Top 25 WordPress Plugins for Sidebars and Widgets (2021)
- Last updated:
- 5 Comments
When they were first introduced, back in WordPress version 2.2, widgets were an absolute game changer. Since then, they’ve become a staple of the WordPress world. Almost every WordPress theme you could care to download boasts widgetized space — and with good reason.
In short, widgets let WordPress users display useful, eye-catching and/or functional features on a web page. Things such as a search function, links to related posts, and blog archives can all be placed using widgets.
Want to see widgets in action? Simply take a glance to the right of this very page. You’ll see a long list of them in our sidebar area, all placed for essentially one purpose: To draw attention to important parts of the site.
WordPress 4.8 brought a big upgrade to widgets, and WordPress now ships with 17 default widgets — including Archives, Calendar, Video and Text widgets. However, this is still just the tip of the iceberg of what you can do with them.
Now, WordPress widget plugins come in two flavors: Dedicated widget plugins and general WordPress plugins with support for widgets. In today’s list, we’ll be mixing-and-matching 25 free and premium plugins from both categories, as we run down the best WordPress plugins for adding new widgets and improving sidebars.
And, unlike many widget roundups, we’ll only be including one plugin for each functionality — thereby giving you the most bang for your buck in terms of ideas for that all-important widget/sidebar space.
Let’s dive into the plugins, in no particular order…
1. SiteOrigin Widgets Bundle (FREE)
Let’s kick things off with an excellent all-in-one widgets plugin — SiteOrigin Widgets Bundle.
The plugin introduces all of the widget functionality you could possibly ask for, with 22-plus dedicated widgets available. Here’s a selection of some of the widgets included in the box:
- Call-to-action buttons
- Contact form
- Google Maps
- Pricing table
- Image slider
The widgets are fully customizable, too, with support for infinite colors and more than 1,500 icons.
2. Content Aware Sidebars (FREE)
Content Aware Sidebars is a powerful plugin that lets you display different widgets and sidebars for different content. For example, you can display one set of widgets for posts in one category and another set of widgets for posts in another category.
With this ability, you can create a more personalized, targeted sidebar.
You’ll be able to set up your conditional logic sidebars using a simple interface, and you get 13-plus options for displaying sidebars, including post type, taxonomy, author, template and more.
3. Relevanssi (FREE)
Out-of-the-box WordPress ships with a built-in search function and widget. Unfortunately, most users consider it quite poor at its job.
If you want to help your visitors to find useful content more easily, consider upgrading the default search function with Relevanssi (as used on this very site, in fact). The plugin is capable of partial-matching a visitor’s search query, plus it’s better at sorting by relevance than the default option.
With the plugin installed, you still have to use the default WordPress search widget. However, behind the scenes, the widget is now powered by Relevanssi.
4. Ninja Forms (FREE)
The sidebar is an excellent space to place a contact form, so your visitors can reach out to you.
Not every contact form plugin comes with a dedicated widget, though. If you want one that does, Ninja Forms is one of the best free options — it’s super-easy to use and comes with loads of customizations and advanced fields.
5. Testimonials Widget (FREE)
The widget space on your website is perfect for building social proof. Consider adding some testimonials, which tell the world what a fantastic job you’re doing, right from the mouths of real-life customers.
The Testimonials Widget plugin lets you display text, image or video testimonials in stylish sliders. You can also tailor which testimonials are displayed based on a post’s category.
The latest version also lets you display portfolio items in addition to testimonials, which is another great way to build your reputation.
6. Recent Posts Widget Extended (FREE)
Most visitors expect to see links to your blog posts in the sidebar — they depend on this for navigation.
Now, generally speaking, there are three types of navigation widgets: Recent posts, popular posts and related posts.
For a recent posts widget, I recommend the Recent Posts Widget Extended plugin. It lets you display a thumbnail and excerpt for each post, and you can also target recent posts based on category. The plugin lets you order your posts based on publication date or most recent comments.
7. WordPress Popular Posts (FREE)
If you don’t fancy recent posts, what about your most popular posts? After all, these posts are popular for a reason, right? They’re probably the best-written or most informative, so they provide exceptional value to all visitors.
