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 benefits to choosing WordPress for building, managing and growing your digital presence. One of these is that you can easily add content, expand your site’s functionality and reconfigure your site’s layout without code editing skills and knowledge.

WordPress allows you to quickly and easily insert, remove, and manage various blocks of content from your site’s sidebar menu (or header and footer sections, depending on your theme) using widgets.

Widgets

(WordPress widgets)

In this post you will learn what widgets are, what widgets do and how widgets can help you to add new functionality to your site.

WP Widgets: An Introduction To Widgets For New Users

Widgets help make managing and using WordPress easier

(Widgets make managing and using WordPress easy!)

A widget is a self-contained module of code that performs a specific function, such as adding an enhancement, or a script or menu item to your WordPress site.

WordPress is written using a web language called PHP (Hypertext Preprocessor). Normally, in order 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 too geeky. As you are about to discover, WP widgets are made for non-technical users.

With WP widgets, you don’t have to know how to program or manipulate PHP code in order to expand the functionality of your site.

Widgets help you control technical features and functions on your website without having to mess with code

(WP widgets help you control technical features and functions on your website without having to mess with code)

Widgets were originally designed to provide a simple way of allowing WordPress users to manage aspects of their website’s layout and functionality.

In plain English terms, a widget allows you to:

  • Easily add, edit and remove blocks of code in certain areas of your site without touching any web code, and
  • Reconfigure the functional layout of your WP 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 functions you can add to your site’s sidebar area (and headers and footers and other areas, depending on your theme) using widgets:

  • site pages
  • content categories
  • archive
  • custom page menus
  • links to resources
  • links to recent posts
  • excerpts of recent comments added to posts
  • clickable ads
  • user testimonials
  • polls
  • RSS content excerpts
  • opt-in subscription form
  • product images
  • social media share buttons
  • display widgets from other sites (e.g. Twitter)
  • administrative forms (e.g. login, register, etc.)

In other blog posts, we write more extensively about WP plugins and themes; what they are, what they do, how these can easily add loads of new functionality to WordPress and even drastically alter the design of your website.

As you will see in a moment, WordPress themes affect how widgets display on your site and some plugins also install accompanying widgets that will help further fine-tune your site’s usability.

Widget-Ready Areas

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

Typically, functions managed by widgets can be found in the theme’s sidebar menu, but depending upon the theme, these can also be found in the header section, the footer section, and even above or below the content.

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

For example, the theme in the screenshot below has only one widget area displaying items in the theme’s sidebar navigation …

Some Themes provide only one widget enabled area

(Some WordPress themes have only a single widget area)

Below is the widget screen of the theme above, and you can see that this specific WordPress theme only contains one widget-enabled area …

How Do Widgets Work? A Basic Guide To WordPress Widgets For Newbies

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

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

Many themes provide multiple widgetized areas

(Many themes offer users a number of widgetized sections)

Here is an enlarged image of the widget screen of the theme above, and you can see how many widget areas are included in this 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 2 different page templates (Main Sidebar and Showcase Sidebar) and 3 different Footer areas (Footer Area One, Footer Area Two, Footer Area Three) …

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

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

How Can I See My Widgets?

The Widgets section is found inside the WP administration area and can be accessed by going to Appearance > Widgets

Understanding WordPress For Newbies: What Are Widgets?

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

Widgets Section

(Widgets Screen)

The Widgets area displays a list of all the widgets you can use on your site.

On the right-hand side of the screen, you can see your “active” widgets …

Activate or deactivate widgets using drag and drop

(Activate or deactivate widgets using drag & 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. become immediately activated for use on your site.

The Widgets screen also includes an Inactive Widgets section that lets you remove widgets that you no longer want to actively display on your website. Inactive widgets retain their settings.

Useful 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 Recent Posts, Archives, Categories, etc. to your visitors …

In a default WordPress installation, 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 display in your Widgets section as new plugins are installed on your website …

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

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

Widgets Features: Drag-And-Drop

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

Rearrange widgets using drag & drop

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

With drag & drop technology you can easily reorder the layout and order of your website’s widget-enabled sections.

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

  1. A subscription form,
  2. A click for support button, and
  3. A couple of click to phone sales buttons from a widgetized WordPress plugin …

Widgets control how certain features appear on your WordPress site

(Widgets control how certain features appear on your site)

If we were to peek inside the example site’s Widget area, you would see that these features display on the site in the same order as their corresponding widgets were arranged in the site’s active widget bar …

An Introduction To WordPress For Business Owners: WordPress Widget:

If we rearrange the order these widgets in the Sidebar Widget Area using drag & drop …

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

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

The widgets have now been reordered in your sidebar …

What Do Widgets Do? An Introduction To Widgets For Newbies

As you can see, this immediately reorganizes the order of items in your site’s sidebar. Note in the screenshot below that the click to call feature (3) is now at the top of the sidebar menu, and the contact us banner (2) is placed above the newsletter sign-up form (1) …

Widgets are really easy to use!

(Widgets are very easy to use!)

Cool, huh?

Here are a few other useful things about using WordPress widgets that are also worth knowing about:

Widget Management – Previewing Widgets

Depending on the WP theme that you have installed on your site, you’re also able to 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 several things to your widgets in preview mode, like inserting, removing 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 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 from within your own 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 prior to publishing it (and avoid making mistakes), or manage your widgets on the fly using the Widget editor screen as discussed previously.

Widget Configuration

As we’ve explained previously, with WordPress you can quickly reorganize how content is displayed in areas like your site’s sidebars, footers and navigation menus with just a few clicks of your mouse, using drag-&-drop …

Rearranging sidebar elements using widgets can help to improve your site's visitor experience

(Reorganizing sidebar layout using widgets can help to improve your site’s visitor experience)

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

Reorganizing sidebar layout using widgets can help 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 order of elements, make unique customizations to features on page elements like newsletter subscription forms, or just add things like nested page lists, or a dropdown menu of your categories, an archived blog post entries section, menus to display selected pages, links to recommended resources, a list of your most read posts, the latest post comments, a section displaying advertisements, user 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 offer little to no configuration options

(Some widgets offer little to no configurable options)

Most widgets provide various options that allow you to further customize things. This includes making certain types of information hidden to visitors but visible to registered users, displaying additional forms, fields, or data, specifying sizes of sidebar images, videos, etc. and more …

Most widgets offer configurable options

(Many 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 website or blog simply by activating a plugin and then dragging and dropping the plugin’s 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 different kinds of widgets in WordPress to boost the effectiveness of your website, plus many cool tips for getting the most out of WordPress with widgets:

Related Posts

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

Hopefully, this post has given you a better understanding of problems that can affect your web site and how WordPress can help you build a better online. To learn more about the benefits of using WordPress please click on links to visit our related posts section.

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Author: Martin Aranovitch

Martin Aranovitch is the founder of WPCompendium.org and has authored hundreds of FREE WordPress tutorials for non-techies and beginners. WPCompendium.org provides detailed step-by-step tutorials that will teach you how to use WordPress with no coding skills required and grow your business online at minimal cost!