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New Poll: Sharing Buttons

Published by Chris Coyier

Throughout the life of this site, I've flipflopped (nope, yep) on whether or not I show social sharing buttons on articles. As anything, there are arguments in either direction. We can cover that briefly, but I also want to gather a bit of data on the subject, so that will be our next poll.

The impetus for this poll is the comments I get from people during times where there are no sharing buttons present on my articles. Like:

Hey Chris, I wanted to share an article from CSS-Tricks but there were no sharing buttons. Why?

Sometimes that will come in the form of the tweet, which is sometimes just someone wanting to know if I have any specific thoughts on that, but sometimes someone who legitimately thinks they can't share pages that don't have sharing buttons. Leading me to wonder:

Luke Wroblewski collected some data indicating 0.25% of pageviews will share the page (from great studies like this). That is with sharing buttons present. Make me wonder what that number would be without sharing buttons. Presumably lower, but just to be clear, people can share any link they want, they don't need a button to do it, and certainly some people prefer doing it that way.

There is also the issue of how much an individual share matters. One share from a trusted and highly followed source is better than 1,000 spambot shares. My unscientific guess is that shares you miss out on by not having buttons present aren't worth much anyway. And in fact having sharing buttons can be a turnoff to the same type of people you want sharing the page. I'm not sure how we could get data on that, so let's just go with:

This best describes how I share links on my social media site(s) of choice:

  • I typically only share pages that have sharing buttons.
  • I don't use ever use sharing buttons. I share my own way.
  • I can go either way.

Actual poll is embedded on the site.

I'm not sure if we'll land on any perfect answer, but it will be interesting to think about.

General positives about sharing buttons:

  • They can make sharing easier, more sharing means more traffic
  • They remind people to share
  • You might get more sharing

General negatives about sharing buttons:

  • They can negatively affect page performance
  • They can look garish
  • Low numbers can look embarrassing

At the time of this writing, I have social sharing buttons on this site in the form of simple anchor links that link to those services dedicated sharing pages (rather than the JavaScript powered sharing buttons with all the extra functionality). Like these.

Comments

  1. Jason
    Permalink to comment#

    How would you incorporate these types of sharing buttons (fewer http requests) on a WordPress site, without tinkering with your particular theme’s core files?

    • Superb Social Share buttons but Google+ and FB not working Popup Window Twitter is ok.

    • Jason
      Permalink to comment#

      So basically it’s impossible to incorporate the light sharing buttons in a WordPess site? Then how does css-tricks do it seeing that it’s a WordPress site?

    • Jason
      Permalink to comment#

      I should also mention I’m running Genesis, so there is no single.php — but I have a child theme where I can include custom CSS, custom functions, and alter those things.

  2. Nate Green
    Permalink to comment#

    I typically don’t use share buttons because I’ve found that they don’t share things in a way that I’d like them to. (Mostly with non-web-dev blogs and such, not so much sites like this one) Too many that I’ve tried either insert their own robotic message, use a crappy spammy-looking thumbnail, or link to a page that wasn’t the one I was trying to share. I figure, if they really care about me sharing, then the URL I copy from the address bar will take people where I want them to go…if it doesn’t, then forget it. (i.e. really long one-pagers that don’t know how to use id’s properly)

  3. doug
    Permalink to comment#

    So, I notice that your share button links to fb/sharer.php… I thought that was deprecated?

    • Permalink to comment#

      Nope, they don’t say why but they didn’t deprecate it in the end. There were some teething problems with it, such as Shares not being seen on friends timelines and some dialog box issues in IE8. But yea for the most part sharer.php is safe to use.

  4. Kyle Johnson
    Permalink to comment#

    I generally add sharing buttons, but of course things can be shared without them.
    If there is something that I really want to share, then I will (button or no button).

    A lack of a button will not stop me from sharing something that I want to share.

    Although, there have been times that I wanted to share something and actually spent time searching for a button. I was a little confused when I could not find one (from a convenience standpoint). That did not stop be from sharing it, but I will use it if it is available to me.

