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 loads of great benefits to choosing WordPress for managing and growing a digital presence. One of these is that you can easily add content, enhance your site and rearrange your site’s layout without having any web programming skills.

WordPress gives you the ability to quickly and easily add, delete, and reconfigure various blocks of content on your blog’s sidebar menu (or header and footer sections too, depending on what theme is installed on your site) using widgets.

WP widgets

(WordPress widgets)

This post explains what widgets are, why they make life easier for non-technical users and how widgets can help you to expand the functionality of your web site.

What’s A Widget? A Basic Guide To Widgets For Beginners

Widgets make managing and using WordPress easier

(WP widgets make managing and using WordPress easy!)

Widgets are small modules of code that perform a specific function, such as adding a functionality, or a script or menu item to your website.

WordPress 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 script PHP code.

Now … don’t worry if it all sounds too geeky. As you are about to discover, WP widgets are perfect for non-techies.

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

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

(Widgets help you manage specific features and functions on your website without requiring coding skills)

Widgets were originally designed to provide a simple way to allow WordPress users to manage aspects of their site’s layout and functionality.

Simply put, widgets let you do things like:

  • Easily add, edit and delete features to certain areas of your site without touching any underlying code, and
  • Rearrange 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 functionality you can add to your site’s sidebar menu (and headers and footers and other areas, depending on your theme) using WordPress widgets:

  • list of pages
  • post categories
  • post archives
  • menus
  • links to resources
  • links to recent posts
  • excerpts of recent comments added to your posts
  • image banners
  • quotations
  • surveys
  • content from RSS feeds
  • subscription form
  • videos
  • social media buttons
  • add widgets from other sites (e.g. Pinterest)
  • administrative forms (e.g. login, register, etc.)

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

As you will see shortly, themes affect where widgets display on your web site and many plugins also come with accompanying widgets that will further improve your website or blog’s capabilities.

Widget-Ready Areas

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

Normally, features powered by widgets can be found in your sidebar, but depending upon the theme, widgets can also be found in the site’s header section, footer, sometimes even below or above the content.

It all depends on the theme you have installed on your site or blog.

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

Some Themes only have a single widget section

(Some WP themes have only a single widget section)

Below is the widget screen of the theme above, and you can see that this particular WordPress theme only includes one widget-enabled area …

About WordPress Widgets A Basic Guide To WordPress Widgets For New Users

As you can see from the above, the only location where users can add widgets to their website using the above theme is in the site’s sidebar section.

In contrast, the theme shown below contains multiple widget-enabled areas …

Many WP themes provide multiple widget areas

(Many WP themes offer users multiple widget-enabled sections)

Below is an enlarged image of the widget section of the theme above, and you can see how many widget areas are included in this specific WordPress theme …

Multiple WordPress widget areas

(Multiple WordPress widget 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 themes let you add widgets to your site's footer section

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

How Do I Access My WP Widgets?

The Widgets panel is found within your WordPress administration area and can be easily accessed by going to Appearance > Widgets

What's A Widget? An Overview Of Widgets For Beginners

This brings up your Widgets screen in your browser window …

Widgets Area

(Widgets Area)

The Widgets panel displays all the widgets that are available.

The right-hand section of the screen displays your “active” widgets …

Activate or deactivate widgets using drag-and-drop

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

Available widgets can be made Active or Inactive by dragging & dropping items to different areas 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.

Your Widgets screen also includes an Inactive Widgets section that lets you remove widgets that you no longer want to use on your site. Inactive widgets retain their settings.

Important

By default, 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 in the default WordPress theme right out of the box and display items like Search, Archives, Meta, etc. to site visitors …

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

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

Sometimes, new widgets display in your Widgets area as new WordPress plugins are installed on your site …

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

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

WordPress Widgets Features: Drag And Drop

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

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

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

Drag & drop technology lets you easily rearrange the order of your site’s widget-enabled sections.

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

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

Widgets control how certain features appear on your site

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

Looking inside this site’s Widget area, you would see that these features display on the site in exactly the same order as their corresponding widgets were arranged in the active widget area …

Widgets - What Are They? An Introduction To WordPress Widgets For New Users

If we reorganize these widgets in the Main Sidebar Widget Area using drag & drop …

Drag & drop to rearrange widgets in your widget area

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

The widgets have now been reordered in your sidebar …

What Do Widgets Do? Understanding WordPress Widgets For Business Website Users

This immediately reorganizes the layout of the site’s sidebar. Note in the screenshot below that the click to call function (3) is now the first item on the sidebar menu, and the contact us image banner (2) now sits above the newsletter subscription form (1) …

WordPress widgets are really easy to use!

(WordPress widgets are really easy to use!)

Easy, huh?

There are some more things worth knowing about widgets:

Widget Management – Theme Customizer

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

You can do many modifications and adjustments in preview mode, like adding, removing and reorganizing your current 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 from your own WordPress dashboard 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 any changes you’ve made (and avoid making errors), or change widgets on the fly using the Widget editor screen shown previously.

Widget Configuration

As we have shown you earlier, WordPress lets you easily reorganize how information displays in widgetized areas of your website sidebars, footers and navigation menus with just a few clicks of your mouse button, using drag-and-drop …

Reorganizing sidebar layout using widgets can improve visitor experience

(Rearrange sidebar layout with widgets to improve user experience)

In the above screenshot, for example, you can see that we have quickly and easily reorganized the sidebar menu by switching the search and testimonial sections. As you now know, this was easily done by simply dragging and dropping the widget elements into different positions inside the sidebar widget area.

Rearrange sidebar layout with widgets to improve visitor experience.

Now … what about the widgets themselves? Can the widgets be customized instead of simply added, removed and rearranged?

Absolutely!

With most traditionally-designed websites, you would need to edit code in the web templates to rearrange the layout, customize features on page elements like a member login section, or just add features like a page index, or a dropdown menu of your blog post categories, an archived blog posts section, menus, links to external sites, links to your recent posts, the latest comments, a section displaying advertising banners, quotations or poll questions & results, RSS content excerpts, videos, social media 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 offer little to no configuration options

(Some widgets offer little to no customization)

Most widgets provide additional settings that allow you to further configure these. This includes making certain types of information hidden to your site visitors but visible to registered users, displaying additional forms, fields, or data, specifying dimensions of sidebar images, videos, etc. and more …

Many widgets offer customizable options

(Many widgets give you configuration options!)

How To Use WordPress Widgets

As you 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 widget into your Active widgets area.

For useful tips and tricks to using widgets, see these great step-by-step tutorials showing you how to use different widgets in WordPress to improve the effectiveness of your website, plus lots of cool tips on how to get the most out of WordPress with widgets:

Related Posts

If you are a WordPress newbie, you may also find the following topic-related posts useful:

Hopefully, now you have a better understanding of problems that can affect your web site and how WordPress can help you build a better online. To learn more about the benefits of using the WP website publishing platform please click on links to visit other posts we have published on this site.

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"I have used the tutorials to teach all of my clients and it has probably never been so easy for everyone to learn WordPress ... Now I don't need to buy all these very expensive video courses that often don't deliver what they promise." - Stefan Wendt, Internet Marketing Success Group

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Originally published as WordPress Widgets Explained.