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 benefits to using WordPress to build, manage and grow your digital presence. One of these is that you can easily add content, expand your site’s functionality and rearrange your site’s layout with no web coding skills or knowledge required.

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

WP widgets

(Widgets)

This article explains how widgets work, why they are great for non-technical users and how widgets can help you to improve the functionality of your website.

What Are WordPress Widgets? An Overview Of Widgets For Business Website Users

Widgets make managing and using WordPress easy

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

Widgets are self-contained modules of code that perform a specific function, such as adding a functionality, or a text box or item to your WordPress site.

The WordPress software 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 web code.

Now … don’t worry if this all sounds like geek speak. As will soon discover, WordPress widgets are made for non-techies.

With widgets, you don’t need to know how to write code or manipulate PHP code to customize your website.

WordPress widgets help you manage specific features and functions on your website without requiring coding skills

(WP widgets help you control specific features and functions on your website without the need to touch code!)

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

Simply put, widgets let you do things like:

  • Easily insert, edit and delete blocks of code to certain areas of your WordPress site without having to touch any underlying code, and
  • Rearrange the functional layout of your WP 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 things you can add to your WordPress site’s sidebar section (and headers and footers and other areas, depending on the theme you have installed) using WP widgets:

  • site pages
  • blog categories
  • archived posts
  • menus that display only the pages you choose
  • links to external sites
  • your most popular posts
  • comments
  • clickable ad banners
  • testimonials
  • surveys & polls
  • content from RSS feeds
  • shopping cart forms
  • product images
  • twitter feeds
  • add widgets from external sites (e.g. Facebook friends)
  • administrative forms (e.g. login, register, etc.)

In other posts, we provide detailed information about WordPress plugins and themes; what they are, what they do, how plugins and themes can add loads of new functionality to WordPress and change the entire look and feel of your website or blog.

As you will see in a moment, WordPress themes can affect where widgets work on your site and a number of plugins include accompanying widgets that can fine tune your website or blog’s functionality.

Widgetized Areas

Most themes support widgets and provide widget-enabled areas on your site where you can have widgets in.

Usually, this is going to be in your sidebar, but depending on the theme, these can also be located in your site’s header section, footer, and even below or above the 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 adding features to the theme’s sidebar area …

Some Themes only have one widgetized section

(Some WordPress themes have only one widgetized section)

Here is the widget section of the theme above, and you can see that this specific theme only includes one widget area …

What Are WordPress Widgets? An Overview Of WordPress Widgets For Business Website Owners

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

In contrast, the WordPress theme shown below includes a number of widget areas …

Many WordPress themes provide multiple widget areas

(Many themes offer users a number of widget-ready sections)

Here is the widget panel of the theme shown above, so you can see how many widget areas are included in this particular theme …

Multiple widgets areas

(Multiple widgets areas)

As you can see, with the above theme, you can add widgets to the sidebar area of 2 different page templates (Main Sidebar and Showcase Sidebar) and three different Footer areas (Footer Area One, Footer Area Two, Footer Area Three) …

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

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

How Do I Access My Widgets?

The Widgets screen is found within the WP dashboard and can easily be accessed from the WordPress administration menu by selecting Appearance > Widgets

An Overview Of WordPress For Business Users: What Are WordPress Widgets?

This loads the Widgets panel in your browser …

Widgets Section

(Widgets Screen)

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

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 activated or deactivated by dragging-and-dropping items to different sections of the panel.

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

In addition, your Widgets panel 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.

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 right out of the box in your default WordPress theme and display items like Recent Posts, Archives, Categories, etc. to your site visitors …

By default, your site already comes with several pre-installed widgets

(By default, your site already comes with several pre-installed widgets)

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

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

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

WP Widgets Features: Drag-And-Drop

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

Rearrange widgets using drag-and-drop

(Rearrange your site’s widgets using drag and drop)

Drag & drop lets you easily reconfigure the layout and order of your site’s widgetized sections.

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 contact support banner, and
  3. Click to call sales buttons from a widgetized WP plugin …

Widgets control how certain features appear on your site

(Widgets control how certain features display on your site)

If you take a peek inside this site’s Widget area, you would see that these features appear on the site in exactly the same order as they were arranged in the active widget bar …

An Introduction To WordPress For Beginners: WordPress Widgets:

Let’s now change the order the above widgets in the Active Widget Area by dragging and dropping elements in the widget area …

Drag & 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 reordered in the sidebar …

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

This instantly changes the layout of the 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 banner (2) has been moved to the place above the newsletter opt-in form (1) …

Widgets are really easy to use!

(WordPress widgets are really easy to use!)

Easy, huh?

Here are a few other useful things worth keeping in mind when using widgets:

Widget Management – Widget Previews

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

You can do several things to your widgets in preview mode, like adding, deleting and reorganizing the currently added widgets to any widget areas that your theme makes available, and everything is done 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!)

Widget management is a valuable 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 any changes (and avoid making errors), or manage widgets on the fly using the Widget editor screen discussed previously.

Widget Configuration

As we’ve explained in an earlier example, WordPress lets you completely reorganize how information is displayed in areas like your site’s sidebars, footers and navigation menus with just a few clicks of your mouse, using drag-&-drop technology …

Reorganizing sidebar elements using widgets can help to improve visitor experience

(Reorganizing sidebar elements using widgets can help improve your site’s user experience)

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

Rearrange sidebar layout using widgets to improve 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 opt-in forms, or just add features like a page index, or a dropdown menu of your site categories, a post archives section, custom menus, links to external sites, links to your recent posts, the latest excerpts of comments added to your posts, a section displaying clickable ad banners, customer testimonials or survey results, RSS content excerpts, video galleries, Twitter feeds, and more.

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

(Some widgets offer little to no customizable options)

Many widgets offer a number of settings that allow you to further customize your site features. 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 sizes of sidebar images, videos, etc. and more …

Many widgets offer customizable options

(Many widgets offer customizing options!)

How To Use Widgets

As we 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 detailed tutorials showing you how to use different widgets in WordPress to improve the effectiveness of your site, plus many great tips for getting the most benefit out of WordPress using widgets:

Related Posts

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

Hopefully, now you have a better understanding of problems that can affect your website and how WordPress can help you build a better online. To learn more about the benefits of using the WordPress platform please click on links to visit our related posts section.

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Author: Martin Aranovitch

Martin Aranovitch is the owner of WPCompendium.org and the author of The WordPress User Manual. 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.