WordPress Plug-ins and Widgets

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WordPress Plug-ins and Widgets

WordPress is the most widely-used content management system (CMS) available powering millions of websites around the world. From ecommerce to informational to even the government websites, WordPress has extensive capabilities and unique functionality. To achieve this type of differentiation, WordPress utilizes plug-ins and widgets. The days of extensive coding to achieve a desired effect are long gone. Now, the process is as simple as downloading and installing the plug-in and widget to your website database.

Plug-ins

Plug-ins are small fragments of software that can be installed onto a WordPress-powered website that extends the sites functionality. There are an endless number of plug-ins available in free and premium versions that can be downloaded from WordPress.org Plug-in Directory. The difference between purchasing a plug-in and simply downloading one for free is available support. Paid plug-ins usually offer an around-the-clock team of support specialists and developers who maintain security and fix compatibility issues with the most recent version of WordPress and other themes or plug-ins. Usually these bits of software play nice with other types of software but occasionally the coding will conflict resulting in compatibility problems. With a paid version, it is nice to know that support is available.

Widgets

Widgets are standalone blocks of code that perform a specific function on your website. For example, a widget may update news as it is available or provide weather information. Widgets can be added to sidebars and other widget-ready sections of your web page which include headers, footers, below content and the sidebar. Widgets were developed to deliver an easy method of providing structure and design control to the developer. The majority of WordPress themes are widget ready and boast multiple areas of placement.

There are a variety of widget types that can be downloaded and installed. WordPress is packaged with several types such as calendar, categories, navigation menu, recent posts, search and tag cloud. Simply dragging the recent posts default widget into the area, the website will contain a list of the most recent posts. In many instances, plug-ins add their own widgets to provide more control to the user over the display of that plug-in.

When to Use Plug-ins and Widgets

Plug-ins and widgets are most effectively deployed when downloaded from solid sources and only when necessary. They should always be used to solve a specific problem or deliver a critical function to the operation of the website. Most of the themes installed onto your website already have built-in compatible plug-ins and widgets which extend functionality and deliver information. When considering whether a plug-in or widget is absolutely necessary to use, ask the following three questions first:

1) Is the functionality I am attempting to provide or the issue I am trying to solve absolutely necessary?

2) Can the solution be found without using a plug-in or widget?

3) Does my theme already provide this functionality?

If you answer “Yes” to the first two questions and “No” to the last question then you should utilize a plug-in or widget. The next step is to conduct your research, select the best plug-in and widget available and deploy it onto your WordPress website.

How to Use Plug-ins and Widgets

Plug-ins

If you have determined that using a plug-in is absolutely necessary to the functionality of your website then it is time to install the software. WordPress plug-ins area available in two styles: drop-in and editable. Drop-in WordPress plug-ins are simply uploaded to your website’s database, activated and can be managed through the Administration Panel. Editable plug-ins are those that are installed and edited using the WordPress Theme template files. The advantage of editing a plug-in is it gives you more control on the functionality. WordPress plug-in authors are becoming more sophisticated with regards to how they develop the software so less editing is done. However, some of the best plug-ins involve editing certain aspects to achieve the purpose you require.

WordPress plug-ins can be installed using one of two methods: automatic or manual. To automatically install a WordPress plug-in you must have the server hostname, FTP username and password and connection type available. Navigate to Plug-ins, Add New and enter the search term of the plug-in you wish to add. Click Details for a more comprehensive description of the plug-in. If you like this software, click Install direct under the name. WordPress will then request that you enter the above information. Once installed, a screen will pop up allowing you to click Activate to make the software live.

Although there is no major benefit to installing the plug-in manually, if you were so inclined simply download the latest version to your computer, access your site’s server via FTP program, copy the plug-in folder to /wp-content/plugging and then click Plug-ins on the WordPress Administration Panel. This will display the new plug-in allowing you to click Activate on the right side of the list.

Widgets

Similarly, once you have determined whether a widget is necessary to provide additional information or navigation options to your website, you must find one and install it. Simply navigate to Plug-ins section and click Add New. Then, conduct a search for specific widgets using targeted keywords. Prior to actually adding the widget, go to the Appearance menu and look for a sub-menu titled “Widgets.” This will inform you if widgets can be used with the selected theme. If so, click on the Widgets menu and drag the newly downloaded widget to a header, footer, sidebar or any other available location and click the Add Widget button. Finally, preview the site to ensure the widget has been installed. Like plug-ins, widgets are editable to give you more control over the functionality, appearance or information that is displayed.

Best Plug-ins and Widgets

Plug-ins

All WordPress developers have a toolkit full of plug-ins that are absolutely necessary to fulfill the requirements of the website in which they are managing. The plug-ins can be for security, caching or any other type of improvement that adds to the foundation of WordPress. The best plug-ins include:

Akismet

Akismet is the best auto-spam plug-in available for WordPress. The program automatically checks your website’s comments to the Akismet online service to determine if it appears to be spam and lets you review it prior to deletion. There is an auto-delete feature so you never have to be involved in the approval or denial process.

Google Analytics +

With the ability to track, view and analyze Google Analytics statistics from a single domain or multiple sites, Google Analytics + provides the most important information you need in well-crafted charts and graphs. These pictorials are available immediately in your WordPress dashboard for easy access.

Jetpack

Featuring a bundle of powerful features that helps to supercharge your WordPress site, Jetpack supports multiple sites and provides statistics, forms, social networking and email subscriptions. Also, the software gives you the ability to administer connections to employees in your company.

W3 Total Cache

As one of the most popular and powerful caching plug-ins available, W3 Total Cache is the best option for improving the user experience without changing the content. By caching specific information, pages will load faster thus improving user satisfaction.

Widgets

Widgets are critical tools for the successful differentiation and operation of WordPress sites. The most successful websites have some type of widget to help improve the developer and user experience. The best WordPress widgets include:

Ad Squares

Ad Squares is a helpful program that allows you to display 125×125 ads on the page. The widget supports the most popular coding and monetization options. To use, simply paste in the code for all ad blocks that are displayed. You can have a maximum of eight squares appearing on your site at once. Random shuffling of advertisements is a helpful option to keep the content fresh.

Floating Social Media

The Floating Social Media icon is an excellent widget for displaying links directly to specified social media profiles. This allows your visitors to connect with you or other website managers directly. The software boasts 24 different themes and has the unique floating feature which supports Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Pinterest, RSS, Twitter and YouTube.

WP MashSocial

A list of the best widgets is not completed without WP MashSocial. This is the best widget available for connecting with visitors to your site. The software combines all the best aspects of social media into one easy-to-use widget. For instance, there is a Google+ recommend button for business pages, a Facebook “like” button for fan pages and an email subscription option integrated into the software.

Image Widget

The Image Widget utilizes the WordPress media manager to include image widgets on the site. The software is extremely versatile with all optional fields, it offers the ability to link to external images, upload or select from your media collection. The most commonly-used languages are supported and it manages image alignment and resizing.

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