WordPress lets you quickly and easily insert, remove, and control various types of content from your site’s sidebar menu (and header and footer sections, depending on what theme you are using) using widgets.
In this post you will learn how widgets work, why widgets can make life easier for non-technical users and how widgets can be used to add new functionality to your web site.
Widgets – What Are They? A Basic Guide To Widgets For Website Owners
(Widgets make managing and using WordPress easier!)
WordPress widgets are small modules of code that perform a specific function, such as adding an enhancement, or a text box or list item to your website.
The WordPress software 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 web code.
Now … don’t worry if the above sounds too geeky. As will soon see, WordPress widgets are made for non-technical users.
Widgets help you control specific features and functions on your site without having to edit code.
(Widgets help you manage technical features and functions on your site without the need to touch code!)
Widgets were originally designed to provide a simple way of allowing WordPress users to manage aspects of their WordPress theme’s layout and functionality.
In plain English terms, a widget lets you do things like:
- Easily insert, edit and remove functionality in parts of your website without touching any code, and
- Rearrange how various elements display 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 section (and headers and footers and other areas, depending on the theme you have installed) using widgets:
- page lists
- post archives
- links to external sites
- posts that you want to promote
- user comments
- image banners
- poll questions & results
- RSS feed content
- subscription form
- twitter feeds
- display widgets from external sites (e.g. Facebook friends)
- administrative forms (e.g. login, register, etc.)
In other blog posts, we write more extensively about plugins and WordPress themes; what they are, what they do, how these can add new functionality to WordPress and even change the look and feel of your website.
As you will learn in a moment, themes affect where widgets work on your site and some plugins also come with accompanying widgets that will further fine tune your website or blog’s performance.
Most themes support widgets and provide widget-enabled sections in the theme’s layout where you can add widgets to.
Typically, widget-powered features can be found in the sidebar menu, but depending on the theme, these can also be in the site’s header, the footer, even below the content area.
It all depends on the theme that you have installed.
For example, the WP theme in the screenshot below has only one widget area adding functionality to the theme’s sidebar area …
(Some WP themes have only a single widget-ready section)
Here is the widget screen of the theme shown above, and you can see that this specific WP theme only includes one widgetized area …
As you can see, the only place where you can add widgets to your site using the theme above is in the site’s sidebar section.
In contrast, the theme shown below includes a number of different widget-ready areas …
(Many WordPress themes provide multiple widget-ready sections)
Below is an enlarged image of the widget section of the theme shown above, so you can see how many widget areas the theme includes …
(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 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)
How Can I See My Widgets?
To access the Widgets section go to Appearance > Widgets …
This loads the Widgets screen in your web browser …
The Widgets panel displays a list of all the widgets that you currently have available.
On the right-hand side of the screen, you can see your “active” widgets …
(Activate or deactivate widgets using drag & drop)
Available widgets can be activated or deactivated by dragging & dropping items to different sections of the screen.
Widgets dragged from the Available Widgets section to widget areas like your sidebar, footer, etc. become available for use.
Your Widgets area also includes an Inactive Widgets section that lets you remove any widgets that you no longer want actively displayed on your website. Inactive widgets do not lose their settings.
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, Meta, etc. to site visitors …
(In a default WordPress installation, your site already comes with several pre-installed widgets)
Sometimes, when new WordPress plugins are installed on your website, you may find that new widgets have also been added to your Widgets section …
(Installing new plugins can sometimes add new widgets to your Widgets admin section!)
Widgets Features: Drag And Drop
Widgets are great because you can easily insert, activate, deactivate, reorder and remove them all right inside your Widgets area using simple drag & drop …
(Rearrange your site’s widgets using drag & drop)
Use drag and drop to easily rearrange the order of your widget-enabled sections.
For example, take a look at the image below. In this example site, the widgets have already been configured to display the following:
- A subscription form,
- A click for support button, and
- Click to call sales buttons from a widgetized plugin …
(Widgets control the order certain features on your site display)
Inside this site’s Widget area, you would see that these features appear on the site’s sidebar section in the same order as their corresponding widgets have been arranged in their active widget bar …
Let’s now reorganize the above widgets in the Widget Area using drag and drop …
(Drag & drop to rearrange widgets in your widget area)
The widget features have now been reorganized in the sidebar …
This immediately changes the order of items in your sidebar. Note in the screenshot below that the click to call function (3) is now at the top of the sidebar menu, and the contact us banner (2) has been moved to the place above the newsletter subscription form (1) …
(Widgets are very easy to use!)
Let’s go over some more useful things about WordPress widgets that are also worth knowing about:
Widget Management – Widget Customizer Section
Depending upon the theme that you have installed on your site, you can also manage your 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 and adjustments to your widgets in preview mode, like inserting, removing 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 to your site visitors.
(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 you’ve made (to avoid making mistakes), or manage your widgets on the fly using the Widget editor screen as shown previously.
As we have shown you earlier, WordPress lets you completely rearrange how content is displayed in widgetized areas of your website or blog, like sidebars, footers and navigation menus with just a few clicks of your mouse, using drag-&-drop technology …
(Reorganizing sidebar layout with widgets can help to improve your site’s user experience)
In the above screenshot, for example, you can see that we have quickly and easily reorganized 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.
Reorganize 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?
With most static websites, you would need to edit code in your website’s templates to rearrange the order of elements, customize features on page elements like user registration areas, or just add features like your website’s page list, or a dropdown menu of your post categories, a post archives section, customized menus, links to external sites, a list of your most read posts, the latest user comments, a section displaying advertising banners, testimonials or surveys & polls, RSS content excerpts, video galleries, Twitter feeds, and more.
While some widgets are “fixed” in the sense that they provide little to no customization, 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)
Most widgets offer a number of settings that allow you to further customize these. This includes making certain types of information hidden to your site visitors but visible to registered users, displaying additional forms, fields, or information, specifying dimensions of sidebar images, videos, etc. and more …
(Most widgets offer customizing options!)
How To Use Widgets
As you have just seen, widgets require no coding experience or programming expertise to use. Most widgets can be easily added to your website or blog 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 great step-by-step tutorials showing you how to use various kinds of widgets in WordPress to boost the effectiveness of your web site, plus many cool tips on how to get the most out of WordPress using widgets:
- How To Use And Configure WordPress Widgets – Part 1
- How To Use And Configure WordPress Widgets – Part 2
- How To Use And Configure WordPress Widgets – Part 3
- How To Use And Configure WordPress Widgets – Part 4
If you are new at WordPress, you may also find the following posts useful:
Hopefully, now you have a better understanding of problems that can affect your website and how WordPress can help you get better results online. To learn more about using the WordPress web site management software please click on links to visit other posts we have published on this site.
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