What in the world is a Widget?

Widgets - Useful ToolsWordPress Widgets are “packaged pieces of code” that add substance and functionality to your Website header, footer and sidebars. Some examples include: post categories, navigation help, search functions and tag clouds.  In many cases when you install a plugin, widgets are created for your site. Widgets were originally intended to help web developers add functions to a site in a simple, easy to use way.  They help with structure control of the WordPress theme primarily in the header, footer and sidebar regions of the site. Although intended to be installed and configured easily in most cases some programming knowledge is necessary to make these widgets work properly.  “Out of the box” widgets are very generic and rarely, if ever, completely satisfy the needs of the site owner.  Claims that widgets require no code experience or expertise are not exactly true. They can be added, removed, and rearranged on the WordPress Administration Appearance > Widgets panel but in some cases when installed incorrectly the widget can corrupt the site. It is always a very good idea to make sure your site is completely backed up before installing any widgets or plugins. The order and placement of the widgets is determined by the WordPress Theme in the functions.php file. Some WordPress Widgets offer customization and options such as forms to fill out, includes or excludes of data and information, optional images, and other customization features.

Installing Widgets

Your WordPress installation includes a variety of Widgets. If those are insufficient for your needs you can install new ones.

Displaying Widgets

Admin Panel Widget PageIf your active theme supports widgets, go to your WordPress Admin Panel menu, under the Appearance menu item.  There you can view the existing installed Widgets.  You can place installed widgets in sections or regions of your WordPress site. Go to Appearance > Widgets. Choose a Widget and either drag it to the sidebar, header or footer where you wish it to appear. There might be more than one sidebar option, so begin with the first one. Once in place, WordPress automatically updates the Theme. Preview the site. You will see the new widget is now displayed in the position that you added it to. If there are no issues, you can continue the process of adding widgets.  If there is a need to rearrange the widgets, simply click and drag the widget tot the correct location of that region or section.  Customization is possible with many widgets.  To customize the Widget features, click the down arrow in the upper right corner to expand the Widget’s interface.  Once completed, click Save and then Close the widget dropdown. If you change WordPress Themes, the Widgets will return to the left side of the page in the Widget Archives or Available Widgets list. You may need to add them again and rearrangement depending upon the Theme’s ability to preserve other Theme’s Widgets.


Widget Areas

While widget areas typically occur in webpage sidebars, a theme can place widget areas anywhere on a page. For example, besides the usual sidebar locations, the twentyfourteen theme has a widget area in the footer of every page. If you would like to place a Widget somewhere on your Theme that does not have a pre-defined Widget Area, you will need some programming knowledge.  This is an advanced option that should only be performed by experienced PHP coders and developers. Overall, widgets are extremely useful and functional tools to help make websites more effective and user friendly.  Remember to be cautious and detailed if you are brave enough to try installing these on your own.