Share Buttons: What You Must Know Before Implementing

Social sharing buttons in all their forms are one of the most common UI elements found on a web page.

And, it seems to me, poorly measured or studied.

Chris Coyier started a great discussion with this tweet:

You might be familiar with this conversation:

socialsharingbuttons

I’ve tried it all.

  • Vendor specific implementations (with all the heavy Javascript load).
  • AddThis and ShareThis (both offering analytics).
  • Various plugins and lightweight implementations.

I think the better options are lightweight versions like these responsive buttons, or even simple buttons like these.

What Does the Research Show?

Placing sharing buttons on your site means you are agreeing to this exchange:

In exchange for extra clutter on my web pages along with another business’s branding, I would like to prompt readers to share an article easily.

The extra clutter is a given, but are readers sharing more simply due to buttons on a page? Or do the people who share have their own methods, and don’t bother hunting for buttons?

It’s so difficult to measure because there is no objective measure of what makes content shareable.

Measuring shares against pageviews is not conclusive. Was it the buttons or was the content shareworthy?

Not much out there.

Test #1 – Share Counts: Buttons vs Overall

I looked at existing content pages, then tracked how often a Facebook share button was clicked. I then compared this to the actual share counts (querying Facebook directly).

fbshare

What the share button looks like. I’m only looking at Facebook stats. Share button sits below article.

The results surprised me.

Page Share Button Clicks Actual FB Shares
Page 1 205 565
Page 2 85 383
Page 3 60 351
Page 4 43 114
If you want to quickly check Facebook data for a page, enter this URL into your browser (and change to include your page URL):

https://api.facebook.com/method/fql.query?query=select%20total_count,like_count,comment_count,share_count,click_count%20from%20link_stat%20where%20url=%27http://www.yourdomain.com/your-url%27&format=json

In this case I’ve only looked at shares (as opposed to likes or comments). Around half the shares were from mobile (this reflects the traffic patterns of the site).

As a percentage of pageviews share clicks were around 0.09-0.2% (consistent with LukeW’s research).

Out of all the times the article was shared in Facebook 17-36% of shares came from the button on the page.

Before doing this test I was about to pull the share buttons, but I will leave them and do more testing.

Test #2 – Social Proof: Should You Display Counts?

I have been running an A/B test on a single page that is a good candidate for sharing. It has a generic share button and I measure the first click (i.e. The user’s intent to share).

There are 3 variations of the share button:

sharevarations

Two metrics stand out: time on page, and the number of clicks.

Variations Time on Page Clicks
Share button + zero count (baseline) 5:09 40
Share button only 5:26 51
Share button + actual count 5:40 64

sharestats

Where a share button has a significant count on it, there is a 10% higher time on page and 60% higher clickrate compared to a button with a zero count.

Key Takeaways

  • As a percentage of pageviews, actual shares initiated on a page are tiny.
  • People do use share buttons and a reasonable proportion of overall shares may come directly from the source page.
  • Consider removing Facebook Like buttons.
  • Use lightweight implementations with minimal ‘noise’ and clutter. The extra page weight from heavier buttons is probably not worth the gains (also consider how Facebook use the data from share button implementations to record browsing history – ever wondered why Facebook ads can be so close to what you’ve visited that it’s creepy?)
  • Be careful with displaying share counts. Maybe only do it on pages with reasonable numbers of shares. Social proof is real!
Don’t throw up a bunch of share plugins just because someone (your client, taxi driver, or dentist) told you to.

If a page is shared, it’s not due to share buttons, but because it is useful and interesting.

However, if well thought out and integrated with the site, social buttons can be beneficial in a small way.

James makes websites and the odd app.
Filed under AB Tests
Updated: December 16, 2014

26 Comments

  1. Awesome article and analysis. I’m testing Ridiculously Responsive Social Sharing Buttons. WordPress plugin by default inserts sharing buttons below the post. Trying to figure out how to insert the share button below the post title.

    I tried Share This and Add This. Share This count displayed the total visits and share count. If actual share is 42 in FB, share this count displayed 400 ( counting the visits).

    Measuring the results will be a challenge, but the icons have clean look.

    • Thanks. Yes sharethis and addthis will display a combined count from all the main sources. However I tend think many of these commonly user plugins have become invisible to users (like banner blindness).

  2. Thanks for confirming the awful truth. I sometimes feel that browsers need to add a native share functionality that’s standard regardless what site i’m visiting — similar to what we’re used to see in mobile browsers/apps.

    For users, having to learn for each site where the share buttons are, how they look, how they work, etc is so inconvenient that they (we) opt for ignoring them altogether.

    • But even on mobile browsers the share functionality changes with every release. Like iOS for example. I think share buttons have their place, but only with careful thought.

  3. Good read! But your favorite share buttons are without counts while your A/B-test shows a button with a count is more effective?

    • Tim,

      Yes! So basically unless you are getting really high share counts on your/pages articles (which I don’t), then it’s best just to use straight count-less buttons (without adding any extra page weight).

      If you are a big site that gets a lot of sharing, then I would suggest coming up with a method to display the counts after page load. Steer clear of the bloated plugins etcs, and come up with a way to show the counts without impacting performance or page rendering speed.

      Hope that makes sense.

      • Alternatively if you are a small site trying to get more shares, add your own custom Share button HTML with a fake high share count to encourage that 60% higher click rate. Make sure the share button is at the top of the page so visitors see it immediately and encourage that Time on Page boost.

        Warning: Unethical, but someone’s probably doing it with success already.

  4. This gathering of data and extra research on your part has been extremely useful. And I can assure you that I have shared it with my colleagues working on the same project that made use of its value!

    • Thanks for the feedback. Always nice to hear that somebody got some use out of these posts.

  5. Thanks! This is the most useful thing I have ever read about social sharing. I now know everything about the subject 🙂 no need to read more!

    • Well done. Now go forth and send mass emails to every business in the western world offering $99 per month social share button management services.

  6. Share buttons are redundent and add unwanted tracking and bloat to a page

  7. Why do you state that one should “consider removing Facebook Like buttons”? Where does that stem from?

    Great read & thorough analysis!

    • Like buttons in themselves are not share buttons. In my opinion they just clutter the design.

  8. Great examples here James, I see a lot of eCommerce store with negative social proof and look forward to testing the placement/use of social media buttons. Thanks for sharing your tests!

  9. Do you have any study on follow buttons vs share buttons and their effectivity?

  10. Hi James I totally agree with you. I have just got done programming a simple share button plug in without the junk. You are welcome to it as well as your readers if you are looking for something straight without junk code. Here is an explanation and a link to the download. Feel free to check it out. https://a1websitepro.com/simple-share-buttons-no-junk-added/

  11. Great work on this James. I found this article while doing research for one of our own blog posts at WarfarePlugins. Your results are completely in line with ours and some of the studies we’ve looked at. Will definitely be linking to this when the article is published! 😀

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