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.

For a white label version of this tutorial visit WPTrainingManual.com.

WordPressThere are so many great benefits to using WordPress for building, managing and growing your website. One of these is that you can easily add content, enhance your site and reconfigure your site’s layout without web programming skills or knowledge.

WordPress allows you to quickly and easily insert, remove, and manage various types of content on your site’s sidebar menu (or header and footer sections, depending on your theme) using widgets.

Widgets

(WP widgets)

This post explains how WP widgets work, what widgets do and how widgets can be used to help you enhance the functionality of your site.

Widgets – What Are They? An Overview Of WordPress Widgets For Newbies

WordPress widgets make managing and using WordPress easier

(WordPress widgets help make managing and using WordPress easier!)

A widget is a small module of code that performs a specific function, such as adding an enhancement, or a text box or menu item to your website.

The WordPress application is written using a scripting language called PHP (Hypertext Preprocessor). Normally, to add features and functions to a website, you have to learn how to write web code.

Now … don’t worry if this all sounds too geeky. As will soon see, widgets are made for non-techies.

Widgets help you manage specific features and functions on your website without the need to touch code.

Widgets help you control technical features and functions on your website without having to mess with code

(Widgets help you control specific features and functions on your site without having to edit code)

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

In plain English terms, a widget allows you to:

  • Easily insert, edit and remove functionality in parts of your site without touching any underlying code, and
  • Rearrange the functional layout of your theme on ”widgetized” areas of your site (e.g. the sidebar, header, footer and other areas) using drag-and-drop technology.

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

  • page lists
  • content categories
  • archive
  • menus
  • links to resources
  • your most read posts
  • recent comments
  • clickable text ads
  • testimonials
  • survey results
  • content from RSS feeds
  • subscription form
  • image galleries
  • Facebook feeds
  • add widgets from other sites (e.g. Facebook)
  • administrative forms (e.g. login, register, etc.)

In other posts and tutorials, we write more extensively about WP plugins and WordPress themes; what they are, what they do, how these can add loads of new features to WordPress and alter the look and feel of your website.

As you will soon learn, WordPress themes affect where widgets work on your site and many plugins include accompanying widgets that can improve your site’s performance.

Widget-Ready Areas

Most themes support widgets and provide widget-enabled sections on your site where you can have widgets in.

Usually, you will find widgets at work in your theme’s sidebar menu, but depending upon the theme, these can also be found in the header section, in the footer, even below or above your content.

It all depends on what theme you have installed on your site.

For example, the WP theme in the screenshot below provides users with only one widget area adding functionality to the theme’s sidebar …

Some WordPress Themes only have one widget area

(Some themes provide only a single widget enabled section)

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

Understanding WordPress For New Users: What Do WordPress Widgets Do?

As you can see from the above, the only place where you can add widgets to your site using the above theme is in the site’s sidebar section.

In contrast, the WP theme shown in the screenshot below contains a number of different widget-ready areas …

Many WP themes provide a number of widget-ready areas

(Many WP themes provide a number of widget-enabled areas)

Here is an enlarged image of the widget panel of the theme above, so you can see how many widget areas are included in this specific WP theme …

Multiple WordPress widget areas

(Multiple WordPress widget areas)

As you can see, with 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 WP themes let you add widgets to your site's footer

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

How Can I See My Widgets?

The Widgets area is located within your WordPress admin area and can easily be accessed from the administration menu by selecting Appearance > Widgets

Understanding WordPress For Business Users: About WordPress Widgets

This brings up the Widgets screen in your web browser …

Widgets Panel

(Widgets Section)

The Widgets screen displays a list of all the widgets that can be used on your site.

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

Activate or deactivate widgets using drag & drop

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

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

Widgets dragged from the Available Widgets section to widget areas like your sidebar, footer, etc. become immediately available for use on your site.

In addition, the Widgets screen 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 pre-configured settings.

Info

By default, your site already comes with a number of 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 in your default WordPress theme right out of the box and display items like Search, Recent Comments, Meta, etc. to visitors …

By default, your site already comes with several pre-installed widgets

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

Sometimes, whenever new plugins are installed on your website or blog, you may find that new widgets have also been added to your Widgets area …

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

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

WordPress Widgets Features: Drag-And-Drop

Widgets are great because you can easily insert, activate, deactivate, rearrange and remove them from your Widgets section just by using drag and drop …

Rearrange your site's widgets using drag-and-drop

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

With drag & drop you can easily reconfigure the layout and order of your site’s widgetized sections.

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

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

Widgets control the order certain features display on your WordPress site

(Widgets control how certain features on your site display)

If we could peek inside this site’s Widget area, you would see that these features display on the site’s sidebar area in the same order as they were arranged in the active widget area …

An Introduction To WordPress For Beginners: What Are Widgets?

Let’s now rearrange the order these widgets in the Sidebar Widget Area by dragging & dropping elements in the widget area …

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

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

The widget features have now been reorganized in the sidebar …

What Do WordPress Widgets Do? An Overview Of WordPress Widgets For Newbies

This immediately changes the order of items in your sidebar. Note in the screenshot below that the click to call feature (3) is now first the sidebar menu, and the contact us graphic button (2) has been moved to the location above the newsletter sign-up form (1) …

Widgets are really easy to use!

(WordPress widgets are very easy to use!)

Pretty simple stuff, huh?

Let me just show you some more useful things about widgets that are also worth knowing about:

Widget Management – Preview Widgets

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

You can do a number of things to widgets in preview mode, like adding, deleting and moving around your current widgets to any widget areas that your theme makes available, and see all changes 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 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!)

Widget management 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 changes (and avoid making mistakes), or change your widgets on the fly using the Widget editor screen shown previously.

Widget Configuration

As we’ve explained earlier, with WordPress you can completely reorganize how content is displayed in widgetized areas of your site sidebars, footers and navigation menus with just a few clicks of your mouse button, using drag-&-drop …

Reorganizing sidebar layout using widgets can help improve your site's visitor experience

(Reorganizing sidebar elements using widgets can improve visitor experience)

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

Reorganize sidebar elements 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 many traditionally-designed websites, you would need to edit code in the website’s templates to reorganize the order of elements, customize features on page elements like opt-in forms, or just add things like nested page lists, or a dropdown menu of your blog post categories, an archived blog post entries section, menus that display only selected pages, links to recommended resources, links to your recent posts, the latest excerpts of comments added to your posts, a section displaying text ads, testimonials or surveys, RSS content excerpts, videos, social media sharing buttons, and more.

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

Some widgets provide users with little to no configurable options

(Some widgets provide users with little to no customization)

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

Many widgets give you customizing options

(Many widgets offer configurable options!)

How To Use WP Widgets

As you have seen, widgets require no coding experience or programming expertise to use. Most widgets can be added to your WordPress website or blog 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 types of widgets in WordPress to boost the effectiveness of your site, plus lots of cool 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 posts useful:

Hopefully, this post has given you a better understanding of problems that can affect your website and how WordPress can help you get better results online. To learn more about the benefits of using WordPress please click on links to visit other posts we have published on this site.

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"These tutorials have so much information and are easy to understand. If you use WordPress or plan to in the future these will help you with everything you need to know." - Valisa (Mesa, Arizona)

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For a white label version of this tutorial visit WPTrainingManual.com.
Originally published as WordPress Widgets Explained.