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 many benefits to using the WordPress web publishing software to manage and grow a web site. One of these is that you can easily add content, expand your website’s functionality and reconfigure the layout of your site without web coding skills.

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

Widgets

(WP widgets)

This article explains what WP widgets are, what they do and how widgets can be used to improve the functionality of your web site.

What’s A Widget? Understanding WordPress Widgets For Business Website Owners

WordPress widgets help make managing and using WordPress easy

(WordPress widgets help make managing and using WordPress easier!)

Widgets are self-contained blocks of code that perform a specific function, such as adding an enhancement, or a script or list item to your WordPress site.

WordPress is written using a scripting language called PHP (Hypertext Preprocessor). Normally, to add features and functions that will enhance the functionality of a website, you need to learn how to script PHP code.

Now … don’t worry if this all sounds like geek speak. As will soon see, WP widgets are made for non-techie website owners.

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

WP widgets help you control specific features and functions on your site without having to touch code

(WordPress widgets help you manage many features and functions on your website without the need to edit code!)

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

In plain English terms, widgets allow you to:

  • Easily add, edit and delete blocks of code to areas of your site without touching any underlying code, and
  • Reconfigure the functional layout of your theme 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 many additional components you can add to your site’s sidebar area (plus headers and footers and other areas, depending on your theme) using widgets:

  • website page list
  • content categories
  • archives
  • customized menus
  • links to external sites
  • your most read posts
  • recent comments from users
  • clickable ads
  • client testimonials
  • polls
  • RSS content excerpts
  • subscriber form
  • video thumbnails
  • social media share buttons
  • display widgets from other sites (e.g. affiliate programs)
  • administrative forms (e.g. login, register, etc.)

In other posts and tutorials, we provide more detailed explanations of WP plugins and WP themes; what they are, what they do, how plugins and themes can easily add new functionality to WordPress and even drastically change the entire design of your site.

As you will see shortly, themes affect how widgets work on your site and many plugins also come with accompanying widgets that can extend your website’s usability.

Widgetized Areas

Most WP themes support widgets and provide widget-enabled sections in the theme’s layout where widgets can show.

Usually, you will find features driven by widgets in the sidebar, but depending upon the theme, these can also be located in your site’s header, in the footer, and even below your content section.

It all depends on the theme you have installed.

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

Some Themes only have a single widgetized section

(Some WordPress themes only have one widget-ready section)

Below is an enlarged image of the widget section of the theme above, where you can see that this WP theme only includes one widgetized area …

What Do WordPress Widgets Do? An Introduction To Widgets For Business Users

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

In contrast, the WP theme shown below includes multiple widgetized areas …

Many WP themes offer users multiple widgetized sections

(Many WP themes provide a number of widgetized areas)

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

Multiple widgets areas

(Multiple WordPress widget areas)

As you can see, in the above theme, you can add widgets to the sidebar area of two 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 themes let you add widgets to your site’s footer area)

How Can I See My WordPress Widgets?

To access the Widgets section log into your admin and go to Appearance > Widgets

WordPress Widget: An Overview Of WordPress Widgets For Business Owners

This opens the Widgets section in your browser window …

Widgets Panel

(Widgets Panel)

The Widgets section displays a list of all the widgets that you currently 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 & drop)

Available widgets can be made Active or Inactive by dragging-and-dropping items to different areas of the screen.

Widgets dragged from the Available Widgets section to widget areas like your sidebar, footer, etc. become active and can be used.

The Widgets screen also includes an Inactive Widgets section that lets you remove widgets that you no longer want actively displayed on your website. Inactive widgets retain 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 Search, Recent Comments, Meta, etc. to your site visitors …

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

(By default, your site already comes with a number of pre-installed widgets)

Sometimes, you may find that new widgets display in your Widgets area whenever new plugins are installed on your website …

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

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

Widgets Features: Drag-And-Drop

Widgets are great because you can easily insert, activate, deactivate, reorder and delete them in your Widgets area using simple drag & drop …

Rearrange your site's widgets using drag and drop

(Rearrange widgets using drag and drop)

Using drag-and-drop lets you easily reconfigure the order of your website’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. A newsletter opt-in form,
  2. A click for support banner, and
  3. Click to call sales buttons from a widgetized WP plugin …

Widgets control how certain features display on your site

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

Looking inside the example site’s Widget area, you would see that these features display on the site’s sidebar menu in the same order as they have been arranged in the active widget section …

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

Let’s now change these widgets in the Active Widget Area using drag and drop …

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

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

The widget features have now been reordered in your sidebar …

An Introduction To WordPress For Business Users: What Is A WordPress Widget?

As you can see, this instantly reorganizes the layout of your sidebar. Note in the screenshot below that the click to call feature (3) is now first the sidebar menu, and the contact us image banner (2) has been moved to the place above the newsletter sign-up form (1) …

WordPress widgets are really easy to use!

(WordPress widgets are really easy to use!)

Cool, huh?

Let me show you some more things about using WP widgets that are also worth keeping in mind about:

Widget Management – Preview Widgets

Depending on the WP theme that you have installed, you can also manage your 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 several edits and adjustments to widgets in preview mode, like adding, removing and reorganizing your active 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 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 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 (to avoid making mistakes), or manage widgets on the fly using the Widget editor area as discussed previously.

Widget Configuration

As we’ve shown you previously, WordPress lets you quickly and easily rearrange how information displays in areas like your site’s sidebars, footers and navigation menus with only a few clicks of your mouse button, using drag-and-drop …

Rearrange sidebar layout with widgets to improve user experience

(Rearrange sidebar elements using widgets to improve visitor experience)

In the screenshot above, for example, you can see that we have redesigned the site’s sidebar by switching the search and testimonial sections. As you now know, this was easily done by dragging and dropping the widgets into different positions inside the sidebar widget area.

Reorganize sidebar elements with widgets to improve 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 layout, customize features on page elements like an opt-in subscription form, or just add features like your website’s page list, or a dropdown menu of your categories, an archive section, menus that display only selected pages, links to recommended resources, a list of your most popular posts, the latest excerpts of comments added to your posts, a section displaying clickable ads, quotations or poll results, content from RSS feeds, video galleries, Facebook feeds, and more.

While some widgets are “fixed” in the sense that they provide little to no customization, other than to add an optional title to the widget as shown in the example below …

Some widgets offer little to no customizable options

(Some widgets give you little to no customization)

Many widgets provide additional settings that allow you to further configure these. This includes making certain types of information hidden to 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 customizable options

(Most widgets offer customization!)

Using Widgets

As you have seen, widgets require no coding experience or programming expertise to use. Most widgets can be easily added to your WP website 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 step-by-step tutorials showing you how to use various widgets in WordPress to improve the effectiveness of your site, plus lots of great tips on how to get the most benefit out of WordPress with widgets:

Related Posts

If you are learning how to use WordPress, you may also find the following related posts useful:

Hopefully, this information has given you a better understanding of problems that can affect your website and how WordPress can help you grow your business online. To learn more about using WordPress please click on links to visit other posts we have published on this site.

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"Learning WordPress has been a huge stumbling block for me. I've been looking for something that covers absolutely everything but doesn't cost an arm and a leg. Thank you so much ... you have just provided me with what I have been looking for! Truly appreciated!" - Tanya

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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.