What’s the Difference Between a Plugin and a Widget?

Last Updated on May 8, 2020 by Sunny Staff

If you’re new to WordPress, you might understandably be a little confused about the difference between plugins and widgets. Both are essential WordPress tools that provide important website functions and services (plugins), and website customization (widgets).

Widget vs Plugin – What Came First?

From its earliest days, WordPress used widgets and plugins even if the terms weren’t there right away. An educated guess would be that widgets came first since they enhance website design to make sites easier to navigate.

WordPress started out as blogware and embedded widgets into its design to let users customize their blogs by adding sidebars, headers, footers, menus, and other specific content to display on one or more pages. Widgets can only be used in predefined areas.

You’ll find widgets on the WordPress dashboard under Appearance. You can also find them under the customization options in WordPress themes.

As WordPress grew and became a more sophisticated website software package, so did its widgets menu. Things really took off, though, when developers attracted to WordPress’ open source began to create plugins that offered shortcuts to deliver useful functions. Plugins provide the hard code for services like security and website analytics, and visual tools like contact forms or social media feed. Many plugins that target the front end (the visual part of the website) often provide widgets that display the function in the usual widget spaces.

Some themes also provide plugins. Examples include photo sliders, contact forms, and legal pages that inform visitors about privacy policies or agree to cookies. They may come with widgets as well. The advantage of using plugins embedded in themes is that they will remain in sync with theme updates.

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You Don’t Have to Use Widgets, But Certain Plugins are Essential!

You don’t really have to use widgets but not using them makes a website pretty boring and ineffective. At the very least, use widgets to make to a copyright notice in the footer to protect your content, and create a menu to let people know what’s inside, and navigate to it.

If you decide you like using widgets (trust us, you will!), look at the plugins that come with your theme. They may create widgets that build upon standard WordPress defaults. Examples include adding hyperlinks to headers and footers that let mobile users easily call your business or add a site identity icon, usually your logo in thumbnail size, that appears in the URL.

Site hosts provide the backbone of website security through firewalls, antivirus and malware scans, and other tools. WordPress security plugins provide additional protection for things like two-factor authentication, user tracking, and password management. We recommend the iThemes security plugin and taking these additional security steps to protect websites.

Other essential plugin functions that will improve your website performance include:

  • Website optimization tools strengthen your sites’ search engine optimization (SEO). They help you define keywords and understand how often they should be used. They also serve as a kind of checklist for technical SEO, such as adding alt text and image captions.
  • Image compressors reduce image sizes and select those that work best on your website.
  • Caching. Caching speeds up site download speed by saving a copy of a website page in a visitor’s browser. The cache is emptied when a page is updated.

You can directly upload plugins from the WordPress directory. Many plugins offer free and paid versions. Paid plugins often offer free trial periods.

The right mix of widgets and plugins delivers a consistent, attractive, and high-performing website. Use our free tool to check your website’s performance! For more information about this and similar topics, visit our blog, today!