One reason why WordPress is very popular is because this content management system is so versatile, which allows many different kinds of websites to use it. WordPress widgets are just one good example of the features that adds to the versatility, and this system continues to be improved.
What is a widget?
People who are familiar with WP will already know this term, but beginners will likely be confused by it. Thankfully, the widget system is a lot easier to use than it is to understand what it does, but it is still important to know how it really works to be able to put widgets to good use.
Think about the way that a typical website looks. Most of them have a logo at the top, which is usually followed by the main menu bar, and then main article content. In addition to these three main pieces, there are typically other parts to each page that can be found on the sides or even at the very bottom.
These additional parts to a website are actually controlled by the widget system on a WordPress website. It is an extremely useful system because it allows sites to customize what will appear in the widget spaces that are available. Unlike the main content of each page on a site, the widget spaces are generally shown on all pages of a site or only those you select.
A single widget is a separate module that performs a specific function, which will vary depending on the type of widget being used. Output from this function will be shown in the widget space where it is placed by the site administrator. This allows everyone building a WordPress site to have their widgets customized to work according to the needs of the site.
To access widgets, go to Appearance > Widgets. Which and how many widgets you will see depends on what theme you are using and whether or not you have added widget plugins, which will be covered later in this article.
Exactly what WordPress widgets do and how to use them
Widgets give users drag-and-drop capability to display select content wherever they would like. For example, to display Adsense ads in the sidebar, a widget to display those ads only needs to be dragged into the widget sidebar. Then, when the user’s Adsense code is put into the widget, the ads will be displayed in the sidebar on the pages selected by the user. A user might select the ads to be displayed only on the home and posts pages but not on the pages, category pages, etc., on the site.
The basic widget capabilities include things like customized menus, links to important pages on the site, custom text or HTML, and various ways to list recent posts that have been published on the site. The text widget is excellent for a variety of uses, including adding custom HTML code to show advertisements in the sidebar of a site.
However, many themes come with added widgets. The premium ClickBump theme shown in these images has a good number of aditional widgets (for example, forms, video box, slider, etc.). These widgets, along with those from WordPress widget plugins, can add features to include images, feeds (news, Instagram images, etc.,) ads and so on.
WordPress widget plugins
Ultimately, almost anything can be accomplished in the widget space, but features that are not standard or in the theme will have to be added by WordPress plugins. This is done by simply finding an existing plugin that offers the desired capabilities as a WP widget. These features will often not work alone, but they will in combination with other features that these plugins can add to WP.
Some plugins can add very helpful widget capabilities to a site. Just a couple of examples of these include things like a sidebar login form for members or even a shopping cart for e-commerce stores. Widgets like these can make a site easier to use for visitors or potentially more profitable for the site owner.
Another popular type of widget plugin involves altering the default widgets that are included with WordPress. Sometimes a standard WP feature will simply not work the way that a site owner wants it to, so some plugins will actually change the way that standard features works. In general, people will need to know exactly what they are looking for with this type of plugin because each one is typically just built for a single purpose.
A list of some popular widget plugins can be found here.
Theme features and limitations
The spaces that can be occupied by a widget on a WordPress site are controlled by the theme. Since a theme designates the overall design of a website, it is easy to understand why different themes will offer a varying amount of widget space.
In general, a large majority of themes are going to at least offer sidebar widget space, which will often be fixed on either the left or right-hand side of the site content. Other themes may even offer two sidebars, one on either side of the article content of each page.
Some themes are also going to offer widget space in the header (top) or footer (bottom). Since there are many different combinations that a theme could use for a site design, there are not any set rules that will govern the sizes and locations of WordPress widgets. In the following ClickBump example, locations you can drag and drop widgets include the sidebar, above header, below header, above content, below content, footer area one and footer area two.
Improvements to WordPress widgets
Since widgets are really dependent upon a theme because of the space they occupy, they have traditionally been saved in that same manner. This means that when a theme was changed on a WordPress site, any widgets that were being used were also wiped out.
The good news is that all of this was changed with the release of version 3.3 of WordPress, and widgets will now stay saved when themes are changed. This prevents a loss of information for WP users, which is a major annoyance. However, the actual widgets may still need some adjustments after a theme change since the available spaces are still going to be dependent upon the theme settings.