Which Widgets are Essential?

question marksBlogs are as different from each other as bloggers interests are, but widgets are commonly used to add content and features to sidebars and or footer areas on any blog. They can also provide navigation to content located deeper than the front page in any blog.

The placement of sidebars or footer areas for widgets varies from theme to theme. And, which widgets each blogger designates as essential will vary from blog to blog and from lay out to lay out. But first let’s establish what a widget is.

In computing, a web widget is a small application with limited functionality that can be installed and executed within a web page by an end user.

WordPress.com Widgets & Sidebars support documentation:

Widget is a fancy word for tools or content that you can add, arrange, and remove from the sidebar(s) [or footer areas] of your blog.

Prior to the mobile explosion, implementation of infinite scroll and introduction of responsive width themes I considered the Recent Posts Widget to be essential. Now I no longer use it as infinite scroll  has been implemented on this blog and because I’m using a responsive width theme.

Responsive width means the layout adapts depending on the size of the device being used to view your site. When responsive width themes are viewed on mobiles sidebars appear below the posts in order to provide as much space as possible for reading.

Text Widgets

I use a text widget with a welcome, brief blog description, links to my Translations and About pages, and a subscriptions link at the top of the sidebar.  I also use text widgets further down the sidebar to display (non-essential) social networking icons, a flag counter and my copyright notice.

The Text Widget allows you to add text or HTML to your sidebar. It’s the most popular widget because of its power and flexibility. You can use a text widget to display text, links, images, HTML, or a combination of these.

See here for Adding scroll bars to text widgets.
See here for Codes useful for text widgets for much more.

The RSS Links Widget  is an easy way to provide RSS feed links for readers to be updated when you publish posts or approve new comments.

I use Feedburner for email subscriptions but you can set up email subscriptions for followers of your WordPress.com blog by enabling the Follow Blog Widget so they can be updated when you publish your posts. If you would like a follow button to appear on the bottom right hand corner of your site for those who do not have WordPress.com accounts like mine does then you can enable the Follow Blog Button.

I consider the Recent Comments Widget to be essential for two reasons. Firstly, I value comments want to acknowledge the commenters who submitted them. Secondly, I want my other readers to know who commented and on which posts as that may encourage them to join the discussion.

The Categories Widget(s) and/or Tags Widget(s) may not be essential, but they do assist readers to locate and read specific posts by topic.  I use the Categories widget (dropdown menu option).

The Top Posts and Pages Widget isn’t essential, however, it’s a great way to showcase the most viewed and most liked posts and pages appearing in search engine results. Those posts and pages frequently have the highest number of comments and tend to continue to attract more comments.

Links displayed by the Pages Widget point to important pages on a blog like the About and Contact pages. Some readers search your About page to determine what to expect to find in the blog content before they even consider reading your posts. If you have a custom menu as I do, the Pages Widget may not be an essential.

A Links widget is optional. Blogroll or Links page? There are two approaches for displaying a list of sites your regularly visit and wish to recommend to your readers. I eliminated my Blogroll in 2009 as I prefer  to use a Links page.

Though we do have code restrictions on WordPress.com blogs (ie. no blogger posted JavaScript and no iframes), there are gigya shortcode workarounds for Flash and you will find them here: The gigya shortcode 3 – inserting Flash. Make sure you look around there because you may find quite a few surprises.

Widget test

When it comes to widgets less is more. My test for deciding whether or not to add a widget or any sidebar link to my blog is to answer these questions:

1. Will adding this widget or link to my sidebar enhance my visitor’s reading experience?
2.  Will adding this widget or link to my sidebar provide my visitor’s access to blog content that’s not found on the front page?
3. Will adding this widget or link to my sidebar provide my visitor’s access to additional related resources beyond my blog?

My rule of thumb is that if it does not accomplish the foregoing, then I do not add it.

Okay readers, now it’s your turn to tell me which widgets you consider to be essential on your blog.

54 thoughts on “Which Widgets are Essential?

  1. I really like the search bar on my blog and every other blog. I was inspired to clean up too and also to put the new onecoolsite button on my side bar even though I liked my own one. I wanted to have the same as others. :-)

  2. New WordPress.com user. Have been (and still am) using WordPress.org. Got into plugin/widget bloat because they all seemed so ‘cool’. WordPress.com is helping me to rationalise, I hope. Thanks for the advice TT.

  3. Pingback: 8 Hot WordPress.com Widget Tips | one cool site

  4. Widget minimalist here too … I only have one sidebar (on the right) … lemme see … email subscription, my book cover art, topics, (I don’t remember putting that there. Weird!) archives, and blogroll, (which I must update) and a Wikipedia thingy.

  5. I confess, I currently suffer from widget bloat. But it’s all carefully rationalized!

    I would drop the Recent Posts widget and just let my home page posts run to maybe 20 or so (there’s no infinite scroll on my theme), except that when you go to a single post you lose that. Hence Recent Posts and Top Posts are in the rightmost sidebar, which always appears with individual posts. I’d like to think that all my readers check the home page after reading the post they came for, but that seems not to be the case.

