Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Social media buttons on your blog or website

You're probably familiar with social media buttons on websites. You know the kind of things: 'Share this on Twitter / Facebook / some network you've never heard of'.

These buttons seem to be everywhere these days. Every news item. Every blog post. Every web page. Shouting at you to (please) share! Share! Share!

Recently, there's been a lot of debate in the web design community about these social media buttons and whether they are really a good thing.

Here's one enormous problem with these social media buttons: they slow down your website.

Every social media button you have downloads a bunch of crap from Twitter or Facebook or that-network-you've-never-heard-of. Your website has to contact Twitter / Facebook / etc. and download a file.

The combined effect of this can be to add two or three seconds to how long it takes your website to display, and this is at best irritating to users, and at worst, if your visitors have a slow web connection, it might make them give up altogether.

Add this to an experiment carried out by the large website Smashing Magazine. They removed their twitter button, and found that this actually increased the number of times their articles were shared on twitter.

And, because these buttons are so widespread, most of us have become accustomed to ignoring them, in much the same way that our eyes skate past banner ads.

On the other hand, I don't know about you, but I do sometimes find myself clicking on those share buttons. But I only really do it on a few, limited websites. I do it on the BBC news site, sometimes, and on one or two campaign websites (you know the kind of sites; the ones that allow you to sign a petition or send an email to some politician). Otherwise, I tend to just copy the web address and tweet it if I want to share something.

If you do have social media buttons on your website or blog, think carefully if you should remove them. If your content is very shareable (and you'll know that, because people will be sharing it a lot), then keep them, or at least a couple of them. 

If not, get rid of them, speed up your website, and maybe even find that you get more or at least better-quality shares.

Because if someone has actually bothered to copy the web address and post it on Twitter or Facebook, that may mean they really think their readers will be interested. And one good share is worth a dozen pointless ones.

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