WordPress Widgets: What They Are & How To Use Them
What Are WordPress Widgets?
A WordPress widget is a modular element that enables you to add a specific feature to your website. Widgets can be added to different areas of a website, such as a website’s sidebars or footer areas, and they’re an inherent part of WordPress’ design and layout customizations.
In this post, we’ll look at what widgets are, how they compare to plugins, the types of widgets you can get, and how to create them. Let’s get started!
When to Use WordPress Widgets
Anytime you want to elevate your website with a new visible function or feature, you’ll probably reach for a WordPress widget. Use an Instagram widget to connect visitors with your social media posts, or code a custom widget to suit your needs—the sky’s the limit! You can access your widgets under the “Appearance” tab when building or editing your site.
But what is the use of widgets in WordPress? And which types should you work with?
Widgets vs. Plugins
On the surface, widgets and plugins appear to carry out similar functions. However, they have different roles to fulfill.
For example, a WordPress plugin usually introduces additional ‘global’ functionality to your website that’s not available by default.
On the other hand, a widget lets you display additional content within various elements of your website (such as the header, WordPress sidebar, and footers). While they can add features, they often provide smaller, more focused additions, and are dragged and dropped into place.
Types of Widgets
Given their usefulness, there are a wide-range of widgets to choose from. While WordPress comes bundled with a variety of default widgets, many themes include their own specific solutions. Let’s take a look at a few different examples and the purposes they serve.
WordPress includes a number of different widgets out of the box, one of which is the Meta widget. This lets you and other users log into your WordPress administration panel from your main website.
Email Subscription Widgets
WordPress can be integrated with a wide range of autoresponder systems, such as MailChimp, Constant Contact, AWeber, and InfusionSoft. By adding a snippet of code to a dedicated widget, you can display an opt-in box that makes it possible to build an email subscriber list through your WordPress website.
Social Media Widgets
Social media integration is also possible, and this is a popular use for widgets given that they can be displayed prominently, without taking up space.
While many themes include a dedicated social media widget, you can also code your own if you have the relevant skills by using a Text widget (more on this shortly).
Recent Posts, Pages, and Categories Widgets
Every website owner should make it as easy as possible for website users to navigate through a website, and a number of default widgets enable you to do this.
These widgets are self explanatory, but there are other related widgets (such as Archives and Calendar) that give you more options to get your posts in front of visitors.
For a large WordPress blog, giving website visitors the ability to search for content is another effective way to improve navigation. The Search widget lets you do exactly that. Although not as featured-packed as dedicated solutions, it’s still a great way to bolster the navigation at the reader’s disposal.
As we’ve alluded to, adding text or HTML code to a widget enables you to offer further functionality to your WordPress site.
However, this widget serves a much simpler primary purpose: it lets you display plain text within a widget area, which could come in handy for taglines or other important information you want to display prominently.
Shopping Cart Widget
Whether you run a booming eCommerce site or sell a few products on the side, a shopping cart widget is a must-have. Choose a plugin like WooCommerce or Ecwid, and you’ll have access to widget options that can turn your website into a money-maker. Most choices also come with a dashboard to help you track sales.
If you have one or more brick-and-mortar locations, a map widget will help your customers find you.
Although you don’t need to use a widget to include a Google map on your site (Google Maps API gives you an embed code), map widgets come with added functionality. The benefits of a map widget include animations, street view, and the ability to search.
The most common use for a form widget is a Contact Form, which is especially handy if you don’t have (or want) a publicly available email address.
But there are other reasons why you might need a visitor to fill out a form on your site—waivers and consent forms, content submissions, contests, and so on. Form widgets make that possible.
Call to Action Widget
If it’s your first time building a website with WordPress, what is a widget that you can’t go without? A call to action (CTA) widget may be in the top 5. You don’t just want visitors to come to your website and leave; you want them to do something, like buy a product or sign up for a mailing list.
Call to action widgets come in many forms, including pop-ups, banners, slide-ins, and more. The goal of a CTA is to grab your customer’s attention and ask them to perform a specified action.
As WordPress has evolved, so have its widgets. While the default installation includes a number of different widget areas, a lot of themes offer other placement options (and for many it’s a primary selling point). As such, you’re not necessarily restricted to the sidebar only – you can add widgets to numerous places in the footer, header, or even the page itself.
What’s more, there are usually customizable options for each individual widget. The default widgets usually enable you to only add a custom widget title, but more complex widgets can provide more dedicated options relating to the functionality. For example, social media widgets often let you tweak how many posts are displayed, along with a few basic design options.
How To Create a WordPress Widget
Creating your own WordPress widget is likely only going to appeal to those with development knowledge. However, it’s a great way to add missing functionality to your site, without relying on third-party solutions.
Here are the brief steps you’ll need to take:
- Build and install a widget plugin that will create the new widget.
- Set up your new widget.
- Build the admin form that lets WordPress users select custom options for your new widget.
- Update your widget options.
- Produce the output for the widget.
Of course, there’s much more involved in creating a widget than we can go into here, although these steps should be enough to get you started.
Widgets on Mobile Responsive Sites
When a widget is displayed on a mobile device, it has to be responsive and adapt to the specific device’s screen size. Quite often, this involves a degree of relocation.
While some available widgets automatically resize themselves, others (such as those appearing in the custom sidebar), will relocate to the bottom of the website when viewed on a mobile device. What’s more, certain widgets can be set to be hidden altogether, depending on the type of device selected.
How Many Widgets Can A Site Have?
In short, there’s no real limit to how many widgets a site can have. The key factor will usually be related to computing power.
However, when it comes to cosmetics, how many active widgets you add depends on your website and the content in question. We’d recommend that widgets should be used sparingly, as too active many widgets can cause distraction and take your visitors’ attention away from the main content on your website.
How to Add a Widget Area
So, how to add a widget? As we’ve discussed, widget areas can be included in the header, footer, and sidebars of a web page or post. If you decide to create a new widget area for your website, you can do this by following these steps:
- Register the new widget area to the functions.php file in your WordPress administration area.
- Call the new widget area in your theme’s file. You need to decide where this will be (for example, in your WordPress theme’s header).
A number of plugins can also automate this process for you. However, many lack updates, so you’d need to be certain they’re not introducing issues into your WordPress installation.
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