I’m going to be doing an ongoing series of posts called “Blogging 101” to help people who are new to WordPress understand how it works.
In today’s post, I’m going to be talking about widgets.
Widgets in WordPress allow you to add content and features in the widgetized areas of your theme – generally speaking, we’re talking about your sidebar here. However these widget-ready areas can be in the header, footer, sidebar, below content, and basically any other area in your theme.
What’s really cool about widgets is that they let you do a lot of things to customize your blog without having to know much, if any, coding and without making any real changes to your theme.
You access them by logging into your blog admin page, clicking on Appearance, and then Widgets.
This will open up your widget page, which is divided into two main sections: Available widgets and Sidebars. Depending on your theme, you may have one sidebar or several.
In fact, some themes are extremely customizable, and may give you different options of one or two sidebars as well as letting you choose the sidebar locations. To make it more confusing, your dashboard may call a section a sidebar when it’s actually shown in the header or footer of your blog.
In the example shown, you can see Available Widgets (A) on the left. On the right, we have the sidebars; this theme makes it fairly simple – We have 3 different footer sections (B) and one actual sidebar (C).
Adding and removing widgets is about the easiest thing in the world. All you have to do is click on the widget you want and drag it over to the sidebar section where you want it to be displayed. This drag and drop functionality is part of what makes widgets so great and easy to work with.
When you first install your WordPress blog, you’ll notice that there are a few default items in the sidebar.
Now, when you look up there at “Footer A” (which I have confusingly labeled “B” 😀 ), you’ll notice that it lists three widgets that are already in the footer. Those were default widgets, but I can easily click and drag them out if I don’t want them.
But in some themes, the default widgets will NOT show up under one of the sidebar or footer areas. That might kind of freak you out a little, if you’re trying to figure out how to remove a widget when you don’t see it listed anywhere.
But it’s really not a problem at all – what happens is that some themes have default widgets hard coded into the theme itself. As soon as you click and drag the widgets you want into the sidebar area, it overrides the default widgets.
Once you click and drag your widget into the section where you want it place, you may need to adjust settings – it will depend on the widget and what its function is.
Some of the standard widgets that you’ll find on WordPress:
AddThis: This adds buttons for people to follow you on social media. When you drag this into your sidebar, you’ll need to customize it to show the social networking sites the way you want them to be shown and then save and close the widget.
Calendar: This widget lets you place a calendar on your sidebar that hyperlinks the days when you made a blog post. The visitors can hover over the day and see what the post title is so they know if they want to read it or not.
You can create a Custom Menu in a widget that showcases whatever elements of your blog you want. You can drag the Pages widget over to highlight the pages if you’d rather they show up here than below the Header. You can sort them and exclude certain ones, too.
The Recent Posts widget shows your most recent posts; it lets you choose how many posts are shown. It defaults to five.
A Search widget will let your visitors search your site by keywords.
The Text widget allows you to place text or HTML code (hyperlinked images, for example) in it. This is the widget I use most, for adding in affiliate banners on my sidebar.
The Askimet widget just tells people how many Spam comments have been blocked. This may deter spammers from attempting to post comments to your blog, but most spam is done by bots so I’m not sure how effective that would be – to me, this is really just advertising for Akismet, so if you’re a big Akismet fan, go for it!
The Archives widget lets you create a drop down menu that shows the month and number of blog posts made during that time frame so visitors can see past blog posts.
The Categories widget is another way of showing your past posts. Visitors can see how many posts are in each category and click through to visit them. It’s always a good idea to have at least one way for your visitors to browse your previous posts.
The Links widget lets you showcase your blogroll and even the rating you give the links, too. It used to be really good for SEO to link out to a lot of related blogs in your blogroll, but over the years it was abused until I don’t think it does much of anything. But by all means, if you have blogs you love to follow and want to share, it doesn’t hurt anything to list a few here.
You may want to show how active your blog is by activating the Recent Comments widget. You can also add an RSS widget for subscribers and a Tag Cloud widget to see what’s popular on your site. Tag clouds were really popular for a short while, but personally, I think they look a little amateurish on a blog now.
One widget that is always turned on by default is the Meta widget. I recommend disabling it immediately – for one thing, it’s another one that looks a little amateurish, but it also makes it that much easier for would-be hackers to get to your admin page.
Apart from the basic widgets that are included on every theme, there are dozens, if not tens of dozens of widgets that can be installed via plug-in.
There are widgets that allow you to show YouTube videos; Flickr photos; Twitter timelines; current weather in your location and so much more. If you’re interested in customizing your blog with some fun widgets, here are links to a few widget collections – most are free, some must be purchased.
- 20 Incredibly Useful WordPress Widgets
- 30 Top Rated WordPress Sidebar Widgets
- 115+ Best WordPress Sidebar Widgets
- 26 Widgets to Dress Up Your WordPress Sidebar
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