  5. In a 2010 interview, Matt Mullenweg stated his strong opinion on share bars, and I still tend to agree with him.

    On my own site, I don’t add share features beyond what’s automatically included in the Disqus comments. If a user doesn’t know how to share pages on my site without a share bar, they’re not really in my target audience, and I don’t really need them to share my site. All that said, it really comes down to the people you’re catering to, so YMMV.

  6. Permalink to comment#

    I think buttons are a great aid to those who wouldn’t know how to share otherwise.

    But for most internet coding blog sites (like this one) then sharing buttons might not be required – assuming of course readers now what they’re doing :)

  7. Jon Hobbs
    Permalink to comment#

    I think sometimes developers tend to project their own preferences (and skills) onto their users.

    Yes, we all know how to copy and paste a URL into Facebook, or use a Chrome extension, but a significant proportion of our users are likely to share more if we make it easy for them.

    It’s just a shame they slow pages down so much.

    • Jon Hobbs
      Permalink to comment#

      Actually, the choices on the poll reflect this mistake. You’re asking a bunch of developers how they share things on the web, the results won’t be reflective of what “end users” do, so therefore we shouldn’t decide whether to use them on sites we design based on the results.

    • Thomas
      Permalink to comment#

      Actually, this site target is my mom, not “bunch of developers”…

    • Not if you do it with a 2-click construction, like on http://www.profin.nl/mvo (above footer, left).

  8. I’ve seen a lot of end-users that are lazy to do so many things on the web. They wish it could all be done for them. I think the share button will only make it easier for those kinda people who see it as a hard job to open a new tab to the social media site and share

  9. As a user I generally only use share buttons if I’m sharing embedded media, like a youtube video. Otherwise I almost always just share a URL. Although I don’t think youtube videos play on facebook anymore…?

    As a developer I generally only include share buttons if the target audience is very tech un-savvy. Or if the client specifically requests them.

  10. Permalink to comment#

    As long as you’re not using the actual <iframe> “Like” button from Facebook and are essentially just adding links that populates the network’s fields ( https://twitter.com/intent/tweet?text=&url= ), all of the general negatives are moot points.

    Having a custom link allows you to tweak the buttons to match your site, preventing any garish look, and won’t display how many times it’s been liked or shared (embarrassing low numbers). If you’re only adding a few icons (which you may already be using elsewhere) and <a> tags, there’s barely any performance implications.

    So why not make it easier on end users, and actively encourage your content to be shared?

  11. Bill Ludwig
    Permalink to comment#

    Typically I read a lot of content over short bursts (before work/noon/before bed) and then schedule out any sharing through the day. For that reason I very seldom use sharing buttons even when I see them. The exception is when I’m reading on my phone where manually copy/pasting across applications is a pain. Then I am much more likely to share if there are buttons I can just use.

    • Mazurka
      Permalink to comment#

      I was going to mention the same thing. The mobile experience. Sharing without a button on a phone/tablet is a much different experience than a desktop/laptop which should be considered.

    • My point exactly :-)

  12. Bill
    Permalink to comment#

    I feel that, for the most part, people who generally like the content and feel that it is important enough will take the time to manually share it. On the other hand, if you are trying to give people a gentle nudge to share, buttons may succeed in helping spread the word.

    Beware though, you may be catering to people who share everything, and you have to weigh that into the equation.

    Also, there’s an extra ‘use’ in the text for option 2.

  13. Katie Ymker
    Permalink to comment#

    I typically am reading articles using feed.ly, so it doesn’t matter if a site has sharing buttons or not because I rarely ever am reading on the site. I will then usually use the sharing buttons within feed.ly.

    If I do end up on the site and want to share, I usually will use the share button. The reason for this is because I don’t want to open up whichever social site I am sharing on and paste the link there. Usually I am sharing when I don’t want to be distracted by my feeds on the social sites, and using a button lets me achieve that.

