An Encyclopedia of Essential Widgets for WordPress
While many WordPress developers rely on the convenient and customizable functionality of widgets, they are often a second thought to plugins.
In fact, some beginners probably couldn’t even tell you the difference between the two! To give a brief primer, some widgets come standard with a WordPress install, many are included through the use of specific plugins, and plugins can exist entirely as a widget, or add functionality that includes a widget. To further clarify, a widget, in and of itself, is not a type of plugin or extension for WordPress.
Without widgets, footers, sidebars, and other page templates (like blog archives and category pages) just wouldn’t be the same.
So let’s give widgets the attention they deserve.
Here are the 32 best WordPress widgets you should be using in your web development projects. The widgets below are separated into categories based on their use, including widgets that come standard with WordPress installs, basic upgrades to improve website functionality, custom code widgets, and social media/Google product integrations.
WordPress Widgets: The Standard Set
First, let’s take a look at the default widgets that come with WordPress.
The Archives Widget allows you to share clickable links to blog posts, categorized by month and year. It can provide an alternative method for organizing content, but can come across as an eyesore more than anything else.
Think about it this way: the path Archives > May 2016 doesn’t actually tell the visitor what the content is about.
The Compact Archives Widget can help condense months and years of content into a more visually appealing format.
The Calendar Widget is another tool for organizing links to blog posts. Like with the Archives Widget, months and dates on their own don’t tend to be a good driver of traffic to blog posts. It’s much more effective to add some context in the form of a category, tag, or title.
Many blogs/websites organize content by category so that visitors can narrow down what they want to read by what’s most relevant to them. Categories can be displayed in a widget area, or as part of a menu.
The Custom Taxonomies Widget makes it possible to further drill down categories with custom taxonomies.
Custom Menu Widget
The Custom Menu Widget makes it possible to dynamically display a specific menu in a widget area. Menus can be edited from Appearance > Menus on the WordPress dashboard, and changes will be automatically reflected on an active Custom Menu Widget. From a client perspective, this makes it slightly easier to change specific items on a website, without messing up widget area design.
It’s hard to think of a situation where the Meta Widget would be appropriate for a client-facing website. Although it was likely designed with noble intentions for early versions of WordPress, seeing it on a website now looks a bit tacky. Essentially, this widget includes login and other admin links.
But thanks to the WP Admin page, and the backend dashboard, why would someone need to use this widget in the website’s design?
The Pages Widget allows you to display titles and links to pages by title, order, or ID. In a way, it’s like a custom menu that aggregates all pages. It’s important to note that you can exclude pages from this menu by page ID.
Recent Comments Widget
The Recent Comments Widget allows you to display the most recent comments on your blog posts. This widget should probably only be used if you’re getting a consistent volume of comments, in order to encourage new visitors to check out blog posts, and leave comments of their own.
The RSS Widget makes it possible to display the contents of another RSS feed. You can give the widget a title, designate how many RSS items to display, and whether to display content, author data, or date information.
If your website has a blog, it’s probably not a good idea to direct traffic elsewhere. But the RSS Widget might be a good fit for a website that doesn’t have a blog, and wants to align themselves with another industry news source.
If your website has a lot of content, the Search Widget can make it easier for visitors to find specific things they’re looking for. Its functionality is fairly basic and a nice start with for a simple website.
Tag Cloud Widget
The Tag Cloud Widget allows you to display a cloud of tags or categories. Like the Categories Widget, it helps visitors navigate through and discover content. Though many WordPress websites have made use of this widget in the past, a more modern approach to content discovery/navigation is by using the Categories Widget or other related widgets on this list.
The Text Widget is the most versatile of all WordPress Widgets. It allows you to add arbitrary HTML or CSS to any widget area – a developer can customize it however they want to suit the overall WordPress theme.
WordPress comes equipped with a basic Recent Posts widget that can be upgraded with the Recent Posts Widget Extended. The basic functionality allows you to designate a title for the section, designate how many posts to show (ultimately depending on the space available), and whether or not to display the post date. It is most commonly found on sidebars or the footer section.
Recent Posts Widget Extended is a developer’s dream, allowing custom CSS, a read more link option, better image cropping, and more.
WordPress Widgets: Basic Upgrades
The default plugins provide a good start when you’re building a site, but these upgrades add that little bit of extra oomph you need to make your website great.
An experienced WordPress developer has no issue adding images to a WordPress website, which is why this widget’s intended audience is the end user – your client. This widget makes it possible to add images (logo, ad banner, photograph, etc.) to various widget areas without having to dig into the code.
It’s ideal for someone who needs to make frequent changes to items affected by widget areas, and makes it so you don’t need to be called in for every little change in this regard.
The Image Widget integrates with the WordPress media manager and features include:
- Responsiveness, with image resize
- Add image links, titles, and descriptions
- All fields optional, customizable look and feel
The Featured Page Widget has some relation to the Recent Posts Widget. It allows you to add a page to a widget area, drawing in the post excerpt and featured image (as a thumbnail). This widget is best configured for a non-techy client who wants to feature specific pages on a rotating basis.
