As a marketer, you know how important social sharing and social proof have become to boosting traffic on your websites.
To meet the growing demand for online social sharing buttons, an entire market of WordPress plugins has sprung up in the past few years to fill the niche.
It’s easy to get lost in the vanity metrics of social media, but you should never loose sight of conversion optimization principles if increased revenue is your goal.
Don’t let yourself be satisfied by a plugin that simply displays the share buttons and layout options you want. The social sharing tool you choose must also deliver fast load times, mobile optimization and avoid inadvertently creating negative social proof on your website.
The goal of this post is to help you understand exactly what features and performance benchmarks you must prioritize in order to boost social engagement and increase your conversions.
To do this, we rounded up six social sharing plugins to give you a clear view of what the current WordPress social sharing landscape looks like.
The plugins include:
- Social Warfare
- Sumo – formerly SumoMe
- Easy Social Sharing Buttons 4.0 (ESSB 4.0)
We chose these six plugins for our review based on their current popularity as well as modern design customization, layout optionality, mobile responsiveness and load time performance.
Plugins we initially considered but didn’t review included:
- Floating Social Bar
Plugins like these were cut because they either lacked functionality, modern features or, in the case of Jetpack, required self-hosted users to create and connect a WordPress.com account.
We also wanted to go deep rather than wide, so we capped the review to just six plugins.
Read on to learn about the social sharing plugin essentials.
Social Sharing Plugin Must Haves
The following are important features you must consider when selecting a social sharing plugin for your WordPress website:
Load Time Performance
ANY plugin you activate on your WordPress website, MUST NOT significantly increase the load time of your posts or pages.
The reason for this is simple. Long load times lead to increased bounce rates and decreased conversions.
Give fancy design customization and 50+ social sharing buttons the cold shoulder if the code slows down your website too much.
It seems like developers have all picked up on this pain point since most now market fast load times as key selling points.
But instead of accepting these marketing claims at face value, we decided to run these plugins through our own load time test to see for ourselves.
The Need for Speed: Load Time Testing
To gauge the load time performance of our six plugins, we ran them through a simple speed test on our demo website.
To establish a baseline for comparison, we first clocked our test page with just the Thrive Themes plugin suite activated to serve as our control.
Each social sharing plugin was tested on a skeleton page running the Pressive Theme from Thrive Themes.
Only the Thrive Themes plugin suite and the social sharing plugin being tested were activated during each analysis.
Our test page was kept to a bare minimum loading only a logo, header menu, page title, breadcrumbs and footer links.
A screenshot of the testing environment for the social sharing load time test.
Since setup options differ significantly from plugin to plugin, great efforts were taken to try and match settings as close as possible.
Based on a Webaholic blog post that aggregated every social share button displayed across the "Top 50 news and internet marketing blogs," we decided to configure each plugin's share bar for the test using the four most frequently encountered share buttons on the internet:
The load time testing website used for this study was Pingdom.
We selected Pingdom because it provided the most consistent results compared to competitors like GTmetrix and WebPageTest.
We ran each test using the Google Chrome browser and Pingdom’s Dallas, Texas server to maintain hardware and software consistency across our study.
Each plugin test was run three times. To compare them, each plugin's three tests were averaged to serve as it's load time speed. This also helped to normalize any potentially random server inconsistencies in the test.
Load Time Test Results:
Based on the load time test, it seems like developers got the need for speed message and blasted the blubber off their code.
From a speed standpoint, the latest generation of plugins all allow you to prioritize features over performance since virtually all the plugins were comparable in their load times.
However, the one exception was the Sumo Share app. The average data size loaded was significantly larger than the other plugins and pushed the load time over the one second mark.
To be thorough, we also measured Sumo's average load time with all three of its social sharing apps activated (Share, Image Sharer and Highlighter). The data load nearly doubled (367.4 kB to 523.8 kB) and it's average load time increased from 1187.3 ms to 1270 ms.
