The latest version of WordPress (5.3) has already been downloaded over 49 million times, and that number is growing every day. WordPress even has a webpage dedicated to showing off how awesome they are…aka WordPress displays a real-time count of downloads.
WordPress is also available in over 100 languages and owners publish content in over 120 languages. WordPress works tirelessly around the clock to share over 20 billion pages to over 409 million people every month.
This is all just to say that WordPress is the most popular CMS platform and it’s extremely user-friendly. WordPress is built in a way that both Fortune 500 companies and your 70-year old grandpa can build the perfect website. Seriously, grandpa can build a WordPress website all on his own.
While WordPress is popular and intuitive, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t a slight learning curve. In fact, right after you download WordPress and login to your account, you’ll be met with features you may have never heard about, including widgets and plugins.
Don’t worry and abandon hope! This guide will cover exactly what widgets and plugins are, how you can use them to build a sweet website, and what the differences between the two are.
What are WordPress widgets?
Widgets are part of the WordPress platform that helps you add, rearrange, and remove content to or from the sidebars and footer of your WordPress website. Widgets make it possible to customize the look and feel of your website without having to do any hard coding work.
Widgets primarily deal with the way your website looks and certain features you choose to include on your website. For example, you can include social share buttons, blog post archives, an audio player, a calendar, an image gallery, a navigation menu, and more.
When you first sign up for your hosting account and install your WordPress website, you have the option of choosing a WordPress theme. Popular themes will come with a set of pre-installed and common widgets that are ready to use. In other words, your website theme will already have a specific design, layout, features, and functionality on your sidebars and footers. Widgets are just one element that makes each WordPress template look slightly unique.
WordPress offers the following basic example of what widgets look like. If you look at the image below, you’ll see a basic navigation bar, and a sidebar with “my posts.” The navigation bar and “my posts” are both widgets that you can customize. You could choose to eliminate or reorganize the location of these website elements.
There are two ways you can view and edit your widgets.
1. Sidebar “Appearance” and “Widget” navigation
The first way you can see your widgets is by clicking on “Appearance” on your left sidebar and selecting “Widgets.”
You’ll notice there are various “Available Widgets” on the left side of the screen. If you turn your attention to the right side of the page, you’ll see different pages that are included in your individual template. Keep in mind the areas on your website will vary depending on the template you selected.
To add a widget to your page, you can click on the widget and select where you want to place it, and then click “Add Widget.” As soon as you save your changes, WordPress works its magic and will place your widget where you directed it to place it.
You can also click on the widget and drag it from the left side of the screen to the right side of the page. In the example below, I clicked on the “Calendar” widget and placed it under the “Header Right” section of my website.
This is how you can customize the look, feel, and functionality of your website without knowing how to write code.
2. Click on “Customize” on the top navigation bar
The second way you can customize your widgets is by clicking “Customize” on the top navigation bar.
Once you click customize, WordPress will redirect you to a clean navigation bar on the right. You can click “Widgets” and WordPress will list every place on your template where you can add a feature.
If I want to customize my right header, I can click on “Header Right,” and click “Add Widget.” Once I am here, I can select any of the widgets I have previously installed and then add the widget to my website in the respective location.
WordPress makes it easy to add widgets (customize the look, feel, and functionality) of your website, by providing these three different ways to do it.
What is a WordPress plugin?
Now that you know what a WordPress widget is, it’s time to learn about plugins. Plugins are a piece of software that performs a specific function to help your website run more effectively or to help your website do what you want it to do.
Examples of popular WordPress plugins include:
- Social share buttons
- SEO optimization
- Website stats
- Spam protection
- Security scanning
- Contact forms
- Image galleries
- Email subscriptions
- And more!
There are thousands of WordPress plugins that help your website do what you want it to do without having to know how to code.
What is the difference between plugins and widgets?
Now, here is where people get WordPress plugins and widgets confused, so let me set the record straight. Widgets are always plugins. Kind of like how all apples are fruits. In other words, widgets have some sort of code that allows your website to perform a physical function that your website visitors will see when they visit your webpage.
However, not all plugins have widgets just like how not all fruits are apples. For example, to function properly, your website needs software that keeps things moving forward on the back-end as well as the front-end. Plugins are pre-coded software that works behind the scenes to keep your website moving forward or that provides you with information that only you need.
A good example of a plugin (fruit) that isn’t a widget (apple) is Yoast SEO. Yoast SEO is a back-end plugin that will allow you to add a relevant keyword, meta description, alt images, and more SEO elements to your blog posts.
Here is an example from the back-end of my website. This plugin (Yoast SEO) allows me to add a keyword and provides analysis of how my keyword will perform based on my blog post. As you can see, I have a lot of SEO work to do on this particular post.
Also, my audience won’t see this plugin or any information related to how I have optimized my post on the face of my website. This plugin exists on the backend of my WordPress website purely for the purpose of making sure Google can more easily find and index my post.
Other plugins that are not widgets include spam comment checkers like Akismet, Google Webmaster Tools, and Jetpack, to name a few.
How do you install a WordPress plugin?
The best part of WordPress is how easy it is to install a plugin. Your website can do amazing things (e.g., show your Instagram feed, track website visitors, display an event calendar, etc.) and all you have to do is search for a plugin and activate it. You can also search for a third-party plugin, download the .zip file, upload it in WordPress, and activate it. Here’s how.
1. Click on “Plugins” on the left navigation bar
The first step of adding a plugin is to click on “Plugins” on the navigation bar. Plugins appear right underneath the “Appearance” section of your blog.
Once you’re on the plugin page, you can either manage your WordPress plugins or add new plugins.
2. Click on “Add New” and search for plugin
Next, click on “Add New.”
WordPress will redirect you to a page where you can search for WordPress plugins.
3. Install and activate or upload your plugin
Once you have found the WordPress plugin you want to use, you can either press “Install Now,” or you can upload the plugin. Here is the difference.
“Install Now” is for plugins that are already in the WordPress library. All you have to do is find the plugin via search, click “Install Now,” click “Activate,” and then follow the directions. Once you do this, your new WordPress plugin will appear in your personal plugin library.
You can also download a plugin from a third-party website and download the .zip file. Then, press “Upload plugin” and choose the file, install it, and activate it.
You can follow this process for every plugin you want on your website.
Get Started with WordPress Widgets and Plugins
WordPress is one of the best website platforms on the market. Widgets and plugins make it possible for anyone to be able to design a website without knowing anything about programming.
Now that you know the difference between widgets and plugins, it’s time to get your website up and running. HostGator provides affordable hosting and a one-click WordPress installation. This means you can get your website up and running today!
Ashley R. Cummings is a professional freelance writer specializing in SaaS, tech, and advertising/marketing. In a previous life, she was a Russian teacher at Brigham Young University, a corporate trainer, and a grad student—all at the same time. When she’s not writing, you can find her traveling the world with her 2 kids and husband, reading poetry or taking a deep dive into the fabulous world of comedy. Connect with her on Twitter at @ashleyrcummings.