WordPress allows you to quickly and easily add, delete, and manage various blocks of content in your site’s sidebar menu (or header and footer sections too, depending on your theme) using widgets.
This blog post explains what widgets are, what they do and how widgets can help you to enhance the functionality of your site.
What’s A WordPress Widget? Understanding WordPress Widgets For Beginners
(Widgets make managing and using WordPress easier!)
A widget is a self-contained block of code that performs a specific function, such as adding an enhancement, or a text box or menu item to your WP site.
WordPress is written using a web language called PHP (Hypertext Preprocessor). Normally, to add features and functions that will enhance the functionality of a website, you have to know how to write code.
Now … don’t worry if this all sounds too technical. As you are about to learn, WP widgets are made for non-techies.
With WP widgets, you don’t need to know how to program PHP or manipulate PHP code in order to expand the functionality of your site.
(Widgets help you manage many features and functions on your site without the need to edit code!)
Widgets were originally developed to provide an easy way of allowing WordPress users to control aspects of their website’s layout and functionality.
In plain English terms, a widget lets you do things like:
- Easily add, edit and delete features in certain parts of your WordPress site without touching any underlying code, and
- Rearrange the functional layout of your WordPress 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 additional components you can add to your site’s sidebar section (and headers and footers and other areas, depending on your theme) using widgets:
- list of pages
- menus displaying only selected pages
- links to resources
- most read posts
- clickable images
- poll results
- RSS feed content
- shopping cart information
- video galleries
- twitter feeds
- add widgets from external sites (e.g. StumbleUpon)
- administrative forms (e.g. login, register, etc.)
As you will soon discover, WordPress themes affect how widgets work on your website and some plugins add accompanying widgets that will further fine tune your site’s performance.
Most WP themes support widgets and provide widgetized sections on your site where widgets can display.
Normally, functions controlled by widgets can be found in the sidebar, but depending upon the theme, these can also be located in the site’s header section, footer, and even below the content.
It all depends on the theme that you have installed.
For example, the WordPress theme shown in the screenshot below provides users with only one widget area for the theme’s sidebar area …
(Some themes have only one widget area)
Here is an enlarged image of the widget screen of the theme shown above, where you can see that this specific WP theme only contains one widget-enabled area …
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 area.
In contrast, the WordPress theme shown in the screenshot below contains a number of different widgetized areas …
(Many themes offer users a number of widgetized sections)
Below is an enlarged image of the widget section of the theme shown above, and you can see how many widget areas are included in this specific theme …
(Multiple WordPress widget 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 WP themes let you add widgets to your site’s footer)
Where Do I Access My Widgets?
To use widgets, access the Widgets area located inside the WP admin by going to Appearance > Widgets …
This loads the Widgets panel in your web browser …
The Widgets panel displays all the widgets that can be used on your site.
The right-hand section of the window displays your “active” widgets …
(Activate or deactivate widgets using drag and drop)
Available widgets can be activated or deactivated using drag & drop.
Widgets dragged from the Available Widgets section to widget areas like your sidebar, footer, etc. become immediately activated for use.
In addition, your Widgets panel includes an Inactive Widgets section that lets you remove widgets that you no longer want actively displayed on your website. 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 in your default WordPress theme right out of the box and display items like Search, Recent Comments, Categories, etc. to site visitors …
(By default, your site already comes with a number of pre-installed widgets)
Sometimes, new widgets are added to your Widgets area whenever new plugins are installed on your website or blog …
(Installing new WordPress plugins can sometimes add new widgets to your Widgets area!)
WordPress Widgets Features: Drag-And-Drop
WordPress widgets are great because you can easily insert, activate, deactivate, reorder and remove them all in your Widgets area using simple drag and drop …
(Rearrange widgets on your WordPress site using drag-and-drop)
Using drag & drop technology lets you easily reconfigure the order and layout of your website’s widgetized sections.
For example, take a look at the image below. In this site, the widgets have already been configured to show the following:
- An opt-in form,
- A contact support button, and
- A couple of click to call sales buttons from a widgetized WordPress plugin …
(Widgets control how certain features on your site display)
Inside this site’s Widget area, you would see that these features display on the site’s sidebar menu in the same order as they have been arranged in the site’s active widget bar …
Let’s now reorganize these widgets in the Main Sidebar Widget Area by dragging & dropping elements in the widget area …
(Drag-and-drop widgets in your widget area to rearrange their order)
The widgets have now been reordered in the sidebar …
As you can see, this immediately changes the layout of 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 image button (2) now sits above the newsletter subscription form (1) …
(Widgets are very easy to use!)
Let’s go over some other things worth keeping in mind with WordPress widgets:
Widget Management – Previewing Widgets
Depending upon the WordPress theme that you have installed on your site, you can also manage widgets without making actual changes to your site, so you can be sure that you like what you see before committing your changes to the live website.
You can do many edits in preview mode, like adding, deleting and reorganizing your current 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!)
The ability to manage widgets from within your 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 before publishing any changes you’ve made (to avoid making mistakes), or configure widgets on the fly using the Widget editor screen discussed earlier.
As we’ve explained previously, WordPress lets you quickly rearrange how content displays in areas of your site sidebars, footers and navigation menus with just a few clicks of your mouse button, using drag-&-drop …
(Rearrange sidebar layout using widgets to improve user experience)
In the above screenshot, for example, you can see that we have reorganized the layout in the sidebar by switching 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 your site’s visitor experience.
Now … what about the widgets themselves? Can the widgets be customized instead of simply added, removed and rearranged?
With many static websites, you would need to edit code in the site’s templates to reorganize the order of elements, make unique customizations to features on page elements like newsletter subscription forms, or just add things like a list of your site pages, or a dropdown menu of your blog post categories, a post archives section, menus to display selected pages, links to recommended resources, a list of your most read posts, the latest post comments, a section displaying advertisements, testimonials or surveys, RSS feed content, image galleries, social media buttons, and more.
While some widgets are “fixed” in the sense that they provide little to no configuration options, other than to add an optional title to the widget as shown in the example below …
(Some widgets offer little to no configurable options)
Many widgets offer various options that allow you to further customize them. This includes 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 …
(Many widgets offer customization!)
As you have just seen, widgets require no coding experience or programming expertise to use. Most widgets can be easily added to your site simply by activating a plugin and then dragging and dropping the plugin’s related widget into your Active widgets area.
For useful tips and tricks to using widgets, see these detailed step-by-step tutorials showing you how to use various types of widgets in WordPress to improve the effectiveness of your website, plus many great tips for getting the most benefit 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 new at WordPress, you may also find the following related posts useful:
Hopefully, this information has given you a better understanding of problems that can affect your website and how WordPress can help you expand your business online. To learn more about using WordPress for a business web site please click on links to visit other posts we have published on this site.
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