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 lots of benefits to choosing the WordPress CMS platform for building, managing and growing your web site. One of these is that WordPress makes it very easy to add content, expand your website’s functionality and reconfigure the layout of your site without requiring web coding skills.

WordPress lets you quickly and easily insert, delete, and manage various types of content on your blog’s sidebar menu (and header and footer sections too, depending on what theme is installed on your site) using widgets.

Widgets

(WordPress widgets)

This blog post explains how widgets work, why widgets are great for non-technical users and how widgets can add functionality to your website or blog.

What Are WordPress Widgets? An Introduction To Widgets For Business Website Owners

Widgets help make managing and using WordPress easier

(Widgets help make managing and using WordPress easy!)

WP widgets are self-contained modules of code that perform a specific function, such as adding an enhancement, or a script 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 PHP code.

Now … don’t worry if the above sounds too technical. As will soon discover, widgets are made for non-techie website owners.

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

Widgets help you control many features and functions on your site without requiring coding skills

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

Widgets were originally designed to provide a simple way of giving WordPress users to control aspects of their site’s layout and functionality.

In simple terms, a widget lets you do things like:

  • Easily insert, edit and delete functionality to certain areas of your site without having to touch any web code, and
  • Reconfigure how various elements display 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 functionality you can add to your WordPress site’s sidebar navigation area (plus headers and footers and other areas, depending on the theme you have installed) using widgets:

  • list of your web pages
  • content categories
  • archive
  • custom menus
  • links to resources
  • posts that you want to promote
  • excerpts of recent comments added to posts
  • clickable images
  • testimonials
  • survey questions & results
  • RSS feed content
  • subscription form
  • product images
  • social media buttons
  • add widgets from other sites (e.g. Facebook friends)
  • administrative forms (e.g. login, register, etc.)

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

As you will soon learn, themes can affect where widgets work on your site and a number of plugins also install accompanying widgets that will fine-tune your website’s functionality.

Widgetized Themes

Most WordPress themes support widgets and provide widgetized sections on your site where widgets can appear.

Normally, this is going to be in your sidebar, but depending on the theme, widgets can also be found in the header area, in the footer, even below the content area.

It all depends on what theme you have installed on your site.

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

Some Themes have only a single widget area

(Some WordPress themes only have one widget-ready section)

Here is the widget panel of the theme shown above, where you can see that the WordPress theme only includes one widget-enabled area …

About WordPress Widgets Understanding WordPress Widgets For Business Users

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

In contrast, the WP theme shown in the screenshot below includes various widget-ready areas …

Many WP themes provide a number of widget-ready sections

(Many themes provide multiple widget-ready areas)

Here is the widget section of the theme shown above, so you can see how many widget areas this particular theme includes …

Multiple WordPress widget 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 themes let you add widgets to your site's footer area

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

Where Can I See My Widgets?

The Widgets panel can be accessed inside the WP administration by going to Appearance > Widgets

What's A WordPress Widget? Understanding WordPress Widgets For Business Website Users

This brings up the Widgets section in your browser …

Widgets Section

(Widgets Area)

The Widgets screen displays all the widgets that are currently available for 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-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. automatically become activated for use.

In addition, the Widgets panel includes an Inactive Widgets section that lets you remove widgets that you no longer want on your site. Inactive widgets retain their pre-configured settings.

Important

In a default WordPress installation, 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 right out of the box in your default WordPress theme and display items like Search, Archives, Categories, etc. to your visitors …

In a default WordPress installation, 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 are added to your Widgets area when new plugins are installed on your website or blog …

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

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

WP Widgets Features: Drag-And-Drop

Widgets are great because you can easily insert, activate, deactivate, reorder and delete them all within your Widgets section using simple drag and drop …

Rearrange widgets on your WordPress site using drag and drop

(Rearrange widgets using drag & drop)

Drag-and-drop lets you easily rearrange the order and layout of your website’s widgetized areas.

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

  1. A newsletter opt-in form,
  2. A click for support banner, and
  3. A couple of click to call sales buttons from a widgetized plugin …

Widgets control the order certain features on your site appear

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

If you 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 they were arranged in the site’s active widget area …

An Introduction To WordPress For Website Owners: Widgets - How Do They Work?

Let’s now change the above widgets in the Main Sidebar Widget Area using drag and drop …

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

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

The widget features have now been reorganized in your sidebar …

Understanding WordPress For Beginners: How Do WordPress Widgets Work?

As you can see, this immediately reorganizes the order of items in the 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) has been moved to the spot above the newsletter subscription form (1) …

Widgets are really easy to use!

(Widgets are very easy to use!)

Cool, huh?

Here are some more things about using WordPress widgets that are also worth knowing about:

Widget Management – WP Theme Customizer

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

You can do several edits, modifications and adjustments to your widgets in preview mode, like adding, deleting and reorganizing 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 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 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 any changes you’ve made (and avoid making errors), or manage widgets on the fly using the Widget editor area discussed previously.

Widget Configuration

As we have explained earlier, with WordPress you can completely rearrange 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-and-drop …

Rearranging sidebar elements using widgets can improve user experience

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

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

Reorganize sidebar elements using 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 most traditionally-designed websites, you would need to edit code in the site’s templates to reorganize the order of elements, customize features on page elements like shopping cart information sections, or just add useful features like a list of your site pages, or a dropdown menu of your post categories, an archives section, custom page menus, links to external sites, a list of your most popular posts, the latest comments, a section displaying advertising banners, quotations or survey results, RSS feed items, product catalog images, Twitter feeds, 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 customizable options

(Some widgets give you little to no customization)

Most widgets provide a number of options that allow you to further configure these. This can include things like making certain types of information hidden to 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 customization

(Many widgets offer customizable options!)

Using Widgets

As we have seen, widgets require no coding experience or programming expertise to use. Most widgets can be easily added to your web site simply by activating a plugin and then dragging and dropping the plugin’s related widget into your Active widgets area.

For 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 site, plus lots of useful tips on how to get the most benefit out of WordPress using widgets:

Related Posts

If you are learning how to use WordPress, you may also find the following topic-related posts useful:

Hopefully, now you have 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 for a business web site please see our related posts section.

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"I have used the tutorials to teach all of my clients and it has probably never been so easy for everyone to learn WordPress ... Now I don't need to buy all these very expensive video courses that often don't deliver what they promise." - Stefan Wendt, Internet Marketing Success Group

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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.