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 so many great things about choosing the WordPress CMS platform for building and managing a website. One of these is that you can easily add content, expand your site’s functionality and rearrange the layout of your site without requiring code editing skills.

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

Widgets

(WP widgets)

This post explains how widgets work, what makes widgets so useful and how widgets can help you to improve the functionality of your web site.

What Do WordPress Widgets Do? An Overview Of WordPress Widgets For Business Owners

WP widgets help make managing and using WordPress easy

(Widgets help make managing and using WordPress easier!)

A widget is a small module of code that performs a specific function, such as adding a functionality, or a text box or item to your WP site.

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

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

Widgets help you control specific features and functions on your site without requiring coding skills.

WP widgets help you control specific features and functions on your site without requiring coding skills

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

Widgets were originally developed to provide an easy way of allowing WordPress users to control aspects of their website’s layout and functionality.

In simple terms, a widget allows you to:

  • Easily insert, edit and remove blocks of code to certain parts of your WordPress site without touching any code, and
  • Reconfigure 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 additional components you can add to your WP site’s sidebar menu (plus headers and footers and other areas, depending on your theme) using WP widgets:

  • nested page lists
  • post categories
  • blog post archive
  • menus
  • links to resources
  • posts that you want to promote
  • excerpts of recent comments added to your posts
  • clickable ad banners
  • quotations
  • survey results
  • content from RSS feeds
  • shopping cart forms
  • video
  • Facebook feeds
  • add widgets from external sites (e.g. affiliate programs)
  • administrative forms (e.g. login, register, etc.)

In other articles, we provide additional content about plugins and WP themes; what they are, what they do, how these can add loads of new features to WordPress and even drastically change the design of your website.

As you will soon discover, WP themes affect how widgets display on your site and a number of plugins also install accompanying widgets that will improve your website or blog’s usability.

Widgetized Areas

Most themes support widgets and provide widgetized sections in the theme’s layout where you can add widgets to.

Typically, you will find widgets at work in the theme’s sidebar, but depending on the theme, widgets can also be found in the site’s header, footer, sometimes even below or above your content section.

It all depends on what theme that you have installed on your site.

For example, the WordPress theme in the screenshot below provides users with only one widget area displaying items in the theme’s sidebar navigation …

Some WordPress Themes provide only a single widget-ready section

(Some WordPress themes only provide a single widget-ready section)

Below is an enlarged image of the widget panel of the theme above, where you can see that this specific WordPress theme only includes one widget-enabled area …

An Introduction To WordPress For Newbies: Widgets - What Do They Do?

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

In contrast, the WP theme shown below includes a number of different widget-ready areas …

Many themes offer users multiple widgetized areas

(Many themes provide a number of widgetized areas)

Here is an enlarged image of the widget screen of the theme above, and you can see how many widget areas this particular theme includes …

Multiple WordPress widget areas

(Multiple widgets areas)

As you can see, with the above theme, widgets can be added 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 area

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

How Can I See My WordPress Widgets?

The Widgets area can be accessed inside the administration by going to Appearance > Widgets

What Do Widgets Do? An Overview Of WordPress Widgets For Business Owners

This brings up the Widgets panel in your browser …

Widgets Screen

(Widgets Area)

The Widgets section 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 activated or deactivated using drag & drop.

Widgets dragged from the Available Widgets section to widget areas like your sidebar, footer, etc. immediately become active on your site.

Your Widgets panel also includes an Inactive Widgets section that lets you remove any widgets that you no longer want on your website. Inactive widgets do not lose their settings.

Important 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 Search, Recent Comments, Categories, etc. to visitors …

By default, 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, as new WP plugins are installed on your site, you may find that new widgets are also added to your Widgets section …

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

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

Widgets Features: Drag And Drop

Widgets are great because you can easily add, activate, deactivate, reorder and remove them from your Widgets area using simple drag & drop …

Rearrange widgets using drag-and-drop

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

Use drag & drop technology to easily rearrange the layout of your widgetized areas.

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

  1. A subscription form,
  2. A contact support button, and
  3. Click to call sales buttons from a widgetized WordPress plugin …

Widgets control the order certain features appear on your site

(Widgets control how certain features appear on your WordPress site)

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

WP Widgets: An Overview Of WordPress Widgets For Business Users

Let’s now reorganize the above widgets in the Main Sidebar Widget Area using drag and drop …

Drag-and-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 Overview Of WordPress For Beginners: What Do Widgets Do?

As you can see, this instantly reorganizes the layout of the 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) has been moved to the spot above the newsletter sign-up form (1) …

Widgets are really easy to use!

(WordPress widgets are very easy to use!)

Pretty simple stuff, huh?

Let me show you some more useful things about using WP widgets that are also worth knowing about:

Widget Management – Preview Widgets

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

You can do several edits to your widgets in preview mode, like adding, deleting and reorganizing your active 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!

(Widget management – work in preview mode or configure widgets on the fly!)

The ability to manage widgets from within your own 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 changes (and avoid making mistakes), or configure widgets on the fly using the Widget editor area as discussed earlier.

Widget Configuration

As we’ve shown you in an earlier example, with WordPress you can easily and quickly reorder how information displays in widgetized areas like your site’s sidebars, footers and navigation menus with only a few clicks of your mouse button, using drag-&-drop …

Reorganizing sidebar elements with widgets can help improve visitor experience

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

In the above screenshot, for example, you can see that we have easily rearranged the sidebar menu by switching 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.

Reorganize sidebar elements with widgets to 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 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 shopping cart information sections, or just add useful features like nested page lists, or a dropdown menu of your categories, a blog post archive section, customized menus, links to external sites, links to your recent posts, the latest comments, a section displaying advertising, quotations or poll results, RSS content, video galleries, 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 provide users with little to no configurable options

(Some widgets offer little to no customizing options)

Most widgets offer additional options that allow you to further customize your site features. 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 information, specifying dimensions of sidebar images, videos, etc. and more …

Most widgets provide users with configuration options

(Many widgets offer customizable options!)

Using WP Widgets

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

For some useful tips and tricks to using widgets, see these detailed step-by-step tutorials showing you how to use different widgets in WordPress to improve the effectiveness of your web site, plus many useful tips for getting the most out of WordPress with widgets:

Related Posts

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 improve your business online. To learn more about using WordPress for a business website or blog please click on links to visit other posts we have published on this site.

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"These tutorials have so much information and are easy to understand. If you use WordPress or plan to in the future these will help you with everything you need to know." - Valisa (Mesa, Arizona)

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Originally published as WordPress Widgets Explained.