    Sharing buttons are also helpful if I am browsing with my phone. I would much rather just hit a button, type in some text, post it, and keep going. On my phone it is a lot more difficult to copy/paste from my browser and then into my social site.

    • Agree 100% regarding sharing buttons on mobile.

      I also typically read most items within feed.ly, but a lot of time I do like to jump out of feed.ly onto the actual site so I can read other’s comments. Having a share button there is slightly more convenient, but in the end if it’s something I want to share, I’m going to share it anyway be it with a button or manually.

      I think in the end, we just have to weigh in who the target audience is for the site when making the decision of having buttons or not.

      Personally, I do like to include buttons for my own site and most my clients’ sites. Not because I think the value of the content is worthy of being shared all the time, but because someone else may think it is. And that person may be tech savvy or may be a complete noobie. But they may want to share it easily, because like me they may be too lazy/busy/whatever to open up Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest or whatever network and do it manually- especially if they want to share it in multiple places.

  14. Eloise
    Permalink to comment#

    I don’t use sharing buttons, ever, mostly because I don’t use Twitter, Facebook or Google+. Yes, I know this puts me in a very small minority, but with all of them I find the signal to noise ratio too far to the noise side (and in the case of Google and Facebook I have additional privacy concerns) so if there’s something I want people to know about, I send it to them some other way. (Mostly email, IM or blogging about it with one of those weird URL things that are so out of fashion these days.)

    My current job puts me on a lot of eCommerce sites. It’s quite interesting looking at their ‘share’ data. In general, if there’s a whole site ‘share’ it will get clicked on moderately freely. Specific items, even items that actually sell really well (you can be talking hundreds of units per day well) don’t get liked/shared. One site I was on yesterday had over 150k likes on Facebook for the homepage, their best selling item (sells about 125 units per day) has 3 likes! Similar patterns for other sharing and across a wide range of eCommerce sites, selling all kinds of things. (I don’t have the data for total visitors to the homepage sadly, so couldn’t tell you what proportion of visitors have clicked the like button.)

    Even on a tablet (and rarely phone) I’m more likely to use the built in “share” tools and email the page or link than the share buttons from the site.

    But… I know I’m a really abnormal example.

  15. Josh
    Permalink to comment#

    I personally shy away from social buttons as the default. We add them when we feel that a client will genuinely benefit from it. I don’t believe everyone should do everything social all the time. It seems to me that the emphasis on social doesn’t match the actual usage by a long shot, even for businesses that thrive on that kind of activity.

  16. Bob van de Loo
    Permalink to comment#

    Nice solution. It also protects the user’s privacy.
    Social media sites can’t track their users across the web with this setup.

  17. MadHatrix
    Permalink to comment#

    Share buttons or not, I still copy and paste URL..

  18. sgaawc
    Permalink to comment#

    Embed-sharing buttons is just a piece of crap in the page, I rarely use it, despite the fact that it uses a many calls to load itself like ShareThis tools. I just hate it.

    Web designers have stopped thinking about the usability of these tools and directly put them in the mock-ups in a way they think it completes the site layout.

  19. Proko Mountrichas
    Permalink to comment#

    As a user I am looking for the fast and easy obviously. When in desktop a share button is a 2 clicks away job as long as you are in general already logged in to the service. On my Android most sharing buttons open in the browser which may end up to be a pain. First it will ask which browser/app (could be 2 taps) , then login (as using mainly apps, browser is not logged in.). If you are lucky credentials will be saved if not you will have to give them (a lot of taps) and finally post. So in mobile I use the built-in sharing.
    As a designer it depends on the audience of course. If the site targets my mom I will probably implement sharing buttons. If I build css-tricks.com I will not use buttons even if there’s some people asking for them.

  20. I would argue that sharing buttons don’t mean more traffic. I wonder if you can test out your traffic with and without sharing buttons, as many sharing buttons involve external js. This slows down the page load and I think would negatively impact the experience for the 99.75% of people not using them.

  21. Well different people got different view on this matter. If the content is great and I like that then i will surely share it on my own and read it over and over again.
    Yes button makes it easier but this will not stop people sharing when its really worth it.

