WordPress allows you to quickly and easily add, remove, and reconfigure various blocks of content from your website’s sidebar menu (or header and footer sections, depending on what theme you have installed) using widgets.
In this article you will learn how WordPress widgets work, why widgets are great for non-technical users and how widgets can help to enhance the functionality of your website.
WP Widget: A Basic Guide To WordPress Widgets For Business Users
(Widgets help make managing and using WordPress easy!)
A WordPress widget is a small module of code that performs a specific function, such as adding a form, or a text box or list item to your website.
The WordPress application is written using a scripting language called PHP (Hypertext Preprocessor). Normally, in order to add features and functions to a website, you need to know how to program code.
Now … don’t worry if it all sounds like geek speak. As will soon discover, widgets are made for non-techie users.
Widgets help you manage specific features and functions on your site without the need to edit code.
(Widgets help you control specific features and functions on your site without requiring knowledge of coding)
Widgets were originally developed to provide a simple way to give WordPress users to control aspects of their website’s layout and functionality.
In simple terms, a widget lets you do things like:
- Easily insert, edit and delete functions in certain parts of your site without touching any web 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 many things you can add to your site’s sidebar navigation area (and headers and footers and other areas, depending on the theme you have installed) using WordPress widgets:
- pages on your site
- post categories
- menus displaying only selected pages
- links to resources
- links to recent posts
- user comments
- clickable ad banners
- poll questions & results
- content from RSS feeds
- subscriber form
- social media share buttons
- add widgets from external sites (e.g. affiliate programs)
- administrative forms (e.g. login, register, etc.)
In other blog posts, we provide an overview of WP plugins and WordPress themes; what they are, what they do, how plugins and themes easily add loads of new functionality to WordPress and even alter the entire design of your website.
As you will learn in just a moment, WordPress themes can affect how widgets work on your website and a number of plugins also install accompanying widgets that can enhance your site’s features.
Most WordPress themes support widgets and provide widget-ready areas on your site where widgets can appear.
Usually, widget-powered features can be found in the sidebar, but depending upon the theme, these can also be found in the header area, in the footer area, even above or below the content.
It all depends on what theme that you have installed.
For example, the theme shown in the screenshot below provides users with only one widget area adding features to the theme’s sidebar navigation …
(Some WordPress themes only have a single widgetized section)
Below is the widget section of the above theme, so you can see that the theme only includes one widget-enabled area …
As you can see from the above, the only place where users can add widgets to their website using the theme above is in the site’s sidebar section.
In contrast, the theme shown below contains a number of different widget areas …
(Many themes provide multiple widget-ready sections)
Here is the widget screen of the theme above, and you can see how many widget areas are included in this particular theme …
(Multiple widgets areas)
As you can see, in the above theme, you can add widgets to the sidebar area of two different page templates (Main Sidebar and Showcase Sidebar) and 3 different Footer areas (Footer Area One, Footer Area Two, Footer Area Three) …
(Some themes let you add widgets to your site’s footer section)
How Can I See My WordPress Widgets?
The Widgets area is located within the WP dashboard and can be accessed by going to Appearance > Widgets …
This brings up the Widgets panel in your browser …
The Widgets screen displays a list of all the widgets that are currently available for use on your site.
On the right-hand side of the screen, you can see your “active” widgets …
(Activate or deactivate widgets using drag and drop)
Available widgets can be made Active or Inactive by dragging-and-dropping items to different areas of the widgets screen.
Widgets dragged from the Available Widgets section to widget areas like your sidebar, footer, etc. immediately become active.
Your Widgets area also includes an Inactive Widgets section that lets you remove widgets that you no longer want to actively display on your site. Inactive widgets retain their pre-configured settings.
