Widgets and plugins are integral components of any WordPress website. Together, they work to display content in alternative areas and increase the functionality of your website.
Widgets normally appear in the sidebar/s of your site, however widget areas can also appear in the header, footer, above or below the content area. These areas are determined by the theme design, and their content can be either dynamic or static.
You can find the widget edit screen under Appearance>Widgets. It has three main areas: Available Widgets, Inactive Widgets, and widget areas.
Available Widgets displays all the widgets that you can currently display on your site. These are the default widgets, plus widgets that you have installed as a plugin (for more on plugins, see Section 4 of this course). The widgets that are included in the default WordPress installation include:
- categories: display a list or dropdown menu of blog categories
- archives: display a list or dropdown menu of your blog archives
- pages: display a list of your site’s pages
- tag cloud: display your blog tags as a “cloud,” with more frequently-used tags appearing in larger text
- search: show a search box that visitors can use to search your site
- recent posts: display a list of your most recent blog posts
- text: a very versatile widget that allows you to enter text and HTML.
Inactive Widgets shows widgets that you have set up, but are currently not displayed. If you want to remove a widget from your sidebar, you can move it here to save the settings. That way, move you decide you want the widget back again, you don’t have to remember what settings you used previously.
The right-hand side of the Widgets screen shows all the widget areas on your website. Most of the time, these will be sidebars, however some themes also have widget areas in the header or footer. The number and names of these widget areas depends on the theme you have active.
Adding widgets to your site
To add a widget to your site, simply drag and drop the name of the widget from the Available Widgets section into one of the widget areas on the right-hand side of the window. After you have added it, the widget will open up (or if it doesn’t, you can click on the triangle to open it) and you can change the settings and save the widget.
The specific settings needed will depend on what type of widget you are using. For instance, if it is a text widget, you just need to type in the text (and optionally, HTML code), and save the widget. For some other types of widgets, you will need to make selections with dropdown menus and/or buttons before saving the widgets. For others, they will have no settings in the widget itself, as all settings will be controlled in a separate section of the dashboard.
Because there are some many options when it comes to widgets, it’s really a matter of trial and error when you’re managing the widget content on your website. One tip I would recommend is having the front of the website open in a separate tab, so when you make changes to the widget settings you can just refresh that tab to see the result on the website right away.
How to find and install plugins
If you want to extend the functionality of your WordPress site, most likely you will need to install plugins. Plugins are small programs written to extend the functionality of your WordPress site. Like themes, many of them are free, though some developers have created premium plugins that are more robust and fully-featured.
You can browse available free plugins in the WordPress plugin directory. There are plugins available for nearly any kind of functionality, from shopping carts to discussion forums, from social media to anti-spam.
Once installed, many plugins will add an item to the menus in the WordPress admin area. Depending on the number of settings required to configure the plugin, some will create a new menu item heading, and some will just insert an item in the Tools or Settings menus, for example. Many plugins will also create one or more widgets that you can drag and drop into your site’s widget areas.
WordPress offers an automatic installation of plugins via your site’s admin panel. This is by far the easiest way to install plugins, however if you have purchased a premium plugin, or downloaded one separately, you will need to upload it instead:
- Log into your site’s admin panel and go to Appearance>Plugins
- Click on “Add New”
- Either search for a plugin (if you are using one from the WordPress repository) or click the Upload link (if you have your plugin in a .zip file on your computer).
- If you are using a plugin from the repository, find your theme by searching for keywords and click “Install Now.”
- If you are uploading a theme, click “Choose” and navigate to the .zip file on your computer. Click “Install Now.”
- Click “Activate Plugin.”
- Yay! You have just installed a plugin!
Plugins and Widgets in WordPress work together to give you options for the location and nature of your content. In this way, they enhance the functionality of your website.
This article is excerpted from my course How to Manage Content in WordPress.