WordPress Popular Posts is the best plugin for the job. It displays the posts’ thumbnails, plus you can target the popular posts based on category and time range. You can even have multiple popular posts widgets live at once, each with different settings.
To define what ‘popular’ means, you can use different conditions like traffic over the last 24 hours, seven days or 30 days.
8. Contextual Related Posts (FREE)
A related posts widget is the most sophisticated navigation widget — the plugin needs an algorithm to determine which posts are related, after all.
The Contextual Related Posts widget uses both a post’s title and content to discover related posts. However, you can omit posts or entire categories from the search should you wish. Related posts can be displayed with thumbnails, plus the posts are cached to increase website speed.
You can also include custom post types in your related results, which is helpful for custom sites.
9. Monarch (with Elegant Themes Membership from $89 a year)
Most of us are already adding social sharing buttons to our blog posts — if you aren’t, why not? However, not enough bloggers realize that the sidebar area is a great place to slap a load of social follow buttons.
Monarch is arguably the best social media plugin around, marrying usability, lots of advanced features and gorgeous design.
Remember: Every post you make to social media reaches your followers. Solely focusing on social shares is a big mistake.
10. Widget Options (FREE)
Widget Options gives you a ton of helpful new settings to control how all of your other widgets function. It has some similarities to the Content Aware Sidebars plugin, in that it lets you conditionally show/hide widgets for certain posts/pages — but it also does a lot more than that.
For example, you can show/hide widgets based on a visitor’s device, add custom alignments to widgets, hide widget titles and lots more.
11. Smash Balloon Social Photo Feed (FREE)
Instead of your media library, perhaps you’d prefer to pull your images straight from Instagram. If so, you need the Smash Balloon Social Photo Feed plugin (formerly known as Instagram Feed, before a trademark issue forced the developer to change the name). It’s active on 900,000-plus sites, and has scored a perfect 5/5 rating on more than 2,400 reviews, which is quite impressive.
The plugin lets you display thumbnails, medium-sized and full-sized images, and you can also mix-and-match multiple Instagram accounts. The images don’t have to be from your account either — you can display images from any non-private account. And, if visitors like what they see, they can choose to load additional images by clicking a Load More button.
12. Slider Revolution ($26)
If you’re looking for more dynamic sidebar images, you may want to consider a slider plugin.
With a powerful feature set and affordable price tag, Slider Revolution was recently named by WinningWP as the best WordPress slider plugin. It ships with a dedicated slider widget, letting you place scrolling images in any widgetized area.
13. Compact Archives (FREE)
An archive of your blog content is a great way to encourage visitors to read older, ‘evergreen’ content. However, if you’ve published several years’ worth of blog posts, the WordPress core’s default archive widget can get messy — it takes up a lot of space.
If you want your blog’s back catalog of content condensed, look no further than the Compact Archives plugin. It offers several formatting options to ensure your blog’s archive fits neatly in the widget space.
14. Meks Smart Author Widget (FREE)
The Meks Smart Author Widget lets you display stylish author bios in your website’s widget space. The plugin has a use for both multi-author and one-person blogs.
For multi-author blogs, the plugin detects the writer of a particular post, then displays the relevant bio.
If you’re the sole contributor to your blog, you can simply display your personal bio on every page — use this as an ‘About Me’ widget. By revealing information about yourself, you become more relatable to readers.
15. Thrive Leads (from $67)
Most WordPress themes display a sidebar on every page. This makes the sidebar prime space for displaying an opt-in form for growing your email list.
The best opt-in form plugin is a question for endless debate — click here for WinningWP’s assessment of the three major players.
For this post, though, I’m recommending Thrive Leads. The plugin ships with a dedicated opt-in widget, plus it comes with lots of gorgeous templates and design options for maximizing conversions.
16. Taqyeem ($29)
If you publish reviews on your blog, perhaps you want to link to some of these reviews in the sidebar. This will let visitors instantly assess whether a product is worthy of their time.
In my opinion, Taqyeem is the best-looking review plugin around. It has a gorgeous design, with customizable colors, fonts and review styles.
