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Tue Apr 19 2011 21:28:55

Warning: Facebook Buttons May Be Hazardous to Your Site's Health

By: David and Ina Steiner

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If there's one thing that makes online sellers and marketplaces happy, it's an increase in traffic on their website - unless it's caused by a bug that has the potential to harm the website's ranking in Google.

That's what is happening on some websites - including online marketplace Etsy - thanks to a bug in Facebook's Like button. AuctionBytes first became aware of this issue when we saw a spike in our own page views in early April.

The Like Button Bug
As this page on Facebook explains, there are two methods for developers to put Like buttons on their websites: FBML (Facebook Markup Language) and Iframe. Although there had been reports last year about possible problems, FBML implementation of Facebook buttons had been relatively uneventful. But on or about April 5th of this year, reports of problems began to increase.

According to reports, The FBML version of the Like button causes blank pages to be created with a "fb_xd_fragment" query string to be added to the URL. There are several threads about this, including this thread in the Facebook developer's forum that was helpful in tracking down the problem on the AuctionBytes website:

"I can confirm the bug at several websites. It creates huge spikes in pageviews, several hundred per unique visit, and this happens overwhelmingly for Internet Explorer visitors. Google Analytics shows that the ?fb_xd_fragment was pretty much nonexistent on my site until April 4th when huge spikes happened again."

Our own access logs showed a spike in "fb_xd_fragment" queries when on a page accessed by certain versions of Microsoft Internet Explorer, causing pages to refresh several times upon loading. During the period of April 5-11, AuctionBytes' access logs showed nearly 300% the average number of page views from the previous week, until we took down the button while we researched the issue.

According to some reports, the problem did more than wreak havoc with analytics programs - wrote one website administrator, "It causes the creation of duplicate pages on your site on all search engines that find the link on facebook."
 
Because Google penalizes websites with duplicate content in search results, this was cause for major concern.

Impact on Ecommerce Websites
We decided to write about the problem because of the potential impact on online sellers and marketplaces, and in researching the issue further, discovered that Etsy appeared to be having the same issue. On April 9th, jewelry seller NextChapter noticed the problem and informed Etsy on the discussion boards. An administrator responded today:

"In researching, our Tech Team verified there is an open bug on Facebook regarding this button. They have not updated the bug, nor us regarding this. In the meantime, our Tech Team is discussing and investigating options to provide a flicker-free experience for our IE 6-8 members, without damaging it for other browsers."

Etsy spokesperson Adam Brown confirmed that some people using Internet Explorer have been experiencing the problem on Etsy and lots of other sites, but said Etsy has not seen any negative effects from this, nor have they seen any negative impact in terms of visibility on Google. "This issue has only been a problem for the last few days. If this was a problem that was causing serious disturbances, we would have immediately disabled the feature upon discovery."

Last year, Facebook announced that they would be moving away from FBML in favor of iFrames. However, the "Like" button generator on Facebook Developers page still gives people a choice of iFrame code or the problematic FBML code. One can only surmise that there are still millions of active "Like" buttons generating the fb_xd_fragment.

We contacted Facebook via email to find out more about the problem and why it has not proactively announced the technical issue with its Like button. We're also waiting to hear back from Google to find out if it is aware of the issue, and how it affects an affected website's visibility. 

Danny Sullivan of SearchEngineLand.com said it was unlikely to be an issue for Google. "I'm not sure that the spider would execute the FBML code, for one. If it did, Google might naturally consolidate the URLs. To be save, a site could use the canonical tag. In fact, I’d recommend any site do this. We have more about it here."

Other possible fixes for the problem are to take down like buttons or revert to the iFrame version

Facebook posted on its bug tracker this afternoon that a fix would be forthcoming: "We managed to track down the change that's causing the issue in IE7, and the fix is out in review right now. I expect the fix to be pushed either today or tomorrow. Thanks for your patience."

In the meantime, if you are a marketplace or online seller who uses Facebook like buttons on your website, keep an eye on this issue.




Comments (13) | Permalink

Readers Comments

Warning: Facebook Buttons May Be Hazardous to Your Site's Health   Warning: Facebook Buttons May Be Hazardous to Your Site's Health

by: Rich

Tue Apr 19 22:40:31 2011

Glad I'm too old for Facebook. I wouldn't want to sell to friends anyway if I understand how it works

Warning: Facebook Buttons May Be Hazardous to Your Site's Health   Warning: Facebook Buttons May Be Hazardous to Your Site's Health

This user has validated their user name. by: Ming the Merciless

Tue Apr 19 23:13:52 2011

Not only do these MBA jerks know nothing about retail selling, they obviously know even less about coding and Google.

But we already knew that, didn't we?

Unless it's intentional designed to get rid of small sellers.

No wonder they have to buy back enough of their to prevent a stockholder revolt.

Warning: Facebook Buttons May Be Hazardous to Your Site's Health   Warning: Facebook Buttons May Be Hazardous to Your Site's Health

This user has validated their user name. by: Philip Cohen

Wed Apr 20 00:44:22 2011

I assume this is the reason I went though a period a couple of days ago when I would cancel a couple of particular web site pages (not auctionbytes, and I didn't use the FB Like button) and the pages  would then keep reloading multiple times, usually in three separate windows; I thought it must have been ad/malware or something, at the time.

