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Widgets: the what, the which and the how

How many widgets do you use?

© Craig R. Kirkby, Ugg & Lee – Widgets for WordPress, via Flickr

There are lots of new jargonised words to learn in WordPress, and one of these is widgets.

No, we're not talking about the thing at the bottom of beer cans that make its contents all frothy, widgets in WordPress are essentially specialised applications (little bits of code and programming) that add static or dynamic actions to the sidebar or footer of your blog.

In other words, the widgets found on a sidebar give all sorts of interesting things for your visitors to do. Think of them as triggers to enable you to get more information or perform certain tasks.

Widgets are actually short cuts to much larger applications that happen elsewhere. They allow your readers to access features such as your latest posts, your category list, search the blog for interesting content, see your latest tweets and find additional pages that aren't listed on your navigation bar.

If you take a look at a sidebar of a blog, it will probably be populated with widgets. My own sidebar is no exception, at present I can count at least six. And I can add, take away and rearrange as many widgets as much as I like, depending on how I want my sidebar to look or perform. Also they don't require any specialist techie knowledge to set up, it's just a matter of selecting and installing them (I'll show you how below).

Provided by WordPress

WordPress offers you a certain amount of widgets to use on your blog, but this does depend on whether you have a WordPress.com or a WordPress.org blog, and which kind of theme you have chosen. There are standard widgets that are always available, but there are others that are not always accessible, and it's a bit pot luck as to which ones you get.

If you have a WordPress.com blog, your list of widgets will be quite substantial. WordPress are very generous with their widgets. This is because you cannot add to the list by other means, such as via plugins. Nevertheless, the options are very exciting, and you can create very interesting sidebars and footers, depending upon your theme, from what is available.

WordPress.org blogs, on the other hand, get the bare minimum of widgets. The idea is that you add to them by uploading plugins, which are applications designed to enhance your blog. Since you have carte blanche as to what you want your blog to do, and there are literally thousands of widgets and other applications to add into your blog to make it more interesting, functional and perform better.

Where do I find the widgets?

I'm going to focus on WordPress.com blogs at the moment, because of the pre-installed widgets that are available.

You can find your widgets by looking at the Dashboard's left sidebar and mousing over 'Applications'. The drop down menu will appear to the right and the third option down will be 'Widgets'.

Where widgets are found in the dashboard sidebar

The Widgets page (on my blog) looks like this:

Page listing widgets

You will see two columns of available widgets in alphabetical order on the left (there are much more than you can see here), and on the right are the sidebars (and footers) your theme has given you.

(Each theme has different sidebar and footer options. How many and which kind can vary quite considerably. Therefore it's worth considering what sidebars and footers are available when you choose your theme.)

Check out what widgets you've got

WordPress.com gives you a very large selection of widgets to choose from. I suggest you explore what they do by trying them out in turn on your sidebars. It's very easy to add them on, look at what they do, and then take them away again. Don't worry, you can't break your blog by doing this.

In future posts I shall be exploring various widgets to show you what they are for, what they do and how they can help you with your blogging.

But in the meantime, here is how you add a widget to your sidebar. In your list of widgets, find the widget you want and click on it:

Selecting calendar widget

And it will open up like this:

Placing a widget on a sidebar

Select which sidebar (or footer if available) you want your widget to be placed into, and click on 'Add Widget'. You will then see your widget magically appear at the bottom of the sidebar:

Calendar widget inside the sidebar

You will see that it has opened up. There is an empty field called Title. In this you can add in a title or description of your widget if you want to. When done, remember to click on the 'Save' button:

Give your widget a title

Each widget is placed at the bottom of the sidebar by default. If this is not where you want it to be, all you need to do is to use your mouse to drag that widget into the right place between the other widgets.

Drag your widget into position

It will automatically save afterwards. Then you need to visit your blog to see what it looks like. Go to 'View Site' at the top of your Dashboard left sidebar:

View Site link in dashboard sidebar

And you will be able to see your widget in all its glory:

Calendar widget

If you decide you don't want this widget any more on your sidebar, it's very easy to remove it. Go back to the Widget Page (Appearance > Widgets) and open up the undesired widget by clicking on it:

How to delete a widget

Click on the 'Delete' link and your widget will disappear from the sidebar.

Go on, experiment with your widgets!

To find out what each widget does, you need to be brave enough to place them on your sidebars and see how they perform. Some are easier than others to understand. I shall be showing you the most important or valuable widgets and what they do in later posts, so watch this space!

Meanwhile, tell me how you get on with playing with your widgets, and which ones you like the best, in the comment box below.

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Alice Elliott writes the Beginner Bloggers blog for beginner and post-beginner bloggers to “explain things really simply” about blogging and WordPress. She specialises in simple, easy to understand, highly visual courses and tutorials using ordinary, everyday words. Why not also visit her award winning Fairy Blog Mother blog to learn some more.

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  • Jo says:

    Never knew you could just click on widget to put into the sidebar. I’ve been dragging and dropping there and back for years. Thanks for tips will experiment later. Grrr i lose sleep over widgets so any extra help is welcomed. Jo

    • You’re welcome Jo. The way to find things out is not to be afraid to click and see what happens. In this case curiosity didn’t kill the cat, it purely made its life better. Widgets are on my radar, so expect some more posts about them.

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