7 Things you Need to Know about WordPress Widgets

The outside of your WordPress house - widgets

Widgets may just be the most misunderstood part of WordPress. They’re not plugins, though many of them are created by plugins. They do so many different things, they’re not easy to characterize. About the only generalization you can make about them is that widgets know their place, and stay there.

Here are seven things all WordPress users should understand about widgets.

#1. Widgets Know Their Place

A WordPress widget can only be displayed in a widgetized area.

That’s a specific location on your site. WordPress creates some widgetized areas, but your theme and plugins do too. If you know how, you can create your own.

Common widgetized areas include sidebars and footers.

Other areas where widgets frequently appear include below the post, and above or in the header. For example, if a site displays a list of related posts at the end of an article, they’re most likely showing up in an after-post widgetized area that was created by a plugin.

Here’s an example of related posts created by the Shareaholic plugin.

after-post widget area

Some sites have a welcome message that sits on top of the site header. Others have a widgetized area inside the header itself — usually on the right-hand side. StudioPress themes typically include this area. You can use it for a variety of things — add a search box, show the date, or display a banner ad.

One of my clients recently used it to show her site’s title. I had put her logo in the standard spot, on the left side of the header. She wanted the title as well, and this was her clever solution.

widgetized area in header

#2. Widgets Do Exactly What you Tell Them To

You just need to be sure you’re giving them the right instructions.

For example, here’s the widget that displays my latest tweets here. This is what the tweets look like.

Latest Tweets

And here’s the widget.

Latest Tweets widget

Some forms that build widgets are more complicated, and you may need to experiment a bit in order to get exactly what you want.

#3. Widgets Build Homepages

Some WordPress themes use widgets to build the homepage. StudioPress does a great job with this — one of the reasons I recommend them. Many of their themes feature front pages built with widgets, and they’ve made the layouts flexible and variable. Let me show you what I mean.

Here are the widget configurations for the front page using the Wellness Pro theme.

homepage widgets

  • If you use one widget, you get one full-width piece of content.
  • Use two widgets, and you get a single row with two equal columns.
  • Use three widgets, and you get one row with three columns.
  • Use four, and you get one row with four columns.

Pretty straightforward, right? But here’s where it gets interesting!

  • Use five widgets, and you get three rows. The first two will have two equal columns and the third will be full width.
  • Six will display as two rows of three columns each.
  • Seven widgets will give you four rows. The first three have two columns each, and the fourth will be full width. Are you starting to see a pattern here?
  • Eight widgets display as two rows of two columns each.
  • Nine widgets provides three rows of three columns each.

If you were ever wondering how they get those gorgeous scrolling pages with all those different bands of layouts, that’s how. (You can [aff] check out the demo of this theme here. This is a new theme, and it’s absolutely gorgeous. It’s become my new, favorite theme.)

#4. Widgets Show Menus

Most themes show a navigation menu — sometimes two — in the header area. This site uses two menus, one above and one below the header.

There are also two menus in the sidebar.

navigation menus in a widget

First I made two custom menus, then I added a Custom Menu Widget to the sidebar, twice.

custom menu widget

With widgets, you can add any number of custom menus to your WordPress site.

#5. Widgets Make Forms

Most opt-in forms are widgets. They’re commonly found at the top of the sidebar, but you’ll also see them in footers and after posts.

opt-in widget

Here’s an example of an opt-in widget after a post.

opt-in widget2

#6.Widgets Share Content

Whether it’s a related posts widget after a post, or a listing of recent or popular posts in the sidebar, widgets give you lots of ways to encourage readers to dig more deeply into your site’s content.

And while we’re talking about content, social media is one form of content that’s widely displayed in widgets. There are social follow widgets, social sharing widgets, latest tweets, posts, or pins…

social follow widget

social sharing widget

#7. Widgets Show Images

And let’s not forget visual content — slideshows, galleries, lightboxes, video, and regular still images. If it involves the visual, there are widgets to show it off to best advantage. A widget in the proper spot provides a great way to showcase images.

While slideshows (also called sliders) at the top of the homepage are popular, they’re not very effective and I don’t recommend them there. But there are lots of other widgetized areas where you can use a widget to display images beautifully.

#8. Widgets Show a Whole Lot More

The list above shows the most common ways to use widgets, but there are more. . . lots more. Other uses for widgets include:

  • calendars
  • testimonials
  • archives
  • maps
  • text
  • advertising
  • sales notices
  • contact information
  • services offered
  • announcements
  • free downloads

In short, you can use widgets for almost anything.

Do you have a favorite type of widget not mentioned here? Share in the questions box below!

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