    Then I have the resulting layout problem. I don’t like that rightmost, outer sidebar to be longer than the inner one on the home page. So I’m constantly juggling widgets to make that happen.

    Currently I’ve got two text widgets in place that I think might be of interest to readers — the posts that have drawn the most discussion and those that have been the most popular of all time. These don’t change very often, but they “seemed like a good idea at the time.” The jury is still out on these.

    Sorry to rattle on. I’ll stop now.

        • Dear Pied,
          I’m sorry it took me so long to get back to you. Thank goodness we are blogging buddies and you understand my situation. Your sidebar looks great. I’m so impressed.

          I have no logical reason for my attachment to my flag counter and argue with myself over removing it from time to time. Maybe I muster what it takes to nuke it. We shall see.

  6. I have a hyperlocal blog. I recently added a weather blog — it gives the current conditions and links to a forecast. If readers come to blog knowing they’ll get a weather report too, so much the better.

    I also like a “Random Posts” widget. I’ve posted over 2,500 stories in 4 years.Readers can click on it, and a random post appears from the archives. I have no idea if anyone uses it, but I think it’s cool1

  7. I don’t have any social media widgets since I don’t have twitter nor Facebook subscriptions. Nor Flickr. Am happy to have some buttons per post for readers to share. I wish that we had the option not have Top pages. Just Top Posts in that widget.

    I’m not sure what to do about my swimming goldfish inside widget. I like it but doesn’t show on all browsers.

    • Hi Jean,
      You aren’t widget happy and I can see your gold fish. :) I hear you when it comes to that Top Posts and Pages widget. I’d like a way to exclude pages or posts not only in bulk like that, but also a way to exclude specific pages by URLs we specify.

  8. hi timethief,except the widgets you stated above,I have my community ,the author grid,to showcase,my other authors,and a couple of images!

    • I see them in your sidebar. I think it’s important to identify and showcase all authors on multi-author blogs and it’s good that you have done that. :)

  9. This is very timely for me, since I’ve spent the last few of days reviewing my blog & stripping out widgets. I think I had an infatuation with them at one time! However, it was clear to me that some of the widgets actually drove a lot of traffic either to other parts of my blog or to other sites, while some just sat there being distractions. So I’m trying to let go of irrational attachments to the individual widgets and just cut out the ones that aren’t serving some good purpose.

    Once I’ve whittled them down more, I’m going to see how I like the blog for a week or so as it is. I’ve been using the same theme for a while and am getting a bit tired of it (despite not being very active on it for several months), but I may like it better once I’ve gotten the surfeit of widgets under control.

    When I added the widgets, way back when, I wasn’t sure which ones would be useful and which wouldn’t be — some seemed obviously useful, but others didn’t. One text widget that I threw together thinking that it might be useful, though I was a bit dubious, turned out to be the best one, so I’ve moved that so it’s easier to see when you hit the blog.

    As I’ve been making the changes, I’ve already noticed a lot more depth in the visits — it seems that people are staying and viewing more pages and posts, which I think means they’re having an easier time finding what they came looking for.

  10. I have some text widgets that link to my other blog and some Shutterfly photos that I did not post on my blog. I also have a graphic with no link to let readers that I don’t do awards. I love the awards, I think they’re cool, but they get really repetitive bouncing between the same blogs. I also don’t want to use my precious writing time to accept the award, do whatever is wanted, then pass it along. The pass it along part is fun, but the rest not so much.

    Nancy

    • Hi Nancy,
      I see that you are a widget minimalist too. I notice you have a Tag Cloud widget installed and it makes me wonder how much your visitors use it. I don’t find that many visitors to my blog use either Categories or Tags widgets much at all. However, I feel I need to install one or the other for those who may search by topic.

      We are on the same page when it comes to awards but I do acknowledge that it’s difficult to secure any backlinks to our posts and a\wards do serve that function. Some bloggers display them all on a single page. For me and for you too the bottom line is time management. I struggle to make time for my beloved blogging hobby and like you I want to use the time I have to create content. I’m not inclined to drop everything and participate in a meme.

      • I don’t think my visitors use the tag feature at all. I’m in the process of redoing my categories to organize them better and when I do, I will substitute that instead. I don’t expect my readers will use that either, but I will when I’m looking for stuff or leaving links (such as my walks at the botanical gardens). For me, it serves a useful purpose (the categories). The tags are good for getting it out there on the Internet, but it doesn’t need to be my sidebar anymore.

        Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the awards. I seem to be in a real minority about not wanting them. The other thing that bothers me about the awards is that after a while, they keep going around to the same people over and over and it seems to be more perfunctory than truly meaningful.

        Thanks for the comments and replies. I have enjoyed getting to know you these last few months and am glad when I hear from you.

  11. Hi Timethief, I never thought of using the widget “Recent Comments” so I thought I’d try it… How does it work? If I don’t alter the visibility and leave it blank I only see my replies, if I change it to “Hide if Author is Martin Shone (me) all I see are my replies, if I change it to “Show if Author is Martin Shone” I see no recent comments at all. Very confusing. I have deleted all cookies and re-tried but it happens the same.
    I don’t really want to show my replies as a lot of the time they are the most recent ones, and sometimes just saying thank you as I am quite useless at commenting/replying.