  22. Shai
    Permalink to comment#

    I usually don’t use share buttons because I want to have more control over the things I share. I’m also not an serial sharer (I share only what I truly want to share) so the little extra time it takes me to “craft’ the share doesn’t matter to me that much.

    That said, sometimes I’m lazy, don’t have the energy, or get discouraged just by the thought of having to go through the manual sharing process, and opt to use the convenience that the share buttons offer. Therefore my answer of “I can go both ways”.

    I don’t think that many people think that if a piece of content doesn’t have a share button than it is forbidden to share it; but it could become a growing trend comprised of uncertainty, as people seem to be brainwashed to obey call-to-actions and the absence of which leaves them confused; and being too lazy to share things manually after getting accustomed to have a mechanism that takes care of all the heavy lifting for them. Just my opinion.

  23. I share content that I believe will be useful or make a statement. Buttons make no difference to me, as I almost never use them – I add my own slant on the share. I don’t know who would take offense at having buttons, so my take is insert if you want but keep them clean. Anything that pops up in my face is a big exception – I close down that browser tab for pop up adverts, shares, polls, anything between me and the content…

  24. adolf witzeling
    Permalink to comment#

    In my opinion “sharing is caring”. It’s like telling someone else about something interesting I’ve ran across and something I think might interest other people. Although sharing buttons are a convenient way I personally don’t care if there’s a button or not. If it seems relevant to me I share it anyway via copy and paste if there is no button. You mentioned that sometimes low sharing numbers are “embarrassing” or might even be an indication of not so great content but I don’t see it that way. If I like (or even strongly disagree with) it I share regardless of the share numbers. Just my two cents worth.

  25. adolf witzeling
    Permalink to comment#

    Oh I forgot to mention that I’m sharing this article, because it’s interesting to hear how other folks think about this-especially readers rather than writers.

  26. Permalink to comment#

    I think for web development community content, it probably doesn’t matter either way. The users of that content are savvy enough to share information. In most other communities, I would argue that it is important to have user-friendly social share buttons. As with most UI/UX it comes down to audience.

  27. Those non-JS simple link buttons are the kind I like. Glad they’re there. Personally I rarely share, but if I see the buttons on something I want to share, I’ll use them.

  28. Only copy link and share ! We need a button that only copy the link, to paste.

  29. Permalink to comment#

    I don’t use share buttons (just paste a URL). However I did do some research and A/B testing on sharing buttons. I concluded that people DO use sharing buttons, but not as much as we think. I also found that social proof (high counts on share buttons) DOES affect user interaction with share buttons.

    The issue isn’t so much the presence of share buttons, but whether the content is something great.

  30. Permalink to comment#

    I don’t use sharing buttons. But I can definitely see sharing buttons being valuable because they remind people to share. Whether they use the buttons or not.

  31. Chase
    Permalink to comment#

    I don’t think I ever use share links, with the exception of video pages (news, youtube etc.) and only in the case of sharing via email.

    BUT, as some of the above posts mention, mobile cannot be left out of this conversation and is very different. I almost question those quoted statistics, considering the surge in mobile browsing over recent years and the apparent rate of sharing things online, that at least I often see.

    Not only am I far more likely to share via a share button on mobile, but I’m far less likely to share if there isn’t one. Sometimes copy/pasting the url into a different app is just a little too tedious when I’m busy and on the move.

    There should probably be a forth poll option: I only use share buttons on mobile.

  32. I might be a strange user, but I actually use sharing button only on mobile for one simple reason : when I use the Android browser “native” share button to twitter, it only copies the url. So sharing from the browser is a pain on Android : copy the title, share the article via the browser link, paste the title in twitter (which means playing with a long tab after inserting a space to be able to trigger the “paste” function).

  33. I have a crazy idea. It is called copy and pasting the URL. Something everyone knew how to do prior to the share button. Apparently with it’s inclusion the general userbase of the internet forgot how the address bar worked.

