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13 Website Social Optimization Oversights That Make You Look Foolish

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Whether you're a veteran or a rookie online marketer, it's imperative to audit your website and blog to ensure it has been optimized for social interaction, discussion and sharing. Applying social media optimization (SMO) to your content isn't rocket science, but amidst other marketing priorities, it sometimes get buried or forgotten. Before you approve pushing SMO down on your priority list, audit this list of common mistakes to make sure your brand - personal or business - isn't left looking foolish.

As a kid, Looney Tunes cartoons amused me. I recall feeling empathy for unlucky Wile E. Coyote. As I grew up, I became more entertained by the cunning and creative nature of Road Runner. Reality eventually set in that Wile E. Coyote wasn't unlucky, he was just too eager and foolish.

Wile E. Coyote - Social Media Engagement Top 13 Barriers

When it comes to social engagement on your site, are you the Road Runner... or the Coyote?

You see, it's not by chance or luck that users share, comment, click or otherwise socially engage with your content. There are distinct factors that influence and prevent these behaviors. To ignore the barriers would simply be foolish. Some barriers are more evident than others, so the first step is identifying the problems.

Top 13 Barriers to On-Site Social Media Engagement

Imagine that you're on a website reading an article. It's so great that you're inclined to comment, share, follow, or subscribe. When.... BAM! You've hit a wall because the option isn't apparent, you can't find it after looking, it doesn't do what you thought it would, or it requires more work and time than you're willing to spend. Sound familiar?

The following 13 barriers present a wall between you and social engagement success. Read on to see if you're guilty ...and to find the remedy!


1. Missing or Excessive Social Sharing Buttons

Fix: Social share actions are often missing popular options (e.g. +1, Pinterest) or stacked with too many (7 or more) options. Your challenge is to find a happy medium that serves business objectives - drive traffic, improve SEO, and boost reader trust. Start by featuring the 2-4 most active buttons (including share counts) at the top of articles, product detail pages, gallery photos, and similar high value pages.

At the very end of the article include a full, succinct group of share links (up to 6 visible) with an option to expand for more actions if necessary. As a trendy alternative, consider using a floating social share bar like Digg Digg, Get Social, or Slick Social. It can eliminate the top and bottom redundancy and comes in handy for sharing mid-way on long articles - especially for Pinterest!

Do not use a "share" link with a pop-up or drop down menu displaying an abundance of options. This catchall inclusion over-stimulates users and deters more shares than it facilitates. Select a limited number of buttons (no more than six, ideally four or less) that align with your social media goals and then ensure their visibility to inspire action. (Common social share actions to consider: +1, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, StumbleUpon, Pinterest, and Delicious.)

Note: Tools like ShareThis and AddThis have been revamped with more refined and stylish display options. If you're using those old tools, upgrade to the new code or chose a different widget. (Mashable uses ShareThis with their responsive web design; depending upon screen width, the social widget adjusts to appear at the top or as a floating sidebar.)


2. Comments Require Account Creation or Sign-in

Fix: Ease up on the form lock down. Allow users to rate and comment without creating an account. Collecting their name, email, and message should be sufficient to post. Forgotten passwords are a huge barrier to on-going engagement, so leverage OpenID and social sign-on tools to simplify the comment interaction process.


3. Missing By-Line (Author and Date) on Blog Posts

Fix: For any content that may shortly become out of date (e.g. news, technology guides, etc.), the date is a critical relevance factor. Similarly, the author drives perceived authority and credibility. Both factors impact a reader's trust to socially engage with content. Always display a "by-line" including the post date (i.e. month, day and year) and the author's first and last name at the top of articles. If you publish breaking news or multiple posts throughout the day, include the timestamp and time zone as well.

The author's name should link to their profile page leveraging rel=me authorship HTML markup. Never display "guest" as a post author's name. Even if a person guest posts just once on your site, configure an author bio page to summarize their credentials, feature their social accounts, and list their article contributions. Guest posts are excellent ways to extend reach beyond your typical social circles. Leverage it!

Regardless of guest or columnist authorship, make it easy for readers to identify, follow and mention authors in social shares. (Tip: Display the author's Twitter username beside their name to boost this engagement.)


4. Missing or Irrelevant Image Thumbnail for Sharing the Page

Fix: Help content stand out with an engaging, legible, relevant image thumbnail on every page you create. (The site logo doesn't count.) For social feeds like Facebook, Google+, or StumbleUpon, aggregators like Paper.li, and even your blog dashboard, thumbnail images play a crucial role in attracting attention, click-throughs, comments and shares.

A missing or irrelevant image also means you miss out on the traffic-driving power of popular image-sharing tools like Pinterest and Tumblr. Intentionally plan an image thumbnail with the social outlets and uses in mind. (Tip: JPG images 160 pixels wide x 120-160 pixels high tend to work best.)

To specify the default thumbnail displayed for social shares, consider leveraging the HTML markup options below. For the link tag and meta tag options, paste the code snippet into the head tags and specify the actual thumbnail URL. For microdata, simply add the attributes (highlighted red below) to your existing body and image tags. (Note: Don't get sucked into adding a bunch of tags to your content for SMO. Title tag and meta description values generally pull fine for social sharing if you have valid HTML. I recommend using Microdata to specify image thumbnails since it's effective for both SEO and SMO purposes.)

