October 22, 2014

Understanding WordPress Structure: Plugins and Widgets

One of the most difficult concepts of WordPress to understand is the difference between plugins and widgets.  Once you understand, you will smack yourself on the head and say, “that is so easy, why didn’t I get that?”  But don’t feel bad, because I didn’t understand it either, and I don’t usually think of myself as a dumb person.

First of all, definitions:

Plugins:

WordPress plugins are addition code that you add to your WordPress site that give your site added functionality.  They allow you to do more than the WordPress shell does.

Widgets:

WordPress widgets are moveable blocks that you can place in specified places on your WordPress theme that function in different ways.  These include text, RSS feeds, links, and more.

Adding Plugins

To add plugins, go to your plugin page inside the back end of your WordPress blog.  It looks like this:

To add a plugin, you need to click on the Add Plugin button at the top left of the page.  It will take you to a search field to find the plugin that you would like to add.  Once you select a plugin, then click on the Install link to install the plugin.  Plugins are not activated immediately.  You can activate them one at a time, then work with them to see how they function.  This is a good idea if you have never worked with the plugin before.   Each plugin you add will add a function to your blog, but it is possible that some plugins do not work well together.  For the best efficiency, it makes sense to use the least amount of plugins possible to get the effect that you want on your WordPress site.

Here are some free plugins that I use routinely that work well together:

Akismet

All in One Favicon

Anti Feed Scraper Message

Google Analyticator

Quick Cache

SEO Friendly Images

SEO Search Terms Tagging 2

WP-DB Manager

XML Sitemaps

Yet Another Related Post Plugin

There are many free plugins that you can use to add to your WordPress blog, and there are some paid plugins.  However, I do not recommend using paid plugins at first, until you understand how WordPress works.  One paid plugin that I have started using is phpBay and phpZon.  These allow you to create modules like on Squidoo, Hubpages, or Wizzley for Ebay and Amazon to sell products. You can buy one or the other or both.

One you activate a plugin, the plugin will show up on the left side of your dashboard as a back end page.  Usually they are in the settings section, but not always.  You may need to configure the plugin to get it started.

Adding and Using Widgets

Adding and using widgets is a whole different ballgame.  Your WordPress site comes with some default widgets.  Others are added when you install plugins.  To work with your widgets, you need to go to the Widget page in the back end of your site.  It looks like this:

Adding WordPress Widgets

All of the widgets that are available for use are in the large center box that says “Available Widgets.”  To add them, you just click on an available widget and drag it over to the appropriate section on your right sidebar.  Each theme will have different useable widget areas.  This particular one has a space for a widget on the header, which you can see has a text widget placed there.  Once you place your widget, just open it up by clicking on it and set the settings.  Most themes will at the least have space for widgets in the sidebar, and you can place any widgets you like there, rearrange them, or take them back out until you are happy with the arrangement.

The theme I am using on this example is a Genesis theme by StudioPress, which is a paid for theme.  It has more functionality than most free themes.

Widgets are used for inserting ads, feeds, links, and page and category lists in most blogs.  You can also feature pages and posts in many themes, or an author on your site.

To help get the difference between plugins and widgets straight, you can remember that plugins add the function, and widgets are one way to add building blocks to your theme.

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StudioPress Premium WordPress Themes Writing Online runs on the Genesis Framework
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Profile photo of Paula Atwell About Paula Atwell

Paula Atwell (aka lakeerieartists), the owner of a small local gallery, Lake Erie Artists Gallery, in Cleveland, Ohio, is an artist, author, and can be found on Squidoo, Wizzley, and Zujava. You can follow Paula on Twitter.

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