Understanding WordPress Plugins and Widgets

The 17th in the series of…

20 Secret Blogging Tips in 20 Days

It’s so close, you could almost hold your breath to the end. Check out the bottom of this post to see the rest.

Not that kind of Plugin!Let’s start out by defining each, then showing you how to add either, and then I’ll share what I think may be the best for your site.

Ready?  Let’s go!

Yes, a Plugin is different from a Widget.

Let’s start with the PLUGIN

According to WordPress, “Plugins are tools to extend the functionality of WordPress.”  Well, that definition pretty much sucked.  Here’s my definition:

A WordPress Plugin is a small bit of code (program) that you can easily add to the existing WordPress code.

So a plugin is like a small program that you can tack on to the bigger program (wordpress).  I say easily add as in all it takes is an upload and a click to activate.  When you do, that code generally creates or makes something happen in your blog.  Often times that thing the Plugin does isn’t visible to the public.  My site runs a bunch of plugins.  Currently 30!  Often times I’m testing out new ones.  Most sites I build need 10 or so to get started.

My plugins on AreWeConnected

Of the 30 plugins I’m running right now, 19 do things you’ll never see.  Plugins like Akismet.  Of the 11 others, most create a widget.

Ok, so what is a WIDGET?

Forget trying to find a good definition.

Simply, a Widget is a box or container that can hold something.

Find your WidgetsThat box could be on your site’s Homepage, Header, Footer, Sidebar or within a post.  What goes in that box could be as simple as text, or as complex as a script.  You’ll find your Widgets in your Dashboard > Appearance > Widgets

Once there, you’ll see all the available boxes (widgets) on the left.  These either came from WordPress, your theme, or thePlugins you’ve added.

On the right is the areas of your theme that you can drag and drop the available widget into.  Different themes have different areas.  It’s advanced stuff but a developer can add new areas if desired to an existing theme.

Available Widgets

Simple as pie!

Let’s get fancy.

The textbox widgetThere’s this one widget called “text”.  It’s going to be your new best friend (as far as widgets go).  Drag that little guy into any area and you can put most anything you want in it.

Have a Facebook Page and want to have a Like Box on the sidebar?  If you have the code from Facebook…

Creating a Facbook Like Box

Have a video from YouTube you want to put on your site?  Grab the embed code (make sure to get the right size) and do the same thing with a text box.  You’ll find the embed code under the video in YouTube  > Share > Embed

Video Embed Code

You can also use a Text Box for exactly that… Text.

CSS for my phone number on the sidebarBONUS:  You can put in simple text and let your theme’s css style it for you or if you are really spiffy you can style it right there with a little inline css.  That’s the css I put in a sidebar text box that makes my phone number BIG and RED.

Ok so what PLUGINS do I need?

Ahhhh, finally we get to the meat of the post!  Took us long enough eh?

First of all, you can find some wonderful plugins in the WordPress Plugin Directory.  The good news is that everything in the depository is free (how cool is that?).  The bad news is that some of these plugins are out of date, don’t work with your theme, don’t work with the current version of WordPress, or are generally crap.  That said, most of them are great.  There’s a review system and even a support system (somewhat) in the directory.  Don’t get too excited though.  Remember that you paid ZILCH for the plugin here which means the developer also made NADA for his hard work.  Which is why sometimes a plugin developer builds one and then abandons it.  You get what you pay for – right?

There’s also people out there building “premium” plugins.  These are plugins that you pay for.  Why pay for them?  Chances are they do more, do better, or have real support behind them.  I use several paid plugins on the sites I build.  I also use quality free ones from the directory.

So what do you need?  Well that depends on your site, it’s focus and the theme you plan on using.  I’ll give you a short list of what I would start with.

You can see by the number of downloads these are pretty popular.  These are all free from the depository and should work well with most any site.  Some of them require a little more technical knowledge to set up and some are downright simple.

As for the Premium Plugins, depending on your needs, I can recommend Gravity Forms, Backup Buddy, and if you need a CDN, Amazon’s CloudFront to get you started.  Some of the free plugins I mentioned above also have a more robust paid version with additional features (like WPTouch).

So now you know the diference between a Plugin and a Widget and what they do – right?  Go dress up your blog but remember there’s a reason we all left MySpace.  (sometimes less is more)

Ready for a killer wordpress website?  Click HERE.  Read the rest of the series…

Mike Mueller Mike Mueller
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It's June 1st. and it's a time when things typically slow down. Schools are getting out, family vacations, Bar-b-ques, road trips. It's also a time when website owners (bloggers) slow down too. I know the feeling. You want to write a blog post but other things just keep getting in the way.

Mike Mueller

Mike Mueller

A former professional hand model, Mike now builds Custom WordPress Blogs that rock!

He's an avid hockey fan, rides a mountain bike, a few motorcycles (a really fast one and a really slow one), he loves strong beer and good red wine.
Mike Mueller

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