WordPress allows you to quickly and easily add, delete, and control various types of content in your site’s sidebar menu (and header and footer sections too, depending on what theme is installed on your site) using widgets.
This article explains how widgets work, what they do and how widgets can add new functionality to your site.
WP Widget: A Basic Guide To WordPress Widgets For Business Website Owners
(Widgets make managing and using WordPress easy!)
A WordPress widget is a small module of code that performs a specific function, such as adding an enhancement, or a script or list item to your website.
WordPress is written using a scripting language called PHP (Hypertext Preprocessor). Normally, to add features and functions to a website, you have to learn how to write PHP code.
Now … don’t worry if this all sounds like geek speak. As you are about to learn, WordPress widgets are made for non-technical users.
Widgets help you manage specific features and functions on your site without the need to edit code.
(WP widgets help you manage technical features and functions on your website without requiring coding skills)
Widgets were originally designed to provide a simple way to give WordPress users to control aspects of their site’s layout and functionality.
Simply put, a widget lets you do things like:
- Easily add, edit and delete functionality to certain parts of your WordPress site without having to touch any underlying code, and
- Reconfigure 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 functions you can add to your site’s sidebar navigation area (plus headers and footers and other areas, depending on the theme you have installed) using widgets:
- page lists
- blog post categories
- post archives
- links to external sites
- posts that you want to promote
- user comments
- polls & surveys
- RSS feed items
- opt-in subscription form
- video galleries
- twitter feeds
- display widgets from other sites (e.g. Facebook)
- administrative forms (e.g. login, register, etc.)
As you will soon learn, themes affect how widgets display on your web site and many plugins add accompanying widgets that will further improve your website’s functionality.
Most themes support widgets and provide widget-enabled areas on your site where you can have widgets in.
Normally, you will find functions managed by widgets in your sidebar menu, but depending upon the theme, these can also be found in the header section, in the footer section, even above or below your content.
It all depends on what theme you have installed.
For example, the theme in the screenshot below has only one widget area adding items to the theme’s sidebar navigation …
(Some themes have only a single widgetized section)
Below is the widget panel of the theme above, so you can see that the theme only contains one widget-enabled area …
As you can see, the only location where users can add widgets to their site using the above theme is in the site’s sidebar section.
In contrast, the WordPress theme shown in the screenshot below contains a number of widget-enabled areas …
(Many themes provide multiple widgetized areas)
Below is the widget section of the theme above, where you can see how many widget areas are included in this specific WP theme …
(Multiple WordPress widget areas)
As you can see, with 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 section)
Where Can I See My Widgets?
To access the Widgets panel go to Appearance > Widgets …
This opens the Widgets screen in your browser …
The Widgets screen displays a list of all the widgets that can be used on your site.
The right-hand section of the screen displays your “active” widgets …
(Activate or deactivate widgets using drag-and-drop)
Available widgets can be activated or deactivated 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. instantly become active.
In addition, the Widgets area includes an Inactive Widgets section that lets you remove widgets that you no longer want on your site. Inactive widgets retain their settings.
By default, 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 in your default WordPress theme right out of the box and display items like Search, Recent Comments, Meta, etc. to your site visitors …
(In a default WordPress installation, your site already comes with a number of pre-installed widgets)
Sometimes, new widgets get added to your Widgets section as new WordPress plugins are installed on your site …
(Installing WordPress plugins can sometimes add new widgets to your Widgets admin area!)
Widgets Features: Drag-And-Drop
WordPress widgets are great because you can easily add, activate, deactivate, rearrange and remove them all from your Widgets section just by using drag and drop …
(Rearrange widgets using drag and drop)
Use drag and drop technology to easily reconfigure the order and layout 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 show:
- A subscription form,
- A click for support button, and
- A couple of click to call sales buttons from a widgetized plugin …
(Widgets control the order certain features on your site appear)
Looking inside this site’s Widget area, you would see that these features appear on the site’s sidebar section in exactly the same order as they have been arranged in the active widget area …
Let’s now rearrange the order these widgets in the Widget Area by dragging & dropping elements in the widget area …
(Drag-and-drop widgets in your widget area to rearrange their order)
The widget features have now been reordered in the sidebar …
As you can see, this instantly changes the order of items in your 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 section (2) now sits above the newsletter subscription form (1) …
(Widgets are really easy to use!)
Here are a few more useful things about using WP widgets that are also worth knowing about:
Widget Management – Previewing Widgets
Depending on the actual WordPress 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 have done before committing these changes to the live website.
You can do many edits and adjustments in preview mode, like inserting, deleting and moving around 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!)
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 changes (and avoid making errors), or change widgets on the fly using the Widget editor area as shown previously.
As we have shown you previously, WordPress lets you easily and quickly rearrange how content is displayed in areas like your site’s sidebars, footers and navigation menus with only a few clicks of your mouse button, using drag-and-drop …
(Rearrange sidebar layout using widgets to improve user experience)
In the screenshot above, for example, you can see that we have quickly and easily redesigned the sidebar section by switching 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 layout using widgets can help to improve user experience.
Now … what about the widgets themselves? Can the widgets be customized instead of simply added, removed and rearranged?
With many traditionally-designed websites, you would need to edit code in your web templates to rearrange the layout, customize features on page elements like a member login section, or just add useful features like an index of your site pages, or a dropdown menu of your blog categories, a blog post archive section, custom menus, links to external sites, a list of your most read posts, the latest excerpts of comments added to your posts, a section displaying advertising, quotations or poll questions & results, RSS feed items, video thumbnails, social media share buttons, and more.
While some widgets are “fixed” in the sense that they provide little to no customizable 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 configurable options)
Most widgets offer a number of settings that allow you to further customize things. This includes making certain types of information hidden to visitors but visible to registered users, displaying additional forms, fields, or data, specifying dimensions of sidebar images, videos, etc. and more …
(Many widgets give you configuration options!)
How To Use WordPress Widgets
As you have seen, widgets require no coding experience or programming expertise to use. Most widgets can be easily added to your WordPress website 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 step-by-step 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 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 learning how to use WordPress, you may also find the following related posts useful:
- WP For Beginners – What Are WordPress Plugins
- WordPress For Newbies – An Introduction To WordPress Themes
Hopefully, this post has given you 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 other posts we have published on this site.
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