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 things about choosing the WordPress web publishing tool to build and manage a website. One of these is that you can easily add content, expand your site’s functionality and reconfigure your site’s layout without web programming skills or knowledge.

WordPress allows you to quickly and easily insert, delete, and control various types of content in your blog’s sidebar menu (and header and footer sections too, depending on what theme you have installed) using widgets.

Widgets

(WP widgets)

In this blog post you will learn how WordPress widgets work, why widgets are ideal for non-technical users and how widgets can supercharge your website or blog.

About WordPress Widgets: Understanding Widgets For Website Owners

Widgets make managing and using WordPress easier

(Widgets make managing and using WordPress easy!)

A WordPress widget is a small block of code that performs a specific function, such as adding a functionality, or a script or list item to your WP site.

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

Now … don’t worry if the above sounds too geeky. As will soon learn, widgets are perfect for non-technical users.

WP widgets eliminate the need to know how to write code or manipulate PHP code to expand the functionality of their sites.

Widgets help you manage specific features and functions on your site without having to edit code

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

Widgets were originally developed to provide a simple way to allow WordPress users to control aspects of their WordPress theme’s layout and functionality.

In plain English terms, widgets allow you to:

  • Easily add, edit and delete functions in parts of your website without having to touch 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 functions you can add to your site’s sidebar area (and headers and footers and other areas, depending on the theme you have installed) using widgets:

  • list of pages
  • blog post categories
  • post archives
  • menus displaying only selected pages
  • links to external sites
  • links to recent posts
  • post comments
  • image banners
  • client testimonials
  • survey results
  • RSS content
  • newsletter registration form
  • video galleries
  • Facebook feeds
  • add widgets from other sites (e.g. affiliate programs)
  • administrative forms (e.g. login, register, etc.)

In other posts, we write more extensively about plugins and themes; what they are, what they do, how plugins and themes add loads of new functionality to WordPress and even drastically alter the whole design of your website or blog.

As you will learn shortly, WP themes affect how widgets work on your site and many plugins include accompanying widgets that will help further enhance your website’s performance.

Widgetized Themes

Most themes support widgets and provide widgetized sections on your site where widgets can show up in.

Typically, this is going to be in the theme’s sidebar menu, but depending upon the theme, these can also be found in the site’s header section, the footer, even below your content area.

It all depends on what theme you have installed.

For example, the theme shown in the screenshot below has only one widget area for the theme’s sidebar area …

Some WordPress Themes only have a single widgetized area

(Some themes have only one widget enabled section)

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

Understanding WordPress For Business Owners: What Are Widgets?

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

In contrast, the WordPress theme shown in the screenshot below includes a number of widgetized areas …

Many WP themes offer users a number of widget areas

(Many themes provide multiple widget-enabled areas)

Below is the widget screen of the theme shown above, where you can see how many widget areas are included in this particular WordPress theme …

Multiple WordPress widget areas

(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 WP themes let you add widgets to your site's footer

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

Where Do I Access My WP Widgets?

To access the Widgets area go to Appearance > Widgets

WordPress Widget: Understanding Widgets For Business Owners

This opens the Widgets area in your browser …

Widgets Area

(Widgets Area)

The Widgets area displays a list of all the widgets you have available.

On the right-hand side of the window, 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 activated or deactivated by dragging-and-dropping items to different sections of the panel.

Widgets dragged from the Available Widgets section to widget areas like your sidebar, footer, etc. instantly become activated for use.

The 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.

Info

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 Recent Posts, Recent Comments, Categories, etc. to visitors …

In a default WordPress installation, your site already comes with a number of pre-installed widgets

(In a default WordPress installation, your site already comes with several pre-installed widgets)

Sometimes, whenever new WordPress plugins are installed on your website, you will see that new widgets are also added to your Widgets section …

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

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

Widgets Features: Drag-And-Drop

WP widgets are great because you can easily add, activate, deactivate, reorder and remove them all within your Widgets area using drag & drop …

Rearrange widgets on your WordPress site using drag and drop

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

With drag-and-drop you can easily reconfigure the order and layout of your site’s widget-enabled areas.

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 contact support banner, and
  3. Click to call sales buttons from a widgetized plugin …

Widgets control how certain features appear on your site

(Widgets control how certain features on your site appear)

If you were to peek inside the example site’s Widget area, you would see that these features display on the site in the same order as their corresponding widgets have been arranged in the site’s active widget bar …

WordPress Widget: Understanding WordPress Widgets For New Users

If we reorganize the above widgets in the Sidebar Widget Area by dragging & dropping elements in the widget area …

Drag & drop to rearrange widgets in your widget area

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

The widget features have now been reordered in your sidebar …

An Introduction To WordPress For Business Users: What Are Widgets?

As you can see, this instantly reorganizes the layout of 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 banner (2) now sits above the newsletter sign-up form (1) …

WordPress widgets are really easy to use!

(WordPress widgets are very easy to use!)

Pretty simple stuff, huh?

Let me just show you some more things worth keeping in mind with widgets:

Widget Management – Previewing Widgets

Depending upon the theme that you have installed on your site, you can also manage and customize 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, modifications and adjustments to your widgets in preview mode, like adding, removing and reorganizing the currently added widgets to any widget areas that your theme makes available, and it’s all done 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 on your site to 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 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 before publishing any changes (to avoid making errors), or configure widgets on the fly using the Widget editor area shown earlier.

Widget Configuration

As we’ve explained in an earlier example, WordPress lets you quickly and easily 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 button, using drag-and-drop …

Reorganize sidebar layout using widgets to improve your site's visitor experience

(Reorganize sidebar layout with widgets to improve your site’s user experience)

In the screenshot above, for example, you can see that we have easily change the order of elements 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.

Reorganizing sidebar layout using widgets can 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 most traditionally-designed websites, you would need to edit code in the site’s templates to reorganize the layout, make unique customizations to features on page elements like a newsletter registration form, or just add useful features like a nested list of pages, or a dropdown menu of your site categories, a post archives section, menus that display only selected pages, links to recommended resources, a list of your most read posts, the latest excerpts of comments added to your posts, a section displaying clickable text ads, user testimonials or poll results, RSS feed content, video galleries, Facebook feeds, and more.

While some widgets are “fixed” in the sense that they provide little to no configurable 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 customizable options

(Some widgets provide users with little to no customizable options)

Many widgets offer a number of settings that allow you to further configure these. This can include things like making certain types of information hidden to your site visitors but visible to registered users, displaying additional forms, fields, or data, specifying sizes of sidebar images, videos, etc. and more …

Many widgets offer customization

(Many widgets provide users with customization!)

Using Widgets

As we have just seen, widgets require no coding experience or programming expertise to use. Most widgets can be easily added to your WordPress site simply by activating a plugin and then dragging and dropping the plugin’s corresponding widget into your Active widgets area.

For useful tips and tricks to using widgets, see these great tutorials showing you how to use various kinds of widgets in WordPress to boost the effectiveness of your website or blog, plus lots of useful tips for getting the most out of WordPress using widgets:

Related Posts

If you are new at WordPress, you may also find the following posts useful:

Hopefully, this information has given you a better understanding of problems that can affect your web site and how WordPress can help you get better results online. To learn more about using WordPress please see our related posts section.

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Originally published as WordPress Widgets Explained.