There’s a lot of discussion among bloggers, especially those newer to the craft, about which plug-ins or widgets should be featured on a blog. Everyone, of course, has his or her own opinions about what functions are necessary.
Before we get too far into this discussion, let me unpack it a bit. Plug-ins enable certain functions (internal and external) on self-hosted blogs. Widgets are tools for adding content to the header, sidebar and/or footer of any blog.
I feature my tools, including plug-ins, in my toolbox. The items included in my toolbox are the result of years of trail-and-error on this site.
The worst widget decision I ever made was adding my streaming Twitter feed to my sidebar. The feed “throttled” and crashed my site, sending me into a complete panic. Worse, I’d been using it for months before the crash, so I had no way of knowing what I had done to cause my blog to go down until my host company identified it.
You too will determine what add-ons best suit your blog’s purpose and your readers’ needs. However, now that you’ve created a free WordPress site and are ready to start blogging, I have some recommendations to get you started.
4 widgets every blog needs:
A search box is a simple way to allow readers to find specific content on your site. The widget makes this function easy to install. It seriously takes seconds.
Categories are another way to help readers find things on your site. To create categories, think of the types of content you plan for your blog and look for themes. These themes then become your category list and function as your site’s table of contents. A good rule of thumb is to have five to 12 categories. I would say the fewer and more focused, the better.
The categories on this site actually are in pages. I write about a variety of communications-related topics including writing, online journalism, blogging, jobs, and leadership. You can see the category pages across the top of this site.
3. Email subscriptions
Email subscriptions allow your readers to get all of your updates delivered to their inboxes so they don’t miss anything. Your loyal readers will subscribe via email and you will begin building the all-important subscriber list. This list will be one of your greatest assets as you become a more experienced blogger because it gives you a way to connect directly with your loyal readers.
4. Social sharing
You hope your readers not only subscribe to your blog and read it each time you update, but that they also love the content enough to share it with their social networks. The best way to encourage this is to either add social sharing and engagement widgets to your site or make certain the social sharing option is clicked at the bottom of each post. Perhaps both are in order if your blog theme allows.
Bonus: Author bio
I love to have an idea of who is behind a blog without going to the “About” page. The author bio allows this by having a small box that shows a photo and gives a brief introduction to the blog’s author. I have one at the top of my sidebar. While an author bio widget isn’t an absolute, it helps readers identify with you and your site’s content. I highly recommend it.
Taking those initial steps into blogging can be pretty overwhelming. The sheer number of widgets options makes some bloggers want to use them all and others to shy away completely. I hope this post helps you think about the widgets necessary to make your site simple, clean and functional for your readers.