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 the WordPress CMS platform for building and growing a website. One of these is that WordPress makes it very easy to add content, enhance your site and reconfigure your site’s layout without programming skills and knowledge.

WordPress allows you to quickly and easily add, delete, and rearrange various blocks of content on your site’s sidebar menu (or header and footer sections, depending on what theme you are using) using widgets.

Widgets

(WordPress widgets)

In this post you will learn how widgets work, why they can make life easier for non-technical users and how widgets can help you supercharge your site.

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

WP widgets help make managing and using WordPress easy

(Widgets make managing and using WordPress easy!)

WordPress widgets are small blocks of code that perform a specific function, such as adding a feature, or a text box or item to your site.

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

Now … don’t worry if this sounds like geek speak. As will soon learn, widgets are perfect for non-technical users.

Widgets eliminate the need to know how to write code or manipulate PHP code to enhance the functionality of your site.

WP widgets help you control technical features and functions on your website without the need to touch code

(Widgets help you control technical features and functions on your site without the need to edit code!)

Widgets were originally developed to provide an easy way of giving WordPress users to manage aspects of their site’s layout and functionality.

Simply put, widgets allow you to:

  • Easily add, edit and delete sections of code to parts of your website without touching any web code, and
  • Rearrange how various elements display on widget-enabled 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 section (plus headers and footers and other areas, depending on your theme) using WP widgets:

  • pages on your site
  • content categories
  • archived blog post entries
  • custom page menus
  • links to external sites
  • your most read posts
  • user comments
  • clickable ads
  • client testimonials
  • survey questions & results
  • RSS content
  • shopping cart forms
  • video thumbnails
  • social media sharing buttons
  • add widgets from external sites (e.g. Pinterest)
  • administrative forms (e.g. login, register, etc.)

In other posts, we provide detailed information about plugins and WordPress themes; what they are, what they do, how these can easily add loads of new features to WordPress and even drastically alter the look and feel of your website.

As you will see in just a moment, themes can affect how widgets display on your site and some plugins include accompanying widgets that can extend your website or blog’s functionality.

Widget-Ready Themes

Most WordPress themes support widgets and provide widgetized areas on your site where you can add widgets to.

Usually, this is going to be in the sidebar, but depending on the theme, widgets can also be found in the site’s header area, in the footer area, and even above or below the content.

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 for the theme’s sidebar area …

Some Themes provide only one widget area

(Some WP themes only provide one widgetized section)

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

Understanding WordPress For Website Owners: What Do Widgets Do?

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

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

Many themes offer users multiple widget areas

(Many themes offer users a number of widget areas)

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 WP theme …

Multiple WordPress widget areas

(Multiple widgets areas)

As you can see, with the above theme, widgets can be added to the sidebar area of two different page templates (Main Sidebar and Showcase Sidebar) and 3 different Footer areas (Footer Area One, Footer Area Two, Footer Area Three) …

Some themes let you add widgets to your site's footer

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

How Do I Access My WordPress Widgets?

To use widgets, access the Widgets section located inside your dashboard by going to Appearance > Widgets

What's A WordPress Widget? An Introduction To Widgets For Beginners

This brings you to the Widgets panel in your web browser …

Widgets Panel

(Widgets Area)

The Widgets panel displays all the widgets that are available.

On the right-hand side of the window, you can see 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 screen.

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

In addition, the Widgets area includes an Inactive Widgets section that lets you remove 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 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 right out of the box in the default WordPress theme and display items like Recent Posts, Archives, Meta, etc. to your site 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 a number of pre-installed widgets)

Sometimes, when new plugins are installed on your website, you will see that new widgets have also been added to your Widgets area …

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

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

WP Widgets Features: Drag & Drop

WP widgets are great because you can easily insert, activate, deactivate, rearrange and remove them all within your Widgets section using drag & drop …

Rearrange widgets on your WordPress site using drag & drop

(Rearrange widgets using drag & drop)

Drag and drop technology lets you easily reconfigure the order of your site’s widget-enabled areas.

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

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

Widgets control how certain features appear on your site

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

Inside this site’s Widget area, you would see that these features display on the site in exactly the same order as they were arranged in the site’s active widget area …

What's A WordPress Widget? Understanding WordPress Widgets For Business Owners

If we reorganize the above widgets in the Widget Area using drag & drop …

Drag-and-drop widgets in your widget area to rearrange their order

(Drag-and-drop widgets in your widget area to rearrange their order)

The widget features have now been reorganized in your sidebar …

What Are WordPress Widgets? An Overview Of WordPress Widgets For Newbies

As you can see, this immediately reorganizes the order of items in your sidebar. Note in the screenshot below that the click to call feature (3) is now the first item on the sidebar menu, and the contact us graphic button (2) has been moved to the location above the newsletter subscription form (1) …

Widgets are very easy to use!

(Widgets are very easy to use!)

Pretty cool stuff, huh?

Here are some more useful things worth knowing about widgets:

Widget Management – Widget Customizer Section

Depending on the actual WordPress 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 any changes to your live website.

You can do a number of modifications and adjustments to 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.

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 inside your WordPress 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 (and avoid making errors), or change widgets on the fly using the Widget editor screen as discussed previously.

Widget Configuration

As we’ve explained previously, WordPress lets you completely reorder how information is displayed in widgetized areas of your website sidebars, footers and navigation menus with just a few clicks of your mouse, using drag-&-drop …

Reorganizing sidebar layout with widgets can help improve user experience

(Rearrange sidebar layout with widgets to improve user experience)

In the screenshot above, for example, you can see that we have easily change the widget elements in the site’s sidebar area 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.

Rearrange sidebar elements with widgets to improve your site’s 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 your site’s templates to rearrange the order of elements, customize features on page elements like subscriber forms, or just add features like page lists, or a dropdown menu of your categories, a post archives section, custom menus, links to recommended resources, links to your recent posts, the latest excerpts of comments added to your posts, a section displaying text ads, testimonials or polls & surveys, RSS feed content, product images, social media sharing buttons, 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 configuration options

(Some widgets give you little to no configuration options)

Most widgets provide various settings that allow you to further customize them. 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 dimensions of sidebar images, videos, etc. and more …

Many widgets provide users with configurable options

(Most widgets provide users with configuration options!)

How To Use Widgets

As we have seen, widgets require no coding experience or programming expertise to use. Most widgets can be easily added to your website simply by activating a plugin and then dragging and dropping the plugin’s corresponding 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 types of widgets in WordPress to boost the effectiveness of your website or blog, plus many useful tips on how to get the most benefit out of WordPress with widgets:

Related Posts

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

Hopefully, this article has given you a better understanding of problems that can affect your website and how WordPress can help you get better results online. To learn more about using WordPress for a business web site please see other posts we have published on this site.

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"Wow! I never knew there's so much to learn about WordPress! I bought one of the WordPress for Dummies three years ago, such authors need to be on this course!" - Rich Law, Create A Blog Now

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Author: Martin Aranovitch

Martin Aranovitch is the founder of WPCompendium.org and the author of The Small Business Digital Manager. WPCompendium.org provides hundreds of FREE tutorials that show you how to use WordPress to grow your business online with no coding skills required! Get our FREE "101+ WordPress Tips, Tricks & Hacks For Non-Techies" e-course with loads of useful WordPress tips!

Originally published as WordPress Widgets Explained.