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 lots of great things about choosing WordPress for building and growing your web site. One of these is that you can easily add content, enhance your website and rearrange your site’s layout without web programming skills and knowledge.

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

Widgets

(Widgets)

In this article you will learn what WordPress widgets are, why widgets can make life easier for non-technical users and how widgets can help to expand the functionality of your site.

WordPress Widget: A Basic Guide To WordPress Widgets For Beginners

WP widgets help make managing and using WordPress easy

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

WordPress widgets are small blocks of code that perform a specific function, such as adding a functionality, or a script or menu item to your site.

The WordPress application is written using a web language called PHP (Hypertext Preprocessor). Normally, to add features and functions that will enhance the functionality of a website, you have to know how to script code.

Now … don’t worry if this sounds too technical. As you are about to discover, widgets are perfect for non-technical users.

With WordPress widgets, you don’t have to know how to program or manipulate PHP code in order to enhance your site.

WP widgets help you manage specific features and functions on your site without the need to edit code

(Widgets help you control many features and functions on your site without having to mess with code)

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

In plain English terms, widgets let you do things like:

  • Easily add, edit and delete features in areas of your site without touching any underlying code, and
  • Rearrange 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 many great things you can add to your site’s sidebar menu (and headers and footers and other areas, depending on your theme) using widgets:

  • website page list
  • post categories
  • archive
  • custom page menus
  • links to resources
  • posts that you want to promote
  • post comments
  • advertising banners
  • customer testimonials
  • poll results
  • RSS feed content
  • shopping cart information
  • video thumbnails
  • social media buttons
  • add widgets from external sites (e.g. Facebook friends)
  • administrative forms (e.g. login, register, etc.)

In other posts and tutorials, we provide more detailed explanations of plugins and WP themes; what they are, what they do, how these can easily add new features to WordPress and even drastically alter the entire design of your website or blog.

As you will soon discover, WP themes can affect where widgets display on your website and a number of plugins also install accompanying widgets that can further extend your website’s functionality.

Widgetized Themes

Most themes support widgets and provide widget-ready areas on your site where widgets can appear.

Typically, you will find features driven by widgets in the sidebar menu, but depending on the theme, widgets can also be located in the site’s header, the footer area, even above or below your content area.

It all depends on the theme that you have installed.

For example, the WordPress theme shown in the screenshot below has only one widget area for the theme’s sidebar navigation …

Some WP Themes have only one widget enabled section

(Some themes only have one widget-ready area)

Here is the widget panel of the theme above, where you can see that the theme only contains one widget area …

WordPress Widget: An Introduction To WordPress Widgets For Website Owners

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

In contrast, the WP theme shown in the screenshot below contains a number of widgetized areas …

Many WordPress themes offer users a number of widgetized sections

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

Below is an enlarged image of the widget screen of the theme shown above, where you can see how many widget areas are included in this specific WordPress theme …

Multiple widgets areas

(Multiple WordPress widget 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 3 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 themes let you add widgets to your site’s footer section)

How Can I See My Widgets?

The Widgets panel is located within the WP dashboard and can easily be accessed from the WP admin menu by selecting Appearance > Widgets

An Overview Of WordPress For Beginners: What Do Widgets Do?

This brings up the Widgets screen in your browser …

Widgets Screen

(Widgets Panel)

The Widgets screen displays a list of 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 using drag-and-drop.

Widgets dragged from the Available Widgets section to widget areas like your sidebar, footer, etc. instantly become available for use on your site.

In addition, the Widgets screen includes an Inactive Widgets section that lets you remove any widgets that you no longer want on your website. Inactive widgets retain their pre-configured 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 your default WordPress theme right out of the box and display items like Search, Archives, Categories, etc. to 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 several pre-installed widgets)

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

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

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

WordPress Widgets Features: Drag-And-Drop

WordPress widgets are great because you can easily insert, activate, deactivate, rearrange and remove them all right inside your Widgets area just by using drag and drop …

Rearrange widgets using drag-and-drop

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

Use drag and drop to easily reorder the order and layout of your widget-enabled areas.

For example, take a look at the image below. In this example 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 plugin …

Widgets control how certain features appear on your WordPress site

(Widgets control how certain features display on your site)

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 have been arranged in the active widget bar …

A Basic Guide To WordPress For Business Owners: WP Widgets:

If we reorganize the above widgets in the Main Sidebar Widget Area using drag and drop …

Drag & drop to rearrange widgets in your widget area

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

The widgets have now been reorganized in the sidebar …

An Overview Of WordPress For Business Owners: How Do WordPress Widgets Work?

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 function (3) is now first the sidebar menu, and the contact us graphic banner (2) can now be found above the newsletter sign-up form (1) …

Widgets are very easy to use!

(Widgets are really easy to use!)

Pretty good stuff, huh?

Let’s go over some more things worth knowing about widgets:

Widget Management – Preview Widgets

Depending upon the actual WordPress theme that you have installed, you’re also able to 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 your live website.

You can do many edits, modifications and adjustments 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 everything is done 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 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 within your WP dashboard 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 it (and avoid making mistakes), or change your widgets on the fly using the Widget editor area discussed previously.

Widget Configuration

As we’ve explained in an earlier example, with WordPress you can easily and quickly rearrange how information is displayed in widgetized areas like your site’s sidebars, footers and navigation menus with just a few clicks of your mouse button, using drag-&-drop …

Rearrange sidebar elements with widgets to improve your site's user experience

(Rearranging sidebar layout with widgets can help improve user experience)

In the screenshot above, for example, you can see that we have quickly and easily rearranged the site’s 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.

Reorganize sidebar elements with widgets to 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 many traditionally-designed websites, you would need to edit code in your website’s templates to reorganize the order of elements, make unique customizations to features on page elements like a member login section, or just add other features like a list of your web pages, or a dropdown menu of your categories, an archived blog post entries 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 text ads, testimonials or survey results, RSS feed items, videos, Facebook feeds, and more.

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

Some widgets give you little to no customization

(Some widgets give you little to no customizing options)

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

Most widgets give you customization

(Many widgets offer configuration 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 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 different types of widgets in WordPress to boost the effectiveness of your website, plus many great 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 topic-related posts useful:

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

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"This is AMAZING! I had learnt about how to use WordPress previously, but this covers absolutely everything and more!! Incredible value! Thank you!" - Monique, Warrior Forum

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