I can’t resist using a quote from our professor Lorelle VanFossen to introduce this article:
“Your sidebar is not your junk drawer.”
Keeping your sidebars clean of Widgets that are unnecessary to your site is essential to maintaining a clean, professional look to your site. There are many Widgets that have their place and time, but should not be used injudiciously. It can be a common misstep (particularly among those who are new to WordPress) to use all of the cool Widgets that you can find. This can be a disastrous mistake, as it clutters your site with needless information, and hinders its navigability.
It should be obvious that this applies not only to the main sidebar present in all WordPress themes, but also to the other areas that are available for placing Widgets.
However, there are important Widgets that most sites should not be without.
A Categories Widget and a Tag Cloud are among those that I would consider essential for most sites. Navigation and ease of use are key factors in running a site that will keep its users coming back for more. In fact, lacking these things might cause a first time visitor to run for the hills and never return.
The archives Widget can be useful for sites that have posted a lot of content, in that it allows simple navigation by date. A text Widget can be wonderful in that it can be almost infinitely customized. The Follow Blog, Search, and RSS Links Widgets round off the list of what I believe any professional site should contain.
Other Widgets should be used only when necessary for the site’s content. As a rule of thumb, if it’s not completely relevant and useful to the organization and navigation of your site, get rid of it. Then go through your site and do it again. On the web, when it comes to professionalism, minimalism usually rules. There are always other places on your site where you could include non-essential content.
One thing that I feel is of the utmost importance is navigation. It is usually not overkill to provide navigation links through a top menu, sidebar, and footer. This is one exception to the minimalism rule. Keeping this in mind, it is often useful to consider this when choosing a theme. Many themes provide only one base sidebar, with no options for configuring a footer, or second sidebar.
Although it strays from this particular topic a bit, I learned a lot about this subject from a recent article posted by Lorelle: Ingredients of a Professional Site. There is so much good information in such a small space here, I feel it should be required reading for anyone developing for WordPress.
Finally, please feel free to comment regarding other Widgets that you may feel are indispensable to the maintenance of a quality, professional site, as this list is by no means meant to be all-inclusive.