There are many great benefits to using WordPress to build, manage and grow a business online. One of these is that WordPress makes it very easy to add content, expand your website’s functionality and rearrange your site’s layout without coding skills.
WordPress also lets you quickly and easily add, delete, and manage various types of content from your website’s sidebar menu (or header and footer sections, depending on what theme you have installed) using a feature called a Widget.
Learn what WordPress widgets are, why they make life easier for non-technical users, and how widgets can add functionality to your website.
What Do Widgets Do? A Basic Guide To Widgets For Beginners
WordPress widgets are self-contained blocks of code that perform a specific function, such as adding a functionality, or a text box 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 to a website, you have to know how to program PHP code.
Now … don’t worry if this sounds too technical to you. As you are about to discover, widgets are perfect for “non-techies”.
Widgets don’t require you to know how to program code or manipulate PHP code to expand the functionality of your site.
Widgets were originally developed to provide an easy way to allow WordPress users to control aspects of their site’s layout and functionality.
In plain English terms, a widget lets you do things like:
- Easily add, edit and delete functionality to areas of your WordPress site without touching any code, and
- Rearrange how various elements display 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 additional components you can add to your WordPress site’s sidebar section (plus headers and footers and other areas, depending on the theme you have installed) using WordPress widgets:
- list of pages
- post categories
- links to external sites
- posts that you want to promote
- excerpts of recent comments added to posts
- clickable text ads
- poll results
- content from RSS feeds
- shopping cart forms
- video galleries
- Facebook feeds
- add widgets from other sites (e.g. Facebook)
- administrative forms (e.g. login, register, etc.)
In other posts, I have written about plugins and themes; what they are, what they do, how plugins and themes easily add loads of new functionality to WordPress and even alter the whole look and feel of your website.
As you will soon learn, themes affect how widgets display on your website and a number of plugins add accompanying widgets that can improve your site’s capabilities.
Most WordPress themes support widgets and provide what is called “widget-ready” areas in the theme’s layout where you can add widgets to.
Usually, you will find functions driven by widgets in the theme’s sidebar menu, but depending upon the theme, these can also be in your site’s header, the footer, even above or below the content.
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 adding items to the theme’s sidebar …
Below is an enlarged image of the widget screen of the above theme, where you can see that the theme only includes one widget area …
As you can see from the above, the only place where you can add widgets to your site using the above theme is in the site’s sidebar section.
In contrast, the theme shown in the screenshot below includes a number of widgetized areas …
Here is the widget panel of the theme shown above, where you can see how many widget areas this particular theme includes …
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) …
How Do I Access My Widgets?
The Widgets panel is located inside your WP admin area and can be accessed from the admin menu by selecting Appearance > Widgets ….
This loads the Widgets screen in your browser window …
The Widgets section displays a list of all the widgets you have available.
On the right-hand side of the window, you can see your “active” widgets …
Widgets dragged from the “Available Widgets” section to “Widget Areas” like your sidebar, footer, etc. become immediately active on your site.
In addition, your Widgets area includes an “Inactive Widgets” section that lets you remove any widgets that you no longer want actively displayed on your site without losing 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 “right out of the box” in the default WordPress theme and display items like “Recent Posts”, “Archives”, “Meta”, etc immediately to your site visitors …
Sometimes, whenever new plugins are installed on your website or blog, you may find that new widgets are also added to your Widgets area …
WordPress Widgets Features: “Drag & Drop”
Widgets are great, because you can easily add, activate, deactivate, reorder and delete them all within your Widgets area just by using “drag and drop” …
Using “drag & drop” technology also lets you easily reorder the layout of your “widgetized” areas.
For example, take a look at the image below. In this example site, the widgets have already been configured to show the following:
- A subscription form,
- A “click for support” button, and
- “Click to call” sales buttons from a widgetized WordPress plugin …
If you took a look inside this site’s Widget area, you would see that these features display on the site’s sidebar menu in the same order as they have been arranged in the site’s active widget section …
If we reorganize the above widgets in the Sidebar Widget Area using the drag and drop method …
The widget features have now been reorganized 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) can now be found above the newsletter opt-in form (1) …
Pretty good stuff, huh?
There are some more things worth keeping in mind when using WP widgets:
Widget Management – Customize Widgets Section
Depending upon the theme that you have installed on your site, you can also manage and customize your widgets without making actual changes to your site, so you can be sure that you like what you have done before committing any changes to your live website.
You can do a bunch of edits and adjustments to your widgets in “preview” mode, like inserting, removing and reorganizing your current widgets to any widget areas that your theme makes available, and everything is done in real time. If you like what you’ve done and click the “Save and Publish” button, your changes will then be instantly updated and reflected on your site.
Widget management 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 before publishing changes (to avoid making mistakes), or manage your widgets “on the fly” using the Widget editor area as shown earlier.
As I have shown you in an earlier example, with WordPress you can easily and quickly rearrange 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 using “drag-and-drop” technology …
In the screenshot above, for example, you can see that we have quickly and easily reorganized the sidebar menu 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.
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 the site’s templates to rearrange the order of elements, customize features on page elements like newsletter subscription forms, or just add things like an index of your site pages, or a dropdown menu of your blog categories, an archived posts section, menus to display selected pages, links to recommended resources, a list of your most read posts, the latest user comments, a section displaying image banners, testimonials or surveys & polls, rss feed content, image galleries, social media buttons, and more..
While some widgets are “fixed” in the sense that they provide little to no configuration options, other than to add an optional title to the widget, as shown in the example below …
… many widgets provide additional options 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 sizes of sidebar images, videos, etc. and more …
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 web site simply by activating a plugin and then dragging and dropping the plugin’s widget into your “Active” widgets area.
There are some tips and tricks to using widgets, however, and we will soon be adding more detailed step-by-step tutorials to this site showing you how to use different types of widgets in WordPress to improve the effectiveness of your website or blog, plus lots of great tips on how to get the most out of WordPress with widgets, so stay tuned and come back soon!