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The soul-destroying pestilence of social media buttons

December 23, 2013

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?

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.


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16 Responses to The soul-destroying pestilence of social media buttons

  1. Andrew Powell on February 15, 2014 at 6:51 am

    Hi Jim,

    Great read and I’m finding myself nodding my head at what you say. So much so, I’m definitely thinking of removing even the few sharing buttons I have on my own Linux-related website.

    I also happily whitelisted you as well, but that brings me to another question, as I’m having a mental war with myself in regards to ads. Again, which I run on my website (Adsense).

    We know about Facebook’s tracking etc, but what do you think about the possible tracking with the likes of Google Adsense etc? I don’t personally mind so much putting up with ads on other peoples websites, like yours, where it’s unobtrusive and done in a proper way, but in regards to my own website I can’t help but feel conflicted and sometimes I’m tempted to remove them all together and just stick a donation button there.

    • Jim Lynch on February 15, 2014 at 10:02 am

      Hi Andrew,

      I wouldn’t worry too much about running adsense ads on your site. The folks who have an issue with Google tracking them will opt to block the ads, and those who simply don’t care won’t mind the ads. I like to leave it in the hands of the individual reader. Some people don’t mind advertising at all, including the tracking that goes with it while others won’t tolerate it.

      You can try a donation button, I have done so in the past but it never really worked for me. Adsense seems to be the best way to earn some income from my sites. Your mileage may vary, however, depending on your readers. But I gave up on the donation thing as it just didn’t do much.

  2. Autumn on February 14, 2014 at 6:25 pm

    I agree with you completely that social media buttons are a nuisance, but they can be implemented in a way that makes them less so. Most of the problem revolves around the crappy code that sites like Facebook and Twitter provide for adding buttons to a site. It’s filled with all sorts of javascript and often wrapped in an iframe. And yes, they’re very slow to load because of that.

    You don’t have to use that standard code though. You can use plain text-based links as well. I implemented social media buttons on my own site as a series of links that I styled with CSS. I was able to fit them into my own design and color scheme and make them unobtrusive, but at the same time they’re there for those readers who want to use them. They load fast (only being a few bytes in size) and don’t clutter up the design at all.

    • Jim Lynch on February 15, 2014 at 10:07 am

      Good points, Autumn, but I still don’t want the links on my sites. I just don’t want to see Twitter, Facebook, etc. on my pages. Plus, some browsers these days have social media sharing buttons built into them already. So having them on your site can be a bit redundant. I think we’ll see more browsers adding sharing functionality eventually thus it will become less likely that site owners will feel obligated to have the buttons.

  3. tracyanne on February 14, 2014 at 4:41 pm

    When I developed a site for a health and fitness job placement broker, I told the owner that if he’s to have advertising on his site (he was asking about it at the time), it must be minimal, it must be unobtrusive, in that it must never detract from the content, and it must be completely under his control… no 3rd party, and the ads must be related to what he’s involved in, the Fitness Industry. In other words he sells the space but controls how and where and when the ads are displayed. He did this. I also added the ability to view the number of click throughs, so he could charge on a click through basis. His ads were being read and followed up on.

    We then created an area the bottom of the viewable area (for normal browser settings (I think we were working with 1024×768, assuming full screen), on the home page, the adds then appeared 5 at at a time in standard size, he sold the space based on time displayed and number of displays per given time period, I think we also added multiples of standard space as well.

    Speaking as someone who really hates advertising (certainly as it’s currently done on line), even for things I actually want, I think we managed pull off a pretty good compromise.

  4. Karl on February 14, 2014 at 3:01 pm

    Kudos to you Jim for breaking away from the social media mob! Now about those ads…

    The social media buttons are really just advertising for those companies aren’t they?
    I find non-social advertising to be just as “soul-destroying” and for all the same reasons:
    distraction from content, eating bandwidth, tracking users etc.

    Thank Zeus we still have “personal” computers and can block them.

    • Jim Lynch on February 14, 2014 at 3:08 pm

      Hi Karl,

      Thanks for the positive feedback. :)

      My position on ad blocking has evolved over the years. It used to upset me, but I completely understand now why some readers prefer to block advertising. If you’re one of those folks, more power to you. It makes no sense to show ads to people that prefer not to see them and that won’t act on them anyway.