Finally, as you might've guessed, the native buttons are unacceptably slow. Compared to almost any social sharing plugin out there, native button design customization, layout optionality and performance don’t come close. The test shows that native buttons are not a viable social sharing solution for your website.
The Cost of Social Sharing
When it comes to WordPress social sharing plugins, everything from freemium installs to monthly memberships are available.
But do your free options provide enough functionality and will your paid options be worth the price?
Below is a table detailing the pricing structures for the six different plugins we tested.
Plugin Pricing Table:
Limited Features with SumoMe Branding
Must turn off Default Ads
Negative Social Proof-ing Your Share Buttons
What happens if someone comes to your site and views a post only to see that it hasn’t received any social shares?
They might assume the article isn’t helpful and bounce.
If your share buttons are showing zeros, this actually becomes negative social proof and it’s something you should avoid.
Herd-mentalities can subconsciously drive the behaviors of your online visitors. That's why it's so important to use a social sharing plugin that gives you the option to set a minimum share count
When you set a minimum share count threshold, that number of social shares must be reached before counters will appear on your share bars.
This avoids the negative social proof effect described above and immediately works to leverage positive social proof once your share threshold has been reached.
Social Network Button Availability
Naturally, one of the first things you might wonder when looking at a social sharing plugin is "How many social network buttons does this provide?"
It’s easy to assume that the number of social buttons a plugin has to offer is its most important feature. We don't think so.
The plugins we reviewed ranged from having as little as 11 social sharing buttons to over 80!
Seriously, unless your online business gets a significant boost of traffic from some fringe social network, this is not one of your concerns.
In fact, it might even be time to delete a failing network button from your social sharing bar.
To avoid falling prey to a social sharing button herd-mentality, make sure to understand what networks your target audience actually shares on. This should be your guide for what buttons to put on your site.
Don't just copy what the “Pros” are doing.
What Social Networks Do People Actually Share On?
To show you what we mean by checking what networks your audience shares content on, we collected social sharing data from BuzzSumo to do our own quick study.
Here’s the simple method we used to understand what the most important share buttons currently are:
- Pick several high-profile blogs from different industries.
- Check the BuzzSumo share data from each of those site’s top 5, most shared blog posts.
- Total the Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Google+ shares from those 5 blog posts to arrive at a total number of shares per network and a total share count per website.
- Calculate each social network’s share percentages from its total number of shares.
Below are the study results.
Share Percentages by Network:
Most notably, it seems that even high-traffic websites don’t often see their Google+ share percentages rise above 1%.
The Thrive Themes blog was an exception here because some of its top shared posts had social sharing content locks requiring a Facebook, Twitter or Google+ share before the content upgrade could be downloaded.
Also, many of these high-profile sites struggled to get LinkedIn and Pinterest shares as well. However, depending on the site's content niche, certain share buttons were more important to have.
This makes sense. You shouldn’t expect a food blog to get a lot of LinkedIn shares. Similarly, a text-dominated blog like the 4-Hour Workweek won’t get a lot of Pinterest shares compared to food and travel blogs like Serious Eats and Nomadic Matt.
The point here is that it’s pretty easy to find out where your site's biggest social sharing levers are.
Testing a limited button approach might actually boost your shares by preventing negative social proof and overwhelming people to inaction with too many sharing options.
Social Button Design and Customization
As you know, the days of crappy HTML websites are over.
If you think about the last time you landed on a webpage that showed tiled photo backgrounds, bright neon colors and a disorganized mess of links, it probably made your online defense mechanisms go up.
It seems like social sharing buttons have undergone a similar evolution where online visitors expect a high quality design experience. If your social sharing buttons look cheap, visitors might hesitate to click on them or put less trust in your website.
As our load time study shows, it’s now possible to choose social sharing plugins offering modern designs without suffering major performance setbacks. It’s more important than ever to consider the design appeal of your website to make sure you’re not sending shady signals to your visitors.
