Recently I have been struggling with an issue where links to my website do not generate previews in Google+. Instead, the user gets the error “Could not load website. – Retry”. When they try and retry, the error does not go away. Needless to say, although my readership is pretty low, that isn’t helping much.
When I started poking around, I found that Google+ uses Google’s “Rich Snippet” system. Google has released a Rich Snippet Testing Tool. The tool is great, and it helps you tweak your HTML so you get the correct snippet content.
…Except in my case, where the tool just reported “Could not fetch web page.”. Not helpful. Why a better error descriptor isn’t given, I don’t know.
This article will explain how I got to the bottom of the problem (despite Google’s useless error messages) and how you can look for similar issues.
When I realized I was getting intentionally vague responses from the Google tools, I posted to Google’s Webmaster Central forums, but didn’t get a useful answer.
After a few days of thinking about it, I got the idea to try my website on the W3 HTML validator site.
The validator gave me a new error. I lost the actual text, but it said it could not understand Content-Encoding ‘none’. Finally, we’re getting somewhere.
I started doing research into why WordPress might be sending the wrong Content-Encoding, but didn’t find anything. So I logged onto my website, and grepped for ‘Content-Encoding’. Nothing really exciting jumped out at me.
But, while I was logged in, I noticed some suspicious PHP files. And then I noticed at the top of wp-config.php a line of PHP that started like this:
Oh… that’s a sure sign I’ve been hacked. So I followed the instructions here, and removed the hacked code and suspicious PHP files.
Then I went to the validator, and sure enough, the Content-Encoding had changed, so it was able to actually run the validator. So I tried the Rich Snippet Testing Tool, and sure enough, now it works too! Which means Google+ shares work again!
So, the bottom line is, if you are having trouble with sharing your website on Google+, check your Content-Encoding, and make sure you haven’t been hacked.