You have already heard about WordPress Widgets, don’t you? Default WordPress widgets, plugins to add more widgets, reviews, customization, and so on. The questions you may have are if this is something you should use and how is it different from WordPress shortcodes. In this article, I will answer these and few more questions to give you a brief understanding on WordPress Widgets. At the bottom of the article, you will find a list of suggested WordPress Widgets you can look into.
Definition of WordPress Widgets
The best way to understand things is by starting with the official definition. And for WordPress Widgets there is one. For this purpose, we will look into official WordPress Codex and what it says.
“WordPress Widgets add content and features to your sidebars, header, footer, and elsewhere defined by WordPress themes.”
Ok, it seems we are talking about a piece of content or feature that can be added to the specific places. The places that are defined by a theme. It means, you can not add widgets anywhere (or can you? we will get into this one later). It is up to a theme author to decide upon these special spots.
But what are those widgets, really? It can be anything – contact information, social network profile, twitter timeline, search, calendar, and so on.
I know what you are thinking. It looks like a typical WordPress shortcode, but it is not. With shortcodes, you still need to use some sort of code (unless you have a website builder to handle it for you), while widgets are already wrapped into a nice user interface.
Default, Custom Widgets And How To Install Them
By default, once you install WordPress you will not have any fancy widgets available. Yet, there is a list of default WordPress Widgets you can use from the very beginning. These widgets are styled by your theme author and represent core functions available to WordPress. Among default widgets, you will find options like Categories, Recent Posts and Comments, Calendar, RSS, Text, and more.
In fact, Text widget is the most popular one, as it allows you to add custom text to your widget area. Contact Information or description are among common things you can manage via the Text widget.
As you demand will grow, you will look for an additional widget that offers extra functionality and options. For this, you will have to visit WordPress Plugin Directory and look-up for plugins that add custom widgets to your site.
Yes, all of the custom widgets are incorporated into plugins or themes which make it easy to add and remove them. For widgets in themes, all you have to do is just install your WordPress theme and you will receive your widgets right away. For widgets in plugins, you will need to follow plugin installation process and add those plugins to your website.
In order to install a plugin that contains widgets, navigate to Plugins – Add New and browse through WordPress Plugin Directory which will be available straight out of your WordPress Admin panel. If you are using plugins outside official repository, make sure to upload them via Upload option.
That’s it, now you have your widgets installed and it is time to start working.
How to Work with Widgets
After installing widgets you will have them all listed in your WordPress site and ready to use. I will again refer to the WordPress Codex in order to clarify few things:
“Widgets require no code experience or expertise. They can be managed on the Theme Customizer – Appearance – Widgets.”
So, you do not have to be a WordPress expert to work with widgets, and that is a good news! In Appearance – Widgets, you will have the option to select from widget areas to modify and apply different widgets to these places. In some way, working with WordPress Widgets is close to how you work with your website menu. And yes, you can modify some of the widgets to personalize them.
In case you are a visual guy, WordPress has a present for you. You can use Theme Customizer to add, rearrange and remove widgets from these spots at any time. It is enough to understand basic principles of Theme Customizer to get your hands on widgets.
We were talking about special spots for widgets, but is it possible to place them into the content area of your posts? Yes, what you can do it by using a page builder for default WordPress Widgets as most of them should support working with default widgets.
As we get to the custom widgets, the situation is slightly different. Due to the nature of unpredictability of the content/feature within a widget, it can be sometimes tough to get widget wherever you want it to be.
Spoiler: I can assure you that our guys are working to create a universal solution, so you will probably see it really soon 🙂
Best WordPress Widgets
We talked about default and custom widgets. It is obvious that default widgets are popular, but what about custom ones. Which one to consider and how you can benefit from them? I have collected a small list of few custom widgets that can be considered as the best in the industry. Here you go.
Everyone is obsessed with social media (for a reason) and having your social profiles listed on your page is a must. Simple Social Icons widget allows you to display icons of social networks and link your visitors to your social profiles.
You all know Jetpack, but there is something that maybe was hidden from your sight before. Extra Sidebar Widgets is a part of Jetpack that adds some great widgets, like Gallery, Facebook like, and more.
Sometimes title and excerpt of your post are not enough to drag visitors attention. This is where widget for posts with thumbnails can come handy. It will use featured image of your post together with rest of the information to form beautiful teaser.
If you are looking for a way to display posts from a certain category in your widget area then you should look into Category Post widget.
Why not put Google Maps into your sidebar or footer, the place where you have widget area. This widget will help you to quickly embed Google Maps into your WordPress site.
Testimonials is a powerful piece of content that can help your potential customers make a right decision. As testimonials are far from being the main content, it is a good idea to find a spot for them somewhere like a sidebar.
We usually talk about displaying recent and featured posts in our sidebar, but sometimes there are cases when you need to feature a page. Feature A Page widget allows you easily place teaser of your page in a widget area in a simple way.
YouTube Channel Gallery widget allows displaying a video and thumbnails from a user channel on YouTube. Basically, a good way to push your media content to your visitors.
Having a Twitter feed on your website is a common thing these days and WP Twitter Feed is as simple as that in terms of adding your feed into a widget area.
There are a lot more widget type plugins you can discover at WordPress Plugin Directory and all around the web. In this list, we were focusing on free widgets only, but there are also premium ones you should look into.
WordPress Widgets were designed to ease content management for your WordPress site in places where traditional shortcodes are worthless. And, with a help of smart tools, you are able to place widgets almost anywhere on your site.
What are your favorite widgets?