WordPress Widgets and How to Use Them

Widgets add features and functions to just about any WordPress hosted site. Designed to contain a variety of add-ons such as a menu, calendar, text, and Instagram feed or a social media photo display, these small blocks can be placed in a variety of locations on a site’s posts and pages without knowing a bit of code. Most WordPress themes come with a set of pre-installed widgets ready to use—or you can add new ones from the directory of plugins that accompanies every WordPress install. Easy to arrange and configure, widgets give users more control over the look and functionality of WordPress websites of all kinds.

How Do Widgets Work?

WordPress themes come with all the essential elements everyone needs for a fully functioning website, but different users may need to add other kinds of features to meet a site’s own individual purposes. To make that possible, WordPress also offers an array of free plugins and widgets that can be added or deleted whenever necessary as a site’s goals and structure change.
Nearly every WordPress theme includes some widget options for your blog or other parts of your site, although those options can vary from theme to theme, and some themes, such as those designed for a single page site, don’t include them at all. In general, though, you can expect to have access to a gallery of preset widgets that can be customized from your theme’s WP Administration dashboard or theme customizer.
These small blocks of content can be placed in various locations such as a sidebar, header, or footer and appear on every page and post on the site. Widget presets can be customized individually and moved with drag and drop simplicity from one available location to another, and unused or inactive widgets can be stored for later use if needed.

Getting Started With Widgets

Since WordPress is a free and open source site builder intended to help anyone establish a presence online, it was designed to be used by both new site owners with no web development experience and by seasoned developers able to work directly with its PHP framework to add even more customization. 
Like other aspects of WordPress, the widgets feature also accommodates users of all experience levels. The widgets panel on your site’s WP Admin dashboard offers all the tools needed to customize a site’s active widgets and place them as desired, but users with web development experience can also make code-level changes to widget structure and add widgets to themes that don’t have them.

The widget panel displays all the pre-installed widgets available for use with the current theme, as well as their potential locations: sidebars, headers, or footers. The widget panel also includes a space for storing inactive widgets that aren’t currently needed.

Activating Widgets in WordPress

To activate a widget, select Appearance>Widgets from the site’s dashboard. This opens the widgets panel, with options including a menu, calendar, tag cloud, and text. Simply click on a widget and drag it to the desired location, then click and drag to reorder widgets in that space. Alternatively, your theme may include an Add Widget button and a Reorder option. To deactivate an existing widget, simply drag it back to the Inactive Widgets space to use later or not at all.
Active widgets can be customized by clicking the down arrow next to the widget’s name, which opens a menu of options specific to that widget. Users can add a title, insert new content, or change the parameters of a widget. When changes are saved, WordPress automatically updates the page to include the new widget and its updated content. You can edit, delete, or add Widgets at any time throughout the life of a site.

Installing New Widgets

The preinstalled widget selection features a fairly wide range of widgets for common tasks. But it’s also possible to add other kinds of widget content from the plugin directory that comes with every WordPress install or from a variety of external sources to create a custom widget.

The Text widget is an open widget that can be used to add text such as a blog author bio or site information, but it can also contain content ranging from video and images to external links, buttons, and shortcodes for a variety of features such as image galleries and slideshows.

To add content to a Text widget, activate the widget by moving it to the desired location. Click the down arrow to edit the widget. In the text box that appears, type or paste in any text-based content, or insert links or shortcodes for other kinds of content. Click Save and the resulting content is displayed on the site’s pages and posts. The Text widget can be used as often as needed to add different kinds of content in any widget location.

Managing Themes and Widgets

Although nearly all WordPress themes include widgets, they may not include them in the same way. For example, a theme may be designed in such a way that a certain widget area isn’t available, or it may include additional widget areas that similar themes don’t have. Because WordPress makes it easy to change themes either from its theme directory or from outside developers, a website owner may try out several themes while searching for the best one to represent a brand or a service.
In that kind of situation, changing WordPress themes can affect the number of widgets available for display and how those widgets are configured. Although the set of standard WordPress widgets may still be available, they may need to be rearranged to accommodate the structure of the new theme. Because inactive widgets are still available for use in the widgets panel, they can be moved into the sidebar or other locations in the new theme as well.
WordPress widgets add specialized functionality when building a WordPress website. Whether you want to add an Instagram widget to highlight your social media, create a widget for displaying your most recent blog posts through a slider, or you’d like to design a custom widget specific for your site’s needs, you have the capability to do so with WordPress. With drag and drop management and an array of available options, widgets are another versatile, free tool for customizing your WordPress site.

Machielle Thomas
Machielle Thomas | Content Manager
Machielle Thomas writes and curates web and email content for marketing professionals, small business owners, bloggers, and more.

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