Updated October 2020
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, but it will add extra functionality to your website that WordPress does not do out of the box.
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. Widgets are drag-and-drop content areas that can be added to a WordPress site. WordPress has quite a few default Widgets 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 or footer, though some themes will add these widget-ready areas to the header and allow you to embed them on pages or posts 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):
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.
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 sometimes known as WordPress 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 Yoast 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.
Advanced Custom Fields
The Advanced Custom Fields plugin allows you to very easily add and edit custom fields on the back end of your website, as well as customize your admin edit screen. It can greatly simplify how you manage your website.
These fields can be added to posts, products, users, taxonomy terms, media comments, and even to your custom options. You can then display them anywhere, this plugin is incredibly powerful, and developer friendly!
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.
If you are running a blog, a news site, a recipe site, or an eCommerce site, having a good filtering system for your posts is absolutely essential! The more content you have, the harder it can become for your site users to navigate and find the content they’re looking for. FacetWP simplifies all of that.
The FacetWP filters are fast, work with most themes, and can be completely customized, both functionally (especially when combined with the ACF plugin) and from a design perspective.
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.
If you are not backing up your WordPress website before making any major changes, or doing any updates to your plugins, code language, or core WordPress files, you are setting yourself up for a nightmare scenario. You update your site, and everything breaks, and you have no way back.
If your hosting company does not already offer backups as part of your hosting service, then the UpDraftPlus Backup plugin is essential. It’s easy to use, intuitive, and allows you to quick backup your site, and revert to the backup if things go south.
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