WordPress Widgets Explained

This tutorial explains what WordPress widgets are, how widgets work, and how widgets can help you customize and extend the functionality of your website or blog.

WordPressThere are lots of benefits to choosing the WordPress CMS platform for building and growing your business online. One of these is that you can easily add content, expand your website’s functionality and reconfigure your site’s layout without requiring code editing skills.

WordPress lets you quickly and easily insert, remove, and reconfigure various types of content from your blog’s sidebar menu (and header and footer sections, depending on what theme is installed on your site) using widgets.

Widgets

(Widgets)

This blog post explains how WordPress widgets work, why widgets make life easier for non-technical users and how widgets can be used to add new functionality to your web site.

What Is A Widget? An Introduction To WordPress Widgets For Newbies

Widgets help make managing and using WordPress easier

(Widgets help make managing and using WordPress easier!)

Widgets are small blocks of code that perform a specific function, such as adding a functionality, or a text box or item to your website.

The WordPress application is written using a web language called PHP (Hypertext Preprocessor). Normally, in order to add features and functions to a website, you need to know how to script PHP code.

Now … don’t worry if this all sounds too technical. As you are about to discover, WP widgets are perfect for non-technical users.

Widgets eliminate the need to know how to write code or manipulate PHP code in order to customize your site.

WordPress widgets help you manage specific features and functions on your website without having to mess with code

(Widgets help you manage specific features and functions on your site without the need to edit code!)

Widgets were originally designed to provide a simple way of allowing WordPress users to control aspects of their WordPress theme’s layout and functionality.

Simply put, a widget allows you to:

  • Easily add, edit and delete blocks of code in certain parts of your site without having to touch any code, and
  • Rearrange how various elements display on widget-enabled areas of your site (e.g. the sidebar, header, footer and other areas) using drag-and-drop technology.

Here are just some of the additional components you can add to your site’s sidebar area (plus headers and footers and other areas, depending on the theme you have installed) using WordPress widgets:

  • index of pages
  • content categories
  • post archives
  • custom menus
  • links to external sites
  • posts that you want to promote
  • post comments
  • advertising banners
  • user testimonials
  • survey questions & results
  • RSS feed items
  • newsletter registration form
  • video thumbnails
  • social media buttons
  • add widgets from external sites (e.g. affiliate programs)
  • administrative forms (e.g. login, register, etc.)

In other articles, we write more extensively about plugins and themes; what they are, what they do, how plugins and themes can add new functionality to WordPress and even alter the look and feel of your website.

As you will learn shortly, themes affect how widgets display on your website and many plugins add accompanying widgets that can extend your website’s capabilities.

Widget-Ready Areas

Most themes support widgets and provide widget-ready areas in the theme’s layout where widgets can display.

Normally, widgets can be found in the theme’s sidebar menu, but depending upon the theme, widgets can also be located in the site’s header section, footer, sometimes even below the content area.

It all depends on the theme you have installed.

For example, the theme shown in the screenshot below provides users with only one widget area displaying items in the theme’s sidebar …

Some WordPress Themes only have one widget area

(Some themes provide only a single widgetized section)

Here is an enlarged image of the widget panel of the above theme, where you can see that this specific theme only contains one widget area …

WordPress Widgets - How Do They Work? An Overview Of WordPress Widgets For Business Users

As you can see from the above, the only area where users can add widgets to their site using the theme shown above is in the site’s sidebar section.

In contrast, the theme shown in the screenshot below includes multiple widget-ready areas …

Many themes provide a number of widget-ready areas

(Many WP themes offer users a number of widget-enabled sections)

Below is an enlarged image of the widget section of the theme shown above, where you can see how many widget areas this theme includes …

Multiple widgets areas

(Multiple widgets areas)

As you can see, with the above theme, you can add widgets to the sidebar area of two different page templates (Main Sidebar and Showcase Sidebar) and three different Footer areas (Footer Area One, Footer Area Two, Footer Area Three) …

Some themes let you add widgets to your site's footer area

(Some themes let you add widgets to your site’s footer area)

How Do I Access My WordPress Widgets?

The Widgets area is located inside your WP dashboard and can easily be accessed by going to Appearance > Widgets

How Do Widgets Work? An Overview Of Widgets For Business Owners

This loads the Widgets section in your browser window …

Widgets Section

(Widgets Section)

The Widgets panel displays a list of all the widgets that are available.

The right-hand section of the window displays your “active” widgets …

Activate or deactivate widgets using drag-and-drop

(Activate or deactivate widgets using drag-and-drop)

Available widgets can be made Active or Inactive using drag & drop.

Widgets dragged from the Available Widgets section to widget areas like your sidebar, footer, etc. become activated for use.

Your Widgets screen also includes an Inactive Widgets section that lets you remove any widgets that you no longer want to use on your website. Inactive widgets retain their settings.

Important Info

In a default WordPress installation, your site already comes with several pre-installed widgets (e.g. widgets for displaying your pages, links, posts, post categories, adding text, adding RSS feeds, adding tags, adding a search box, etc …) and active widgets.