Warning: Facebook Buttons May Be Hazardous to Your Site's Health   Warning: Facebook Buttons May Be Hazardous to Your Site's Health

by: Cliff Aliperti
Web Site

Wed Apr 20 01:41:52 2011

I've been seeing this on my Stats page since April 6 now (possibly sooner, but that's the first major traffic spike I see looking now).  

At first I thought I found some sort of new popularity, then I figured out it was Facebook but had assumed it was the way my stat counter registered Facebook ''visits''--my guess was it was counting views of links to my site on Facebook as actual visits when people weren't clicking off Facebook to my site.  Recently I started to notice the fb_xd_fragment appended to many of my URLs in Google Analytics.

This post finally reports exactly what I'm experiencing, thank you!

Now I have to decide what to do about it.  I haven't noticed or been told about anything odd on the front end of my site, so as far as I can tell the only place it's making a difference is in my Stats reports.

Warning: Facebook Buttons May Be Hazardous to Your Site's Health   Warning: Facebook Buttons May Be Hazardous to Your Site's Health

by: Maria Nexus
Web Site

Wed Apr 20 05:52:05 2011

I have recently start one blog and using FBML version. I was not aware that it can hurt my site ranking. So, if I use the IFRAME version, there won't be any trouble? It's somewhat difficult for me to understand everything since I am new to this. Anyway thanks for the explanation.

Warning: Facebook Buttons May Be Hazardous to Your Site's Health   Warning: Facebook Buttons May Be Hazardous to Your Site's Health

by: Susan
Web Site

Wed Apr 20 06:45:58 2011

I stopped using FB "like" buttons when they had them on artfire and realized when once they removed the buttons(caused pages to load slower was explanation) I was stuck with a bunch of likes I couldn't "unlike". May just be an annoyance but it is still a pain

Warning: Facebook Buttons May Be Hazardous to Your Site's Health   Warning: Facebook Buttons May Be Hazardous to Your Site's Health

by: Kal

Wed Apr 20 10:15:05 2011

Have NO use for Facebook. When people find out I don't have a FB account, they think I'm strange...

Everyone has one, they tell me. Why could you possibly not want one? Not interested people.

Warning: Facebook Buttons May Be Hazardous to Your Site's Health   Warning: Facebook Buttons May Be Hazardous to Your Site's Health

by: Tired of eBay's Bullsh*t This user has validated their user name.

Wed Apr 20 11:49:39 2011

Despite all the hype about Social Selling over the last year or so, we completely passed on adding Facebook buttons/links -- and now we are glad to have passed on FB.

One look at the baby-faced FB CEO should be clue enough that the company gonna be largely staffed with (inexperienced) MBAs and programmers. Hell, we use FB for personal use every day to keep track of friends, and (as longtime web developers ourselves) have been not-all-that-impressed with their ignorance of good Information Design.

One need look no further than the fact that FBML exists to see the hubris in this bunch.

- Tired of eBay's Bullsh*t

Warning: Facebook Buttons May Be Hazardous to Your Site's Health   Warning: Facebook Buttons May Be Hazardous to Your Site's Health

by: Big Dick From Boston

Wed Apr 20 15:47:22 2011

The big brains at eBain take another great step backwards.

Days before the Facebook buttons are outed as turdware, those Einsteins in San Jose load it onto every seller's listing page.

Talk about the gang who couldn't shoot straight.

Their chronic bungling cannot be explained by stupidity, it must be destiny!
LOL!

Warning: Facebook Buttons May Be Hazardous to Your Site's Health   Warning: Facebook Buttons May Be Hazardous to Your Site's Health

by: Patricia This user has validated their user name.

Wed Apr 20 20:00:27 2011

I've been making sales thru Facebook.  That's all I have to say on it.

Warning: Facebook Buttons May Be Hazardous to Your Site's Health   Warning: Facebook Buttons May Be Hazardous to Your Site's Health

by: Smitty This user has validated their user name.

Wed Apr 20 22:20:40 2011

@ Kal
     
''Have NO use for Facebook. When people find out I don't have a FB account, they think I'm strange...''

My daughters even think I'm stranger because I won't look at the grandbabies pics on that virus/malware infected site.

The likes of Vlad (google Vladuz) have long ago quit fooling around with ebay. They have found a much richer turf in Facebook.

Anyone who signs up for an account on that site, deserves whatever happens to them.

Smitty

Warning: Facebook Buttons May Be Hazardous to Your Site's Health   Warning: Facebook Buttons May Be Hazardous to Your Site's Health

by: Small Seller
Web Site

Thu Apr 21 13:49:03 2011

I don't use any FB buttons or links on my site and am not planning on it. FB is for social networking, and their rates for advertising are simply not workable. My business page never got traction so I took it down after a while. Selling on FB is like watching grass grow. Not gonna happen. The bigger a site is, the easier it is to mess things up.

Warning: Facebook Buttons May Be Hazardous to Your Site's Health   Warning: Facebook Buttons May Be Hazardous to Your Site's Health

by: Leo
Web Site

Sun Aug 14 16:44:16 2011

Facebook is done away with FBML so I am guessing this is no longer an issue? I just recently start to add FB like buttons to all of my sites and have not noticed anything unusual. I am wondering those old pages with FBML are still experiencing problems.



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