Are you starting with WordPress? Not sure what are WordPress widgets and how to use them? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered here.
WordPress is a flexible website platform that allows you to extend your site’s functionalities by simple and user-friendly extensions. Such extensions make it easy to add different options to your site. Widgets are a type of such extensions in WordPress.
In this article, we’ll talk about what a WordPress widget is, types of widgets, how to use them, and some of the popular WordPress widgets available for you.
Let’s get into it.
A. What is a WordPress Widget? – Definition
In general, a widget refers to a small web application with specific functionality that you can add to your webpage.
Similarly, WordPress widgets are small WordPress applications you can use to add content and specific functionalities to your WordPress site.
Actually, they’re tiny snippets of code originally designed to give users a simple way to control the design and structure of the theme. You can easily add widgets and make some design changes on your site quickly.
Widgets are actually meant for adding content outside the main content area, like sidebars, footers, etc. For example, you may have seen blog categories, recent posts, search boxes, tag cloud, etc. on the sidebars of many sites. These contents are added using widgets.
In the screenshot above, search box, recent posts, and menu on the sidebar are widgets.
WordPress widgets are simple drag and drop elements that require no coding experience to implement. You can easily add, remove, and rearrange them. So, they’re really useful elements for site building in WordPress.
Widget Areas (Where You can Add WordPress Widgets)
WordPress themes allocate certain areas on the theme where widgets can be placed. They’re called widget areas. The most common widget areas are sidebars and footers. Whereas some themes let you use widgets to headers and other parts as well.
You can check the available widgets and widget areas by going to ‘Appearance > Widgets‘ from your dashboard.
For example, we checked widget areas available in the very popular Astra theme. It’s a feature-rich theme, so we can get 8 widget areas as shown in the screenshot below.
Meaning, you can add any widget to the main sidebar, header, footer bar section 1 & 2, and footer widget area 1,2,3, & 4. Simply drag the available widgets on the left panel and drop them to any widget area on the right panel.
That’s about the widgets in standard meaning. But nowadays with the new WordPress block editor, you use WordPress widgets in your posts and pages as well. In the block editor, there’s ‘Widgets’ block collection with default widgets offered as blocks.
Now that widgets are available in the content editor, you can use them inside your articles as well.
B. Types of WordPress Widgets
WordPress core offers a small set of default widgets that you can use to add some basic features. Plus, you can get more widgets when you install some plugins. Some themes also include custom widgets.
To learn more, keep reading below.
1) Default Widgets in WordPress
WordPress, by default, comes with a set of small widgets known as ‘default widgets’. These are included in the core WordPress software, so you can use them with almost all themes, except when themes don’t define widget areas.
You can find the default widgets by going to the ‘Appearance > Widgets‘ page from your dashboard. Then, you’ll be able to see the available widgets there.
WordPress currently provides 17 default widgets. They’re:
- Archives – This lets you display a monthly archive of your blog posts.
- Audio – This shows an audio player.
- Calendar – Helps you add a calendar of your site’s published posts.
- Categories – Show a list or dropdown of your blog categories.
- Custom HTML – This allows you to add HTML code to your widget area.
- Gallery – This allows you to display an image gallery.
- Image – Displays an image to the site’s widget area.
- Meta – Adds links to login, RSS, and WordPress.org.
- Navigation Menu – Adds navigation bar for your page.
- Pages – Shows a list of your site’s pages.
- Recent Comments – This shows the most recent comments on your site.
- Recent Posts – Displays your website’s most recent posts.
- RSS – Displays posts from any RSS feed.
- Search – Displays a search bar for your site.
- Tag Cloud – Displays your most used tags.
- Text – This allows you to add text to a sidebar.
- Video – Displays a video from the media library or different providers.
These default widgets cover many basic functions that a beginner needs and are often enough to get started. Still, you can get other different widgets from plugins, themes, and even code them yourself.
2) Custom Widgets
In addition to the default widgets, plugins, and themes also provide widgets. Such widgets are called custom widgets. These widgets allow users to implement various features and functionalities offered by themes and plugins easily.
For example, the free WordPress blog theme Polite provides 3 custom widgets: Social icons, Author information, and Featured posts. When you activate the theme on your site, these widgets will be automatically added to the ‘Available Widgets’ panel on your site’s dashboard.
You can view them by going to the Appearance > Widgets page from your admin panel. And, add them to the available widget areas like sidebars and footers.
Similarly, some WordPress plugins also offer widgets. For example, the contact form plugin WPForms adds a custom widget when you install it to your site.
Using this widget, you can easily display a form on your sidebar or footer section.
C. WordPress Plugins vs Widgets
One common confusion most beginners have is about WordPress widgets vs plugins. Are they same or different?
WordPress plugins are additional extensions that help you extend your site’s features and functionalities. Widgets also help to add pieces of content to your site’s widget areas. So, plugins and widgets look similar functionally.
On the other hand, there are some plugins that provide widgets only. Some add a single widget to your site while some come with a bundle of widgets.
This causes many people to confuse widgets with plugins. But they differ a lot. There are mainly 2 differences explained below.
1) Plugins are more independent extensions than widgets
In reality, WordPress plugins are more independent pieces of WordPress software that you need to install on your site to get the offered features. But widgets are not available for independent installation. Instead, they’re included in the WordPress core or theme, or plugin.
For example, WPForms is a WordPress plugin that lets you create online forms on your website. You can find this plugin for download on the https://wordpress.org/ website.
