When WordPress was created, it was used primarily as a blogging platform. However, progress has been made in leaps and bounds to improve and increase the functionality of WordPress from blogging platform to a full-blown CMS capable of handling complicated web builds, including eCommerce solutions.
Plugins and widgets play a large part in the flexibility of WordPress, created by a large community intent on helping others customize their website and add necessary functions.
So what’s the difference between a plugin and a widget?
PlugIns are extensions that must be installed on the server and activated in order to be used on the website. The purpose of plugins varies greatly depending on what it is for.
Some will work in the background, with no need for additional options or settings, while others will add a new menu to the WordPress dashboard to allow you the flexibility of customizing the plugin settings to suit your needs. And still others will add widget functionality to the site, which leads us to…
Widgets are drag-and-drop content areas that can be added to a WordPress site when its plugin is installed and activated. WordPress has quite a few defaults that come with the initial installation, but for added functionality, plugins can be installed to add more widgets to the dashboard. Depending on the theme you are using, you can use widgets in specific widget-ready areas of your site, typically in the sidebar, though some themes will add these widget-ready areas to the header and footer as well.
So now that we’ve established the difference between plugins and widgets, here is a list of our favorite and most commonly used plugins (and why):
By far, this is our favorite plugin. The options available to customize every page and post on your website are endless. This may be the only plugin you need to design and configure the content on your entire site.
Based on the responsive Bootstrap layout, every shortcode available will respondo beautifully on all devices and screen sizes. And with options such as columns, buttons, box content, menus, tabs, dividers, slideshows, alerts, icons, testimonials, and entire page layouts, you have everything you need to design a beautiful responsive website.
By far, the best plugin available to handle all forms on your website. You can customize the form fields, the notifications, as well as creating conditional logic within the forms. You also have the capability to schedule forms so they are only visible for certain periods of time.
Gravity Forms offers integration with many third parties, including MailChimp, Authorize.net, and PayPal, to name a few. Want to see what the form submission rate is? Gravity Forms has you covered with conversion rates for each form.
This plugin created by Yoast (also known as Yoast SEO) is the best SEO plugin out there. You can customize the SEO Title and Meta Description on page and post, as well as setting more advanced options like Robots Index/Follow and Sitemap settings.
Have the WordPress SEO plugin do all the leg work and create your sitemap for you. You can even get page analysis, as well as setting the snippet for Facebook and Google+ when the post or page is shared. SEO has never been so easy.
In all our years developing WordPress sites, we have worked with nearly every WordPress eCommerce solution out there, and none compare to the ease and versatility of WooCommerce. Best part? This plugin has it’s own plugins for even more functionality!
Use the Cart widget to add at-a-glance ease for your customers to quickly checkout. Easily setup subscriptions and recurring payments with one of the many WooCommerce add-ons. And with a large community of users, support is just a click away.
Until recently, we had been using MailChimp for all of our newsletter needs, but no more. The MyMail Newsletter plugin is self-contained within your WordPress dashboard, easily linking your pages and using your Media Library to create beautiful templates. You also get in depth reports on your subscribers and open/click data.
If you already have a large database of subscribers, MyMail can easily import your CSV list, or you can manually enter new subscribers at will.
Fonts are an extremely important aspect of beautiful web design. While this plugin is more for aesthetics and less about functionality, if you’ve ever tried to install custom fonts on your website, you’ll appreciate how simple this is to use. You can upload your own webfont kit, utilize Cufon fonts, or (my personal favorite) access the huge Google and Adobe font libraries.
If you’re handy at CSS, you can add your own customizations to the fonts you use in this plugin. If not, there are preset styles to apply the new fonts to only headers, or the entire website. You can also change font color, size, and weight right in the options.
If you need an event calendar on your website, this is the plugin for you. The beautiful interface requires very little customization (though there are options for that), and of all the event plugins we’ve worked with, this is the easiest to use and the most pleasing to view for the end-user.
Organize your events based on color and category, making them easy to find for all users. Easily add an event calendar to your sidebar with the included widget.
The Akismet plugin is a default that comes standard when you install WordPress, but it shouldn’t be overlooked just because of that. Make sure you activate the plugin and get your Akismet Key to keep spam comments out of your life.
Akismet is the most intelligent spam comment filtering system around. It’s like your own personal secretary filtering out the junk and only giving you the gold. Don’t waste your time dealing with robots, only interact with your real site visitors.
The standard WordPress commenting platform is fine, but Disqus is better. Create a blacklist of words to filter out of comments (helpful for keeping your site safe for everyone to view), and increase interaction with the Disqus community. Already have comments on your WordPress site? Easily import them into the Disqus system with one click!
Even though Disqus is a third party account, you can easily manage all comments and settings right within the WordPress dashboard. Seamless integration makes everyone happy.
While ads are typically used to monetize a website, this plugin can handle more than just ads. Rotate any image, text, or HTML in groups on your site, view detailed reports of ad clicks, set expiration dates for ads, enable click-tracking, and so much more. Plus, you can add the widget from this plugin to any sidebar, making including ads so much easier.
If you’d like to give your advertisers access to their reports or manage their own ads, you can easily create an account for them where that’s all they can access. That’s called working smarter, not harder.
In addition to the Respondo Shortcode Pro plugin, this is our next favorite content plugin. You’ve never seen a slider as beautiful and unique as one created with the LayerSlider plugin. Just as the name suggests, you can add multiple layers to your slider, all with different transition effects, styling, and timing, giving your slider depth and interest.
While this plugin definitely has a learning curve, there are sample sliders that come with it, allowing you to see just how a beautiful slider can be created, and then create one for yourself.