One of the best things about WordPress is it’s user friendly interface, which makes it easy for each blogger to tailor their site to their own needs. Widgets are one of the many ways that WordPress makes this possible, and understanding how to use them is important.
Widgets are the items that you add to your sidebar. They can be anything from a list of posts or categories, to a calendar, Twitter feed or an opt-box. They serve to make your blog easier to use and navigate, as well as providing an opportunity for you to give your readers more information, or give them something to interact with.
The Widgets Page
Adding widgets is simple! From your WordPress Dashboard, click on the “Appearance” heading on the right by clicking on the little arrow. Then select “Widgets” as shown in the image to the left.
The next screen will be made up of three main areas. On the right you will have a list of the sidebars available in your current theme. The top left hand section is “Available Widgets.” These are all of the different widgets you can choose from at the moment, but certain plugins will create additional widgets for you to use. Below “Available Widgets,” you also have “Inactive Widgets,” which we’ll discuss in a moment.
Now, each of the sidebars on the right of the page can be accessed by clicking on the little dropdown arrow next to it’s name. Once you’ve chosen a sidebar and a widget to add, just drag the widget over to the sidebar. When you have the widget in the right spot a dotted rectangle will appear. Drop the widget in place by releasing the mouse button and the widget will be added, and it’s options will be displayed for you to configure.
Different widgets will have different options, particularly if they were created by a plugin. Some widgets (like the Search widget, for example) don’t have any options for you to configure.
Once you have all of your options set, just click the “Save” button at the bottom of the widget. In recent versions of WordPress, as you save each individual widget it gets added to your blog in real time (in the past you have to click a button to save all the changes).
Text widgets are easily the simplest and also the most powerful widgets at your disposal. You can place any text or HTML code you want into a text widget to display on your sidebar. This means you can use them to display a message, add links or even display images and optin forms. Text widgets can take on almost any form, so let your imagination go nuts!
To use a text widget, just drag it onto the sidebar like you would anything else. Then a box like the one on the left will appear with two fields. One for the title and the other for the content. Enter whatever text or code you want and click save you’ll be good to go. If you are using the widget to display text with multiple paragraphs you will need to add the paragraph tags unless you check the box at the bottom to automatically add them!
Always remember to double check your text widget’s output once you save it. Pull up you blog, test any links, etc. to make sure everything works right.
The third and final section of the widgets screen is the area reserved for inactive widgets. These are all the widgets you don’t want to use, but don’t want to loose forever. Let’s say you were to use a text widget to create an optin box for your email newsletter, but wanted to pull it down while you changed themes on your blog. If you drag that widget into the “Available Widgets” section, it will be removed from your sidebar and deleted completely. However, if you drag it down to the “Inactive Widgets” section, it will stay there, with all of the code you added intact until you are ready to use it again.
Managing Widgets With Different Themes
Before we wrap up this lesson I wanted to mention one last thing. Your widgets are grouped under sidebars, and those sidebars have specific names. For example the theme I am currently using has a “Primary Sidebar” and a “Secondary Sidebar.” Not all themes use the same titles for their sidebars, so if I were to switch themes I might wind up with “Left Sidebar” and “Right Sidebar.” The reason I bring this up is that WordPress will only display the widgets in the sidebar you placed them in (with that specific name). So if you switch themes and the sidebar you were using no longer exists, you won’t have any widgets to display after the new theme is up.
For this reason, you should always move all of your widgets down to the Inactive Widgets section before switching themes, so that you can access them once the new theme is up.
Hopefully this lesson helps you get up and running with widgets. Leave your feedback and questions in the comments!