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 so many great things about choosing WordPress for building and growing your website. One of these is that WordPress makes it very easy to add content, expand your website’s functionality and reconfigure your site’s layout without requiring web programming skills.

WordPress gives you the ability to quickly and easily insert, delete, and control various blocks of content from your blog’s sidebar menu (and header and footer sections too, depending on your theme) using widgets.

Widgets

(Widgets)

In this blog post you will learn how WordPress widgets work, why widgets make life easier for non-technical users and how widgets can help to supercharge your website.

About WordPress Widgets: Understanding WordPress Widgets For New Users

WP widgets help make managing and using WordPress easy

(WP widgets help make managing and using WordPress easy!)

A widget is a self-contained block of code that performs a specific function, such as adding a form, or a script or item to your WP site.

The WordPress application is written using a scripting language called PHP (Hypertext Preprocessor). Normally, in order to add features and functions that will enhance the functionality of a website, you need to learn how to write code.

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

With widgets, you don’t need to know how to program or manipulate PHP code in order to enhance your website.

WordPress widgets help you control technical features and functions on your site without requiring knowledge of coding

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

Widgets were originally developed to provide a simple way to allow WordPress users to control aspects of their website’s layout and functionality.

Simply put, widgets allow you to:

  • Easily insert, edit and delete blocks of code to certain parts of your WordPress site without having to touch any underlying code, and
  • Reconfigure 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 (and headers and footers and other areas, depending on your theme) using WordPress widgets:

  • nested list of pages
  • content categories
  • archives
  • custom page menus
  • links to external sites
  • links to recent posts
  • user comments
  • text ads
  • client testimonials
  • poll results
  • RSS feed items
  • registration box
  • product catalog images
  • social media buttons
  • add widgets from external sites (e.g. Facebook friends)
  • administrative forms (e.g. login, register, etc.)

In other posts, we provide more detailed explanations of WordPress plugins and themes; what they are, what they do, how these add new functionality to WordPress and change the design of your website.

As you will soon learn, themes affect how widgets display on your site and a number of plugins add accompanying widgets that will fine tune your website or blog’s usability.

Widget-Ready Themes

Most themes support widgets and provide widget-ready sections in the theme’s layout where widgets can be added.

Typically, functions managed by widgets can be found in the sidebar menu, but depending upon the theme, widgets can also be located in the site’s header, in the footer area, sometimes even above or below your content section.

It all depends on what theme you have installed.

For example, the WP theme shown in the screenshot below has only one widget area displaying items in the theme’s sidebar area …

Some Themes only provide one widget section

(Some themes only provide one widget section)

Here is an enlarged image of the widget panel of the theme shown above, so you can see that this particular theme only includes one widget-enabled area …

What's A Widget? A Basic Guide To WordPress Widgets For Business Owners

As you can see, the only location where you can add widgets to your site using the theme shown above is in the site’s sidebar area.

In contrast, the theme shown below includes various widget areas …

Many themes provide a number of widgetized areas

(Many themes offer users a number of widget sections)

Below is an enlarged image of the widget screen of the theme above, so you can see how many widget areas are included in this theme …

Multiple WordPress widget areas

(Multiple widgets areas)

As you can see, in the above theme, widgets can be added 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 WordPress themes let you add widgets to your site's footer section

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

How Can I See My WP Widgets?

The Widgets section can be easily accessed inside the admin by going to Appearance > Widgets

WordPress Widget: An Overview Of WordPress Widgets For Business Users

This brings you to the Widgets panel in your browser …

Widgets Screen

(Widgets Panel)

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

On the right-hand side of the window, you can see your “active” widgets …

Activate or deactivate widgets using drag-and-drop

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

Available widgets can be activated or deactivated by dragging & dropping items to different sections of the widgets panel.

Widgets dragged from the Available Widgets section to widget areas like your sidebar, footer, etc. become immediately active and can be used.

In addition, the Widgets area includes an Inactive Widgets section that lets you remove widgets that you no longer want to use on your site. Inactive widgets do not lose their settings.