    • Hello Martin,
      The only thing I don’t like about the Recent Comments widget is that we cannot exclude our own comments from displaying when we use it.

      “How does it work? If I don’t alter the visibility and leave it blank I only see my replies, if I change it to “Hide if Author is Martin Shone (me) all I see are my replies, if I change it to “Show if Author is Martin Shone” I see no recent comments at all.”

      I don’t know why you see these options because I don’t have them. :(

        • You must have a theme specific widget because the Recent Comments widget I have has only these choices:
          Title:

          Number of comments to show:
          (at most 15)

          Avatar Size (px):

          Avatar background color:

          Text background color:

        • I’m going to have to play with the widgets more. I had not noticed the recent comments one before and there’s several others I should try too.

  12. This is all so true. I use in the right side, about, contact Sophie, recipes by ingredients, RRs feed for both parts, subscribe by mail, categories, archives! that’s it!

    • Hi Sophie,
      As you noted above you choose to have minimal widgets and I’m sure if there was a need for more your would add more. :)

      P.S. If you choose to add a Twitter icon for sharing it will make sharing your posts easier for me. I’ve been tweeting them via my thistimespace account at Twitter.

  13. I’m still a fan of Recent Posts primarily for non-mobile readers, since it’s easier to read a post title and click it rather than scroll through and find the post (at least in my mind). I also like the Categories, Search, and Archives widgets for navigation. Recent Comments is a definite plus! Widgets to my facebook fan page (and that of a related project) are also helpful. I haven’t used the RSS widgets, but I think I need to update my page to include them. Thanks for highlighting the widgets you use most! :)

    • Hi Kerwyn,
      I’m so glad you raised that point about non-mobile users and the Recent Posts widget. I restored mine because I hadn’t considered what you brought forward. I don’t find Archive widgets to be essential because they have never been used much on my blogs. That’s why I removed mine. Thanks for participating.

    • Hi Mike,
      I like the theme. It’s subdued and I think it frames your photos quite well. I like the fact you include text in your posts as I find photo blogs that have only large images in each post tend to bore me. That said, I’m not pointing fingers at anyone but myself for not being more attentive.

      I’m not keen on the widgets with images you have in your sidebar ie Visitors To My Blog and Other Great Bloggers. You may not feel the same way I do and that’s okay but to me they seem to be loud and distracting. Moreover, the more images there are on any page the longer it takes for the page to load as they load last.

  14. Timethief,
    I find the text widget is most useful on my site. I have three sidebar sections using the text widgets: A customised Author section, translation section and “things I like” section.
    ~ Glasskeys
    P.S. Congrats on surviving dental surgery.

    • Hi Stephen,
      It’s good to see your comment here. I’m wondering how much traffic you see accessing your Archives widget. I saw so little when I used mine that I pulled it out of my sidebar.

      • Thanks Timethief,

        Archive doesn’t get much use really, I think I will be getting a premium theme soon to freshen up the look of the site, and remove some sidebar widgets (Including Archive) whilst enchancing or tweaking others. The tag cloud does get use, so I will continue to categorize and tag my posts.

        The homebuilt translate function (text widget) surprisingly gets quite abit of use, I will probably add Italian soon as I get decent traffic from Italy.

        Cheers,
        Stephen

  15. Hi timethief, this is CaptainXD (formerly iano10) and this post really caught my attention. I love using widgets, especially the text one since you can add bits of CSS in there. I really like the categories drop down as well, and also like the top posts widget! Good tips on whether to choose a widget! Thanks

    • Hi there,
      I do remember you and wish you well with your blog. Text widgets are so useful – I love them! Unfortunately, in the Categories widget when I chose the dropdown setting the widget overflowed the sidebar on this theme so that’s why I changed it. My preference is for the dropdown though.

  16. I’ve spent a lot of time fidgeting with my widgets. Currently, I’ve put all of mine in the footers because as an essay blog, full page readability is my most important consideration. As for particular widgets, I really like the Top Pages and Posts (sorted by views) because it adds a sense of dynamicism and colour (with the small images) to the page.

    • Hi Issac,
      Please allow me to compliment you on your blog. It’s an outstanding example of organization, presentation and excellent writing. Moreover, I like the content too so I will be following it.

      The last thing we need in these times when people have a tendency to only skim articles is distracting widgets that draw the eyes away from the text. I’m recommending stripping down blogs because I’m aware of what research has revealed. Apparently blog readers have very short attention spans and only some will read the full entries.

      I like your choice of theme because it places all widgets in the footer areas and that makes it an excellent choice for an essay blog. I don’t consider the Blogroll widget to be essential but including it does balance the three column display quite nicely.

      Thanks so much for commenting here. If you hadn’t done so I would never have discovered your blog.

      • Hi Timethief,

        Thank you for your assessment and compliments on the site. I’m currently quite happy with it myself, but I’ll continue to gauge and reassess as to what works and what doesn’t.

        Happy to have you as a subscriber, and keep doing what you do. I have learned quite a bit on the mechanics of blogging from your site.

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