In a default WordPress installation, 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 right out of the box in your default WordPress theme and display items like Recent Posts, Recent Comments, Categories, etc. to visitors …
(By default, your site already comes with a number of pre-installed widgets)
Sometimes, you may find that new widgets display in your Widgets area when new plugins are installed on your website or blog …
(Installing WP plugins can sometimes add new widgets to your Widgets section!)
WordPress Widgets Features: Drag-And-Drop
WP widgets are great because you can easily insert, activate, deactivate, reorder and delete them all from your Widgets section using drag & drop …
(Rearrange widgets using drag-and-drop)
Use drag and drop to easily reorder the layout of your site’s widget-enabled areas.
For example, take a look at the image below. In this site, the widgets have already been configured to display:
- A newsletter opt-in form,
- A click for support banner, and
- A couple of click to call sales buttons from a widgetized WordPress plugin …
(Widgets control the order certain features on your site appear)
Inside the example site’s Widget area, you would see that these features display on the site in exactly the same order as their corresponding widgets have been arranged in the active widget bar …
Let’s now change these widgets in the Widget Area by dragging & dropping elements in the widget area …
(Drag-and-drop to rearrange widgets in your widget area)
The widgets have now been reorganized in the sidebar …
As you can see, this immediately changes the order of items in your site’s sidebar. Note in the screenshot below that the click to call function (3) is now at the top of the sidebar menu, and the contact us section (2) is now placed above the newsletter subscription form (1) …
(WordPress widgets are really easy to use!)
Pretty cool, huh?
There are some more things about using WP widgets that are also worth keeping in mind about:
Widget Management – Previewing Widgets
Depending on the theme that you have installed on your site, you can also customize and manage widgets without making actual changes to your site, so you can be sure that you like what you have done before committing these changes to your live website.
You can do many edits and adjustments in preview mode, like adding, removing and reorganizing your current widgets to any widget areas that your theme makes available, and everything is 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!)
The ability to manage widgets from 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 any changes (to avoid making mistakes), or change your widgets on the fly using the Widget editor screen as discussed previously.
As we have shown you previously, with WordPress you can easily rearrange how content displays in widgetized areas of your website or blog, like sidebars, footers and navigation menus with just a few clicks of your mouse button, using drag-&-drop …
(Reorganizing sidebar elements using widgets can help to improve your site’s visitor experience)
In the above screenshot, for example, you can see that we have reorganized the layout in the sidebar by switching around 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 with widgets to improve user experience.
Now … what about the widgets themselves? Can the widgets be customized instead of simply added, removed and rearranged?
With many traditionally-designed websites, you would need to edit code in your web templates to rearrange the order of elements, customize features on page elements like subscription forms, or just add features like a page index, or a dropdown menu of your site categories, a blog post archive section, custom page menus, links to recommended resources, a list of your most read posts, the latest excerpts of comments added to your posts, a section displaying image banners, client testimonials or survey results, content from RSS feeds, video thumbnails, Twitter feeds, and more.
While some widgets are “fixed” in the sense that they provide little to no customizing options, 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 customizing options)
Most widgets offer a number of options that allow you to further customize your site features. This includes making certain types of information hidden to your site visitors but visible to registered users, displaying additional forms, fields, or information, specifying sizes of sidebar images, videos, etc. and more …
(Many widgets give you customizable options!)
Using WordPress Widgets
As you have just seen, widgets require no coding experience or programming expertise to use. Most widgets can be added to your 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 detailed tutorials showing you how to use different widgets in WordPress to improve the effectiveness of your web site, plus many useful tips on how to get the most out of WordPress using widgets:
- How To Use And Configure WordPress Widgets – Part 1
- How To Use And Configure WordPress Widgets – Part 2
- How To Use And Configure WordPress Widgets – Part 3
- How To Use And Configure WordPress Widgets – Part 4
If you are a new WordPress user, you may also find the following posts useful:
Hopefully, now you have a better understanding of issues that can affect your website and how WordPress can help you build a better online. To learn more about using WordPress for a business website or blog please see our related posts section.
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