Useful 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 the default WordPress theme and display items like Search, Archives, Meta, etc. to your visitors …

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

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

Sometimes, as new plugins are installed on your website or blog, you may find that new widgets are also added to your Widgets section …

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

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

Widgets Features: Drag & Drop

WordPress widgets are great because you can easily add, activate, deactivate, reorder and delete them all from your Widgets area just by using drag & drop …

Rearrange widgets using drag-and-drop

(Rearrange widgets on your WordPress site using drag and drop)

Use drag-and-drop to easily reconfigure the order of your site’s widgetized areas.

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

  1. An opt-in form,
  2. A contact support button, and
  3. A couple of click to call sales buttons from a widgetized plugin …

Widgets control the order certain features appear on your WordPress site

(Widgets control the order certain features on your site display)

Inside this site’s Widget area, you would see that these features appear on the site in exactly the same order as they have been arranged in the site’s active widget bar …

WordPress Widgets - What Do They Do? An Overview Of WordPress Widgets For New Users

Let’s now reorganize these widgets in the Widget Area by dragging and dropping elements in the widget area …

Drag & drop widgets in your widget area to rearrange their order

(Drag & drop to rearrange widgets in your widget area)

The widgets have now been reordered in the sidebar …

Understanding WordPress For Newbies: WordPress Widget:

As you can see, this instantly changes the layout of your site’s sidebar. Note in the screenshot below that the click to call function (3) is now first the sidebar menu, and the contact us graphic button (2) is now located above the newsletter sign-up form (1) …

Widgets are very easy to use!

(Widgets are very easy to use!)

Cool, huh?

There are some other useful things worth knowing about using WP widgets:

Widget Management – Widget Customizer Section

Depending on the actual WP theme that you have installed, you’re also able to manage and customize 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 your live website.

You can do several edits to your widgets in preview mode, like inserting, removing and moving around your active widgets to any widget areas that your theme makes available, and see all changes in real time. If you like what you have done and click the “Save and Publish” button, your changes will then be instantly updated and reflected to your site 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 inside your own WordPress dashboard is a great 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 changes (to avoid making mistakes), or manage your widgets on the fly using the Widget editor area as shown earlier.

Widget Configuration

As we’ve shown you in an earlier example, with WordPress you can easily rearrange how information is displayed in widgetized areas like your site’s sidebars, footers and navigation menus with only a few clicks of your mouse button, using drag-&-drop technology …

Reorganize sidebar elements with widgets to improve visitor experience

(Rearranging sidebar layout with widgets can help to improve your site’s visitor experience)

In the screenshot above, for example, you can see that we have quickly and easily rearranged the layout in the site’s sidebar by switching around the search and testimonial sections. As you now know, this was easily done by simply dragging and dropping the widgets into different positions inside the sidebar widget area.

Rearranging sidebar elements using widgets can improve visitor 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 your site’s templates to rearrange the order of elements, customize features on page elements like subscriber forms, or just add features like a nested list of pages, or a dropdown menu of your post categories, an archive section, menus, links to external sites, links to your recent posts, the latest user comments, a section displaying clickable images, testimonials or poll questions & results, RSS feed content, video galleries, Facebook feeds, and more.

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

Some widgets provide users with little to no customization

(Some widgets offer little to no customizing options)

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

Many widgets provide users with customizing options

(Many widgets provide users with configuration options!)

How To Use Widgets

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

For useful tips and tricks to using widgets, see these great tutorials showing you how to use different widgets in WordPress to boost the effectiveness of your site, plus lots of useful tips on how to get the most benefit out of WordPress using widgets:

Related Posts

If you are learning how to use WordPress, you may also find the following topic-related posts useful:

Hopefully, now you have a better understanding of issues that can affect your web site and how WordPress can help you build a better online. To learn more about using WordPress please see our related posts section.

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"This is AMAZING! I had learnt about how to use WordPress previously, but this covers absolutely everything and more!! Incredible value! Thank you!" - Monique, Warrior Forum

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