  34. How I share is different based on the platform I’m on:
    – On Mobile I share using the browser sharing options.
    – On Desktop I share by copy/pasting the link url.

    I never use social sharing buttons because I generally don’t trust them and feel as if they will do something unintended. I like the control and consistency of using one medium for social sharing.

  35. Koen
    Permalink to comment#

    Hmm, the population of this poll, mainly frontenders, is definitely not representative for the general public.

    • adolf witzeling
      Permalink to comment#

      Could you explain who you would consider “general public” in regard to sharing buttons. Just curious. Cheers!

    • Jason
      Permalink to comment#

      He means most developers know how to share. It would be a more accurate poll if it was conducted to non-developers, or non-techie people who may not know how to share a link.

    • adolf witzeling
      Permalink to comment#

      @Jason: Yes I agree, this poll is kinda targeting the wrong crowd; it’s like asking a doctor how his patient is doing instead of asking the patient herself.

  36. I run into this conflict often. Through discussions with avid readers, I find that some will judge the worth of an article based on the visible numbers without so much as perusing the article content itself. On the other side, readers enjoy the simplicity of sharing buttons, as opposed to pasting links in bit.ly. Personally, I do not have a preference. I will use social buttons if they are available, but my sharing is not hindered if they are not. Optimally, I would like to see sharing buttons without the associated numbers.

  37. Permalink to comment#

    I don’t use any on my site at the moment.
    I am considering adding it, though.

    As for my projects, it depends on the the type and if the client wants it.

  38. I pretty much never use share buttons because the results are unreliable. I want to share the article I just read not the web site operator’s marketing/sales goals. I copy the URL, paste it in the social media site and often edit the results further to convey what I meant in sharing the article. Which is not always the main point of the article.

    — Smittie

  39. You know, I don’t care that much about share buttons, typically I don’t use them. I rather prefer like buttons (especially Facebook one), because they show what you liked automatically in your friends feed without actually posting it to your wall. But what I really like is a button that can show appreciation for the author/article. Kinda like those ‘Kudos’ buttons on some themes or websites… I really, really like that!

  40. I think you have to consider what kind of “end users” are going to read your article or visit your website. If they are “a bunch of developers” as Jon Hobbs said, I’m pretty sure they will know how to share either if there are buttons or not. But if they are web-navigating inexperts maybe buttons will be their only option to share and if you do not give them that option then you lose traffic. (excuse my bad English)

  41. It’s always nice to have share buttons, and the 0.25% of users sharing sounds about right. The drawback is if they are taking the focus away from your content. We’ve all seen the sites that force it down the users throat, and it’s always annoying for users.

  42. If I want to share an article, I look for a share button before I start to use other methods. As long as the share buttons aren’t obtrusive (like those damn left sidebar ones that tend to be RIGHT up against the text), I prefer having them because it’s easier and faster than copy/pasting a URL or having a bookmark or browser addon.

    Also, I’m a bit sad that there’s nothing really pinnable on your blog posts. I’ve been using Pinterest as a new replacement for social bookmarking. I have a board dedicated to web-related blog posts. Most of the time, the associated images aren’t pretty– but it’s a pretty awesome platform for storing these things.

  43. Ricky Lee
    Permalink to comment#

    @Chris

    I have attempted to put together a WordPress way of implementing this but the_title_attribute or urlencode of the_title_attribute and Twitter are not getting along with ampersand in post title. Either cuts it off at & or does full &amp; with urlencode

    https://gist.github.com/rickalee/10475557

  44. Jamie McClymont
    Permalink to comment#

    I hide these buttons with adblock plus, because they make some sites look so ugly!

  45. Chris D.
    Permalink to comment#

    IMO Sharing with 3 buttons is nice and friendly. Great addition.

    YouTube’s way of sharing is excellent. After clicking share I get more options but also see a range of icons. I mainly use Fb or G+, but I like to see it because it shows what social networks are the most popular! Interesting bit of info. : )

    In your case, maybe “…” or “+” could do the trick.

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