The plugins we reviewed here all have modern designs ranging the
free to paid-solution cost spectrum so don’t get suckered into a settling for an old social sharing plugin using ugly and outdated button designs.
Social Share Data Tracking
If you want to better understand where your social traffic is coming from, plugins with tracking features will be important to you.
This gives you the ability to optimize your social media efforts over time to let data drive your incremental improvements.
Some social sharing plugins offer
these features while others have left them
If you’re comfortable with UTM tracking and Google Analytics, many of the plugins offer cookie based tracking data as well as integration with Google Analytics.
As mobile browsing continues to explode, you must ensure that all your WordPress plugins are responsive to mobile and handheld devices.
We made sure to review each of the six social sharing plugins in the mobile browsing environment to see whether or not they were responsive on handheld devices.
When selecting your own social sharing plugin, make sure to ask yourself:
Do the buttons eat up too much screen space on mobile?
Because social sharing pop-up features tend to be intrusive or annoying on mobile, can they be toggled off for handhelds while remaining active on desktops?
Finally, with the increasing popularity of private social sharing on mobile instant messaging platforms, we checked to see whether or not the plugins provided a mobile-only Whatsapp button.
Bad Mobile Responsiveness
In testing the mobile responsiveness of the different plugins for this review, we found a few glitches like the following one in Shareaholic.
As shown in the Shareaholic dashboard screenshot below, we selected the 5 most popular share buttons plus the Whatsapp instant messaging share button in the "Above Content" share bar setup:
A screenshot of the Shareaholic plugin dashboard showing the "Above Content" share bar configuration tab.
Next, the following desktop screenshot shows how the share buttons displayed after saving the above configuration. Note that the Whatsapp share button is missing (as it should be on desktop browsers):
A screenshot of the Shareaholic "Above Content" share bar displayed on a desktop browser.
However, a glitch occurs when loading the webpage on a mobile device.
The last three share buttons do not appear on the mobile browser. Instead of wrapping into a second row, the buttons just disappear offscreen:
A screenshot of the Shareaholic "Above Content" share bar glitching on a mobile browser.
After discovering this glitch, we tested once again with 11+ buttons and found that this problem occurs on desktop browsers as well.
Good Mobile Responsiveness
MashShare provides a good example of what mobile responsiveness should look like.
In the following MashShare social network setting screenshot, you can see that we selected the same 6 social network buttons as in our previous example:
A screenshot of the MashShare plugin dashboard showing the Social Network configuration tab.
When we load the page on a desktop browser, the buttons display properly while omitting the mobile-only Whatsapp button.
A screenshot of the MashShare "Above Content" share bar displayed on a desktop browser.
Unlike Shareaholic however, when the MashShare buttons load on a mobile browser, they successfully wrap into a second row and change size to accommodate smaller screens. The Whatsapp button also becomes accessible:
A screenshot of the MashShare "Above Content" share bar displaying properly on a mobile browser.
Social Sharing Plugin Review
It's now time to take what you've learned about social sharing buttons and see how actual plugins stand up to your new standards.
Here are the six WordPress plugins we reviewed to help you choose the right social sharing tool for your website:
The "Display" configuration tab on the Social Warfare dashboard.
The Good Stuff
Social Warfare offers beautifully designed social share buttons that are responsive across desktop and mobile platforms.
The setup dashboard is straightforward compared to most of the other plugins we tested for this review. It only takes a few moments to familiarize yourself with all the plugin features and launch the design you want on your site.
If you’re only interested in using the most popular social buttons, Social Warfare’s 15 button selection has you covered.
Additionally, Social Warfare comes with its unique Frame Buster feature. Frame Buster prevents shady marketing programs like Sniply from stealing your website’s content.
Sniply is a service that allows users to create shareable links of your content while adding their own floating call to action buttons on top of your pages. In the end, Sniply links suck because even though they can increase your website’s traffic, they can negatively impact your conversions!
Basically, Frame Buster prevents freeloading conversion parasites from stealing your valuable content.
