Managing Widgets in WordPress

WordPress

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Last week we explained how to manage the navigation menus in your WordPress easily. Today, continuing with this series of posts to master WordPress, let’s see what WordPress widgets are and and how to manage them.

What Are WordPress Widgets?

Widgets are blocks of code that can be added to the sidebars of your WordPress website to add social networking icons, lists of your most popular posts, recent comments, categories, search engines, subscription and contact forms, location maps, surveys, favorite products, etc.

Post with sidebar
The post blog has a sidebar with a search engine, a category selector, an image gallery, the recent posts and a map of our city.

Basically, WordPress widgets are used to customize the look and feel of your pages by allowing you to insert almost anything you want in different locations: the sidebars.

Before we continue, a little clarification: a sidebar or widget ready area is just that, an area of your WordPress website that is ready for you to add widgets.

Sidebars
Very simple scheme of a web page that includes different widget ready areas.

Another point to clarify before explaining how to create, modify and delete widgets is not to confuse widgets with plugins.

A plugin is also a “program”, but it is downloaded from the WordPress Directory or can be provided by a third party and serves to add some functionality to your website. A widget makes sure that you can display certain information on a specific area of your website.

Widgets usually come with your WordPress theme or can be added via plugins. For example, imagine a plugin that provides some new visual functionality, such as adding icons of your social accounts. This can include a widget that allows you to display your profiles any sidebar.

Also, when you change the theme of your website, the plugins will not be disabled, uninstalled, or deleted. But because each theme has its own set of sidebars defined, changing a theme on a website causes the organization of your widgets to be lost.

Since the sidebars are usually different from one theme to the other, most of the widgets you had in your old theme will now be found in the Inactive Widgets area of your WordPress Dashboard:

Inactive widgets area.
On the widget screen, drag and drop the widgets you want to save from any theme to Inactive Widgets.

This way, although these widgets will not be active in the new theme, if you change the theme again and activate the initial theme you will be able to recover its settings.

To summarize, available widgets in WordPress exist because they’re defined in your currently-active theme or they’re defined in a plugin.

How To Customize Your Sidebars With Widgets

After you have installed any theme in your WordPress, you will have an option on your WordPress Dashboard » Appearance » Widgets:

Widgets menu tab
Menu option to use the widgets available in your WordPress.

The Widgets screen is divided in two sections. On the left side you’ll find all the widgets that you can use. And on the right side you’ll see the different sidebars your theme defines—that’s where you can place new widgets.

Depending on your theme, you’ll see there are several sidebars or just a few. For example, in the following screenshot you’ll see a theme that defines a single sidebar (usually on the side of the blog) and a couple of sidebars on the footer:

Theme that includes three widget area
Theme that includes a sidebar and two footers (footer 1 and footer 2).

whereas in the following one you’ll see an example of a more complicated, highly-customizable theme:

Example of a website with multiple sidebars.
Example of a website with multiple sidebars.

But as you can see, the structure is always the same: available widgets and sidebars where to place them.

Let us now look at another example: How do we get our blog to include the widgets as in the first image of this post? Easy! It’s again very much like how to include pages in the structure of a navigation menu. Just select the widget you want to place on the chosen sidebar and drag it.

And so on, until you’ve added all the widgets.

Widgets added to the blog sidebar.
Widgets added to the blog sidebar.

If you look at the picture above, the last widget is part of the WP Google Maps plugin. In this case, in order to select the map I was interested in, I previously had to create it with a functionality offered by the plugin itself. Depending on how complicated a widget is, you’ll need to add the necessary information to set it up, but in general, it’s always very intuitive.

My recommendation is that when choosing a WordPress theme, do not use the number of widgets it offers as the main criterion. You’ll find many plugins that give you the widget you are looking for.

In fact, think that the WordPress Text widget, which seems to only let you add a text in some area of your website, can become a very powerful widget if you include images and shortcodes.

Text widget.
A text widget allows you to add images, links and shortcodes.

Plugins With Widgets That May Interest You

There are a few plugins that allow you to create social menus, such as Simple Social Icons, Social Media Share Buttons, Social Media Flying Icons, Social Widget Share WidgetsMeks Smart Social Widget or AccessPress Social Icons to name a few that create a widget for you to create the social menu. In all of them, after adding the widget in the area where you want it to be displayed, you only need to indicate the links to each of your social networks , save the changes, and you’ll see the icons of each network on your website.

Social icons widget
Widget that allows you to create icons and links to your social networks.

Related to social networks, other plugins that may also interest you are Easy Social Share Buttons, Shareaholic, or Simple Share Buttons Adder. These plugins create a widget that adds social buttons so your readers can share your posts on their social networks.

Instagram Feed allows you to display photos from one or multiple Instagram accounts. It creates several shortcodes so that you can show the images of your Instagram with different formats wherever you want on your website. If you want to show them in any of your sidebars, just add the shortcode to a Text widget and place it wherever you want. Similar plugins are Instagram Slider Widget and WP Instagram Widget

Perhaps the most important functionality that any website should have is to allow your readers to have some way to contact you. To do this, there are several plugins that allow you to create contact forms. Well, many of them generate a shortcode for each form that you can include in any sidebar by adding it to the Text widget.

And if, in addition to contacting you, you want them to subscribe to your newsletters, remember that you have different subscription plugins such as: WP Subscribe, Mailchimp for WordPress, MailPoet, or OptinMonster.

You may also want to take a look at WP-PollsOpinion Stage, o Quiz and Survey Master to create surveys, polls, and contests and you can easily display them on your pages and posts.

If your website is also an e-commerce site and you have the WooCommerce plugin installed, it also includes a set of shortcodes for viewing products, offers, etc. that you can add wherever you want. And related to WooCommerce, you’ll find many other plugins that allow you to improve the visualization of your store.

To Know More…

As you’ve seen, widgets allows you to customize much of your web design in a simple way. If you also want to make sure that your widgets are the most attractive to your visitors, you should try A/B testing of widgets. That is, create an experiment on your website in which you analyze two different versions of a widget: for example if you want to compare a very short contact form with a longer one. Half of your visitors will see the first and half the second, and you analyze which of them is more successful.

Creating A/B tests of widgets in WordPress is very easy if you use a tool like Nelio A/B Testing:

Just create a widget experiment, create as many versions or modifications of the widget as you want, and start the experiment. Rest assured that Nelio A/B Testing will make sure that the experiment works perfectly with your visitors and will give you the data to discover your readers’ preferences.

Featured Image by Artem Gavrysh on Unsplash.

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Ruth obtained her PhD in Software Engineering at UPC and did a Master of Information Systems at DePaul University (Chicago). She has professional experience in the business world and at the University. Ruth has been University Lecturer at UPC, Vice-Dean for Corporate Relations of the Barcelona School of Informatics, and Associate Lecturer at ESADE. She specializes in software engineering and information systems management. She is also certified in Inboud Marketing.

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