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.

For a white label version of this tutorial visit WPTrainingManual.com.

WordPressThere are so many benefits to using the WordPress web publishing tool for building and growing your website or blog. One of these is that you can easily add content, expand your website’s functionality and reconfigure your site’s layout with no web programming skills required.

WordPress allows you to quickly and easily add, delete, and reconfigure various blocks of content from your blog’s sidebar menu (and header and footer sections too, depending on your theme) using widgets.

Widgets

(Widgets)

This blog post explains what widgets are, why they can make life easier for non-technical users and how widgets can add functionality to your website.

What Are WordPress Widgets? A Basic Guide To Widgets For Business Users

WP widgets make managing and using WordPress easier

(Widgets help make managing and using WordPress easier!)

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

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

Now … don’t worry if this sounds too geeky. As will soon see, widgets are made for non-techie website owners.

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

Widgets help you manage specific features and functions on your site without the need to touch code

(WordPress widgets help you control specific features and functions on your website without requiring coding skills)

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

Simply put, a widget lets you do things like:

  • Easily add, edit and delete functionality in parts of your website without touching any code, and
  • Reconfigure 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 features you can add to your site’s sidebar menu (and headers and footers and other areas, depending on the theme you have installed) using widgets:

  • list of your web pages
  • post categories
  • post archives
  • menus that display only selected pages
  • links to resources
  • your most popular posts
  • comments
  • clickable ads
  • client testimonials
  • surveys
  • RSS content
  • shopping cart forms
  • images
  • social media buttons
  • add widgets from other sites (e.g. Facebook friends)
  • administrative forms (e.g. login, register, etc.)

In other articles, we provide an overview of plugins and WP themes; what they are, what they do, how these easily add new functionality to WordPress and even drastically alter the whole design of your website.

As you will see in a moment, WP themes affect where widgets work on your web site and a number of plugins add accompanying widgets that will improve your website or blog’s features.

Widgetized Areas

Most WP themes support widgets and provide widgetized sections on your site where you can have widgets in.

Normally, this is going to be in your theme’s sidebar menu, but depending upon the theme, widgets can also be found in the header area, footer, sometimes even below or above your content.

It all depends on what theme you have installed.

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

Some Themes only provide a single widget section

(Some themes only provide one widget area)

Here is an enlarged image of the widget screen of the theme shown above, where you can see that this WordPress theme only contains one widget-enabled area …

Understanding WordPress For Beginners: What Do WordPress Widgets Do?

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

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

Many themes provide a number of widget sections

(Many themes offer users a number of widget areas)

Below is the widget panel of the theme shown above, and you can see how many widget areas are included in this WP theme …

Multiple widgets areas

(Multiple WordPress widget areas)

As you can see, in the above theme, widgets can be added 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 WordPress themes let you add widgets to your site's footer section

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

Where Can I See My WP Widgets?

The Widgets section can be accessed inside the WP admin by going to Appearance > Widgets

A Basic Guide To WordPress For Website Owners: What Do WordPress Widgets Do?

This loads the Widgets panel in your web browser …

Widgets Section

(Widgets Area)

The Widgets section displays all the widgets that can be used on your site.

The right-hand section of the screen displays 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 using drag & drop.

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

In addition, your Widgets screen includes an Inactive Widgets section that lets you remove widgets that you no longer want to actively display on your website. Inactive widgets do not lose their settings.

Important Info

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

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

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

Sometimes, new widgets appear in your Widgets area as new WP plugins are installed on your website …

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

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

Widgets Features: Drag & Drop

Widgets are great because you can easily insert, activate, deactivate, rearrange and remove them all within your Widgets area using simple drag and drop …

Rearrange widgets using drag & drop

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

Use drag & drop to easily rearrange the layout of your widget-enabled sections.

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

  1. A newsletter subscription form,
  2. A click for support button, and
  3. Click to call sales buttons from a widgetized WP plugin …

Widgets control the order certain features appear on your site

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

If you were to peek inside the example site’s Widget area, you would see that these features appear on the site’s sidebar section in the same order as they have been arranged in the site’s active widget bar …

Understanding WordPress For Business Users: How Do Widgets Work?

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

Drag & drop to rearrange widgets in your widget area

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

The widgets have now been reordered in your sidebar …

About WordPress Widgets An Introduction To WordPress Widgets For Business Website Owners

This immediately changes the order of items in your site’s 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 image button (2) can now be found above the newsletter sign-up form (1) …

Widgets are really easy to use!

(Widgets are really easy to use!)

Pretty good stuff, huh?

There are some more things worth knowing about using widgets:

Widget Management – WordPress Theme Customizer

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

You can do many edits to your widgets in preview mode, like inserting, removing and moving around the currently added widgets to any widget areas that your theme makes available, and see all changes 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 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!)

Widget management 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 you’ve made (to avoid making mistakes), or manage your widgets on the fly using the Widget editor area as shown previously.

Widget Configuration

As we have explained previously, WordPress lets you quickly and easily reorder how content displays in widgetized areas like your site’s sidebars, footers and navigation menus with just a few clicks of your mouse, using drag-and-drop …

Rearrange sidebar elements with widgets to improve visitor experience

(Reorganize sidebar layout with widgets to improve user experience)

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

Reorganize sidebar layout 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 many traditionally-designed websites, you would need to edit code in the site’s templates to rearrange the order of elements, customize features on page elements like subscription forms, or just add features like your website’s page list, or a dropdown menu of your site categories, a blog post archive section, custom page menus, links to external sites, links to your recent posts, the latest comments, a section displaying image banners, quotations or poll results, RSS feed items, images, social media buttons, and more.

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

Some widgets offer little to no configurable options

(Some widgets offer little to no configurable options)

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

Many widgets provide users with customizing options

(Many widgets offer customizable options!)

Using Widgets

As you have just seen, widgets require no coding experience or programming expertise to use. Most widgets can be added to your WordPress web site 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 tutorials showing you how to use a number of different widgets in WordPress to improve the effectiveness of your website or blog, plus lots of cool tips on how to get the most out of WordPress using widgets:

Related Posts

If you are learning how to use WordPress, 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 build a better online. To learn more about using the WordPress CMS platform please see other posts we have published on this site.

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For a white label version of this tutorial visit WPTrainingManual.com.
Originally published as WordPress Widgets Explained.