Another cool Social Warfare feature that few plugins offer is a Click-to-Tweet button. Essentially, the Click-to-Tweet feature makes it easier for your readers to share an important line of content you want to emphasize by placing an attractive Twitter share card within your posts.
Finally, a major benefit Social Warfare provides users with is its share count recovery feature. If you need to change your permalink structure or switch from http to https, Social Warfare can help you recover your hard earned share counts to maintain your site’s social proof.
The Bad Stuff
Although Social Warfare provides a Whatsapp button for mobile browsers, at the time of our testing, it didn’t work on any mobile device we tested it on. When clicked, the button simply disappeared and opened the social button to its left.
With such a glaring glitch, you might wonder how helpful their support team is.
To us, that concern was validated after viewing a few of their blog posts and digging into user comments. Social Warfare seemed to get a lot of complaints about technical issues made worse by slow support team response.
Another brow-raising complaint we found was that Social Warfare only allows one image to be shared on Pinterest from the share bar and that image must be set manually on each page or it defaults to sharing the featured image.
If you already have a massive website relying heavily on image shares for traffic, this drawback might be too time intensive to commit yourself to.
Monarch is another very popular social sharing plugin purchased as part of the Developer and Lifetime Access, Elegant Themes memberships.
The "Locations" configuration tab on the Monarch dashboard.
The Good Stuff
Like Social Warfare, Monarch offers advanced design customization and layout control within its easy to use dashboard.
The Monarch button designs and click animations are attractive and visually appealing.
Each layout option (sidebars, inline content, popups, etc.) has its own set of configuration settings and page targeting rules. This means that the different kinds of social button bars can have different trigger and display rules.
For example, if you want inline content share buttons to appear on desktops and mobiles, but your floating sidebars to only show up on desktop browsers, it's easy to set those kinds of configurations.
Monarch provides users with over 20 network buttons to choose from. So unless you’re in need of a niche social button, Monarch probably has what you need, except for this important mobile network...
The Bad Stuff
The one button Monarch doesn't have is Whatsapp. With the growing trend of mobile browsing and sharing through private messaging, Monarch users should ask Elegant Themes to add this feature soon.
Also, a Monarch dashboard issue we thought users would initially find frustrating was how the setup configurations for each type of social bar were separate from their on/off toggle switches.
For example, the configuration options for a floating sidebar is on its own tab. However, you must switch to the “Locations” tab to then activate the display of that newly configured sidebar.
Easy Social Share Buttons 4.0
From its initial release in 2013, Easy Social Share Buttons has grown into a complex, feature packed add-on for WordPress. Its new 4.0 version is no exception.
The "Social Sharing" configuration tab on the EESB 4.0 dashboard.
The Good Stuff
Of all the plugins tested in this review, ESSB 4.0 had the most features and configuration options. Unfortunately, too many features usually comes at a cost of high dashboard complexity and a steep learning curve.
ESSB 4.0 also offers a wide range of button designs and layout customization. The button hover and button click animation options were plentiful and displayed well on mobile.
A good way to avoid feature overload with the plugin is to use one of its many “Ready Made” style sets. These ready made style options mimicked highly shared websites like Copyblogger.
Out of all the plugins tested for this review, ESSB 4.0 also offered the most powerful set of display rules. ESSB gives you the most control when it comes to setting what pages your different social share buttons will display on.
If you are in need of a less popular social network button, ESSB 4.0 has over 40 buttons to choose from, including a functioning Whatsapp button.
The Bad Stuff
Although ESSB 4.0 does provide a Whatsapp share button, unfortunately it only displays on the desktop browser. Also, we couldn’t find a way to toggle the Whatsapp button to be mobile only. With so much customization power at your fingertips, it’s surprising ESSB 4.0 left this detail out.
February 2017 Update: With the release of ESSB 4.1, the Whatsapp button issues described above have been resolved. There is also a new "Mobile Display Options" section under the "Where To Display" tab that allows users to customize exactly what Mobile users see apart from your normal display settings.
