problem!

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4 Scott Paley March 2, 2011 at 4:19 am

Yeah, this seems to be a pretty big drawback. It’s the #1 reason why [person] at [company] won’t implement it (at least at this point.)

I wrote up my own feeling about it here.

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5 Searchengineman March 2, 2011 at 1:56 pm

Since Google and Facebook seem to be declaring war against one another.
(Although FB is great for user interaction and involvement,)

I don’t see Google favoring content stuck in an i-frame. I seem to recall the best way to not get nailed for duplicate content or repetition was to put that content in an i-frame.
Perhaps Google and FB can come to some agreement and let the spiders in…

Searchengineman

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6 Mads Dørup March 3, 2011 at 11:53 am

I intend to implement facebook comments, and then put an extra plaintext copy of the comments in an invisible element on the page for the spiders (and other no-script users) to see. The comments are freely accessible, and you can sign up to events that fire when comments are posted. To me the lack of spider-ability is otherwise a major drawback, that is however shared by Disqus and Echo.

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7 Aaron Bradley March 3, 2011 at 12:00 pm

That’s an interesting work-around, Mads. I take it when you say “comments are freely available” that you’ll be able to machine-harvest them when posted and add them to your spider-friendly div? That is, this will take place without hand-editing.
Another thought that comes to mind is how this relates to cloaking. I don’t think it is cloaking (after all, you’re showing the same content to the bots as to humans), but I know some SEOs have expressed concerned about triggering suspicion from search engines by using things like the CSS visibility:hidden property (though I’ve seen this working without apparent problems on many sites for a long time).

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8 Aaron Bradley June 14, 2011 at 6:15 am

Michael McCrae reports (in a comment eaten by gremlins) that you can spider Facebook comments using Facebook Open Graph, and points to a Quora thread on the topic.

I’m skimmed other reported workarounds, but haven’t been following up on them much as I’ve yet to encounter an opportunity where I’ve felt compelled to employ Facebook comments. I’m sure the day will come. :)

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9 Luke July 1, 2011 at 12:18 pm

Aaron, did you ever find out if there is a way to make the comments spiderable. Interested to see if I can do that with my site. Could be a big SEO boost.

The Quora post has conflicting opinions.

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10 Aaron Bradley July 3, 2011 at 2:31 pm

No, I haven’t actually seen this in action yet. The Quora solution from Simon Temple seems to make sense to me (and outlaid a method for what Mads Dørup said he was going to accomplish above.

As I haven’t yet had a burning need to make Facebook comments search engine accessible, though, I haven’t deeply explored in any depth a solution that adds a text copy of comments for machine consumption. However, Facebook itself now provides virtually step-by-step instructions (near the end of the page) for using their comments API (as well as validating that without this most search engines won’t index your comments.

The Facebook comments box is rendered in an iframe on your page, and most search engines will not crawl content within an iframe. However, you can access all the comments left on your site via the graph API as described above. Simply grab the comments from the API and render them in the body of your page behind the comments box. We recommend you cache the results, as pulling the comments from the graph API on each page load could slow down the rendering time of the page.

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11 Asho August 24, 2011 at 10:58 am

I implemented the facebook comment using a plugin which also converts the facebook comment into wordpress comment… so the comments will be indexable by Google… i think this is the best way to use facebook comment…

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12 luke August 24, 2011 at 11:16 am

asho – can you tell me about how to do that?

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13 ahwebdev September 19, 2011 at 6:02 am

Hi, i add this plugin today => Facebook AWD SEO Comments

It’s a sub plugin of Facebook AWD all in one.

he use Graph Api to find comments on each url.
This plugin can merge comments from facebook with your WP native comments.
He can add html format comments in page and displayed only for search engine

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14 CasinoShark October 17, 2011 at 5:21 am

I can recommend the plugin SEO Facebook Comments found here: http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/seo-facebook-comments/

I have installed it on a few of my sites, take approx. 5 minutes and it’s working great. Takes the comment and converts it into html format.

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15 SEO Company Delhi December 15, 2011 at 9:46 pm

Thanks casinoshark, your link is very informative and to the point.

Reply

16 Israel May 22, 2014 at 9:46 am

Quel hasard je comptais écrire un article similaire à celui-ci

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