HTML Link: (Supported by Facebook Share and Yahoo! Enhanced Search)
    <link rel="image_src" href="THUMBNAIL_URL_HERE" />

Open Graph (RDFa): (http://ogp.me)
    <meta property="og:image" content="THUMBNAIL_URL_HERE" />

Microdata: (http://schema.org) 
    <body itemscope itemtype="http://schema.org/article">
    <img itemprop="image" src="THUMBNAIL_URL_HERE" />
    </body>

5. Sharing Buttons Not Fully Configured With Respective Content

Fix: Properly configure share buttons to include the page title, image thumbnail, and a shortened URL link. Especially for Twitter, ensure the site username, author username (if different), and relevant hashtags are included. Revisit the tools that generated your sharing widgets to review additional data options and settings available. Proper configuration helps to track social mentions, engage with advocates, and boost brand/author visibility.

Tip: Hashtag logic can be planned based on the post's category. If you build site username and hashtags into the title tag, you're also optimized for sharing via tools the user might be using like Buffer or Shareaholic.


6. Blah or Missing Meta Description

Fix: An enticing description is instrumental for click-throughs and further share amplification once posted on social networks. Don't make users dream up an enticing description for you.

Do your job: write an intentional, quality description under 150 characters that will entice users to click-through for more. Don't repeat the title, as meta description only appears with the title tag, and don't use an automated extract of the page's first few sentences. Begin the description with an action like "learn" or "get inspired" followed by keyword topic highlights (headings are handy) that will compel a user to click-through and investigate further.


7. Icons Used for Page-Sharing and Social Accounts Look-Alike

Fix: Don't make users think about what button they should click. Hesitation kills conversion. Just the other day I came across a [very popular] website using the same Twitter and Facebook icons for social sign-in, social accounts, and post sharing. How confusing is that?!

Strategically select, design, and place social icons where they are most likely to be understood and used. Style social accounts distinctly different from their smart button relatives and position them away (vertically and horizontally) from the page-sharing icons.


8. Article Page and Blog Dashboard (Above-the-Fold) Look the Same

Fix: Socially shared links pointing to a seemingly irrelevant location kills further amplification of the content. (This easily happens if a user shares a link to a home/dashboard post that some time later is no longer featured.)

Ensure your home and category pages are distinctly and intuitively different from post pages to avoid the confusion. Restrict the dashboard post descriptions to an enticing intro of 150-300 characters maximum and specifically style it differently. Borders, section headings, and multi-column formats help users intuitively make the distinction.


9. Social Actions Aren't Mobile-Friendly

Fix: Most likely your social-savvy audience is mobile-savvy as well. Don't forget about them! Tiny, compact share buttons, thin fields, and narrow text links make mobile social engagement an outright challenge. Apple recommends a minimum mobile target area of 44x44 pixels. Handset resolution varies, so plan target areas to be "thumb-friendly".

Leverage responsive web design (RWD) to include mobile-specific CSS styles that optimize usability of clickable areas. (Get inspired by Mashable's custom implementation of "Share this Post" for mobile. Use the Snoopy view mobile source bookmarklet to view the code.)

  • Use social share widgets that use responsive design
  • Add padding to links and form input fields (e.g. padding 0.5em)
  • Add margin between clickable actions to avoid misclicks

Example CSS Media Query Syntax: (for insertion into an existing CSS file)

@media screen and (max-device-width: 480px) {
  /* mobile-specific styles go here */
}

10. Twitter Feed Widgets with No Mention of the Username or Hashtag

Fix: It's frustrating to see a Twitter feed and have no idea what's filtering the posts. Clearly display the Twitter username and/or hashtag in the widget's title and provide additional, proximate context to entice interaction. (i.e., Twitter chat hashtags and schedules, event hashtags, usernames of social community staff, etc.) Visual display of these filters also makes it easy for users to join and follow your social conversations from their preferred Twitter portal.


11. No Visible Comment Form on Blog Posts

Fix: The comment form should be immediately visible as a form at the very end of the article. Don't require an action to reveal it, and don't insert a massive amount of related content between the article and the comment form. Out of sight, out of mind.


12. Super Long Page Title

Fix: Don't make users rethink the title for sharing. Unnecessary title cleanup consumes time that users could have otherwise interacted with or shared content. Long titles also present a feed scannability challenge resulting in lower click-through rates. (A shared link title should ideally wrap no more than 1.5 lines to optimize legibility.) Keep your title under 70 characters. It's Google's display limit in search results, and it's an easily re-tweetable length.

Tip: Exclude post category and site name from the title tag. The category would be better served as a hashtag, and the site name as the Twitter username.


13. No Closing Call-to-Action (CTA) at the End of Blog Posts

Wile E. Coyote hits rock bottomFix: End the post with a key takeaway followed by an actionable statement. In other words, now that they've read the content, what should they do? From an SMO standpoint, leverage the opportunity to entice the user to take a social action – rate, share, bookmark, comment, follow, subscribe, etc. (Only promote one or two actions. The more options suggested, the less likelihood you'll have for conversion.) The action you recommend should be visible and proximate to the bottom of the article.

Tip: To bypass scrolling-down challenges, make the call-to-action text a link to the on-page bookmark (e.g., <a href="#comment">comment</a> or <a href="#socialshare">share</a>).


Implementing these fixes can help boost social engagement and avoid a user experience that runs your visitors into a dead-end wall.

Is your blog or website guilty of any of these barriers? Which of these are most likely to prevent you from socially engaging with content? Let us know in the comments below!


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