UPDATE: There is an all new case study released on 2/18/19 with more speed, Pinterest, and Google PageSpeed Insight scores on the most up-to-date social share button plugins.
All content marketers want their posts to go viral. But some social share buttons are major performance and security offenders. And some even track viewers who share your posts, which is a privacy issue. See the eye-opening results of 13-point, head-to-head tests on 12 of the most popular social share button plugins and how the one your using stacks up.
I’m going to save you some time and tell you the top performing social share plugin.
It’s Simple Share Buttons Adder This plugin has the most options, a great look, and one of the lightest loads of all the plugins tested. Besides being a super performer, it has none of the tracking or security issues of other plugins. Win-win-win.
Here’s a super video tutorial on all this little plugin can do.
The Runner Up
AddToAny is a top pick as well because it offers so many customization options. But, it did set a cookie, and had one additional DNS request that ran a little slow. However, it offers integration with Google Analytics and that can be a bonus to serious content marketers who need to track their shares.
See the Results Chart
A full spreadsheet with all of the data, including requests, total load time, and byte count is available to view. It’s a Google Drive embed, so there’s nothing to download.
The twelve plugins tested were:
- Digg Digg
- Shareaholic Share Buttons
- Simple Share Buttons Adder
- Flare (Filament)
- Social Sharing Toolkit
- Async Social Sharing
- Share Center Pro
- Slick Social Share
What Makes Them Slow
Basically, the fancier the plugin, the more load it adds to the site.
Here are a few examples.
A site with no social sharing buttons fully loaded in 2.059 seconds.
WPSocialite took 2.266 seconds. While AddThis took 5.080 seconds.
How many extra things the plugin requires to run comes in the form of requests.
WPSocialite adds 6 requests. While AddThis adds 33.
Fancy buttons like Digg Digg adds 42 requests. It is at the bottom of the performance list, along with Flare, which adds 36 requests.
Fancy numbers come at a cost too. For these tests, I configured the plugins as simply as allowed. If there was a choice to kill the counters, I did. Some plugins offered no options for that.
Counters have to make at least two calls to the world outside of your site to be accurate. Some make several more calls. That becomes both a performance and security issue.
Ditch the Counters
In fact, some major sites that have numbers well worth showing off, like Smashing Magazine, removed their social sharing buttons completely, counters and all, because the shares are happening directly on social media, not from the site. And their shares have actually increased! (CopyBlogger removed comments for the same reason, and with the same result.)
Savvy web surfers are turning off cookie tracking. It’s just creepy to visit a site and then see an ad for what it offers, or related things, in your Facebook stream immediately afterward. Several share buttons have similar tracking features.
In other words, they spy on your viewers to see where else they go online and what else they like.
Two of the plugins that set cookies are AddToAny and AddThis.
Watch What You Block
Several of the plugins run apps and make calls to http://evsecure-ocsp.verisign.com/ That’s for Akamai Technologies, and while their headquarters is in Cambridge, Massachusetts, their CDN for these apps is in the Netherlands.
So, if you’ve got country blocking on via some security plugin or your CDN, like CloudFlare, you could be kicking your share button into the dirt.
The OCSP part of the app mentioned above stands for Online Certificate Status Protocol. It’s used to maintain security of a server and other network resources.
A round trip request is made the minute a viewer lands on your post so that they see the share counts.
When they click a share button that uses this app, one call goes out to their server, is checked against their whitelist, and then is returned to your site as a counter increment.
Multiple things can go wrong in those round trips.
By using a share button plugin that has this app, you are giving license to that company to inject something on your site. If the data packet has been compromised, so has your site.
Several popular social sharing plugins have suffered multiple malware injections and other security issues of this nature.
At least one of the plugins on this list has been removed from the WordPress repository twice for it.
Chewing up Bandwidth
Some of the plugins also connect to clients1.google.com/ocsp, which is another cloud service. There are several reports of it constantly sending requests and results, eating up bandwidth. And even a recent report of it leaking data due to the Heartbleed vulnerability.
The Least Secure Plugins
Here is a list of the plugins that make the OCSP type requests:
- Slick Social Share Buttons
- Async Social Sharing
- Share Center Pro
The Worst Performance of All
Of the 12 plugins I tested, the one with the worst load, by far, was Social Sharing Toolkit. It’s a great plugin for providing share and follow buttons everywhere on the site. But, it lacks async loading. And the worst part is, it loads everything, even if it’s not in use. That resulted in a whopping 409 requests!
I used and recommended this plugin for years due to its all-in-one convenience and security. But, this test has clearly shown that it is not the best choice for performance.
I’ve switched to Simple Share Buttons Adder because of its light load and security. And I’ll show you in an upcoming tutorial what I switched to for the social follow buttons it also provided.
Most site owners choose their social plugin based mostly on looks. I get that. But, the fact is, fashion cannot outweigh function when it comes at too high a price.
I actually wanted to use the rtSocial plugin, but it didn’t give enough options for where it displayed, and that had a negative impact on the look of my site. (It displayed the buttons even below custom Text widget content in the sidebar!)
The Social Share Button Performance Chart page also has screenshots of how all of the plugins displayed on my test site. Keep in mind that I turned off counters when possible. So, just because they are not shown in the screenshot doesn’t mean that there is no option for them.
What I Didn’t Test
Social share buttons can be added to your site manually. Customizing features and code for them is available from each social site. I didn’t include them in this test because frankly, I doubt most of you want to hard code them into your site. I’m betting you’ll all use plugins. I did.
How Did Your Plugin Do?
Did you find your plugin in the list? Were you shocked by how it actually worked on your site? Leave a comment and let us know, and if you’re switching to another plugin and why.