Taqyeem also supports three types of widget: Best, most recent and random reviews. You can equally choose from three different review styles — stars, points and percentage.
17. Contact Widgets (FREE)
Contact Widgets is a simple widget from GoDaddy that helps you to display your contact information in your sidebar. You can either display a simple contact box, complete with your email address, phone number, physical address and a map, or you can display your social media profiles to help to grow your following.
18. Opinion Stage (FREE)
Got a burning question to ask your visitors? Perhaps you want their input on future content. Maybe you want answers to topical questions in your niche. Or maybe you just want to run silly quizzes to make people smile.
Either way, you need the Opinion Stage plugin — you can even use it to run competitions.
The widgets look stunning, letting you upload custom images and apply your own branding. You can also monetize the widget by generating ad revenues or requiring a visitor to sign up to a mailing list.
19. Maps Widget for Google Maps (FREE)
Want to show visitors your physical location on a map? Then you need the Maps Widget for Google Maps plugin — a dedicated maps plugin for your widget space.
The plugin boasts customizable map dimensions and zoom levels, plus you can bring your maps to life by creating custom pins.
It’s also performance-friendly because it uses the Google Maps Static Maps API, which only requires a single HTTP request. You can also use the less performance-friendly interactive maps, but you’ll need the Pro version for that.
20. Ad Inserter (FREE)
If you display any type of ads in your sidebar, you’re going to love the Ad Inserter plugin. From AdSense to affiliate banners to anything else, Ad Inserter helps you to manage and display your ads anywhere on your site, including your sidebar, via a dedicated widget.
You can also rotate ads to find out which ones perform the best.
Ad Inserter has a 4.9-star rating on over a thousand reviews, and it’s also recommended by both Google AdSense and Amazon Associates.
21. Awesome Weather Widget (FREE)
For some businesses — say, holiday lettings or outdoor recreation — the weather can have a big impact on trade. If the weather is relevant to your business, why not provide visitors with the info they need by using the Awesome Weather Widget plugin?
The weather widgets look gorgeous, with customizable color schemes. Most importantly, the weather data is provided by OpenWeatherMap, so you can trust that it’s reliable. You’ll need to generate an API key to use the OpenWeatherMap service, but the service itself is free.
22. Youtube Widget Responsive (FREE)
If you want to include videos in your sidebar, you’ll want to check out the Youtube Widget Responsive plugin. While WordPress has included a dedicated Video widget in the core since WordPress 4.8, Youtube Widget Responsive gives you a lot more control over how your YouTube embeds function.
You’ll be able to control exactly how your videos behave, including options to hide certain parts of the player, autoplay your videos, mute audio, and more.
23. Q2W3 Fixed Widget for WordPress (FREE)
While I’m not sure what the name of this plugin means, Q2W3 Fixed Widget for WordPress is a neat plugin that lets you make any of your other widgets ‘sticky’. That is, the widget will ‘stick’ to the page even as visitors scroll down.
It’s a great option if you have a specific widget you want to promote, such as an ad or email opt-in form from one of the other widget plugins we’ve discussed. You can also make multiple widgets sticky if needed.
24. PHP Code Widget (FREE)
PHP Code Widget is a handy plugin for WordPress developers and power users that lets you include PHP code directly in your sidebar via a widget.
It’s convenient when needed, but the developer recommends that you don’t use it as a long-term solution because it’s a security risk, since anyone with access to widgets in the WordPress dashboard can execute PHP code.
25. Widget Importer & Exporter (FREE)
Let’s round out today’s list with the Widget Importer & Exporter plugin. While this one doesn’t introduce any new features, it does let you migrate your widgets from one website to another. If you have a sidebar setup that you like, the plugin lets you roll it out across your entire portfolio of websites.
And that concludes our rundown of 25 of the best WordPress widget space plugins.
As we mentioned at the start of the post, we’ve included only one plugin for each particular functionality. As such, it’s almost inevitable that we’ve inadvertently missed one or two worthy widget plugins. If you want to recommend an alternative option — or perhaps we’re missing a specific functionality entirely — feel free to use the comments section below.
Favorite widget plugins? Thoughts?