The What, the Why, and the How of WordPress Blog Widgets and Plugins

WordPress blog widgets fall into two main categories:

  • Sidebar widgets
  • Other WordPress blog plugins

The sidebar widgets topic was widely developed in another article of ours, so in this article, I’ll just get straight to the point.

So, it’s time to roll up some sleeves :).

 

Blog Sidebar Widgets

How to Work with WordPress Blog Widgets in the WordPress Dashboard 

WordPress blog widgets are modules that you can add to the blog’s sidebar. Some of them are WordPress built-in, others come packed inside themes.

You can find them in the WordPress dashboard under “Appearance”.

In short, when you access the widgets menu you’ll see a list of available widgets in the middle of the screen.  

Available WordPress widgets

Now, all you have to do is drag and drop the widget you want to the right, inside the “Blog sidebar widget area”.Blog sidebar widget area

Depending on the theme you’ve chosen, you’ll see multiple header and footer areas as well. Some themes might allow for in-page widget areas as well. The great thing about these widgets is that most of them do not need lots of setting up. 

Let’s say you are choosing the “Categories” widget. It will list your blog categories in the blog’s sidebar. You’ll need to give it a title and decide if it should display as a dropdown or if it shows post counts or post hierarchy.Categories blog widget

Then you click on “Done”, then “Save”, and your widget is live.Categories widget live

From the same menu, you can delete the widget if you’re sure that you’ll never use it again. The moment you hit “Delete”, the widget goes back to the “Available Widgets” and it will lose its previous settings. 

If you want to keep the settings, you’ll have to drag and drop the widget to the “Inactive Widgets” section, below the “Available Widgets”.

Inactive WordPress blog widgets

We’ve done a tiny video tutorial on the topic as well. 

How to Work with WordPress Blog Widgets in the Theme’s Customizer 

If your theme comes bundled with a Customizer or Builder, you can head over to your blog page, in “All Pages” and select “Edit in Customizer” – or something of this sort (it depends on your theme). You’ll find the widgets inside the Customizer menu, at the “Widgets” section. 

Some default widgets will be shown. The moment you’ll click on “Add a widget” you see even more. When you click on one of these widgets it will be transferred to the blog widget area.

I’ve chosen the Gallery widget. All I have to do is give it a title and select some images. Then hit “Done”.  Customizer blog sidebar widget area

You can also reorder or delete your widgets. When you want to go live, select “Publish” from the top.

And that’s it.

We’ll talk about the most popular widgets a bit later.

 

How to Install other Third-Party Widgets

Now, let’s say that you can’t find the widget you want, maybe it’s a widget for Google reviews. How can you find one and configure it?

Besides google-ing for such a widget, you can go to wordress.org plugins.

I just typed “widget” in the search bar.  A list of the most popular widgets is shown. Make sure to look at their reviews and when was the last time they were updated. You definitely need something that works with your WordPress version.Search for plugins in the WordPress dashboard

Another way of finding plugins is from the WordPress dashboard. Just head over to “Plugins”, from the left-hand side menu. Then select “Add new”.

Let’s activate the “Widget for Google Reviews”. First, hit “Install now”, then “Activate”. 

Next, you’ll find your plugin inside Plugins -> Installed plugins. Go to the “Settings” option. This is where you’ll do the plugin setup.Setting up a WordPress plugin

Each plugin comes with its own configuration options. You’ll just have to follow the instructions. Some features will be available with a free plan, others with a paid one.Configuring a WordPress plugin

 

WordPress Blog Plugins 

Now, the widgets above can be inserted in the sidebar. The vast majority of WordPress plugins don’t get used in sidebars. The installation process is the same as the one presented above.

We’ve even done a tiny tutorial on how to install WordPress widgets and plugins, check it out!

Besides the sidebar widgets, you can install many other plugins that have different functions:

  • Help with SEO – these plugins guide you in making some tweaks to your blog article in order to help them rank better.
  • Prevent spamming
  • Lead generation (eg: pop-ups for newsletter subscription)

and more.

We’ll give you some examples in the next chapter.

The Most Useful & Popular WordPress Blog Widgets and Plugins

There is a huge debate around having or not having a sidebar, discussed in this previous article of ours. So, before jumping into this widgets topic you should decide what’s the purpose of your blog and if these widgets will help you achieve your goals.

Now, let’s see those examples I promised.

 

7 Most Useful WordPress Blog Widgets (for the Sidebar)

  1. Recent posts – it shows the most recent posts in a more compact design.
  2. Archives – it shows the monthly archive of your blog’s posts.
  3. Categories – this one helps a lot with your blog navigation if you have multiple topics to deal with.
  4. Search – it helps readers find the article they need.Search and categories widgets
  5. Custom HTML – I love this one because it lets you add your own HTML code if you’re into personalization.
  6. Image – you can use this for banners and CTAs. Let’s say you have an Ebook, a pdf, a promotion to show off, an image might do the trick. Below is our own image widget: a banner with a CTA.
  7. Social media widget. This one usually needs to be installed. It can show your latest social media posts, your social media profiles, sharing buttons, etc. An example of such a widget is Social Icon Widget. 

 

8 Most Useful WordPress Blog Plugins

As mentioned a bit earlier, these won’t show up in the sidebar, or not show at all, depending on their functionality.

Make sure to always check the free features and the paid ones.

Let’s look at some of the most popular ones:

  1. Yoast SEO – it provides guidelines in order to rank better in organic search results. It’s the most popular SEO plugin out there. RankMath is coming fast from behind to challenge its position. 
  2. Akismet Anti-Spam – this plugin prevents spammers (spam comments and spam contact form submissions).
  3. Jetpack – is a very useful security plugin. It helps you say bye-bye to malware and other unwanted intrusions.
  4. Smush – blogs usually need images, lots of them. Smush helps you resize and optimize them. This will help your site’s loading speed, with an immediate impact on your SEO efforts.
  5. UpDraftPlus – it’s the plugin you’ll want to back-up your blog.
  6. MonsterInsights – it’s a WordPress plugin that lets you install Google Analytics so that you can monitor your blog users’ behavior and make better and informed decisions.
  7. MC4WP (Mailchimp for WordPress) – if you want to run a newsletter, you’ll be needing email marketing software. Mailchimp is one of the most popular out there. This plugin will ensure the connection between your blog and your Mailchimp database so that you can always stay in contact with your subscribers.
  8. Hustle – Email Marketing, Lead Generation, Optins, Popups – it helps you build an email/subscription list via forms and pop-ups.

 

Now, we can call it a wrap. 

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Alina is a digital marketer with a passion for web design. When she's not strategizing she's doing photography, listening to podcasts on history and psychology, and playing with her 2 dogs and cat.