You don’t need me to tell you social networking is a big thing. Depending on your site niche and how active you are on the network, you’ll probably find that at least one of the major social networks is a big traffic driver for your site. But increasingly, there’s another benefit to using sharing buttons.
Both Bing and Google are now using shares on social networks as an indicator of quality, authority sites in their ranking algorithms. That makes using social buttons effectively vital to success on social networks and for better search engine rankings.
Using the Two Types of Button
Buttons can either link to your site’s page or profile on a network or to that network’s method of sharing links. In the case of Facebook, there’s the Like button for giving a thumbs up to a website or specific content and the Send button for users to actively share a link with their contacts.
Since these are somewhat different things, it makes sense to treat them differently so users understand which is which.
Best Practices for Profile Links
Don’t link to profiles you barely update.
Have you ever seen a plea to “follow me on Twitter” only to find the profile page has two lonely tweets from October 2011? Who’s going to follow that?
Just link to networks you’re actively involved in. If your You Tube channel only has a couple of videos on it, hold off promoting it until there are at least a handful of videos uploaded. It’ll be much more effective.
Profile buttons work in the header or in the sidebar. A good strategy is to put your profile near to your mailing list subscription box. Users who like the idea of getting your updates can clearly see all the ways they can do that and choose accordingly. Newsletters are phenomenally popular but not everyone likes to get their news that way.
Best Practices for Sharing Buttons
The aim here is to make it as easy as possible for a reader who loves what you’ve written to share the link.
That means your sharing links need to be close to the content. Chances are, you’ll need to experiment a little to find the placement that works best with your readers and your site design.
The best placements are usually between the headline and main content, immediately under the article, or to the side of the post.
Many sites use a little HTML / CSS magic to keep the buttons in a static position while the user scrolls down the page. Keeping the links always visible like this can work well because at the very moment that something in the post resonates with a user the buttons are ready to be used.
Many plugins can add this functionality for you (a couple of the best are on this list of WordPress plugins). But it’s vital to check your site on as many different browsers – and more importantly – screen sizes as possible. Sometimes on a smaller screen, like a netbook, the social icons hover over the content making it much easier to hit the back button than to struggle to read the post.
Stick to the Standard Icons
Maybe your designer thinks it’s cute to make the RSS button a bird (seen it) but anything that makes users have to think too hard is a bad idea.
Just say no.
Snuggle Up to the Major Networks, Spurn the Others
There are, literally, several hundred social networks. Clearly, there isn’t room to include all of them on a sidebar – though some people are trying.
Nobody cares about Furl, Spurl or Hurl. Don’t waste your valuable screen space, or user’s time with this stuff. Assuming you’re active on the main sites – and you should be – you’ll need icons for Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus.
Others you might want to try are Pinterest and Flickr if you have lots of images and infographics; You Tube (and Pinterest again) for video content; and LinkedIn if you’re marketing to businesses or professionals.
By all means use a Stumble Upon button if you’re into attracting lots of viral visitors who don’t convert :-)
Most networks have widgets available for displaying contacts and your recent stream.
They’re hogs when it comes to site loading time, and encouraging users you’ve worked so hard to attract to head back to Facebook doesn’t make sense.