With ESSB 4.0, you’ll soon experience the downside to having too many features and configuration options. The plugin dashboard is extremely complex and confusing to navigate. Descriptions of features often felt unclear.
It was also hard to return to previous configuration states. With so many options, it's easy to forget what settings you changed if you want to undo something.
Navigation just isn’t very intuitive so it’s easy to get lost within the complex ESSB 4.0 dashboard.
Finally, although you can purchase ESSB 4.0 for a single $19 purchase, assume that you’ll need to make a new “one-time” purchase whenever ESSB decides to release version 5.0. We say this because we had to pay $19 to upgrade from version 3.0 to version 4.0 for this review.
Sumo (formerly SumoMe) is a freemium suite of apps that provides social sharing tools through their Share, Image Sharer and Highlighter apps. The basic versions of the apps are free and can be upgraded to Pro if you pay an annual membership fee.
The "Settings" configuration tab on the Sumo Share dashboard.
The Good Stuff
The best part about Sumo is that you get a lot more than social share buttons when you install it on your website.
You can begin your membership for free on a single website. The Sumo plugin and app dashboards are simple to navigate and setup.
All Sumo apps have their own dashboards which requires you to configure each one separately. The Sumo social sharing apps (Share, Image Sharer and Highlighter) are no exception. However, Sumo does provide helpful guided setups for new users to get started quickly.
For the Share app, share bar layout options use a visual on/off toggle map to help take the guessing out of where they will appear.
The Bad Stuff
The bad news is that even with the fully-functional Sumo Pro apps, the share button design options are limited and you won’t have much freedom to customize.
On top of limited design, mobile responsiveness and advanced display settings aren’t available unless you upgrade to the annual Pro subscription.
Other extras like and inline content share bars and UTM tracking are hidden behind their paywall as well.
If you decide to stick with the free Sumo apps, you’ll have to show Sumo branding across your website. Only an upgrade to a Pro membership will remove it.
Also, based on our load time study, Sumo was the bulkiest and slowest performing plugin we tested.
The combination of limited design options, high annual costs and slow load time performance make Sumo undesirable if you’re only looking to add social share buttons to your site.
MashShare is a social sharing plugin with a unique button design that mimics the tech-entertainment site Mashable.
It’s primary plugin is free to download and use across your website.
However, you must purchase add-ons if you want to expand MashShare’s available features.
The "General Settings" configuration tab on the MashShare dashboard.
The Good Stuff
The free MashShare plugin gives you access to the Facebook, Twitter and Email social sharing buttons. If you want to keep your social sharing minimal with just the top 2 networks, MashShare is for you.
We liked how MashShare offered a direct toggle switch to disable share buttons on your homepage. MashShare also gives you the display control to place or omit social share bars via WordPress categories, posts, pages and custom post types.
If you decide to purchase one or more of MashShare’s 12 add-ons, you can pay for them individually (for a pricey €20 each) or in package deals anywhere from €39 to €339. Some of the package deals allow you to install the add-ons on more than one site.
The most useful add-ons will give you access to features including more social sharing buttons (up to 27), floating sidebars, Click-to-Tweet cards and video post share buttons.
The Whatsapp mobile sharing button is also included in the social network add-on.
The Bad Stuff
If you're looking for a plugin that displays individual share counts per network, MashShare only shows total share counts (in the main plugin) and total views (as an add-on) next to the share buttons.
And although some users may appreciate MashShare's minimalist design features, getting add-ons like 24 extra social buttons will cost you.
There are several customization and configuration options available across the add-ons, but the ability to arrange your network button order is not one of them. Where most social sharing plugins allow you to configure your own button order or have them dynamically sorted by frequency of shares, MashShare limits you to their default order.
Also, the share bar layout options are limited to just the top and bottom of your content in the free version. To expand layout options to include sidebars, image sharing buttons and video post sharing buttons, you must purchase the respective add-ons.
