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Shortcodes are a handy but often overlooked tool for adding a multitude of specialized features to any WordPress site. These independent snippets of code can be inserted into any post, page, or widget on your site to insert dynamic features like galleries, videos, or content from outside sources. Shortcodes are easy to use, and you can even create your own without knowing a single thing about coding. Here are a few tips for making the most of shortcode functionality on your self-hosted WordPress site.

How Do WordPress Shortcodes Work?

If you are new to website building, there is a list of WordPress terms you need to learn before you can get started. One of those terms is shortcodes in WordPress. Shortcodes are small pieces of ready-to-use code designed to execute a specific function, such as displaying recent posts or adding a certain feature like a gallery or video on a WordPress site. Shortcodes for WordPress are written as text within a single set of brackets, as in [ XYZ ]. When the page or post is previewed or published, the shortcode is replaced by the dynamic content it represents, such as a gallery, a video file, or a feed from an outside source.

Because a shortcode isn’t part of a WordPress plugin or theme, it can be inserted directly into any page or post using the WordPress text editor in either Visual or Text mode. Shortcodes can also be inserted into any widget area on your site using the text widget option. Once the text widget is moved to its desired location, the shortcode can be pasted into the widget’s text editor so that it appears everywhere the widget is displayed.

A number of basic shortcodes are available right inside WordPress. The core code comes with a set of commonly used shortcodes for adding useful elements like or . Some WordPress themes also come with a set of related shortcodes that can expand the theme’s features. For example, a photography portfolio theme might have a slider shortcode for displaying selected images. Shortcodes might also come with certain WordPress plugins.

Shortcodes can also come from other sources so that external content can be embedded into a WordPress site. For example, sites like Pinterest, Twitter, and Issuu provide shortcodes that can be copied and pasted into WordPress text editors in order to display related content, such as a site’s Pinterest boards or a user’s Twitter feed.

Shortcodes can work with plugins and themes to customize your WordPress site even more – and there’s a way to use shortcodes to add just about any feature you need.

Don’t Overuse Shortcodes

Although shortcodes in WordPress are a quick and easy way for anyone to add a variety of features to pages, posts and other parts of a site, it’s smart to keep them to a minimum. Shortcodes are typically added manually to selected areas of a site, so tracking and updating a large number of them can take time. If you’re using a lot of similar shortcodes in several areas of your site, consider installing a WordPress plugin for the feature that works sitewide instead.

Keep Track of Your Installed Shortcodes

If your site does use a lot of shortcodes, it can be hard to track them all down for updating or removal; but there’s a plugin for that. Shortcodes Finder from allows you to find every shortcode installed anywhere on your WordPress site and shows the shortcode’s content with options to delete it if necessary.

Start With WordPress Default Shortcodes

Depending on the nature of your site, you may be able to add all the functions you need with the basic shortcodes available right inside your WordPress site. These simple shortcodes are designed to incorporate images, audio, video, and other commonly used elements quickly and easily into your site’s text editors.

Add Shortcode Parameters for More Customization

Shortcodes are relatively generic, but if you’re comfortable working with a bit of code, you can add parameters to your shortcodes to customize them even more. For example, a shortcode for [recent posts] will display all recent posts, but you can also insert a parameter into the shortcode to specify how many posts to display, such as: [recent posts  posts=5]. This can also be useful for specifying things like map locations, or the number of images to show in a gallery.

Check Shortcodes When Your Site is Updated

WordPress frequently rolls out updates for its themes and plugins, and it’s important to install them when available. Because shortcodes are placed in your page, post, and widget text editors, they won’t be automatically updated too. So if your site is updated or your theme changes, it’s important to check your shortcodes to see if the content generated by the shortcode still displays properly. If not, you may need to delete the shortcode and reinstall a newer version.

Install a Shortcode Plugin

Need more shortcodes? A number of WordPress plugins are available for adding and customizing more than 50 different shortcodes to your site. Plugins like Shortcodes Ultimate and WP Shortcode allow you to search for shortcodes that have specific functions or generate new ones of your own. Some, such as WordPress Shortcodes, also allows users to set shortcode parameters and make other code-based changes.

Develop Your Own Shortcodes

Shortcodes make it easy for anyone to add custom features to WordPress posts and pages without coding, but users with web development skills can also design custom shortcodes for just about any purpose using code structures in PHP, the programming language for WordPress itself.  These custom shortcodes are placed in the site’s “functions.php” file and can be inserted into WordPress posts, pages, and widgets as needed.

Shortcodes are a quick and easy way to add an array of code-based functions and features within your site’s posts, pages, widgets, and more. Along with themes and plugins, shortcodes make it easy to create a unique, fully customized WordPress site – even if you’ve never worked with code at all. 

For more information on our WordPress web hosting services, check out our WordPress hosting guide or contact the experts at Bluehost today.

  • Machielle Thomas

    Machielle is a content enthusiast who has a passion for bridging the gap between audiences and brands through impactful storytelling. Machielle has also spoken at dozens of WordCamps throughout the years.

    Texas State University
    Previous Experience
    Brand Content, Content Marketing, Brand Lead, Operations Lead, Course Instructor
    Other publications
    Shopify, Contently
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