Likewise, you can download and install plugins on your WordPress site. But you cannot find an independent WordPress widget for download.
In fact, plugins have the ability to add widgets. But not all plugins add them. It depends on what type of features the plugins provide.
2) WordPress plugins different backend & frontend features
Plugins can add different kinds of functionalities to your WordPress website. Some plugins work on the backend only and their functions are not visible to users. For example, security plugins work on the backend to keep your site secure, but your site visitors generally don’t see them working.
Whereas some plugins add content that appears on your website. For example, gallery plugins add image galleries that your site visitors can see. And, they may also offer custom widgets to add their content to your site’s widget-ready areas.
But widgets are mainly used to add content that’s visible to the users on the frontend. For example, search box, recent posts, recent comments, etc. are widgets which are all visible to website visitors.
If you want to learn more, check our article on What is a WordPress plugin and how it works.
D. How to Use Widgets in WordPress?
Adding widgets to your WordPress site is a very easy process. As described above, go to ‘Appearance > Widgets’ from your dashboard. Then, you’ll see all the available widgets (default and custom widgets both).
Now, you can click any widget from the list, drag it to the widget area, and drop that at a specific location you want to show the widget. For example, you can drag the ‘Text widget’ to your footer.
Once you place a widget in your preferred location, you need to fill in some details, and you’re done with adding widgets.
Alternatively, you can add widgets from the Customize menu. From there, you can add widgets in real-time and keep track of changes.
Go to Appearance > Customize from your dashboard.
After that, you’ll see WordPress customizer panel. It’s a live customizer that allows you customize your site with live previews. From the customizer panel, click on the ‘Widgets’ menu.
After that, you can use the dragging and dropping method to add and edit your widgets and see the change in real-time.
Disable the Widgets You’re Not Using
If you want to disable a widget for some time without having to delete or remove it, then you can easily hide it. You just need to drag and drop it to the inactive section and you’re done.
With the installation of new plugins and themes, you can expect more widgets on your list with many functions. If you don’t use them, then you can simply drag them to the inactive widgets section.
E. Most Popular WordPress Widgets & When to Use Them
WordPress widgets are very useful as they make it easy to add additional information and details to your site.
Here’re some of the most popular WordPress widgets (default & custom widgets both) and when you can use them.
1. Popular posts widget
Popular posts one of the most commonly used widgets in WordPress blog. It’s a default widget available in WordPress.
It lets you add a list of the most popular posts on your website’s widgetized areas. You can easily customize how many posts you want to show and where you want them.
2. Navigation Widget
Navigation widget helps to make navigating to other pages of your site very easy. It adds links to pages by creating a custom navigation menu. It’s also a default widget.
3. Search Widget
One of the most used widgets that comes built-in with WordPress is a Search widget. Search widget adds a search bar to your site which helps your users to easily search any content on your site.
4. Recent Comments Widget
Recent Comments Widget displays the list of latest comments on your site. This helps users to know more information about the site as well as the content. It works as a great information sharing platform within the site and helps make the site more informational.
5. Image Widget
WordPress comes with a built-in image widget that allows you to display images in the footer or sidebar of your site. Adding images helps to make your site more visual and interactive. You can also add a linked image to your site to redirect the users to relevant posts or contents.
6. Categories Widget
Categories widget allows you to display the list or dropdown of all the categories on your site’s sidebars. This allows the user to know what type of content the site mainly has.
7. Text Widget
One of the most versatile and popular default widgets for WordPress is a text widget. You can easily add links or small text to the widget area of your site. This helps to inform visitors with more information or relevant links to similar posts.
8. Google Maps Widget
Chances are you won’t get a map widget as a default widget. You have to install different plugins or get a good widgets bundle to get yourself one. You can easily add your company or business’s physical location to your site using the map widget.
Map widget comes with SiteOrigin Widget Bundle along with many more widgets.
9. Form widget
You can quickly create a contact form and add it anywhere on your website using a form plugin. WPForms is a popular WordPress contact form plugin that comes with an easy to add form widget.
10. Shopping Cart Widget
WooCommerce is a very popular eCommerce plugin for your WordPress site. This comes with a great shopping cart widget that lets users navigate to their cart from the site.
You can add the widget to the widget areas very easily.
11. Social Media Widget
The social media widget allows you to easily add your social media contact information and feed to the sidebar or footer of your site. This can help you increase exposure because of social sharing.
Installing the Jetpack plugin is a great way to get this widget for big platforms like Facebook and Twitter. The widget allows you to add social sharing buttons to make your content viral. It includes all of these with many more features and widgets.
12. Table of Content Widget
The table of content is a great way to make your long article easy to read. This helps users have time and get to the information they are looking for very easily.
The default WordPress widgets don’t provide this feature but you can get a table of a content widget from the Easy Table of Contents plugin. You can add a small table of content for your article to the sidebar of your site for easy navigation within the article.
You might want to add specific widgets to different widget areas. But, sometimes the customization of the widget area gets restricted. You can get different plugins to help you with the customization of the widget area so that it suits your liking. One of the popular widget area managers is Custom Sidebars.
We hope that you now understand what is a widget in WordPress, and how you can use it. Firstly, you can try using the default WordPress widgets to get familiar with the widget interface. And after that, you can also add widget plugins to your WordPress site and check out the added widgets.
You may also want to check our article on how to choose the best WordPress plugins for your site.