There are loads of great benefits to using the WordPress web publishing application for building and managing a website. One of these is that WordPress makes it very easy to add content, enhance your site and rearrange the layout of your site without web coding skills.
WordPress also lets you quickly and easily add, remove, and rearrange various blocks of content from your blog’s sidebar menu (and header and footer sections too, depending on what theme you have installed) using a feature called a Widget.
In this blog post you will learn how widgets work, what makes widgets so useful, and how widgets can be used to help you grow your website.
What’s A WordPress Widget? An Introduction To WordPress Widgets For Beginners
A widget is a small block of code that performs a specific function, such as adding a form, or a text box or menu item to your site.
The WordPress software is written using a web language called PHP (Hypertext Preprocessor). Normally, to add features and functions that will enhance the functionality of a website, you have to know how to write PHP code.
Now … don’t worry if this sounds too technical to you. As you are about to discover, widgets are made for non-technical users.
With widgets, users don’t need to know how to write code or manipulate PHP code in order to enhance the functionality of their website.
Widgets were originally developed to provide an easy way to give WordPress users to manage aspects of their website’s layout and functionality.
In plain English terms, a widget allows you to:
- Easily insert, edit and delete blocks of code in parts of your WordPress site without having to touch any code, and
- Reconfigure 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 features you can add to your site’s sidebar area (plus headers and footers and other areas, depending on your theme) using WP widgets:
- pages on your website
- blog categories
- links to resources
- links to your recent posts
- post comments
- clickable ad banners
- poll questions & results
- content from RSS feeds
- customers login section
- video galleries
- Facebook feeds
- display widgets from other sites (e.g. Facebook friends)
- administrative forms (e.g. login, register, etc.)
In other blog posts, we have provided an overview of WP plugins and WordPress themes; what they are, what they do, how plugins and themes can add new functionality to WordPress and alter the look and feel of your site.
As you will soon learn, themes can affect where widgets work on your website and a number of plugins add accompanying widgets that will extend your site’s functionality.
Most themes support widgets and provide what is called “widgetized” areas on your site where widgets can show up in.
Usually, this is going to be in your sidebar, but depending upon the theme, widgets can also be in the site’s header section, in the footer area, and even above or below your content section.
It all depends on what theme you have installed.
For example, the WP theme in the screenshot below has only one widget area displaying items in the theme’s sidebar navigation …
Here is an enlarged image of the widget panel of the above theme, where you can see that the WordPress theme only includes one widgetized area …
As you can see from the above, the only place where users can add widgets to their website using the above theme is in the site’s sidebar section.
In contrast, the WordPress theme shown below contains various widget areas …
Below is the widget screen of the theme above, where you can see how many widget areas are included in this specific WordPress theme …
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) …
How Do I Access My WordPress Widgets?
The Widgets area is found inside your WordPress admin area and can be easily accessed by going to Appearance > Widgets ….
This brings up your Widgets panel in your browser …
The Widgets screen displays a list of all the widgets you can use on your site.
On the right hand side of the screen, you can see your “active” widgets …
Widgets dragged from the “Available Widgets” section to “Widget Areas” like your sidebar, footer, etc. become immediately and available to visitors 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 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 “right out of the box” in the default WordPress theme and display items like “Search”, “Archives”, “Meta”, etc immediately to your site visitors …
Sometimes, when new plugins are installed on your site, you may find that new widgets have also been added to your Widgets section …
WP Widgets Features: “Drag & Drop”
Widgets are great, because you can easily insert, activate, deactivate, rearrange and delete them inside your Widgets section using “drag & drop” …
With “drag & drop” technology also lets you easily reorder the layout of your site’s widget-enabled areas.
For example, take a look at the image below. In this example site, the widgets have already been configured to display the following:
- An opt-in form,
- A “contact support” banner, and
- A couple of “click to phone” sales buttons from a widgetized plugin …
Inside the example site’s Widget area, you would see that these features display on the site in the same order as their corresponding widgets have been arranged in their active widget area …
If we reorganize these widgets in the Widget Area using drag and drop method …
The widget features have now been reordered in the sidebar …
As you can see, this immediately reorganizes the order of items in the 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” graphic button (2) is now located above the newsletter sign-up form (1) …
Pretty cool stuff, huh?
Let’s go over some other useful things worth keeping in mind with widgets:
Widget Management – Customize Widgets Section
Depending on the actual 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 see before committing these changes to your live website.
You can do a bunch of edits and adjustments to your widgets in “preview” mode, like inserting, removing 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.
The ability to manage widgets from within your dashboard 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 widgets “on the fly” using the Widget editor area shown earlier.
As I have shown you in an earlier example, WordPress lets you easily and quickly reorganize how content displays in areas of your website or blog, like sidebars, footers and navigation menus with just a few clicks of your mouse button, using using “drag-and-drop” …
In the screenshot above, for example, you can see that we have redesigned the site’s sidebar area 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 your site’s templates to reorganize the layout, customize features on page elements like shopping cart forms, or just add features like your website’s page list, or a drop down menu of your blog categories, a blog post archive section, custom page menus, links to external sites, a list of your most read posts, the latest user comments, a section displaying image banners, quotations or survey questions & results, content from RSS feeds, product catalog images, social media sharing 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 …
… most widgets offer additional settings that allow you to further configure 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 dimensions of sidebar images, videos, etc. and more …
How To Use WordPress Widgets
As we have seen, widgets require no coding experience or programming expertise to use. Most widgets can be added to your WP website 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 plan to add very soon more great tutorials to this site showing you how to use various types of widgets in WordPress to improve the effectiveness of your web site, plus many useful tips on how to get the most out of WordPress using widgets, so remember to bookmark this site and come visit us again soon!
To learn more about using WordPress for a business web site click on links to visit our related posts section.