Favourite Blog Widgets & Plugins

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.
Photo by Chris Yates on Unsplash

“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.

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.

text on blue background of A2Zbookblogging and Favourite Blog Widgets & Plugins

BookerTalk

What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

36 thoughts on “Favourite Blog Widgets & Plugins

  • Pingback: Zane Grey | theaustralianlegend

  • September 21, 2020 at 6:08 am
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    This is a great series of posts. Once I read it the first time, I planned to come back to reread and think some more about what you’ve said. Which is what brings me here today…

    I was very keen to add the WPForms plugin and build menu tables similar to what A Life in Books has done. But I realise you can’t add plugins with a Free WordPress.com plan. In fact, despite years of blogging, I have only just realised the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org.

    Do you know of any way around this? It sounds like the only options are to pay for a plan, probably a business one, in which case a better alternative may be to move to WordPress.org, otherwise I just have to go without plugins.

    Reply
    • September 21, 2020 at 5:34 pm
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      Hi Jason, I would hesitate to move to wordpress.org until you are sure you can get a better price from a hosting company than the cost of the business plan with wordress.com.

      But you may not need to do that. Though you can’t use the table plug in, you can still create tables within the free version of wordpress.

      1. If you are using the new block editor within WordPress, then you can add the block called tables. You can choose the number of columns/ number of rows nitially and then once you begin entering content, you can add rows. or columns

      2. If you are using the classic editor then you can add a table using some basic HTML code. It might sound a bit complex but you just have to remember some basic rules. One is that the “instruction” or the action you want is always between < and > . Second rule is that when you open an instruction, you also have to remember to close it.

      the instruction

      tells the computer to begin a table. the instruction

      tells the computer thats where you want the table to end

      creates a row.

      closes it

      creates a column

      closes it

      So put that into practice as follows…..
      1. Open the page where you want the table, Add any headings o explanatory text.
      2. Then on your tool bar click on the HTML icon.
      3. On new line type

      4. go to a new line. this is where you will create your first row of the table by using

      That will create one row but it will all be in one column. So now you want to create columns. To create the first column you type

      Now repeat the whole thing for however many columns you want. Lets say you want three columns, you would type

      5. You now have to add the instruction to tell the computer to end the row. So you add

      6. To add the second row you type

      and then follow the same sequence as above, but instead of the word author or title, you just type in whatever you want to see in that column. So you could have

      Death on Nile</p> <td>Date Read</td> <p>

      7. when you’ve added as many rows as you want, start a new line and type

      Then you type in whatever text you want. Remember to close that instruction by using
      Author Title Date Read
      Agatha Christie

      Good luck! The result won’t be as good as the one you saw on Susan’s site but it should work

      Reply
      • September 22, 2020 at 5:57 am
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        Hi Karen
        Thanks for taking the trouble to give me a full answer. I’m going to have a play around. Hopefully it will work, look good, and won’t take too long to load for visitors. I think it would be a pretty neat feature to have. I’m hoping too that visitors can sort the table to find what they’re looking for, but that might be a function too far!

        Reply
        • September 22, 2020 at 8:27 am
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          Unfortunately these options won’t give the ability to sort.

  • May 10, 2020 at 8:41 pm
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    I wish I knew how to attract attention to the books I’d want everyone to read.

    For the rest, I’m on Twitter and that’s all I can handle. I spend already too much time on social media, IMO.

    Reply
    • May 11, 2020 at 6:21 am
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      I can’t keep up with Twitter so how people manage to also do Instagram and Pinterest and videos is beyond my comprehension

      Reply
      • May 11, 2020 at 6:38 am
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        Same here. The aim is to still have time to read!

        Reply
  • May 10, 2020 at 8:28 pm
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    I have a text Widget “Currently Reading” in which I put the book(s) I’m currently reading (obviously) and the titles of the books with upcoming billets.
    When a blogger displays that kind of info, I always look at it.

    I also have a widget that advertise other book blogs and people click on them, so I suppose it’s useful.

    PS: It’s not a widget but it’s possible to attach your Twitter handle to the “share via Twitter” button. If he blogger doesn’t do it, when someone clicks on the Twitter share, the automatic WP thing is “via @wordress.com” or something like that, instead of the blogger’s Twitter ID.

    Reply
    • August 7, 2020 at 4:15 pm
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      I used to have the currently reading widget on my site too but took it off because I didn’t think anyone would be that interested.

      Reply
  • May 7, 2020 at 10:13 am
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    THANK YOU for spreading the good word about search box plugins! I never cease to be truly baffled by the number of blogs/websites I encounter that don’t have a basic search function, it makes navigating their site INFURIATING for me (plus, a huge lost opportunity for them to see what their audience comes to their site looking for). Great round-up, thank you again!!

