What Are Widgets, and Why Do We Need Them?
Widgets, like plugins, do a wide variety of different things. They can give you all sorts of functionality which you wouldn’t get without them. That being said, however, there are some pretty major differences between widgets and plugins. First of all, plugins (as you’ll notice in your WordPress backend) have their own tab, whereas widgets, are a sub-tab of the “Appearance” tab.
That also brings up a key point which I want to emphasize real quick. Anytime you’re adding a “widget” you’re typically changing the appearance of your site in one way or another. This is different from plugins, which can often do things in the backend without your users having knowledge of it.
Another big difference is that plugins often (but not always) have more functionality than widgets. Widgets are like smaller little “sub-programs” that are put onto your site and can do various different things. For example, there’s a common widget for a “Tag Cloud” where certain words which you put in your site’s content appear in a “cloud” (or somewhat random group) in various different sizes (larger tags tend to mean it’s a more relevant or common word on the site).
Last but not least, widgets are placed in some sort of “sidebar” on your site. Most of these actually appear in that sidebar right away (though I’ve found a few which don’t). Plugins, whenever they’re put in a sidebar are usually some type of widget (yes, a plugin can be just a widget, though not all widgets are plugins). Let’s now take a look at how to find and add a widget to your sidebar.
Adding New Widgets To Your WordPress Site
As I mentioned before, these widgets are put into a sidebar on your site. Now, depending on your site’s theme and settings you may have one or more sidebar, though you may also have none. So, the first thing you’re going to do, is take a look at the “Widgets” tab within the “Appearance” tab, and there, you’ll see multiple widgets already pre-installed by WordPress, and are all ready to go. This is another key difference with Plugins, there really aren’t too many plugins which come pre-installed (just one anti-spam plugin which you have to activate (Akismet), and one plugin which is essentially useless.
Now, all you have to do to add a widget, is simply drag and drop the widget you want to use into one of the sidebars on the right. It’s really that easy. Depending on your theme, you may see things like a “Primary Side Bar”, or a “Content Sid Bar”, or possibly even a “Footer Widget Area”.
Now, you’ll notice that depending on which sidebar you drag and drop a widget into, you’ll see this widget pop up in a different place on your website. I’d recommend trying it with one of your widgets… try dropping it into different sidebars, and then going back to see where it shows up on your site. That will give you an indication of where each sidebar is actually located on the site, so you know, for example, when you place a widget in the “Primary” sidebar, where that widget’s going to show up.
To remove a widget, it’s basically the same thing – just drag it from the sidebar which it’s currently in, and then then drop it right back into the main widgets area, and you’re all set. Adding and removing widgets really is extremely easy, and you’ll get the hang of where those widgets are going to show up, and what you want to go where in no time.
Examples of Great Widgets
As I mentioned a moment ago, there’s a lot of great widgets which come with WordPress by default. I wanted to go over some of them, and how they can be useful to you, so you have a good start, and can begin to think about how you want to use widgets for your own site.
One simple widget which comes standard with WordPress, is the RSS widget. RSS feeds aren’t used nearly as often today as they used to be used, but they’re still a great tool for getting new content, and organizing new posts from different blogs around the web. Having an RSS feed on your site makes it really easy for users to sign up for your RSS and receive new content quickly and easily.
Another great tool you can use, is the “custom menu” widget. This will literally allow you to make a whole new menu right within one of your sidebars. This is handy if there’s some menu items which either don’t fit on your main nav bar, or which you want to keep separate.
Now, let me talk to you about the most simple, yet one of the most extremely handy widgets of all – the “Text” widget. This widget allows you to put any text inside of it, for example if there’s a message you want to post in one of your sidebars, however, it also allows you to place any HTML code within it, and it’ll work just fine. So, basically allows you to have a little place on your sidebar with literally any custom HTML you want, which is very handy.
Another simple, yet handy widget is the “Meta” widget, which allows you to log into the backend of your site from anywhere it shows up (instead of going to the “/wp-admin” page).
Now, let’s talk about a couple of custom, community-made widgets you can download and add to your site (via the Plugins page). One really nice widget, is called the “Star Rating Widget”. This is one which you have to pay for, but it’s very handy, as it allows you to make it so that different posts, pages, and even comments on your website or blog can be rated with a typical star-rating system. Nice.
Last but not least, I’ll mention a great widget for YouTubers, which is the YouTube Channel Gallery. It allows you to display all the latest videos from a YouTube channel in thumbnail format, within a small gallery right within one of your sidebars. People can even play the videos right from there.
I hope this gives you a great starting point for how to use widgets, and what you should be using them for. Granted, there are countless other widgets which it’d be impossible for me to cover in one post, or even 100 posts, so take a look for yourself, and find some widgets which are relevant to you.