Do social sharing widgets have a negative impact on sales?

Social sharing widgets are commonplace on the web. You’ve probably seen a row of icons with numbers either above or to the right. Common ones include Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn and Pinterest. Here is an example.

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Adding social sharing widgets has become a common request from clients. But before adding them, we should first consider their value, in terms of usage, usefulness and impact on performance.

How many use social sharing widgets?

Earlier this year we attended Upfront conference where Dean Hume spoke about the low interaction statistics on mobile devices. A study of 61 million mobile sessions showed that only 0.2% interacted with social widgets. In fact the study showed that a mobile user is 11.5 times more likely to click an advertisement than use a social sharing widget.

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These figures have since been further reinforced by the team working on the new GOV.UK website. In the first 10 weeks they received 6.8 million pages views and an overall 0.2% interaction with their social sharing widgets.

We decided to investigate the impact of social sharing widgets on one of our large eCommerce websites. Results from nearly 41,000 unique visitors over a period of 10 days showed there was a negative impact adding them to product detail pages. Without social sharing widgets there was a 4.3% increase in items added to basket with a 3.5% increase in orders.

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Speed is another factor to consider. With Google now using speed as a ranking factor it has never been so important to have a quick website. Most assets (such as images, CSS and JavaScript) are served from the same server as the website. Unfortunately, social sharing widgets are served from their respective websites. This often leads to large and sluggish libraries of code being loaded it, significantly increasing the loading time for a page.

Analysis of using Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus social sharing widgets shows an additional 19 HTTP requests and 247kb of extra data per page. In real terms this is an additional loading time of 2.3s on WiFi and 11.5s on 3G.

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Should you use them on your website?

Unfortunately most eCommerce websites don’t have enough traffic to provide reliable A/B tests of the benefits and impacts of using social sharing widgets. Every eCommerce website is different so we should weigh up using these widgets on a per site basis.

Luckily there is plenty of research from larger sites we are able to pull from. It would be unwise to not consider some of the research that has come out of these tests.

We would recommend not implementing social sharing widgets, in particular on product detail pages. Research consistently shows they have a negative impact on the number of items added to a basket. This is probably because of their distracting nature, standing out with their unique design that often doesn’t sit well within a design. Most modern mobile platforms, including iOS and Android, provide methods of sharing within the browser. Many will use these integrated methods over one within the page.

Are there any alternatives?

If social sharing widgets are something you would still like on your website, there is an alternative method of implementing them. Instead of using the official widgets that are slow and bulky, we can using static links. Using this method customers will still be able to share content, while not impacting the loading speed of a web page. This method allows us to remove all external social sharing scripts.

This method also allows us to custom design to look of your sharing links to ensure they fit within your bespoke design. An example can be seen below.

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We recommend consulting with your web team to investigate how much your social sharing widgets are used and whether you could remove or implement an alternative method of social sharing.


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