Do you remember the olden days of web design?
I certainly do. We “web designers” did our best to cram as many cool GIFs, midis and fonts into one page as we possibly could.
The result was quite spectacular in the 90’s, but doesn’t translate well to today’s expectation of a clean and easy-to-navigate look and feel.
While we still have the option to do cool things to our sites, this has been pared down to improving functionality through plugins and widgets.
Building traffic and a loyal following all has to do with the user experience. Web-goers aren’t dazzled by flashing graphics and plunky music anymore (I still am) – they want good content and they want to access it easily.
If you’re not sure where to start when it comes to adding plugins and widgets to your site, keep reading! I’m going to go over what plugins and widgets are, how to install them and which ones you should add to your site:
What is the Difference Between a Plugin and a Widget?
You’ve probably heard these two terms used in conjunction with each other. That’s because widgets are plugins – but plugins are not necessarily widgets.
Think of it this way:
A plugin adds functions and features to your site, some you may not even see. For instance, Yoast SEO is a plugin that adds the function of SEO optimization to your post editor.
Widgets, on the other hand, are content blocks that can be seen on the front end. They are usually located in the sidebar or footer of your site. Something like a popular posts plugin is a widget you can add to your sidebar.
Or an old-school visitor counter:
No matter how they end up being used on your site, plugins are all installed the same way:
How to Install Plugins and Widgets
Downloading and installing plugins and widgets is a very straightforward process.
When you download a widget/plugin, it will download as a .zip file.
To install it, hover over the “Plugins” link in the left-hand menu of your WordPress dashboard and click “Add New”.
You can fall down the rabbit-hole of searching the plug-ins right from this page, or you can add your downloaded plugin by clicking the “Upload Plugin” button to the right of the “Add Plugins” title at the top of the screen.
From there, click the “Choose File” button and locate the .zip file you downloaded. Click “Install Now”.
Once the page refreshes, you should see a list of actions. Click the blue “Activate Plugin” button.
After a plugin is installed, you should be able to locate it in the left-hand menu. If not, hover over the “Tools” link to see if it’s there.
Plugins that can be used as widgets can be placed in your widgets areas by hovering over “Appearance” and click on “Widgets”.
The 12 Best Plugins and Widgets for Your Blog
1. Disable Gutenberg
God bless WordPress for updating the way you can create posts and pages, but I just couldn’t learn to love the new Gutenberg system.
It’s a drag-and-drop styled editor but I’m too familiar with the classic editor (and too lazy to figure out Gutenberg, to be honest).
If you feel the same way, you can install Disable Gutenberg to revert your WordPress back to the classic style. This was a game-changer for me, since I was able to go back to the way I wrote and published articles that I was comfortable with.
2. Recent Posts Widget and Thumbnails
Many bloggers choose to display their most recent posts at the end of every article. It’s a good way to keep readers reading by new similar content for them to check out.
Recent Posts Widget and Thumbnails is a simple plugin that displays your most recent posts and allows you to customize the look by including the post thumbnail, excerpt and assigned category.
There are also many options that allow you to build custom-tailored post lists to match the look and feel of your site.
3. WPForms Lite
Perhaps one of the most popular and highly recommended WordPress plugin to have on your site is WPForms Lite. This free version of the original plugin allows you to quickly create contact forms as well as subscription boxes to generate email leads.
The drag-and-drop design makes it super easy and each form can be individually integrated into your posts, pages and sidebar.
The paid version, obviously, offers more cool features, but the free version gives you enough options to create simple and functional forms.
4. Easy Table of Contents
I started to find the posts on this site were long and involved, so I decided to install Easy Table of Contents to make the information more readable.
If you look at the beginning of this post, there is a collapsible table of contents that allows you to easily navigate throughout the post.
The great thing about this plugin is that is allows you to specify where you want your TOC to begin. I chose to have it display directly before the first heading tag of the post – this way, you get the post introduction first and then the table of contents.
Once you set up the plugin, it automatically displays on every post!
5. Insert HTML Snippet (XYZ Html)
This plugin is one of my personal favorites! It allows you to quickly add HTML snippets into your posts via a shortcode.
The course information at the beginning of this post, for example, was inserted using the Insert HTML Snippet plugin (it shows up on your dashboard as XYZ Html).
I simply designed it using HTML code and added it to my HTML snippet list. Wherever I want to add it in a post, I simply click the “HTML” button on my visual editor and pop it in.
You can use it to add affiliate disclosures, subscribe boxes and even style your related links:
And then it looks like this:
6. Simple Social Buttons
Simple Social Buttons is a plugin that allows you to add social media sharing buttons to your WordPress site. You can choose to place them in your sidebar, above or below post content, on images or in popups and fly-ins.
This widget is set up to connect to social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Linkedin and Pinterest – just to name a few.
The more user-friendly your site is, the easier readers can quickly share your content and increase your traffic.
7. WordPress Popular Posts
The key to generating loyal traffic to your site is keeping readers on your site for as long as possible. You can use WordPress Popular Posts to display your, well, popular posts and give your visitors more content to peruse.
With shortcode support, you can place a list of your popular posts in your sidebar or at the end of your articles. Each widget can be customized with its own settings and you can choose the category of posts to display or define a specific time range.
This widget also allows you to customize the look of the post list, so you can add in your featured image or use their included themes to style your popular posts list.
8. Testimonials Widget
When you sell a product or service, it’s always helpful to display positive feedback to help potential customers decide to make a purchase.
Testimonials Widget allows you to boost your credibility in order to improve conversion rates and increase lead generation. With this widget, you can display random feedback or list selected quotes or reviews.
The testimonials are inserted into your site via shortcodes, theme functions or widgets. There is even an option to insert an image with text or even videos.
9. Meks Smart Author Widget
If your site features multiple contributors, like mine does here, then you want to add an author bio to each post.
Meks Smart Author Widget makes this super simple by automatically detecting the post author and displaying their information. You can customize the avatar size and choose whether to link the image or display name to the author archive.
Even if you don’t have a contributor blog, you may want to display your own information at the end of every post in order to build a stronger connection with your readers.
10. Opinion Stage
A huge part of solidifying your brand and boosting your engagement involves finding out exactly what your audience wants to read and buy.
Opinion Stage is a plugin used to create interactive items such as polls, surveys, quizzes, forms and interactive stories. You can choose from many different templates, categories and sizes.
This is a great plugin to include in your posts and sidebar – you can even create a popup!
11. Ad Inserter
Like most plugins, Ad Inserter offers a free and paid version. The free version offers enough features to manage your ads by allowing you to create multiple ad blocks and choosing where you want them inserted.
You can add ads to post content, before and after post content, between posts and more. Ads can also be disabled on specific posts and pages (including your home page) as well as on category and archive pages.
This plugin can be used for both hosted and 3rd part ad networks.
12. Yoast SEO
SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is an important factor when it comes to driving traffic to your site.
Yoast SEO is a popular plugin used to optimize your posts by tracking your keyword use and analyzing the readability of your content. It also allows you to customize your search result snippet.
When it comes to analyzing your SEO, Yoast will provide you with a sort of report card beneath the post text editor that outlines any recommended changes you should make to improve SEO as well as readability tips.
Plug It In, Plug It In
Don’t be afraid to improve the functionality of your site, and the user’s experience, by employing plugins and widgets throughout your pages and content.
What’s your favorite plugin or widget? Any you want to share? Let us know in the comments below!