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 things about using WordPress for building and growing a website or blog. One of these is that you can easily add content, expand your website’s functionality and reconfigure your site’s layout without web programming skills or knowledge.

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

WP widgets

(Widgets)

This article explains what widgets are, why they make life easier for non-technical users and how widgets can be used to help you improve the functionality of your web site.

WordPress Widgets – What Do They Do? An Overview Of Widgets For Beginners

Widgets help make managing and using WordPress easier

(Widgets help make managing and using WordPress easier!)

A WP widget is a self-contained block of code that performs a specific function, such as adding a functionality, or a script or menu item to your 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 have to know how to write PHP code.

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

WordPress widgets eliminate the need to know how to write code or manipulate PHP code to enhance their websites.

Widgets help you manage technical features and functions on your website without having to touch code

(Widgets help you control technical features and functions on your site without requiring knowledge of coding)

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

In simple terms, a widget allows you to:

  • Easily insert, edit and delete functions to certain parts of your WordPress site without having to touch any web code, and
  • Rearrange 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 functionality you can add to your WordPress site’s sidebar area (and headers and footers and other areas, depending on your theme) using widgets:

  • page lists
  • blog post categories
  • post archives
  • menus displaying only selected pages
  • links to resources
  • links to your recent posts
  • recent comments
  • clickable text ads
  • client testimonials
  • survey results
  • RSS feed content
  • subscriber form
  • videos
  • Facebook feeds
  • add widgets from external sites (e.g. Pinterest)
  • administrative forms (e.g. login, register, etc.)

In other posts and tutorials, we provide additional information about WP plugins and themes; what they are, what they do, how plugins and themes can easily add new features to WordPress and change the whole design of your website or blog.

As you will learn in a moment, WordPress themes affect how widgets work on your website and some plugins also install accompanying widgets that will enhance your site’s usability.

Widget-Ready Areas

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

Usually, widget-driven functions can be found in the sidebar, but depending upon the theme, these can also be in the site’s header, in the footer area, even below or above the content section.

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

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

Some Themes only have one widget section

(Some themes have only one widget section)

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

An Overview Of WordPress For Beginners: What Is A Widget?

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

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

Many themes offer users multiple widgetized sections

(Many WordPress themes offer users multiple widgetized areas)

Below is the widget section of the above theme, where you can see how many widget areas this particular theme includes …

Multiple widgets areas

(Multiple widgets areas)

As you can see, in the above theme, you can add widgets 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 area)

How Do I Access My Widgets?

The Widgets section can be accessed inside the WordPress administration by going to Appearance > Widgets

About WordPress Widgets An Overview Of Widgets For Business Users

This brings up the Widgets panel in your web browser …

Widgets Section

(Widgets Panel)

The Widgets section displays all the widgets that are available.

The right-hand section of the window displays your “active” widgets …

Activate or deactivate widgets using drag & drop

(Activate or deactivate widgets using drag-and-drop)

Available widgets can be activated or deactivated using drag-and-drop.

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

In addition, your Widgets panel 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

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 Search, Recent Comments, Meta, etc. to your site 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 display in your Widgets area when new plugins are installed on your website or blog …

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

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

Widgets Features: Drag & Drop

Widgets are great because you can easily add, activate, deactivate, reorder and delete them in your Widgets area using drag & drop …

Rearrange your site's widgets using drag-and-drop

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

Use drag and drop technology to easily reorder the layout of your website’s widgetized sections.

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

  1. An opt-in form,
  2. A contact support banner, and
  3. Click to call sales buttons from a widgetized WordPress plugin …

Widgets control the order certain features display on your WordPress site

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

Inside this site’s Widget area, you would see that these features display on the site’s sidebar area in exactly the same order as their corresponding widgets have been arranged in their active widget area …

WP Widget: A Basic Guide To Widgets For Newbies

If we reorganize these widgets in the Widget Area using drag and drop …

Drag and 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 Introduction To WordPress For Beginners: What Is A WordPress Widget?

This immediately reorganizes the layout of the sidebar. Note in the screenshot below that the click to call function (3) is now first the sidebar menu, and the contact us banner (2) has been moved to the spot above the newsletter opt-in form (1) …

Widgets are really easy to use!

(Widgets are really easy to use!)

Pretty simple stuff, huh?

Let me just show you some other useful things worth keeping in mind with widgets:

Widget Management – Previewing Widgets

Depending upon the actual theme that you have installed on your site, you’re also able to manage and customize your 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 many things to widgets in preview mode, like inserting, removing and reorganizing your current 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 your own 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 change widgets on the fly using the Widget editor screen shown earlier.

Widget Configuration

As we have shown you previously, WordPress lets you easily and quickly rearrange how content displays in areas like your site’s sidebars, footers and navigation menus with just a few clicks of your mouse, using drag-and-drop technology …

Rearranging sidebar layout with widgets can improve your site's user experience

(Rearrange sidebar elements using widgets to improve your site’s visitor experience)

In the above screenshot, for example, you can see that we have easily change the widgets in the sidebar section 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.

Rearranging sidebar elements with widgets can help improve user experience.

Now … what about the widgets themselves? Can the widgets be customized instead of simply added, removed and rearranged?

Absolutely!

With many static websites, you would need to edit code in the web templates to rearrange the layout, customize features on page elements like user registration areas, or just add features like page lists, or a dropdown menu of your post categories, an archived content posts section, menus to display selected pages, links to recommended resources, links to your recent posts, the latest user comments, a section displaying advertisements, testimonials or polls & surveys, RSS feed content, video galleries, Facebook feeds, and more.

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

Some widgets provide users with little to no configurable options

(Some widgets provide users with little to no customization)

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

Many widgets provide users with configuration options

(Most widgets give you customization!)

Using WP Widgets

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

For some useful tips and tricks to using widgets, see these detailed tutorials showing you how to use various types of widgets in WordPress to boost the effectiveness of your web site, plus many great tips for getting the most benefit out of WordPress with widgets:

Related Posts

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

Hopefully, now you have a better understanding of issues that can affect your website and how WordPress can help you build a better online. To learn more about using the WP CMS platform please see other posts we have published on this site.

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"These tutorials have so much information and are easy to understand. If you use WordPress or plan to in the future these will help you with everything you need to know." - Valisa (Mesa, Arizona)

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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 detailed step-by-step tutorials that will teach you how to use WordPress to grow your business online at minimal cost with no coding skills required!

Originally published as WordPress Widgets Explained.