Day 23 of the A-Z challenge.
W is for Widgets & Plugins
Want to add more features and functions to your blog site but don’t want the hassle of using code?
The solution is to incorporate widgets and plugins into your blog.
Don’t know what they are?
Look at some of the blogs you visit regularly. If you see their home page has a search function, or displays a list of popular topics, a blog roll and a category cloud, you’ll know the blogger is using widgets and plugins.
PlugIns are the most powerful of these tools. They’re mini programmes or extensions that have to be installed and activated before they can be used on the blog site. Think of them like apps you install on your phone.
Widgets are drag and drop blocks of content that you can add to your site’s sidebars, footers, and other areas. They give you more control over your site without having to understand or apply coding. Some plugsin create widgets, others are bundled with your blog platform.
For a more detailed explanation take a look at this article on the difference between widgets and plugins
Which Widgets and Plugins Should You Use?
The choice of widgets and plugins is already extensive yet more and more are developed every week. It’s easy to get overwhelmed but bear in mind that a large proportion of these tools are really only of benefit for people using a blog as a business platform. Others may not be available if you are using only the free version of WordPress.
The ease of installation also means it’s easy to get carried away and add lots of them to your site. Try not to do that. If you use a large number of plugins you could affect the load speed of your site. Plus, your home page can end up looking very cluttered.
I’ve tweaked the widgets in the side bar of my home page countless times, trying to decide which is the most useful. The most recent change I made was to add a contact form and remove the Twitter feed.
Over time I’ve come to see a few widgets as “essential” and some as “very useful.”
Must Have Widgets and Plugins
These are tools I think are essential for blogs of all sizes.
- A search function. This will enable people landing on your site to go direct to specific topics. A search widget comes bundled within WordPress. You just have to add it to your site.
- Subscription sign up . This will enable people who don’t have a WordPress account or a Blog Reader to receive notifications whenever you post a new article. WordPress has one called Subscribe2Widget. The sign up function I use is part of a Jetpack plugin – a paid for option which includes multiple widgets.
- Social media icons. If you have Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest accounts, it’s a good idea to make these prominent on your home page so people can easily connect with you. WordPress doesn’t seem to offer these as a standard widget so you’ll need to install a plugin. Again I use Jetpack but there is a plugin called Social Icons Widget by WPZoom which looks interesting.
- Copyright notice. You want to protect your content so make sure you have a copyright “warning”. You can use the WordPress standard Text widget and just paste in your copy .
- 404 Redirect . A 404 error is the message your reader sees if they click on a broken link somewhere within your blog. It’s a dead end. If you install a 404 redirect plugin, you can ensure all broken links end up on a dedicated page where you can provide a more tailored message to your reader. It’s giving them a better experience until you fix those broken links. The plugin I installed is called All 404 Redirect To Homepage. If you’re not sure why broken links are a problem, take a look at my post on Why You Need To Fix Broken Links.
“Very Useful” Widgets And Tools
There are a few more widgets that I would class as “very useful”. All except the last item come bundled within WordPress which makes it very easy to add to a side bar.
- Category cloud. This gives readers a feeling for what your site is all about and which types of content you write most about
- Recent posts. A list of around five headlines . Very useful for readers who may be new to the blog
- Top posts and pages. A list of your most viewed content. This is a good way for older posts to be highlighted.
- Imagify. I mentioned this plugin as part of my post about Making Your Blog Search Friendly it will reduce the file size of your images so your page loads up more quickly, without losing quality.
Tools With Potential For Book Bloggers
As I was exploring all the widgets and plugins available I came across a few that I have could be of value to book bloggers.
- RafflePress. If you regularly run book giveaways or mini competitions this could be a very interesting tool. It enables you to set up a giveaway and add it to a post, page, or sidebar. There is a free version called RafflePressLite
- WPForms This is one of the most popular plugins available via WordPress. It enables you to easily create a contact form or an email subscription form. Businesses use it for order forms, surveys, customer feedback. For book bloggers I think this tool offers a great way to display lists on a page. For example: a list of books reviewed on the site (for a good example of this see A Life In Books) or a progress list for challenges.
- Feature a Page Widget. This is a plugin with a widget that allows you to add a page as a featured page in your WordPress sidebar on the home page. You can choose to display a page title, featured image, and excerpt. This could be a good option if you are running a reading month or a challenge and you have a page dedicated to that event. See this article on how to feature a page in WordPress to learn more.
How To Install Widgets And PlugIns
Within WordPress you’ll find a number of widgets included as standard tools.
To use them, go to your WordPress dashboard.
Choose Appearance → Widgets.
Select the widget you want to use and drag it to to the widget section of your page. The location could be your sidebar or the footer, depend on which design theme you are using. You can easily rearrange the order in which they appear.
To find plugins, go to the dashboard again but this time select Plugins. The next screen will show you which Plugins are available according to your theme – you simply activate them by selecting the radio button next to the plugin name.
If you want to install a new Plugin, Click on Add New (this is shown on the top of the screen and also in the dashboard Plugin menu on the left). Use the search tool to find the PlugIn you want. Click Install and then Select.
Your Favourite Widgets & Plugins
I’ve shared my list of favourites but I may have missed some other very useful tools. Let me know what you’ve discovered.