WordPress gives you the ability to quickly and easily add, remove, and reconfigure various blocks of content on your site’s sidebar menu (and header and footer sections too, depending on what theme you have installed) using widgets.
In this article you will learn what WordPress widgets are, what they do and how widgets can improve the functionality of your web site.
What Are Widgets? A Basic Guide To Widgets For Beginners
(Widgets help make managing and using WordPress easier!)
WordPress widgets are small modules of code that perform a specific function, such as adding a functionality, or a script or list 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 program web code.
Now … don’t worry if the above sounds too technical. As you are about to discover, widgets are made for non-techies.
WordPress widgets help you manage technical features and functions on your site without the need to edit code.
(Widgets help you control specific features and functions on your site without the need to touch code!)
Widgets were originally designed to provide a simple way to give WordPress users to control aspects of their WordPress theme’s layout and functionality.
In plain English terms, a widget lets you do things like:
- Easily add, edit and remove features in parts of your website without touching any code, and
- Reconfigure how various elements display 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 functions you can add to your site’s sidebar navigation area (plus headers and footers and other areas, depending on the theme you have installed) using widgets:
- nested page lists
- menus that display only the pages you choose
- links to resources
- links to recent posts
- recent comments from users
- advertising banners
- user testimonials
- survey results
- RSS feed content
- shopping cart forms
- video thumbnails
- social media share buttons
- add widgets from other sites (e.g. Facebook friends)
- administrative forms (e.g. login, register, etc.)
In other blog posts, we provide detailed content about WordPress plugins and themes; what they are, what they do, how these easily add new functionality to WordPress and change the design of your website or blog.
As you will soon discover, themes can affect where widgets display on your website and some plugins add accompanying widgets that can improve your website or blog’s performance.
Most WP themes support widgets and provide widgetized sections on your site where you can add widgets to.
Typically, this is going to be in your theme’s sidebar, but depending upon the theme, widgets can also be found in the site’s header area, in the footer area, sometimes even above or below the content section.
It all depends on what theme you have installed.
For example, the theme in the screenshot below provides users with only one widget area for the theme’s sidebar area …
(Some WP themes only have a single widget enabled section)
Below is the widget screen of the above theme, and you can see that this particular theme only includes one widget-enabled area …
As you can see, the only place where users can add widgets to their site using the theme shown above is in the site’s sidebar area.
In contrast, the WP theme shown below includes a number of different widget-enabled areas …
(Many WP themes offer users multiple widgetized areas)
Below is an enlarged image of the widget section of the theme above, where you can see how many widget areas are included in this specific WP theme …
(Multiple widgets areas)
As you can see, in the above theme, you can add widgets to the sidebar area of 2 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)
Where Can I See My Widgets?
The Widgets screen is found inside the WP dashboard and can be accessed by going to Appearance > Widgets …
This brings up the Widgets panel in your web browser …
The Widgets area displays 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 using drag & drop.
Widgets dragged from the Available Widgets section to widget areas like your sidebar, footer, etc. become immediately active and can be used on your site.
Your Widgets panel also includes an Inactive Widgets section that lets you remove any widgets that you no longer want to actively display on your website. Inactive widgets do not lose their 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 the default WordPress theme right out of the box and display items like Recent Posts, Recent Comments, Meta, etc. to your site visitors …
(By default, your site already comes with several pre-installed widgets)
Sometimes, when new plugins are installed on your website or blog, you may find that new widgets have also been added to your Widgets area …
(Installing plugins can sometimes add new widgets to your Widgets area!)
WP Widgets Features: Drag-And-Drop
WordPress widgets are great because you can easily add, activate, deactivate, rearrange and delete them all right inside your Widgets section using simple drag and drop …
(Rearrange widgets using drag-and-drop)
Drag & drop lets you easily reorder the layout of your website’s widget-enabled sections.
For example, take a look at the image below. In this site, the widgets have already been configured to show:
- A subscription form,
- A click for support banner, and
- A couple of click to phone sales buttons from a widgetized plugin …
(Widgets control the order certain features appear on your site)
Looking inside this site’s Widget area, you would see that these features display on the site’s sidebar section in exactly the same order as their corresponding widgets have been arranged in their active widget section …
Let’s now reorganize the above widgets in the Main Sidebar Widget Area by dragging and dropping elements in the widget area …
(Drag & drop to rearrange widgets in your widget area)
The widget features have now been reorganized in the sidebar …
As you can see, this instantly reorganizes the order of items in 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) now sits above the newsletter opt-in form (1) …
(WordPress widgets are really easy to use!)
Pretty simple stuff, huh?
There are some other things about using WP widgets that are also worth keeping in mind about:
Widget Management – Previewing Widgets
Depending upon the WordPress theme that you have installed, you’re also able to customize and 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 lots of edits to your widgets in preview mode, like adding, removing and moving around the currently added 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 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 before publishing it (to avoid making mistakes), or manage your widgets on the fly using the Widget editor screen as discussed previously.
As we’ve shown you previously, with WordPress you can easily and quickly reorganize how information is displayed in areas of your website or blog, like sidebars, footers and navigation menus with only a few clicks of your mouse, using drag-and-drop technology …
(Rearranging sidebar elements using widgets can help to improve user experience)
In the above screenshot, for example, you can see that we have reorganized the layout in the site’s sidebar menu 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.
Reorganize sidebar elements with widgets to improve visitor 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 website’s templates to rearrange the layout, customize features on page elements like a newsletter registration form, or just add other features like a list of your web pages, or a dropdown menu of your content categories, a post archives section, menus to display selected pages, links to recommended resources, a list of your most read posts, the latest user comments, a section displaying text ads, testimonials or surveys & polls, RSS content excerpts, product images, Twitter feeds, and more.
While some widgets are “fixed” in the sense that they provide little to no customizing options, other than to add an optional title to the widget as shown in the example below …
(Some widgets give you little to no configurable options)
Many widgets offer additional options that allow you to further configure 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 information, specifying sizes of sidebar images, videos, etc. and more …
(Most widgets offer customization!)
How To Use Widgets
As you have seen, widgets require no coding experience or programming expertise to use. Most widgets can be added to your website simply by activating a plugin and then dragging and dropping the plugin’s 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 different types of widgets in WordPress to boost the effectiveness of your website or blog, plus many great tips on how to get the most benefit out of WordPress with 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 learning how to use WordPress, you may also find the following posts useful:
Hopefully, now you have a better understanding of problems that can affect your web site and how WordPress can help you grow your business online. To learn more about using the WP website publishing software please see other posts we have published on this site.
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