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 benefits to using WordPress to manage and grow your website. One of these is that you can easily add content, expand your website’s functionality and reconfigure your site’s layout without requiring any web programming skills and knowledge.

WordPress gives you the ability to quickly and easily add, delete, and reconfigure various types of content from your site’s sidebar menu (or header and footer sections, depending on what theme you are using) using widgets.

WordPress widgets

(WP widgets)

In this post you will learn how WP widgets work, why they make life easier for non-technical users and how widgets can help enhance the functionality of your web site.

WordPress Widget: An Overview Of WordPress Widgets For Beginners

Widgets help make managing and using WordPress easier

(Widgets help make managing and using WordPress easy!)

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

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

Now … don’t worry if this all sounds too technical. As will soon discover, widgets are made for non-technical users.

With widgets, you don’t need to know how to program or manipulate PHP code to enhance the functionality of your site.

Widgets help you control specific features and functions on your website without having to touch code

(WordPress widgets help you manage many features and functions on your site without requiring knowledge of coding)

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

Simply put, a widget lets you do things like:

  • Easily insert, edit and delete content sections in certain parts of your site without having to touch any 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 WP site’s sidebar menu (plus headers and footers and other areas, depending on the theme you have installed) using WP widgets:

  • index of pages
  • blog post categories
  • archived published posts
  • menus that display only selected pages
  • links to resources
  • your most read posts
  • post comments
  • clickable ad banners
  • user testimonials
  • polls
  • content from RSS feeds
  • subscriber form
  • product catalog images
  • twitter feeds
  • add widgets from external sites (e.g. affiliate programs)
  • administrative forms (e.g. login, register, etc.)

In other articles, we write more extensively about plugins and WP themes; what they are, what they do, how these add new functionality to WordPress and alter the design of your site.

As you will soon learn, themes can affect where widgets display on your web site and many plugins also come with accompanying widgets that will further enhance your website or blog’s features.

Widget-Ready Areas

Most WP themes support widgets and provide widgetized areas on your site where widgets can display.

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

It all depends on the theme you have installed on your site or blog.

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

Some WordPress Themes only provide a single widget area

(Some themes provide only a single widget enabled area)

Below is an enlarged image of the widget screen of the theme shown above, so you can see that this WP theme only contains one widgetized area …

How Do WordPress Widgets Work? An Overview Of WordPress Widgets For Beginners

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

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

Many themes offer users a number of widget-enabled sections

(Many WP themes provide multiple widgetized areas)

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

Multiple widgets 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 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 area

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

Where Do I Access My WordPress Widgets?

The Widgets panel is located within your WP admin area and can be accessed from the WP administration menu by clicking on Appearance > Widgets

What Are Widgets? Understanding WordPress Widgets For Beginners

This loads the Widgets section in your web browser …

Widgets Panel

(Widgets Panel)

The Widgets panel displays all the widgets that are currently available for use on your site.

The right-hand section of the window displays 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 panel.

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

In addition, the Widgets screen 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.

Useful Info

By default, 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, Meta, etc. to your visitors …

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

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

Sometimes, when new WP plugins are installed on your website, you may find that new widgets are also added to your Widgets section …

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

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

WP Widgets Features: Drag-And-Drop

Widgets are great because you can easily insert, activate, deactivate, reorder and remove them right inside your Widgets section using drag and drop …

Rearrange widgets using drag & drop

(Rearrange widgets on your WordPress site using drag & drop)

Drag and drop technology lets you easily reorder the order and layout 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 the following:

  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 display on your WordPress site

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

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

About WordPress Widgets A Basic Guide To WordPress Widgets For Business Website Users

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

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

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

The widget features have now been reorganized in the sidebar …

How Do WordPress Widgets Work? Understanding WordPress Widgets For New Users

This instantly reorganizes the order of items in the site’s sidebar. Note in the screenshot below that the click to call function (3) is now the first item on 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!

(Widgets are really easy to use!)

Pretty cool stuff, huh?

There are some other things worth keeping in mind with widgets:

Widget Management – Previewing Widgets

Depending upon the 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 have done before committing these changes to your live website.

You can do many edits and adjustments to your widgets in preview mode, like inserting, deleting and moving around 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 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!)

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

Widget Configuration

As we have explained earlier, with WordPress you can completely reorder how content displays in widgetized areas of your website sidebars, footers and navigation menus with only a few clicks of your mouse, using drag-&-drop technology …

Reorganize sidebar layout using widgets to improve user experience

(Rearrange sidebar layout with widgets to improve user experience)

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

Rearranging 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 your site’s templates to reorganize the layout, customize features on page elements like subscription forms, or just add things like page lists, or a dropdown menu of your site categories, a post archives section, custom page menus, links to recommended resources, a list of your most read posts, the latest post comments, a section displaying image banners, testimonials or surveys, RSS feed items, product catalog images, social media buttons, and more.

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

Many widgets offer additional settings that allow you to further customize your site features. This can include things like 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 offer configuration options

(Most widgets offer customizable options!)

Using WordPress Widgets

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

Related Posts

If you are a WordPress newbie, you may also find the following related posts useful:

Hopefully, now you have a better understanding of issues that can affect your website and how WordPress can help you improve your business online. To learn more about the benefits of using the WordPress web site management platform please click on links to visit other posts we have published on this site.

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"I am beyond impressed with what you have put together. I can tell that you put a ton of hard work into building what you have. You have the absolute best content on WordPress I have ever seen!" - Robert T. Jillie

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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.