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 whitelabel version of this tutorial visit WPTrainingManual.com.

WordPressThere are lots of benefits to choosing WordPress to manage and grow your website. One of these is that WordPress makes it very easy to add content, enhance your site and reconfigure your site’s layout without programming skills and knowledge.

WordPress gives you the ability to quickly and easily insert, remove, and rearrange various blocks of content on your blog’s sidebar menu (or header and footer sections, depending on what theme you use) using widgets.

WordPress widgets

(Widgets)

This blog post explains how widgets work, what makes widgets so useful and how widgets can help to grow your site.

About WordPress Widgets: A Basic Guide To Widgets For Website Owners

WP widgets help make managing and using WordPress easier

(WordPress widgets make managing and using WordPress easier!)

A WordPress widget is a small block of code that performs a specific function, such as adding an enhancement, or a text box or menu item to your website.

WordPress is written using a web language called PHP (Hypertext Preprocessor). Normally, to add features and functions to a website, you have to learn how to script code.

Now … don’t worry if this sounds like geek speak. As you are about to see, WordPress widgets are perfect for non-technical users.

Widgets eliminate the need to know how to write code or manipulate PHP code to enhance their sites.

Widgets help you control many features and functions on your website without the need to edit code

(Widgets help you manage technical features and functions on your site without the need to touch code!)

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

Simply put, a widget lets you do things like:

  • Easily insert, edit and delete functionality in certain areas 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 additional components you can add to your site’s sidebar area (and headers and footers and other areas, depending on your theme) using WP widgets:

  • nested list of pages
  • blog categories
  • archived blog posts
  • menus that display only selected pages
  • links to external sites
  • posts that you want to promote
  • post comments
  • clickable images
  • customer testimonials
  • polls & surveys
  • RSS content
  • newsletter registration form
  • video galleries
  • social media sharing buttons
  • display widgets from external sites (e.g. affiliate programs)
  • administrative forms (e.g. login, register, etc.)

In other blog posts, we provide more detailed explanations of WordPress plugins and WP themes; what they are, what they do, how these can easily add loads of new features to WordPress and even alter the whole look and feel of your site.

As you will soon learn, themes can affect where widgets work on your site and a number of plugins include accompanying widgets that can help further extend your website’s functionality.

Widgetized Areas

Most themes support widgets and provide widget-ready areas in the theme’s layout where widgets can show up in.

Usually, widget-powered features can be found in the theme’s sidebar menu, but depending upon the theme, these can also be located in your site’s header, the footer, and even below your content area.

It all depends on what theme you have installed.

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

Some Themes provide only one widgetized section

(Some themes have only one widget enabled area)

Below is an enlarged image of the widget panel of the above theme, so you can see that this particular theme only contains one widget area …

An Introduction To WordPress For Business Owners: What's A Widget?

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

In contrast, the WP theme shown in the screenshot below contains various widgetized areas …

Many themes offer users a number of widget-enabled areas

(Many WordPress themes offer users a number of widget-enabled areas)

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

Multiple WordPress widget areas

(Multiple widgets areas)

As you can see, with 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 WordPress themes let you add widgets to your site’s footer section)

How Do I Access My Widgets?

The Widgets panel is located within your WP administration area and can be easily accessed by going to Appearance > Widgets

What's A Widget? An Overview Of Widgets For Newbies

This loads the Widgets section in your web browser …

Widgets Panel

(Widgets Screen)

The Widgets area displays all the widgets you have available.

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 made Active or Inactive by dragging & dropping items to different sections of the widgets screen.

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

Your Widgets panel also includes an Inactive Widgets section that lets you remove any widgets that you no longer want to use on your website. Inactive widgets do not lose their pre-configured settings.

Important

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 the default WordPress theme right out of the box and display items like Search, Recent Comments, Categories, etc. to site visitors …

By default, 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 get added to your Widgets section whenever new WP plugins are installed on your site …

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

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

WP Widgets Features: Drag And Drop

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

Rearrange widgets on your WordPress site using drag & drop

(Rearrange widgets using drag-and-drop)

Use drag & drop technology to easily reorder the order of your website’s widgetized areas.

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

  1. An opt-in form,
  2. A contact support button, and
  3. A couple of click to call sales buttons from a widgetized WP plugin …

Widgets control how certain features on your site display

(Widgets control how certain features on your site appear)

Inside the example 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 bar …

What Do Widgets Do? A Basic Guide To WordPress Widgets For Business Users

Let’s now reorganize these widgets in the Active 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 reorganized in the sidebar …

Understanding WordPress For Business Users: How Do WordPress Widgets Work?

As you can see, this instantly reorganizes the order of items in your 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 banner (2) has been moved to the spot above the newsletter opt-in form (1) …

WordPress widgets are really easy to use!

(WordPress widgets are very easy to use!)

Cool, huh?

There are some other things worth keeping in mind when using widgets:

Widget Management – Preview Widgets

Depending on the WP theme that you have installed, 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 many modifications and adjustments to widgets in preview mode, like adding, deleting 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 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 it (to avoid making mistakes), or manage your widgets on the fly using the Widget editor area discussed earlier.

Widget Configuration

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

Rearranging sidebar layout using widgets can help improve user experience

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

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

Reorganizing sidebar elements using widgets can help 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 static websites, you would need to edit code in your site’s templates to rearrange the order of elements, customize features on page elements like newsletter subscription forms, or just add other features like nested page lists, or a dropdown menu of your site categories, an archives section, custom menus, links to recommended resources, a list of your most read posts, the latest user comments, a section displaying clickable ads, testimonials or polls & surveys, RSS content excerpts, product images, Facebook feeds, and more.

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

Some widgets give you little to no customizing options

(Some widgets provide users with little to no customization)

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

Most widgets provide users with configurable options

(Many widgets provide users with configuration options!)

Using WordPress Widgets

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

For some useful tips and tricks to using widgets, see these great step-by-step tutorials showing you how to use various kinds of widgets in WordPress to improve the effectiveness of your website, plus lots of cool tips for getting the most out of WordPress using 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 website and how WordPress can help you grow your business online. To learn more about the benefits of using WordPress 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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For a whitelabel version of this tutorial visit WPTrainingManual.com.
Originally published as WordPress Widgets Explained.