Many premium themes include widgets that make it easy to dynamically display popular blog content/related posts, so that visitors constantly have something new to look at. By incorporating the functionality of this widget, you’re helping to reduce the bounce rate on a website, while simultaneously increasing time on site (assuming your content is relevant and engaging!).
The Popular Posts Bar Widget is a paid solution available to download from CodeCanyon. It’s the ideal solution if your theme doesn’t have this functionality built-in. This widget displays the most commented posts within a defined number of days, and will set you back $10 per license.
The Authors Widget provides a number of list styles for displaying blog authors on multi-author blog sites. Besides names, it allows for display of a related avatar and a link to an author-specific RSS feed.
The Tabbed Login Widget makes it possible to add a login form for logging in, registration and password recovery forms. Though WordPress developers and website admins know how to get into the back end through the WP Login area, this can be an ideal solution for a WordPress membership site.
The Contact Info Widget is a simple and visually-pleasing way to display contact information, social links/icons, and other relevant business information. This widget is ideal to set up for a client whose contact information frequently changes.
The Testimonials Widget makes it easy to display testimonials from satisfied clients in widget areas. This WordPress widget is ideal for service-oriented businesses that want to display testimonials as they happen. Features include:
- Animated transitions between testimonials
- Ability to filter testimonial content by several factors
- Responsiveness; various media formats supported
There are a number of contact form plugins on the market, but not many have a dedicated widget that can easily add a contact form to a sidebar or footer. Ninja Forms offers a contact form widget with a number of customization options to help increase customer contact and conversions.
The Opening Hours Widget makes it possible to define daily hours of operation, specify days that your business will be closed, and easily change time/date formats. This WordPress widget makes it easy to show customers when you’re open (or not).
WordPress Widgets: Social Media
Make adding social media functionality to your website a walk in the park with these plugins.
The Instagram Feed Widget allows you to easily incorporate the media you’ve created for Instagram on your WordPress website. Customization options include image size (thumbnail, medium, or full-size).
Easily add a custom set of clickable social icons to widget areas with the Simple Social Icons Widget. Modify your chosen icons without the need for a graphic editing program thanks to background and icon font color options. If you’d prefer to share a standard set of icons with follower counts, opt instead for the Social Count Plus Widget.
Elegant Themes describes the WP Twitter Feeds Widget as the best of the available Twitter widget plugins for WordPress. It’s a simple but customizable solution for adding a Twitter feed to a widget area.
WordPress Widgets: Coding
Don’t re-invent the wheel – use one of these plugins to help with your development.
Do you ever wish you could copy one WordPress setup to a new install? Though WordPress hasn’t yet presented a bulletproof solution for doing this, it’s possible to do in pieces.
For widgets specifically, you can use the Widget Importer and Exporter. It allows you to migrate widgets from one WordPress website to another, and backs up widgets/content in the process.
By default, the WordPress text widget only supports basic HTML formatting. If you try to include a shortcode, it breaks. Widget Content Blocks unlocks functionality from any plugin to be used in the widget area — even those without a dedicated widget.
The plugin enables shortcodes in widget areas. This allows you to add design elements from all non-widget plugins. You can format your widgets like any other post/page, with the ability to add media, links, or HTML formatting.
The PHP Code Widget is like the aforementioned Widget Content Blocks shortcode widget, but allows you to insert PHP code, making it especially useful for WordPress developers.
WooSidebars uses conditional logic for widget areas, which means that you can configure a custom widget area for individual pages. Widget Options is another solution for displaying/hiding widgets on individual pages.
Custom Sidebars is WPMU DEV’s own solution for implementing a dynamic widget area manager. There’s both a free and pro version for replacing sidebars on your website with more flexible, custom sidebars. Features include:
- Unlimited custom widgets
- Custom widget functionality for individual pages, posts, categories, post types, and archives
- Clone, import, and export custom sidebars
The free version of Custom Sidebars is supported by ads. Unlock ads-free functionality by upgrading to Custom Sidebars Pro.
WordPress Widgets: Google Integrations
Integrate your site with Google and add some handy calendar, maps and video functionality with these simple plugins.
The Youtube Channel Gallery Widget allows you to display Youtube videos, with thumbnails of other videos underneath. Various playback options include automatic playback, ability to change volume, speed, and video quality.
The Google Calendar Events Widget allows you to display events from any public Google Calendar. There’s no need to create events in WordPress – you can keep managing events in Google Calendar (and combine multiple calendars into single displays).
Out-of-the-box designs match your theme’s look and feel, with fully responsive and mobile-friendly monthly grid and list views. You can customize event content display using simple tags – no coding required.
The Google Maps widget allows you to display Google Maps data in your widget areas, including:
- Your location
- Satellite and map view
- Customizable size and zoom
- Custom pins
If you were to actually install these 32 WordPress widgets, there would be a lot to dig through in your widgets area. Perhaps this is why WordPress has a designated area for inactive widgets.
You can drag the widgets you’re not using to remove them from your active widgets area, but save their settings. If you don’t need the widgets anymore, you can also clear them out, which removes any customization data.
With your new – or renewed – knowledge of WordPress widgets, it might be time now to update your WordPress website, or a client project? Though we’ve covered a number of options here, it’s not a 100% complete list.