There’s a terrible plague happening on the Web today. Social media buttons are blaring from almost every site imaginable. Each time you load a page, there they are again! They entreat you to “like this” or “tweet that” or “+1” whatever. It’s gotten almost unbearable over the last couple of years.
The sad and pathetic thing is that social media buttons may be very much a one-way street for a lot of sites. They take from a site but they may not give back much or anything in return for the space they occupy on pages. Publishers glom these stupid buttons all over their pages, expecting vast amounts of traffic in return. But who really wins? I’ll give you a hint, it’s not the publishers a lot of the time.
Why I removed social media buttons from my blogs
A while back I removed all of the social media buttons from my sites. Every single one of them went right into the trash heap where they belong. Some people would no doubt think this is crazy. After all, everybody else has them so shouldn’t I have them too? No, not all. I found they weren’t worth having at all.
Here’s why I got rid of all of them:
Low traffic from social media services
I took a look at my reports and I found that the traffic from all of the social media services was very low, particularly compared to what I get from Google and other search engines. Despite having all the usual social media buttons on my pages, the traffic I got just wasn’t worth keeping them.
Slower page loads
One really awful consequence of the social media buttons is much slower page loads. I found that they added anywhere from 2 – 4 seconds at least to my page loads. That is very, very bad on the web and can result in higher bounce rates.
I tested my sites with the various page loading speed tools that are available and saw a huge difference in how they performed without the obnoxious social media buttons.
Don’t take my word for it, head over to Pingdom’s Website Speed Test tool. Run it on one of your pages with the social media buttons and run it without them. You’ll most likely see a big difference in performance. And we all know that Google values sites more that load faster than ones that don’t.
Social media buttons clutter web pages
Another thing I hate about those buttons is how they clutter up a page. I see them sometimes at the top and bottom of pages, as well as on the sides. Some of them even obscure the content of the page for the reader. Talk about a great way to lose visitors to your site.
They are also usually brightly colored and add a cacophony of eye-shattering visual noise to web pages. You should ask yourself if you really want to subject your readers to that each time they visit your site.
Social media buttons compete with ads
If you’re like me, you run ads on your site to try to earn income. I’ve found it’s much better for earnings to keep visual distractions off my pages as much as possible.
Why would I want my ads – the means through which I earn income – to compete with garish social media buttons for a reader’s attention?
Social media buttons spy on readers
Those Facebook “like” buttons and what not also function as trackers, thus allowing Facebook and other companies to spy on you as you move around the web.
Don’t take my word for it, read this article from the NY Times called “As ‘Like’ Buttons Spread, So Do Facebook’s Tentacles.”
When you click a Facebook “Like” button on other Web sites to tell your friends about a cool band, favorite political candidate or yummy cake recipe, you may know that you are also giving intelligence to Facebook the company, which makes money through targeted advertising.
But did you know that even if you don’t hit the button, Facebook knows you were there?
That’s because the “Like” and “Recommend” buttons Facebook provides to other Web sites send information about your visit back to Facebook, even if you don’t click on them. Since these buttons are now all over the Web — about 905,000 sites use them, the privacy-software maker Abine estimates — Facebook can find out an awful lot about what you do online even when you’re not on Facebook.
Did you notice how they used the word “tentacles” in the title of that article? That’s a very accurate representation of what those awful buttons actually do. Who the heck wants Facebook or other social media services to monitor every web page they read? And you thought the NSA was creepy eh?
Content creators: REMOVE. ALL. SOCIAL. MEDIA. BUTTONS. NOW.
It’s way past time for content creators to push back against the destructive trend of social media buttons. Take the buttons off of your sites, just get rid of all of them. You’ll remove an annoying distraction, and you’ll speed up your page loads significantly.
I know what you’re probably thinking right now though: Nobody will share my content and I’ll lose traffic! That’s not true at all. I used a WordPress admin plugin called WP Social Stats long after I had removed all of the social media buttons, and I found that my content was still being shared on all the usual social media services.
The nice thing about WP Social Stats is that it lets me see how many times an article is shared on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn without slowing down page loads for my readers. I don’t have to go to an article page and stare at stupid social media buttons to see if an article is being shared, I just do it from my WordPress admin screen.
I looked at the numbers from when I had the buttons, and then after I had gotten rid of them. And I found that there was no significant difference in terms of sharing. Why is that? Without the buttons how could people share my content?
They simply copy and paste the URL into another browser window or the app of their preferred social media service. That’s it, just the good old copy and paste method. It’s a classic and it still works.
Some readers may also use sharing buttons that are built into their browsers. Safari, for example, contains a share button that lets people share content on Facebook or Twitter. This provides a totally unobtrusive alternative to social media buttons being embedded in an article page by a publisher. I’m sure there are probably also browser plug-ins that can be added as well to facilitate sharing by readers.
Ghostery and Adblock Plus to the rescue!
Content creators aren’t the only people who need to deal with the social media button disease. Readers also have to contend with this mess all over the web. So how can you deal with it?
Well, there are two tools that you might want to check out: Ghostery and Adblock Plus. Both offer the ability to block many annoying things on the web. If you want the most protection, install both of them in your favorite browser (be sure to add Fanboy’s Annoyance List to Adblock Plus).
Now I know that some people will call me a hypocrite or a fool for recommending that people use these two tools while I run advertising on my site. It’s very easy to whitelist sites that don’t clog their pages up with social media buttons and other annoyances.
And the harsh fact of the matter is that some people just don’t like advertising and will never pay attention to it anyway. So I’m not worried about encouraging people to block ads as the folks who want to do so will just do it without any prompting from me.
You can always ask people to whitelist your site as I do in my extended footer at the bottom of the page, and you can let them know that you only run certain kinds of ads and do not allow social media buttons on your site. It’s a polite way of asking them to make an exception for your site.
Social media buttons: The final nail in the coffin of web advertising?
I suspect that the use of adblockers and social media blockers is going to become more and more widespread as time goes by. Really obnoxious ads go hand-in-hand with the social media button infestation of the web.
And really, when you get right down to it, publishers have only themselves to blame. They’ve allowed peer pressure, trends, greed or whatever to con them into thinking that they might get a good return by giving social media services free advertising on their sites via buttons.
This, along with the proliferation of pop-ups, pop-unders and every other obnoxious form of advertising is simply going to push people into blocking more and more to protect their experience on the web.
As readers take matters into their own hands by blocking the buttons (and possibly along with them the ad revenue stream), perhaps publishers will start to reconsider their strategy of smearing their pages with the fetid social media buttons that are eating away at the soul of the web.
What’s your take on social media buttons? Will you get rid of the ones on your site’s pages? Or are you a reader who blocks them in your browser? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.