There are many benefits to using the WordPress web publishing application for building, managing and growing a website or blog. One of these is that WordPress makes it very easy to add content, enhance your website and rearrange the layout of your site with no programming skills or knowledge required.
WordPress also lets you quickly and easily add, remove, and manage various types 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.
Learn what WordPress widgets are, why they are great for non-technical users, and how widgets can help you to add new functionality to your web site.
About WordPress Widgets: An Introduction To Widgets For Business Owners
WordPress widgets are self-contained blocks of code that perform a specific function, such as adding a form, or a text box or item to your website or blog.
The WordPress software is written using a web language called PHP (Hypertext Preprocessor). Normally, in order to add features and functions to a website, you need to know how to script code.
Now … don’t worry if the above sounds too “geeky” to you. As will soon see, WP widgets are made for non-technical users.
WP widgets don’t require you to know how to program PHP or manipulate PHP code in order to customize your website.
Widgets were originally designed to provide a simple way of allowing WordPress users to manage aspects of their site’s layout and functionality.
In plain English terms, widgets let you do things like:
- Easily add, edit and remove functions in certain parts of your WordPress site without having to touch any underlying code, and
- Rearrange the functional layout of your WordPress theme 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 great functions you can add to your site’s sidebar area (and headers and footers and other areas, depending on the theme you have installed) using WP widgets:
- index of pages
- blog categories
- archived published posts
- links to resources
- posts that you want to promote
- post comments
- clickable images
- survey results
- content from RSS feeds
- opt-in form
- product images
- social media sharing buttons
- display widgets from other sites (e.g. Facebook)
- administrative forms (e.g. login, register, etc.)
In other blog posts, we have written about plugins and WordPress themes; what they are, what they do, how these easily add loads of new functionality to WordPress and even drastically alter the whole look and feel of your website.
As you will see in a moment, themes can affect where widgets work on your website and some plugins also add accompanying widgets that can extend your site’s functionality.
Most themes support widgets and provide what is called “widget-ready” areas in the theme’s layout where widgets can display.
Usually, this is going to be in the theme’s sidebar, but depending upon the theme, these can also be located in the site’s header section, in the footer, even above or below your content.
It all depends on the theme that you have installed on your site or blog.
For example, the theme in the screenshot below has only one widget area displaying items in the theme’s sidebar area …
Below is the widget section of the above theme, so you can see that this theme only contains one widgetized area …
As you can see, the only place where you can add widgets to your site using the above theme is in the site’s sidebar area.
In contrast, the WordPress theme shown below contains a number of different widget areas …
Below is the widget screen of the theme shown above, and you can see how many widget areas are included in this theme …
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 Can I See My Widgets?
The Widgets section is located within the WordPress dashboard and can be accessed from the admin menu by going to Appearance > Widgets ….
This opens the Widgets area in your browser …
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 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 your default WordPress theme and display items like “Recent Posts”, “Archives”, “Categories”, etc immediately to your site visitors …
Sometimes, whenever new plugins are installed on your site, you will see that new widgets are also added to your Widgets section …
WP Widgets Features: “Drag And Drop”
WP widgets are great, because you can easily insert, activate, deactivate, reorder and delete them within your Widgets area using “drag & drop” …
With “drag & drop” technology also lets you easily reorder the layout of your site’s “widgetized” sections.
For example, take a look at the image below. In this example site, the widgets have already been configured to show:
- A newsletter opt-in form,
- A “click for support” button, and
- A couple of “click to phone” sales buttons from a widgetized WordPress plugin …
Looking 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 their corresponding widgets have been arranged in their active widget bar …
Let’s now rearrange the order the above widgets in the Main Sidebar Widget Area using drag and drop method …
The widget features have now been reordered in the sidebar …
As you can see, this immediately changes the layout of the 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” graphic banner (2) has been moved to the location above the newsletter opt-in form (1) …
Pretty simple stuff, huh?
There are some other things worth knowing about WordPress widgets:
Widget Management – WP Theme Customizer
Depending on the WP theme that you have installed on your site, you can also manage your widgets without making actual changes to your site, so you can be sure that you like what you see before committing your changes to the live website.
You can do a bunch of edits in “preview” mode, like inserting, deleting and reorganizing the currently added 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 inside 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 it (to avoid making mistakes), or change your widgets “on the fly” using the Widget editor area as shown previously.
As I have shown you in an earlier example, with WordPress you can easily and quickly reorder how information displays in “widgetized” areas of your website or blog, like sidebars, footers and navigation menus with just a few clicks of your mouse, using using “drag-and-drop” …
In the screenshot above, for example, you can see that we have quickly and easily reorganized the layout in the sidebar 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 static websites, you would need to edit code in your site’s templates to rearrange the order of elements, customize features on page elements like shopping cart forms, or just add features like your website’s page list, or a dropdown menu of your content categories, an archive section, custom page menus, links to external sites, a list of your most read posts, the latest comments, a section displaying advertisements, user testimonials or surveys, content from rss feeds, image galleries, facebook feeds, 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 a number of settings that allow you to further customize these. This can include things like 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 …
How To Use 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 corresponding widget into your “Active” widgets area.
There are some tips and tricks to using widgets, however, and we will soon be adding more detailed 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 many great tips for getting the most out of WordPress using widgets, so stay tuned and come back soon!
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If you are a WordPress newbie, you may also find the following posts useful:
Hopefully this article 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 using WordPress please see other posts we have published on this site.
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