Share Buttons: What You Must Know Before Implementing

Social sharing buttons in all their forms are one of the most common UI elements found on a web page.

And, it seems to me, poorly measured or studied.

Chris Coyier started a great discussion with this tweet:

You might be familiar with this conversation:


I’ve tried it all.

  • Vendor specific implementations (with all the heavy Javascript load).
  • AddThis and ShareThis (both offering analytics).
  • Various plugins and lightweight implementations.

I think the better options are lightweight versions like these responsive buttons, or even simple buttons like these.

What Does the Research Show?

Placing sharing buttons on your site means you are agreeing to this exchange:

In exchange for extra clutter on my web pages along with another business’s branding, I would like to prompt readers to share an article easily.

The extra clutter is a given, but are readers sharing more simply due to buttons on a page? Or do the people who share have their own methods, and don’t bother hunting for buttons?

It’s so difficult to measure because there is no objective measure of what makes content shareable.

Measuring shares against pageviews is not conclusive. Was it the buttons or was the content shareworthy?


Not much out there.

Test #1 – Share Counts: Buttons vs Overall

I looked at existing content pages, then tracked how often a Facebook share button was clicked. I then compared this to the actual share counts (querying Facebook directly).


What the share button looks like. I’m only looking at Facebook stats. Share button sits below article.

The results surprised me.

Page Share Button Clicks Actual FB Shares
Page 1 205 565
Page 2 85 383
Page 3 60 351
Page 4 43 114
If you want to quickly check Facebook data for a page, enter this URL into your browser (and change to include your page URL):,like_count,comment_count,share_count,click_count%20from%20link_stat%20where%20url=%27

In this case I’ve only looked at shares (as opposed to likes or comments). Around half the shares were from mobile (this reflects the traffic patterns of the site).

As a percentage of pageviews share clicks were around 0.09-0.2% (consistent with LukeW’s research).

Out of all the times the article was shared in Facebook 17-36% of shares came from the button on the page.

Before doing this test I was about to pull the share buttons, but I will leave them and do more testing.

Test #2 – Social Proof: Should You Display Counts?

I have been running an A/B test on a single page that is a good candidate for sharing. It has a generic share button and I measure the first click (i.e. The user’s intent to share).

There are 3 variations of the share button:


Two metrics stand out: time on page, and the number of clicks.

Variations Time on Page Clicks
Share button + zero count (baseline) 5:09 40
Share button only 5:26 51
Share button + actual count 5:40 64


Where a share button has a significant count on it, there is a 10% higher time on page and 60% higher clickrate compared to a button with a zero count.

Key Takeaways

  • As a percentage of pageviews, actual shares initiated on a page are tiny.
  • People do use share buttons and a reasonable proportion of overall shares may come directly from the source page.
  • Consider removing Facebook Like buttons.
  • Use lightweight implementations with minimal ‘noise’ and clutter. The extra page weight from heavier buttons is probably not worth the gains (also consider how Facebook use the data from share button implementations to record browsing history – ever wondered why Facebook ads can be so close to what you’ve visited that it’s creepy?)
  • Be careful with displaying share counts. Maybe only do it on pages with reasonable numbers of shares. Social proof is real!
Don’t throw up a bunch of share plugins just because someone (your client, taxi driver, or dentist) told you to.

If a page is shared, it’s not due to share buttons, but because it is useful and interesting.

However, if well thought out and integrated with the site, social buttons can be beneficial in a small way.

Hi, I'm James, and for the last decade I've made a living by making my own blogs and websites.
Updated: September 15, 2016


  1. I’ve always viewed the plus sign at the beginning of a row to mean that there’s more for me to see. A plus sign at the end of a row means to add the item to my selection. A plus sign is also more intuitive than the chevron.

    • Exactly what this short test has shown. Interesting about the placement of the + sign. Putting it on the right would seem counter-intuitive.

Add a Comment