Learn How to Add and Use WordPress Widgets

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Every new site owner needs to know how to add and use widgets in WordPress (WP). This brief tutorial explains how to do that. First, let’s explore the full potential of WP widgets.

About WordPress Widgets

Free WordPress widgets are rather bland-looking blocks of drag-and-drop content found in your Dashboard. There’s nothing to open or configure with these. Website construction doesn’t get much easier than this. They can only go in designated or widget-ready areas, though. These areas can vary depending on the theme, but most are the sidebars of a page.

WordPress Custom Sidebars

Sidebars can be on all sides, including headers and footers. Most themes allow you to customise them either for a single page or site-wide. It’s usually by way of a dropdown menu with options to add, move, or remove sidebars, but that’s nothing for this guide. If you don’t like how a particular widget looks or feels, simply drag it back to the ‘Available Widgets’ areas.

WordPress Widget Access

From your WP Dashboard, click on Appearance from the left side menu followed by Widgets. The image below shows the simple layout of a WordPress ‘Available Widgets’ screen:

Each widget has a name and a short description underneath. On the right is the widget-ready area(s). In this case, it’s footer #1. That tells you precisely where the widgets will show.

Easy Widgets for WordPress Beginners

There are three things to do with WordPress widgets, Publish, Change, and Update. Your Widget screen shows the available options on the left side and widget areas on the right. The Dashboard display and layout may vary between themes, but it’s always self-explanatory.

How to Add a New WordPress Widget

Drag and drop any widget into a designated area. You can move it up or down so that it sits exactly where you want it on the live site. Removal is the reverse. You don’t even have to return it once it’s outside the widget-area. Simply drag it to one side and let go. WordPress then automatically returns the block to its alphabetical location in Available Widgets.

For this example, let’s add the Search widget between Recent Posts and Recent Comments. The next image shows how that looks in the WP Dashboard (left) and on the website (right).

Wherever you place a widget in the Dashboard is its position on the live site. It really is that simple. Remember to refresh your web pages (F5) to view any changes. You can’t break anything. Play around with them to get familiar with how they work.

Where to Find New WordPress Widgets

WordPress comes with a bunch of useful widgets preinstalled, but there are more. Most themes have their own set to help enhance the template further. You can also create them, or search for new ones and install those from the plugins page:

Step 1: Click the Plugins menu and then Add New:

Step 2: Type the name of the widget—or widgets pack if you know of one—into the search box. If not, type ‘widgets’ and explore your options in the search results screen:

The search results look something like this:

There are 9,000 items found, which is why it’s better to be specific with your widget search ;). Click the Install Now button for the widget you want. The button will change from Install Now to Activate after a couple of seconds. Click that to activate the new widgets.

You can now find the new widget or widget pack in the Available Widgets screen.

How to Delete Widgets in WordPress

New widgets show in the Available Widgets screen after click Activate, not Install. The Available Widgets area only lets you add or remove them from the live site. You must go to the Installed Plugins screen to deactivate, reactivate, or delete widgets.  

Goto Plugins è Installed Plugins

To remove a widget, you must first click Deactivate followed by Delete.

Widgets Vs Plugins

Both widgets and plugins add something extra to the look, feel, or functionality of a website. Plugins are more powerful than widgets as they can perform server-side functions. Widgets are restricted—for the most part—to the sidebars. Their job is to add extra content and encourage interactions. Examples are search boxes, email subscriptions, tag clouds, and video, etc. 

Types of WordPress Widgets

Here’s a list of commonly used widgets, though there are many others:

  • Email subscription
  • Social media, e.g., Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter
  • Display users most recent posts
  • Search the site
  • To provide live chat support
  • Google maps
  • Image and video gallery
  • Text widgets

The list could go on, but you can see the potential of WP widgets when used wisely.  

What to Look for in a WordPress Widget

It pays to do a little homework before you add new widgets. The description may catch your eye, but there’s more to check. First, ask yourself how it benefits the site and your site visitors. Does it add something useful, or is it just a gimmick taking up space in the sidebar? Check its popularity by the number of downloads as well, and the star rating.

Avoid old, outdated widgets. Ensure the ones you use are compatible with the latest version of WordPress. The descriptions at the bottom of a widget ad show all the relevant information.

Closing Comments

You now know how to find, activate, deactivate, delete, and use WordPress widgets. Remember, you can’t break anything, so don’t be afraid to experiment. Using these code blocks can add something special to a website, but try not to clutter sidebars with stuff you don’t need.

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