There are loads of benefits to choosing WordPress to manage and grow your business online. One of these is that you can easily add content, expand your site’s functionality and rearrange your site’s layout without web programming skills.
WordPress also lets you quickly and easily insert, remove, and reconfigure various blocks of content in your website’s sidebar menu (and header and footer sections, depending on what theme you are using) using a unique type of feature called a Widget.
Learn what WP widgets are, what widgets do, and how widgets can help to add functionality to your site.
What Do Widgets Do? Understanding Widgets For Newbies
A WP widget is a self-contained block of code that performs a specific function, such as adding a form, or a script or menu item to your site.
The WordPress application is written using a web language called PHP (Hypertext Preprocessor). Normally, to add features and functions to a website, you need to know how to program PHP code.
Now … don’t worry if this sounds like “geek speak” to you. As will soon see, widgets are made for non-technical users.
With widgets, users don’t need to know how to program or manipulate PHP code in order to customize their websites.
Widgets were originally designed to provide an easy way to give WordPress users to manage aspects of their WordPress theme’s layout and functionality.
Simply put, a widget lets you do things like:
- Easily add, edit and delete blocks of code in certain 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 additional components you can add to your site’s sidebar section (plus headers and footers and other areas, depending on the theme you have installed) using widgets:
- list of pages
- archived blog post entries
- custom page menus
- links to resources
- most popular posts
- image banners
- poll questions & results
- RSS content
- newsletter registration form
- video galleries
- twitter feeds
- display widgets from other sites (e.g. Facebook friends)
- administrative forms (e.g. login, register, etc.)
As you will soon learn, themes can affect where widgets display on your site and a number of plugins add accompanying widgets that can fine tune your site’s performance.
Most themes support widgets and provide what is called “widgetized” areas in the theme’s layout where widgets can show.
Typically, widgets can be found in your theme’s sidebar menu, but depending upon the theme, widgets can also be located in your site’s header area, footer, even below or above the content.
It all depends on the theme you have installed.
For example, the WP theme in the screenshot below provides users with only one widget area displaying items in the theme’s sidebar …
Below is an enlarged image of the widget section of the above theme, where you can see that this specific theme only includes one widget area …
As you can see, the only area where users can add widgets to their website using the theme shown above is in the site’s sidebar area.
In contrast, the WP theme shown below includes various widget-enabled areas …
Here is the widget panel of the above theme, and you can see how many widget areas this theme includes …
As you can see, with the above theme, widgets can be added to the sidebar area of 2 different page templates (Main Sidebar and Showcase Sidebar) and three different Footer areas (Footer Area One, Footer Area Two, Footer Area Three) …
Where Do I Access My Widgets?
The Widgets screen is found within the WordPress admin area and can be easily accessed by going to Appearance > Widgets ….
This brings up the Widgets area in your browser window …
The Widgets section displays a list of all the widgets you can use on your site.
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.
Your Widgets area also includes an “Inactive Widgets” section that lets you remove 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”, “Recent Comments, “Categories”, etc immediately to your site visitors …
Sometimes, new widgets display in your Widgets area as new plugins are installed on your website or blog …
Widgets Features: “Drag And Drop”
Widgets are great, because you can easily add, activate, deactivate, reorder and remove them all within your Widgets area using simple “drag & drop” …
With “drag & drop” also lets you easily rearrange the layout of your website’s 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” banner, and
- A couple of “click to phone” sales buttons from a widgetized WP plugin …
If you took a look inside the example site’s Widget area, you would see that these features display on the site’s sidebar section in exactly the same order as their corresponding widgets were arranged in the site’s active widget area …
Let’s now rearrange the above widgets in the Sidebar Widget Area using drag & drop method …
The widget features have now been reorganized in the sidebar …
As you can see, this immediately changes the layout of your site’s sidebar. Note in the screenshot below that the “click to call” function (3) is now first the sidebar menu, and the “contact us” section (2) now sits above the newsletter opt-in form (1) …
Here are some other things worth keeping in mind with WP widgets:
Widget Management – Customize Widgets Section
Depending upon the actual WP theme that you have installed, you’re also able to 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 your live website.
You can do lots of things in “preview” mode, like adding, 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’ve done and click the “Save and Publish” button, your changes will then be instantly updated and reflected on your site to visitors.
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 changes (to avoid making mistakes), or change widgets “on the fly” using the Widget editor screen discussed previously.
As we have shown you in an earlier example, WordPress lets you easily reorder how information is displayed in areas of your website sidebars, footers and navigation menus with only a few clicks of your mouse button, using using “drag-and-drop” technology …
In the above screenshot, 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 simply 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 website’s templates to reorganize the order of elements, make unique customizations to features on page elements like user registration areas, or just add things like a list of your web pages, or a dropdown menu of your site categories, a post archives section, menus, links to external sites, a list of your most popular posts, the latest comments, a section displaying text ads, testimonials or polls & surveys, rss feed content, video 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 …
… most widgets provide various options that allow you to further configure them. 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 …
As you have seen, widgets require no coding experience or programming expertise to use. Most widgets can be easily added to your site simply by activating a plugin and then dragging and dropping the plugin’s related 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 a number of different widgets in WordPress to improve the effectiveness of your website or blog, plus lots of cool tips on how to get the most benefit out of WordPress with widgets, so stay tuned and come visit us again soon!
If you are a WordPress newbie, you may also find the following topic-related posts useful:
Hopefully now you have a better understanding of problems that can affect your web site and how WordPress can help you get better results online. To learn more about using WordPress for a business website please see other posts we have published on this site.
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