Thinking aloud about website management

Simplicity or utility? Buttons and widgets

What should a web page have, other than its main content? Many sites have various things on their pages, such as advertisements, social media buttons, related content widget, and comments form. There are two extreme positions: simplify as much as possible on the one hand, and cram as much as possible on the other. I have oscillated between the two positions, as sometimes I have deleted everything except the essentials (and advertisements), and sometimes I have added so many buttons and widgets. Thus far, and unfortunately, I have not been able to find the perfect balance between the two that must exist: simple yet full of useful functions for visitors and the website alike.

Until a few days ago, there were 8 buttons for social media sharing and a widget showing related content on the pages of this site. Incidentally, I had abandoned DISQUS comments system a while back, and that was essentially because I had messed up the settings. Anyway, to list what was there until a few days ago: there were Google+ +1, Facebook Like, and Twitter Tweet buttons, as well as an AddThis share button, followed by an Engageya widget showing related content on the site, and then Follow buttons for Google+, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. Why do social media platforms have so many different buttons, for different functions? Take Facebook for example, there is a Like button to show approval of something, a Share button to post something with comments on a timeline, a Send button for private messaging, and a Follow button for following a Facebook account. Surely, there are too many buttons?

These buttons take up quite a lot of space, and they look the page way too busy and messy for my taste, so I had to decide whether their functions and use merited their presence. There have been a few +1s and Likes, I have been always quite dubious of their value, so they went. While +1s and Likes probably signify some sort of approval of the page, given readily by some and sparingly by others, and could improve the page’s standing within the respective social media, I have not been convinced that +1s and Likes really increase exposure of the page’s content to more readers. The main issue is that there is little context to what a +1 or a Like signifies: it is an expression of positive sentiment, broadly speaking, but it is a blunt instrument and it does not really signify engagement with the entity to any great extent. So they went.

In contrast to +1s and Likes, sharing seems a better way to judge engagement, in that people have to do more than click a button, especially if the social media platforms can understand the context and sentiment: for example, it is a possible to share a web page expressing a strongly negative sentiment (look at this rubbish) as well as strong or neutral sentiments. I could have used Share buttons for Google+ and Facebook, as well as a Twitter Tweet button, however, I opted for a pop-up supplied by AddThis. While a large number of people use the biggest social media platforms, there are many other platforms, many of which are local to particular markets, so placing a button that caters for as many as possible is important. I am happy with AddThis in this respect, as it has a more comprehensive coverage compared to ShareThis or AddToAny.

I also decided to rid of the Follow buttons for Google+, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. I have not gained that many visitors, and moreover they were really cluttering the page. I would have button fatigue by the point I see so many follow buttons.

Doing away with the various buttons was in the end not too difficult a decision, but removing the related content widget was something was trickier. It served a purpose, even if the CTR was a very lowly 0.8%, since the suggestions were in addition to other navigation links. I had used Outbrain and nRelate, and I was using Engageya for some time. Engageya copes very well with Japanese content, and that was the most important reason I opted for it. nRelate could not really cope well with content in Japanese, but I was impressed by the speed of its responses when I submitted queries, and it offered a high degree of customizability that I do not see in the other two. It has been reported that Google is working on a content recommendation system, and I am hopeful that it will come up with a good product.

As I mentioned at the beginning, I tend to oscillate between simplicity and utility, and as such, I may be putting buttons galore in a few months’ time. My quest for the perfect balance continues.