    Reply
    • May 8, 2020 at 5:40 pm
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      I’m thinking of ditching the widget which shows all the categories on my site. It’s far too long for people to scroll through and takes up a lot of space. Any views on whether they are useful?

      Reply
      • May 9, 2020 at 3:09 am
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        Well, I got rid of mine a couple of months ago, and I’ve had no complaints, so it wasn’t THAT useful in my case, clearly! 🙂

        Reply
        • May 9, 2020 at 4:11 pm
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          I’m going to strip mine down – far too many categories. And then see if I stil want it

      • August 7, 2020 at 3:21 pm
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        I’m thinking of ditching the widget which shows all the categories on my site. It’s far too long for people to scroll through and takes up a lot of space. Any views on whether they are useful?

        You should be able to make your list of categories in the sidebar a dropdown. On the widget itself, you just check “display as dropdown.” Then it hardly takes up any space. (I am on a free wordpress.com account without an outside host, & am referring to the standard “categories” widget. If you have something else possibly this won’t work.) 🙂

        Reply
        • August 7, 2020 at 4:20 pm
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          Hi Jillian, I just checked and the widget tool when you add it to the side bar does have an option to use drop down menu. I can send you a screen capture if you like

        • August 7, 2020 at 4:24 pm
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          Hi Karen — thanks! I don’t need a screenshot. I wasn’t asking for help. I already use the drop-down feature. You had said you feel that the categories widget uses up too much space (the part I quoted in my prior comment), & I wanted you to know you can make the categories widget a drop-down list, in case you didn’t realize. Cheers. 🙂

        • August 7, 2020 at 9:57 pm
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          Sorry for the confusion Jillian. I’ve changed my catergories now to a cloud view which doesn’t take up as much room

    • May 1, 2020 at 9:56 pm
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      You’re welcome. Delighted to hear this is helpful

      Reply
  • May 1, 2020 at 8:40 am
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    That’s great for WordPress users.

    I hope you and yours are staying safe and healthy during this difficult time.

    J Lenni Dorner~ Co-host of the #AtoZchallenge, Debut Author Interviewer, Reference& Speculative Fiction Author

    Reply
    • May 1, 2020 at 9:57 pm
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      All doing well in BookerTalk thanks. Hope the same goes for you

      Reply
  • May 1, 2020 at 7:32 am
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    I’ve added a few widgets but I’m limited in plugins because of the level of my plan…I have the middle plan (one step up from free) and you need the higher business plan for a lot of plugins. Plus, I’m afraid of messing things up or slowing down my site! How did you add the translate option? Is that a plug in?

    Reply
    • May 1, 2020 at 9:59 pm
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      it was one of the widgets that came with the Jetpack plugin I bought Carol

      Reply
  • May 1, 2020 at 3:05 am
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    This is such a great series of blog posts! All very helpful 🙂

    Reply
    • May 1, 2020 at 9:57 pm
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      Thanks for the boost to my confidence Anne. It’s been quite a demanding exercise but I have learned loads

      Reply
  • April 30, 2020 at 9:21 pm
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    I use a plugin called Easy Table of Contents. It puts a clickable listing of the page’s contents at the top of the post. The list is generated by the use of heading levels. BUT: this listing will not appear on your posts when viewers access your home page. The listing only appears when viewers click through to the individual post.

    Reply
    • May 1, 2020 at 10:06 pm
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      It took me a while before I noticed what was happening on the pages I looked at in your site Mary. They almost look like a second level menu. Do you find people click on them or can’t you get that level of detail?

      Reply
    • April 30, 2020 at 5:28 pm
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      I was astonished at how many widgets and plugins there are – lots of them of course do similar things

      Reply
  • April 30, 2020 at 1:26 pm
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    I was introduced to widgets a few years ago, added the ones I wanted, then promptly forgot about them. My sidebar has an ‘F’ which redirects you to my Facebook account, so I guess that must be a standard widget. And as you say, make sure you add ‘Search’ and ‘Follow’.

    Reply
    • April 30, 2020 at 5:28 pm
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      That’s funny – you must have put that Facebook link in yourself and totally forgot it was there…

      Reply
      • April 30, 2020 at 11:46 pm
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        Back in the mists of time my family wouldn’t “follow” me but they wanted to know what I was saying about them. I started a new Facebook account (I was told later that a Page would have been better) so they could see each new post. They still rarely admit to reading me, but the stuff I write generally comes up in conversation.

        Reply
        • May 1, 2020 at 10:00 pm
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          Ah so basically your family is stalking you 🙂

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