  5. bjd on February 14, 2014 at 2:28 pm

    Great to know that “I am not alone”.

    • Jim Lynch on February 14, 2014 at 3:10 pm

      No, you are most certainly not alone bjd. There are many people like us who loathe those buttons, and I suspect many more will eventually take whatever steps they need to to remove them from the web pages they view.

  6. Brian Masinick on January 17, 2014 at 11:20 am

    I agree with you; so much of the stuff on social media sites is distracting at best, and a performance nuisance. At worst, it makes some sites almost unusable.

    Oh for the days when sites were light and fast. A good example is C/NET. They always had a bright home screen, but back in the day, the home screen was actually very fast and light.

    They’re OK right now, but they fooled around a lot (and for a while were terrible) before they finally settled on what they have now; not the best site, but not the worst either; at least they have some useful information.

    I’ll take simple any day; even sites which are 90% plain text is just fine with me; most of the stuff I want to see I want to READ about anyway!

    • Jim Lynch on January 17, 2014 at 11:45 am

      I hear you, Brian. I remember those days as well. How low we have sunk since then! The web has become cluttered with trash on pages, I don’t blame people for filtering it out to try and regain some semblance of sanity. I think it’s accurate it to say that LESS IS TRULY MORE.

      • Brian Masinick on January 17, 2014 at 11:53 am

        Yeah, and I think you are moving back in the right direction with this site. Just remember, on technology sites like this one, yes, we might want to see a picture here and there about the topic at hand, but for the most part, we want to READ about what it can do, and then discuss and debate the merits of various approaches.

        That’s where blogs and forums still excel, but only if they stick to a simple, no frills approach.

        That said, I do appreciate the occasional video. I did enjoy it when you did a few of those video reviews. But 90% of the time, plain text (or maybe rich text at most) is the way to go!

        • Jim Lynch on January 17, 2014 at 12:11 pm

          Good points, Brian. I’ve learned a lot over the last year about removing junk from my blog pages. I used to have an unbearable load of sheer crap infesting my pages. I’m glad it’s all gone now.

          Ha! I remember those video reviews. One of my birds was making a lot of noise and I caught hell on YouTube because people couldn’t hear what I was saying. Heh. I gave up doing video reviews as they take too long and the birds will never shut up once they hear me speaking. They think I am talking to them so of course they have to talk back to me. :D

          The issue of screenshots on DLR has crossed my mind. I’ve tried to cut back on them, but it’s hard as I feel obligated to show certain features and changes. But I will bear your comments in mind. I might be able to chop them back a little bit more and use fewer images per review.

          • Brian Masinick on January 17, 2014 at 12:35 pm

            Your birds remind me of Stewart, my mom’s cat (whom she calls her “sweet boy”). I tell her, “Yeah, he’s your ‘sweet boy’, alright! Whatever happened to your two ‘wonderful’ sons, including your ‘number one’ son?” LOL, the things we say to our pets!

            I was able to hear you just fine in your videos. I don’t think that distro reviews are necessarily critical for video presentations, but when there is a really new and interesting one, a short demo, but not necessarily a full audio review, might be nice. Anything longer than 1-2 minutes, unless it is a detailed repair or installation video of a complex system, is almost certainly too much. Complex systems are not likely to be used (or viewed) all that often either, so if it’s traffic and discussions you are looking for, that’s probably not the place to find it. However, as a change of pace, a very short supplemental video describing something that people frequently ask about might still be helpful, just not TOO often.

  7. asdf on December 23, 2013 at 9:29 pm

    Thank you. It’s just what I’ve been wanting to hear since social media buttons started cluttering the websites. My old computer often couldn’t handle all the extra scripts and I only could upgrade my laptop into a new one after years of saving. Not even mentioning web accessibility for legally blind people using screen readers that find the extra elements interfering with content that matters.

    I added your site into my adblock whitelist. I’ll be reading from your blog from now on!

    • Jim Lynch on December 24, 2013 at 8:52 am

      Thanks for the kind words, and for the whitelisting support. I appreciate both. :)

      I can understand your frustration having to deal with the social media button mess on an older machine. Ugh. It really has gotten quite awful over the last few years.

      Thankfully, we have tools now that can combat it and restore the web to what it was before the social media plague began. I am hoping my article will wake up a few publishers and get them to go against the trend.

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