Finally, although some people may find this appealing, we were not impressed by MashShare’s “Fake Share Count” option. You simply input a number from 1 to 999,999 and MashShare will spit out a smaller number to lie about your total share count for you.
That’s just bad marketing karma if you ask us.
If you’re foolish enough to use this feature, beware. The floating sidebar will show the actual share count next to your fake share count if you display them together.
Shareaholic is a free plugin that provides advanced button design and layout options. It monetizes itself through revenue sharing of Promoted Content through its participating users' sites.
You’re allowed to disable Shareaholic’s ads and just use their social sharing buttons, but the ads are active by default when you install the plugin.
The "App Manager" configuration tab on the Shareaholic dashboard.
The Good Stuff
It’s a bit hard to believe how much design customization, display control and network button selection you get with the free Shareaholic plugin.
You can download the plugin straight from your WordPress dashboard and use it with partial functionality. To access all the Shareaholic features (like floating sidebars and image share buttons) you have to sign up for their free online account.
The settings layout across the Shareaholic dashboard is a bit clumsy to navigate since each share bar layout option must be configured separately.
However, this is good because it gives you a lot of control over where different share bars can be displayed (above or below content on: posts, pages, indexes, and categories), but the tradeoff is a bulky setup dashboard.
The Bad Stuff
We were a bit peeved that Shareaholic’s "Related and Promoted Content" ads were turned on by default. But, at least turning them off isn’t very complicated once you learn to navigate the plugin.
Another frustrating characteristic about Shareaholic is that you must create and login to an online membership account to access the plugin’s full features.
This means you’ll be bouncing back and forth between your WordPress dashboard and the Shareaholic website to fully configure the plugin.
And even though Shareaholic includes the Whatsapp instant messaging button, most of your visitors won't ever see it.
A big glitch we discovered when testing Shareaholic was that it failed to display all the share buttons selected when the number of buttons exceeded a device's screen width. This held true for both mobile and desktop browsers.
This means that when your share buttons should wrap down into a second row, the trailing buttons simply disappear off screen instead.
This is a disaster for mobile viewing because, in most cases, only the first 3 buttons on your share bar will appear.
Finally, Shareaholic makes it very difficult to display total share counts. Even though showing total share counts seems to be a basic feature for all other plugins, Shareaholic requires you to manually insert code snippets on every page you want them displayed.
Social Warfare - Not Recommended
Social Warfare is an attractive plugin, but overpriced as a yearly subscription service (especially when considering their user complaints and slow customer support).
However, if you're interested in their Frame Buster feature, Social Warfare provides it for free as a stand-alone plugin.
Monarch - Not Recommended
Monarch is an attractive and easy to use social sharing plugin, but overpriced on its own. Monarch's value only makes sense if you plan to use the entire suite of Elegant Themes plugins.
Sumo - Not Recommended
Sumo offers few design features in exchange for its lagging load times.
In the free version, limited functionality and forced branding weren't worth the load-time drag.
The full-feature memberships were way too costly for social sharing buttons alone.
Shareaholic - Not Recommended
Shareaholic is an attractive, free and feature-filled plugin that we'd like to recommend...
...but can't due to its glaring button responsiveness glitch. That bug kept us from giving it the green light as a great free option.
Easy Social Share Buttons 4.0 - Recommended
Easy Social Share Buttons 4.0 is packed full of value for a great price if you can handle its learning curve.
MashShare - Recommended
MashShare is sleek, minimalist and free if you don't need more than Facebook and Twitter buttons. The 8-pack of add-ons is worth the price, but the 12-pack and individually purchased add-ons aren't.
Social sharing buttons are definitely not the highest priority plugin on your website, but it’s important to get a solution that can actually help boost social traffic without harming your conversions.
We hope this post will be useful to help you make the right plugin choice for your website.
If you have any thoughts, questions or comments, feel free to join the discussion below!