The hidden cost of social share buttons

The hidden cost of social share buttons

If there’s one feature all websites have in common nowadays, it may just be the social sharing widget.

Generally speaking, most site owners believe the popular sentiment that if you make all of your site’s content easily shareable, it will increase views and traffic to your site. For this reason, WordPress and other popular CMS’ have endless plugins of beautifully designed social sharing buttons.

But are these sharing buttons actually worth the buzz? That’s still under much debate.

There are definite disadvantages of embedding such widgets, especially on pages that are not likely to get a lot of shares (i.e. contact forms or about us pages). So before you place social share buttons here’s some issues you should consider:

Loss of user engagement and retention

By providing social sharing buttons, you are in essence causing all conversations regarding your brand and identity to be transported elsewhere (i.e. to social media sites). When people choose to share your content, the discussions will inevitably end up on the specific individual’s social media page.

This means you no longer have control over the conversation and you actually lose users rather than keep them on board. Even in the most ideal scenario, in which a user converses on your brand’s social media page, users are still transported to Facebook or Twitter instead of your site.

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Credit: Shutterstock

Of course, this makes it difficult to maintain user retention and engagement in order to build a flourishing online community. That’s why it may be beneficial to create areas for discussion on your own site.

Onsite chats and social tools or an emotion-based commenting system such as Vicomi are all great ways to keep discussions on your site. This way, your users will get all the social action they crave, without ever needing to leave your site.

Buttons slow down your site

We live in a culture that is all about instant gratification. As a result, nobody has the patience to wait for a site to load.

According to recent studies by Akamai and Gomez.com, 79 percent of your site’s users will wait no longer than three seconds to view your site. While that may seem a bit harsh, this problem becomes even more pronounced with mobile users. According to CMSwire, if the page doesn’t load in one second or less, users are highly likely to abandon your site.

This is the primary drawback of social share buttons. Social share buttons are generally written in JavaScript, and this code has quite a bit of power and command behind it – costing up to 84Kb in data for a Facebook ‘Like’ button alone.

As you can imagine, inserting multiple buttons such as Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, and G+ can take a serious toll on your site’s speed. Of course, assuming the above statistics are true, this could be detrimental to your user retention, as more and more of your visitors are sure to drop as a result of the slower connection caused by your sharing buttons.

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Credit: Shutterstock

Even more disturbing is the recent study finding that 99.8 percent of mobile users never actually use share buttons. This does not necessarily mean that sharing widgets are never worth the data; however, it is important for all site owners to assess for each individual page whether or not share buttons are worth their while.

First of all, if the page is not an interesting, conversation grabbing page – sharing buttons will do more harm than good. In  contrast, for a page such as your blog, you should look at which sites you are getting the most shares from. For example, if you notice that you on average get 100 shares or more from Linkedin, but only five to 10 on Google+, it may be time to take down your that particular button while keeping the Linkedin one in tact.

Since the number of shares displayed on a site are often inaccurate, it’s worthwhile to use tools such as BuzzSumo or SharedCount to give a more precise read.

It’s also important to note that since Twitter recently removed their share count, many sites are relying less and less on this particular button.

No way to test

You would  never buy a car without test-driving – same goes for your site. Every webmaster knows the importance of testing new features prior to the page going live

The reason for this is simple: new widgets may have bugs and quirks which have the ability to make your entire site not function as it should. Even without a bug, the design of a new plugin could have an unexpected effect on the layout of the page – throwing off the entire design.

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Credit: Shutterstock

Since a website’s effectiveness is largely related to its design and usability, messing with the design or making the site too complex is likely to decrease your site’s appeal and credibility.

This is a huge problem for those who wish to install social sharing buttons. Social sharing buttons are designed in a way where you simply insert code. This means, it’s impossible to preview the page and see how the buttons will look without first publishing the page. As a result, you could potentially ruin the look of your site, and your users could witness it before you have a chance to go back and change it.

Security Concerns

As we previously mentioned, many social buttons run on JavaScript.

JavaScript is a complex form of code that comes with the potential to cause quite a bit of security related issues. First and foremost, the code contained within JavaScript comes along with the same rights as your site.

Furthermore, since JavaScript is easy for hackers to get access to, the cost to your security could be far more serious than you may have thought. It’s easy for them to insert malicious code, track yours or your users’ habits, or worse – gain access to private information.

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Credit: Shutterstock

Therefore, if you must install social sharing plugins, it’s critical to make sure your security is up-to-date in order to protect your most important information.  I have heard great things about WP All In One Security and Firewall Plugin as well as Hackertarget’s WordPress Security Scan. By using these tools, you reduce your site’s vulnerability to the many threats associated with JavaScript.

Social share buttons may be a popular find on almost every website. But more and more brands are discovering the truth: that the cost of social share buttons are not necessarily worth the benefits.

While the pros of using social sharing buttons can be greater or lesser depending on a website’s individual needs as well as the company’s business model, it is critical to take a deeper look at the full picture in order to best assess what’s right for your site. This way, you can be open to explore other site features that give far more bang for your buck.

Read next: 4 tools for building a social media empire

Image credit: Shutterstock

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