There are lots of great things about using WordPress to build and grow a web site. One of these is that you can easily add content, enhance your site and reconfigure the layout of your website without code editing skills.
WordPress allows you to quickly and easily insert, remove, and manage various blocks of content from your site’s sidebar menu (or header and footer sections too, depending on your theme) using widgets.
In this article you will learn what widgets are, why they are great for non-technical users and how widgets can add new functionality to your web site.
Widgets – What Do They Do? Understanding WordPress Widgets For Newbies
(WordPress widgets help make managing and using WordPress easier!)
Widgets are small modules of code that perform a specific function, such as adding a form, or a text box or list item to your website.
The WordPress software is written using a scripting language called PHP (Hypertext Preprocessor). Normally, in order to add features and functions that will enhance the functionality of a website, you need to know how to write code.
Now … don’t worry if the above sounds too technical. As will soon see, WP widgets are perfect for non-techie website owners.
WordPress widgets help you control specific features and functions on your website without the need to edit code.
(Widgets help you manage many features and functions on your website without the need to edit code!)
Widgets were originally designed to provide a simple way to give WordPress users to control aspects of their WordPress theme’s layout and functionality.
In simple terms, widgets let you do things like:
- Easily add, edit and remove features in parts of your website without touching any code, and
- Reconfigure the functional layout of your WP theme 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 functions you can add to your site’s sidebar area (plus headers and footers and other areas, depending on your theme) using WP widgets:
- website page list
- content categories
- blog post archive
- custom page menus
- links to external sites
- links to your recent posts
- recent comments
- clickable text ads
- RSS feed items
- shopping cart information
- image galleries
- Facebook feeds
- add widgets from other sites (e.g. affiliate programs)
- administrative forms (e.g. login, register, etc.)
In other blog posts, we provide an overview of WordPress plugins and WP themes; what they are, what they do, how these easily add loads of new functionality to WordPress and even drastically change the entire design of your website or blog.
As you will soon discover, WordPress themes affect how widgets work on your website and some plugins also add accompanying widgets that can help further fine-tune your site’s capabilities.
Most themes support widgets and provide widget-ready areas on your site where widgets can display.
Typically, widget-powered features can be found in the sidebar, but depending upon the theme, these can also be located in your site’s header, in the footer, and even below or above the content area.
It all depends on what theme you have installed.
For example, the WP theme shown in the screenshot below provides users with only one widget area displaying items in the theme’s sidebar …
(Some WordPress themes have only a single widgetized area)
Here is an enlarged image of the widget screen of the theme above, and you can see that this particular theme only contains one widgetized area …
As you can see from the above, the only place where users can add widgets to their site using the theme above is in the site’s sidebar area.
In contrast, the theme shown in the screenshot below contains a number of widget-enabled areas …
(Many WordPress themes provide a number of widgetized sections)
Here is an enlarged image of the widget panel of the above theme, so you can see how many widget areas are included in the 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 WordPress themes let you add widgets to your site’s footer)
How Do I Access My Widgets?
To access the Widgets section go to Appearance > Widgets …
This loads the Widgets panel in your web browser …
The Widgets section displays all the widgets you can use on your site.
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 made Active or Inactive using drag-and-drop.
Widgets dragged from the Available Widgets section to widget areas like your sidebar, footer, etc. become immediately active and can be used.
The Widgets panel also includes an Inactive Widgets section that lets you remove widgets that you no longer want to use on your website. Inactive widgets retain their pre-configured 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 the default WordPress theme right out of the box and display items like Recent Posts, Recent Comments, Categories, etc. to visitors …
(By default, your site already comes with a number of pre-installed widgets)
Sometimes, new widgets display in your Widgets area whenever new WP plugins are installed on your site …
(Installing new WP plugins can sometimes add new widgets to your Widgets area!)
Widgets Features: Drag-And-Drop
WP widgets are great because you can easily insert, activate, deactivate, rearrange and remove them all right inside your Widgets area using simple drag & drop …
(Rearrange widgets using drag and drop)
Using drag & drop technology lets you easily rearrange the order of your website’s widget-enabled areas.
For example, take a look at the image below. In this example site, the widgets have already been configured to show the following:
- An opt-in form,
- A contact support banner, and
- Click to call sales buttons from a widgetized plugin …
(Widgets control the order certain features display on your WordPress site)
Inside this site’s Widget area, you would see that these features appear on the site’s sidebar area in exactly the same order as they have been arranged in the active widget area …
Let’s now reorganize these widgets in the Widget Area by dragging & dropping elements in the widget area …
(Drag & drop widgets in your widget area to rearrange their order)
The widget features have now been reordered in your sidebar …
This immediately changes the layout of your site’s 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) now sits above the newsletter opt-in form (1) …
(WordPress widgets are very easy to use!)
Pretty simple, huh?
There are some other things worth knowing about WordPress widgets:
Widget Management – Preview Widgets
Depending upon the WordPress theme that you have installed on your site, you can also 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 a number of things in preview mode, like inserting, 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.
(Widget management – work in preview mode or configure widgets on the fly!)
The ability to manage widgets from within your WordPress 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 (to avoid making errors), or change widgets on the fly using the Widget editor area discussed previously.
As we’ve explained previously, WordPress lets you quickly and easily rearrange how information displays in areas of your website or blog, like sidebars, footers and navigation menus with only a few clicks of your mouse, using drag-&-drop …
(Rearranging sidebar elements with widgets can help to improve your site’s user experience)
In the screenshot above, for example, you can see that we have easily reorganized the site’s sidebar section by switching around the search and testimonial sections. As you now know, this was easily done by simply dragging and dropping the widgets into different positions inside the sidebar widget area.
Reorganize sidebar elements with widgets to improve visitor experience.
Now … what about the widgets themselves? Can the widgets be customized instead of simply added, removed and rearranged?
With many static websites, you would need to edit code in your site’s templates to reorganize the layout, make unique customizations to features on page elements like subscriber forms, or just add features like your website’s page list, or a dropdown menu of your blog categories, an archives section, menus to display selected pages, links to external sites, links to your recent posts, the latest excerpts of comments added to your posts, a section displaying image banners, quotations or poll questions & results, RSS feed content, video thumbnails, Twitter 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 customization)
Many widgets offer a number of options that allow you to further customize things. 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 configurable options!)
How To Use Widgets
As we have seen, widgets require no coding experience or programming expertise to use. Most widgets can be added to your website simply by activating a plugin and then dragging and dropping the plugin’s widget into your Active widgets area.
There are some useful tips and tricks to using widgets, however, and we plan to add more great step-by-step tutorials to this site showing you how to use different widgets in WordPress to improve the effectiveness of your web site, plus lots of cool tips on how to get the most out of WordPress with widgets, so stay tuned and come visit us again soon!
If you are learning how to use WordPress, you may also find the following related posts useful:
Hopefully this article has given you a better understanding of issues that can affect your website and how WordPress can help you build a better online. To learn more about the benefits of using WordPress for a business website please click on links to visit our related posts section.
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