Everyone wants social sharing on their sites but a lot of social plugins can drag down your site’s loading time. So I set out to compare the popular ones and find the fastest.
This was not an experiment to try and squeeze the optimal speed out of the plugins, but simply to get a sense of the impact on speed they would each have. So I wasn’t concerned with creating a highly optimized environment:
- I used a shared hosting account (Bluehost, if you must know), similar to that which many of our customers use
- Dummy content for the site was provided mostly by the theme unit test xml file.
- I added WP Rocket, and only had one sharing plugin active at a time.
- The only other plugin running was Query Monitor which is only on the backend.
- Tests were conducted while running the Twenty Fifteen theme.
So while most sites would be more plugin-heavy than this, again the idea is just to see what impact simply adding one of these plugins would have. Your mileage may vary depending on if you have a better or worse host and the specific plugin configuration you choose, but you will still get an idea from this set of results of the relative impact. There are some clear ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ in this race.
I’m interested primarily in load time as measured with Pingdom. All tests were done using the Dallas location. Secondarily I’m interested in page size and then requests. Page size is generally a better predictor of speed than the number of requests. So you want the plugin that adds the least amount of weight to your page.
Not all the plugins had the same options. Some offer the ability to place sharing buttons at the top and bottom of the post, whereas with others you could only pick one location. Some offer even more features, placement and styling configurations. Where possible I picked 6 social buttons and placed them at the top and bottom of posts.
I did two tests for each plugin and began with a benchmark with no social plugin, just with WP Rocket. So this is the baseline from which we can assess the impact of the plugins. In the Speed 1 column I list the fastest time.
The Top Performers
They each added a negligible amount to load time and page weight. I would say that while Social Media Feather is the fastest, the design of the icons was a little dated for my tastes. For a cleaner, more modern look go for Simple Share Buttons Adder. Mashsharer is more limited. It’s modeled after Mashable’s sharing buttons which have a clean design but the free version of the plugin just gives you Facebook, Twitter and Email. If you want more choices, you have to go to the paid version.
If you are willing to pay for a social plugin, Monarch from Elegant Themes has the most configuration options and a beautiful design. You can choose various ways to add your buttons, including pop-ups, fly-ins, sidebars etc along with multiple styling options. Even when mixing and matching ways to display sharing buttons, as you’ll see below, it’s always pretty fast.
These plugins aren’t quite the fastest, but none of them are particularly heinous. In truth, my cut-off between these and the top ones was a little arbitrary. For example, the two configurations of Monarch and Jetpack here could have been included in top performers, but in general you can see the page size generated by this group of plugins starts to creep up a little.
Monarch does make calls to admin-ajax.php (I think this occurs if you choose to show the share counts on the buttons) which, while not completely detrimental, probably ding its performance a little bit.
If you are already a Jetpack user, using the “icons + text” option can be a simple solution to social sharing without having to add a new plugin. Sharify is another good choice. It’s really nicely designed, but don’t expect extensive configuration options. Also, for some reason the developer chooses to output its stylesheet with PHP which is not really optimal for performance.
The Buzzkills – To Be Avoided
So these guys are the ones to avoid. The page load times all go over 1 second and they start adding some serious weight to your pages. On a live site that likely has several other plugins in the mix, these extra weights will definitely start to add up.
One of the main culprits here is the use of the “official” sharing buttons (Jetpack, Really Simple Share):
This means the buttons that are provided by, and therefore loaded as 3rd party assets from each respective social network.So you can’t really use this kind of button if performance is a priority.
ShareThis is a bit of a drag because it’s a hosted solution, meaning that most of the assets are loaded from their server and that slows it down.
What’s your favorite social sharing plugin? Have I missed an important one you would recommend? Let us know in the comments!
Header image courtesy Ben Grey