What Triggers the New Large Image Link Shares on Google Plus?

UPDATE 15 March 2014: As of this morning it appears Google+ has discontinued this feature. It was working inconsistently, and we saw a lot of tweaking on G+'s side during the past 24 hours, probably trying to make it work the way they wanted it to. Perhaps it is just being "garaged" for now in order to fix the problems before implementing again.

UPDATE 2: A Google employee in a thread by +Guy Kawasaki reported that the feature will be back on Monday.

Since Google+ started rolling out a change to how some link images are displayed on late Thursday (US time), many have been speculating what triggers these larger images for link posts. (If you haven't noticed, for many posts now that are sharing an embedded link to an external web page, the old small thumbnail has been replaced by a full column-width image from the shared post, with the post title and site name underneath.)

We've been watching various conversations on what triggers these images. There is still not absolute consensus, but here are some factors several people say they've turned up via extensive testing:

1. It seems to help greatly if the web page being shared has an Open Graph (OG) tag with content type set to article. See http://goo.gl/0tmpxc by +George Sepich (confirmed in tests by +Masatake Wasa)

1a. According to +Allen Firstenberg: people can also or alternately mark it up with schema.org microdata. See https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/176035?hl=en&ref_topic=1088472 and https://developers.google.com/+/web/snippet/ for more about this, including a tool to help you configure it.

2. The shared web page should have at least one image that is a minimum of 506 px wide (reported by +Gerwin Sturm). +Masatake Wasa says that for a single column view, or if the post is opened in its own tab, the minimum width must be 600 px. He also adds that there seems to be a minimum height of 300 px tall for multi-column display and 360 px tall for single column (It turns out Masatake meant that is how the images will appear on G+, not the minimums to trigger them. Gerwin's 506 px wide seems to be the important factor.

3. +Joshua Berg noticed that all the visible links in these new link shares are marked no-follow. But he also discovered that there is a hidden link in the embed that does not have a no-follow attribute. Yesterday he asked Google's +John Mueller in a Webmaster Central Hangout about the meaning of this. You can read Joshua's report on John's answer at http://goo.gl/4TeopL

4. STC's +Mark Traphagen and friend +martin shervington discussed the implications of these new link share image posts for marketers and influencers in a 30-minute video at http://goo.gl/X8sm6H

We want to stress that these are preliminary findings. More may be discovered about this new feature in the days ahead. We'll update you as we come across new, verified information.

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