WordPress widgets are a great way to extend your WordPress site beyond its out-of-the-box capabilities. When creating a blog or site on WordPress, you might notice the sidebar and footer are empty — this precious real estate on your website is reserved for widgets.
But first, you might be wondering, “what’s the difference between WordPress plugins and WordPress widgets?” For a non-technical WordPress user, this is a slightly confusing concept.
Widgets can be included in plugins, making this even more confusing. But think of it this way — plugins extend the functionality of your site, whether it be backend, frontend or both. For instance, the Yoast SEO plugin isn’t displayed on the front end of your site, rather it’s only visible to the backend user. However, there are WordPress plugins, like Contact Form 7, which directly affect the front end.
Widgets, on the other hand, are always used to show content. Widgets work in conjunction with the theme you’ve installed to add new content to the front end, like an Instagram gallery, Twitter feed, search bar, or email subscription form. While many widgets are already installed with the WordPress software, for those that aren’t, you’ll have to install a plugin to access that particular widget.
Therefore, WordPress plugins help us extend our site and allow for use on the back end, while widgets let us display special content outside of posts and pages.
With that said, here are some awesome widgets worth noting to dress up and drive up user interaction in your site’s sidebar, starting with basics to next level to fancified:
1. Recent Posts
This widget is based on the well-known WordPress default widget, Recent Posts, which allows you to display recently viewed content in the sidebar of your site. This widget is equipped with added features such as the ability to display more information about posts, thumbnails, excerpts and extended categories.
Recent Posts with thumbnails also allows you to hide a current post from the list, show the post date in the sidebar, and more.
Category Post is a light, straight forward widget designed to display the most recent posts from a certain category. This plugin is riddled with customizable features that make your recent posts look exactly the way you want them.
With Category posts, you can easily change all shortcode options using the customizer, hide the widget if there are no current posts, and more.
Simple Social Icons is an easy to use, customizable way to display icons on your sidebar that link visitors to various social profiles. Choose the number and type of social media profile you’d like to link to and customize from there. Customize the size and color of your icons as well as their alignment and order.
WordPress Popular Posts is a widget that will display the most popular posts on your blog. This widget is highly customizable and full of features. A unique feature included is the multi-widget capability; you can have multiple widgets on your page, each with their own unique settings.
You can also use this widget to check the statistics on the popular posts on your page and apply time range-a list of posts that have been most popular within a certain time range. WordPress Popular Posts also allows WPML support as well as WordPress multisite support.
Use this widget to easily add Instagram posts onto your site in either Carousel or Grid view with Lightbox effect. Instagram photos will appear along with any hashtags associated with them.
The new Easy Instagram update includes Instagram video visualization so you are not limited to just pictures. Easy Instagram is also optimized for mobile devices, has operational navigation buttons, and includes touch capability.
Instagram allows you to display photos from any non-private Instagram account; you can display from one single account or multiple. You can customize the appearance of the photos you wish to display such as image height, width, background, spacing, and more.
Adding a visual representation in the form of a map is a great way to let your customers know where you are located. The Google Maps widget lets you quickly and easily add a perfect map equipped with a thumbnail and lightbox in minutes. Using a series of thumbnail map options, easily change the appearance of your maps such as map size, color scheme, and more.
Google maps is unique because it is highly customizable and allows interactive maps. Interactive capabilities include road and satellite view, zoom level, and language. The PRO version is equipped with directions, light and dark lightbox skin, and 1500+ map pins.
What better way to display credibility and build loyalty than displaying your follower count? This widget is pretty self-explanatory; easily display your social media count in your sidebar.
Display your numbers using a widget (links and icons) or a shortcode (to be used in posts and pages). Results of the counters are cached and updated daily or per new social media post. The cache prevents collapses from sites like Twitter and Facebook.
Adding a video to your sidebar is a great way to add dynamics and attractability to your site. This widget uses a shortcode to embed a YouTube video on various places on your site, including your sidebar.
Choose the precise minute and second you want your video to start and end. Utilize several customization features to make the embedded video look exactly like you want it: hide the title, mute the sound, choose a theme for the progress bar and more!
One way to maximize lead generation is by converting website visitors into email list subscribers. OptinMonster allows you to forms that are optimized for conversion rates on your site.
This widget will use sophisticated analytics to track user behavior on your site and display a targeted campaign via a popup just as they are about to leave. OptinMonster incorporates A/B analytics to tell you what headlines and content is performing best.
Similar to OptinMonster, Sleeknote is a lead generating tool that helps webshops interact with their visitors to increase sales and get more visitors. Through Sleeknote you can create beautiful lead capture forms, which can provide visitors with how-to guides, exclusive offers or great deals that can convince them to complete a purchase and thereby reduce your abandoned cart rates.
This is a fairly simple but extremely useful widget. Using this widget you’ll be able to quickly and easily change the colors of all icons in order for them to match your current site theme.
Web Font Social Icons will create high-quality images that look sharp on retina devices and can be adjusted for size. This widget comes with top notch customer support so you’ll never be in the dark.
This widget is the perfect way to enable content from social media to automatically be displayed on your website. Easily embed photos and videos from Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter on your site or Shopify store.
Use the free plan for basic video and photo embedding or opt for the paid plans for widget analytics, custom CSS functions and more!
Inspire and engage your site visitors using quotations. Collect, manage and display your favorite quotations on your WordPress site using Quotes Collection.
Use the Random Quote Sidebar Widget to display random quotes from your collection with a refresh link at the bottom. The plugin is simple but easily customizable; upload quote author and source in separate fields, customize the order or filter out certain quotes.
Want to make your sidebar more aesthetically pleasing? Black Studio will add a Visual Editor that allows the user to insert rich text and media objects in your sidebars. Developers can switch back and forth between Visual and Text mode but those who don’t code aren’t limited by their lack of HTML knowledge.
Black Studio is supported by multisite, available in 20+ languages, and comes equipped with the full featured TinyMCE Visual Editor that is typically used for WordPress pages and posts.
Gutenberg and the Future of Widgets
Phase Two of the Gutenberg project, which kicked off in October 2018, will focus on widgets, navigation, and customization. In phase two, widgets and blocks will begin to merge. For more information on the progress of Gutenberg Phase Two, check out our six-month feature update.
These are only a few of the many useful widgets out there. What are your favorite widgets for dressing up your sidebar? Tell us in the comments!