These widgets are available right out of the box in your default WordPress theme and display items like Recent Posts, Recent Comments, Meta, etc. to your visitors …

In a default WordPress installation, your site already comes with a number of pre-installed widgets

(In a default WordPress installation, your site already comes with several pre-installed widgets)

Sometimes, new widgets get added to your Widgets area as new plugins are installed on your website …

Installing plugins can sometimes add new widgets to your Widgets admin area!

(Installing WP plugins can sometimes add new widgets to your Widgets section!)

WordPress Widgets Features: Drag & Drop

WP widgets are great because you can easily insert, activate, deactivate, reorder and delete them inside your Widgets section using simple drag and drop …

Rearrange widgets on your WordPress site using drag & drop

(Rearrange your site’s widgets using drag-and-drop)

Using drag & drop lets you easily reorder the order of your website’s widgetized areas.

For example, take a look at the image below. In this example site, the widgets have already been configured to display the following:

  1. A subscription form,
  2. A contact support banner, and
  3. Click to call sales buttons from a widgetized WP plugin …

Widgets control how certain features on your site display

(Widgets control how certain features on your site display)

Inside this site’s Widget area, you would see that these features appear on the site in the same order as their corresponding widgets have been arranged in their active widget section …

Widgets - How Do They Work? An Introduction To Widgets For Newbies

Let’s now rearrange the order the above widgets in the Sidebar Widget Area using drag and drop …

Drag-and-drop widgets in your widget area to rearrange their order

(Drag-and-drop to rearrange widgets in your widget area)

The widget features have now been reorganized in your sidebar …

What Is A WordPress Widget? An Overview Of WordPress Widgets For Website Owners

This instantly reorganizes the layout of the sidebar. Note in the screenshot below that the click to call feature (3) is now the first item on the sidebar menu, and the contact us graphic banner (2) is now found above the newsletter sign-up form (1) …

WordPress widgets are very easy to use!

(WordPress widgets are really easy to use!)

Pretty simple stuff, huh?

There are some more useful things about using WordPress widgets that are also worth knowing about:

Widget Management – Previewing Widgets

Depending on the actual WordPress theme that you have installed on your site, you can also manage your widgets without making actual changes to your site, so you can be sure that you like what you see before committing these changes to the live website.

You can do several things to your widgets in preview mode, like inserting, deleting and reorganizing your active widgets to any widget areas that your theme makes available, and it’s all done in real time. If you like what you’ve done and click the “Save and Publish” button, your changes will then be instantly updated and reflected on your site to visitors.

Widget management - work in preview mode or configure widgets on the fly!

(Widget management – work in preview mode or configure widgets on the fly!)

The ability to manage widgets from your own WP dashboard is a valuable feature of WordPress. You can work in preview mode inside the WordPress Theme Customizer screen (Appearance > Customize) and see how your widget content will appear prior to publishing it (to avoid making errors), or manage your widgets on the fly using the Widget editor area as discussed previously.

Widget Configuration

As we have explained earlier, WordPress lets you easily and quickly rearrange how information displays in widgetized areas like your site’s sidebars, footers and navigation menus with only a few clicks of your mouse, using drag-&-drop …

Rearranging sidebar layout with widgets can help to improve visitor experience

(Reorganize sidebar elements using widgets to improve user experience)

In the screenshot above, for example, you can see that we have reorganized the site’s sidebar section by switching the search and testimonial sections. As you now know, this was easily done by dragging and dropping the widget elements into different positions inside the sidebar widget area.

Rearrange sidebar layout using widgets to improve your site’s user experience.

Now … what about the widgets themselves? Can the widgets be customized instead of simply added, removed and rearranged?

Absolutely!

With most static websites, you would need to edit code in the website’s templates to rearrange the layout, customize features on page elements like opt-in forms, or just add features like a list of your web pages, or a dropdown menu of your categories, an archived published posts section, menus that display only selected pages, links to recommended resources, a list of your most read posts, the latest excerpts of comments added to your posts, a section displaying clickable ad banners, testimonials or surveys & polls, RSS feed items, image galleries, Facebook feeds, and more.

While some widgets are “fixed” in the sense that they provide little to no customizable options, other than to add something like an optional title to the widget as shown in the example below …

Some widgets give you little to no customization

(Some widgets provide users with little to no customizable options)

Most widgets offer additional options that allow you to further customize these. This can include things like making certain types of information hidden to site visitors but visible to registered users, displaying additional forms, fields, or information, specifying dimensions of sidebar images, videos, etc. and more …

Most widgets offer customization

(Most widgets offer customization!)

Using Widgets

As we have just seen, widgets require no coding experience or programming expertise to use. Most widgets can be added to your site simply by activating a plugin and then dragging and dropping the plugin’s corresponding widget into your Active widgets area.

For some useful tips and tricks to using widgets, see these great step-by-step tutorials showing you how to use various widgets in WordPress to boost the effectiveness of your site, plus lots of cool tips for getting the most benefit out of WordPress with widgets:

Related Posts

If you are new at WordPress, you may also find the following related posts useful:

Hopefully, now you have a better understanding of issues that can affect your website and how WordPress can help you improve your business online. To learn more about using WordPress for a business website or blog please see our related posts section.

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