WordPress Widgets Beginners Guide & Usage Tips

All blogs and pages sidebars have widgets on it to show any kind of contents. Check out a beginners guide and usage tips for WordPress widgets

By Claudio Pires
Updated on August 29, 2022
WordPress Widgets Beginners Guide & Usage Tips

All blogs and page sidebars have widgets to show any kind of content, like social icons, ads, related posts, categories, and more. See now the complete guide for beginners about WordPress widgets usage and all the tips you need to know about this feature.

Since WordPress is a relatively straightforward platform, new users can usually figure out the basics quickly.

Even the most novice, the technologically non-savvy user, can generally figure out that building a site with WordPress requires a theme and usually some plugins. That said, certain aspects of WordPress sometimes leave many new users scratching their heads.

One such mystery is WordPress Widgets.

What in the world are WordPress Widgets?

How to find the correct section

You would think this answer would be simple because it is easy conceptually. However, explaining it in layman’s terms isn’t as easy as we would all like it to be. Even the WordPress Codex can’t seem to explain in a way that’s easy to understand.

The easiest way to put it is that a widget is a block of content (be that some text, an image or a list of links or categories, etc.) that can easily be placed in specific predefined areas (known as ‘widgetized areas’) on your website. These widget-ready areas generally include your site’s sidebar, footer, header, and sometimes, even an entire homepage.

By default, the WordPress core software comes with a number of different widgets that can be used in these areas:

  • ‘Search’ (displays a search box on your site)
  • ‘Recent’ Posts (displays a list of your most recent posts)
  • ‘Recent Comments’ (displays a list of your most recent comments)
  • ‘Archives’ (displays a list of links to previous posts)
  • ‘Categories’ (displays a list of posts, organized by categories)
  • ‘Meta’ (displays a list of handy management links)
  • Themes or plugin widgets.
Classic view WP appearance tabs
WordPress Widgets Beginners Guide

You’re not limited to just these widgets alone, but I’ll get to that later.

Sounds easy enough, right? So why all the confusion?

Why the confusion?

As I mentioned above, WordPress is loaded with a set of widgets that you can choose to use or not. WordPress widgets are a little confusing because they’re not needed for WordPress to function properly — but they’re sometimes nice to have.

Another way to look at it is this: Widgets are like your appendix; we all have one, but we won’t die if we don’t. Similarly, even though WordPress comes with usage widgets and tips for it on the function, it’ll still work if you don’t put them to use on your site.

But the biggest reason they tend to be confusing is of this:

“Widgets are not plugins, but some plugins contain widgets.”

Confusing, right?

How can a plugin not be a widget, and yet, that’s essentially what some of them are? Why not split things up and have some called Plugins and others called Widgets that can be downloaded and installed just the same? Wouldn’t that make everything easier? Where are the WordPress widgets usage tips?

Well, no. And understanding this next bit makes things a little easier to see why.

It’s all in the code

It’s all in the code
WordPress Widgets Beginners Guide

Both widgets and widgetized areas of your site are created with code like PHP and JavaScript. These codes are the same codes used (in part) to develop WordPress Themes and Plugins.

As mentioned before, widgets are not needed for WordPress to function. Likewise, they’re not required for themes and plugins to work, either. However, a developer can add snippets of PHP and/or JavaScript code to a particular file and create a widget to add an excellent user experience for whoever uses their product.

It all should be consolidated like this than needlessly creating another category for Widgets that can be downloaded and installed on a site.

Wondering why? Here’s an example:

Let’s say you install a new Social Sharing Plugin like Monarch. After you activate it, you’ll find that there’s a new widget for Monarch that you can place in a widgetized area — an excellent option to have.

But, if plugins and widgets were separate, then that would mean that the developers of Monarch would have to create two different products — one a Plugin and one a Widget — to create a single entity and provide a better overall product.

That would also mean instead of installing one thing you would need to install two if you wanted that additional feature with that plugin. Ultimately, that would just be more work for everyone.

Since someone can use the same type of code to create a plugin as they would create a widget, it makes sense just to consolidate things. So, even though some plugins and themes add widgets to your site that you can use, widgets are not something entirely separate from plugins, themes, or WordPress as a whole — and for a good reason too…

Mainly just to keep WordPress simple.

How do I get more WordPress Widgets?

Chances are that after reading up to this point in the post, you’ve already figured out that there are a couple of ways to get more widgets for your site:

  1. Through a new theme
  2. Through the use of a plugin
  3. Install Borderless WordPress plugin FREE

Those are the easy ways to get new Widgets and widgetized areas on your website.

The other option is to hand-code a new widget in your files. That can be complicated, however, unless you’re a developer or know your way around code like PHP. Since working with PHP and adding new code to your site can muck up the work when done incorrectly, it’s best not to mess with stuff unless you know exactly what you’re doing.

That’s why I suggest sticking with one of the two options above.

I should mention that because widgets are integrated into some themes and plugins, deactivating a plugin or switching to another theme will remove the widgets you were using that were connected to them. So, if you stop using a plugin or change themes and notice certain widgets disappear, now you know why.

WordPress widget beginners guide & usage quick tips

One widget that comes with every WordPress install that’s a bit special — is the “Text Widget“. Though the name Text Widget has an underwhelming ring, this widget can do more than just hold a paragraph or two.

This widget can translate any HTML you want to enter into it, which means that you can use it to hold images, create clickable links, and even get it to work with shortcodes.

Don’t know how to code HTML? Guess what: No problem!

Here’s a quick tip to create an HTML snippet in WordPress even if you don’t know how a think about it:

  1. Create a new post in the backend of WordPress
  2. Enter the content that you’d like to place within the Text Widget in the post editor and format to taste
  3. Switch from the WordPress ‘Visual’ editor to ‘Text’ editor using the tab in the top-right of the general post editing area
  4. Copy all the code you see on your computer.
  5. Paste the code into your Text Widget and hit the save button

Five easy steps, and you’ve created a little something extra for a widget area on your site!

How to add widgets to the sidebar in WordPress: Beginners guide

You can add widgets to the WordPress sidebar area in several ways. The easiest way is to navigate to Appearance – Widgets and click the “arrow” in the sidebar widget area to expand the widget area. Then click the “plus” icon to bring up the widget block menu. Here you can search for widgets by name.

Then-click-the-‘Plus-icon-to-bring-up-the-widget-block-menu WordPress widgets Guide Beginners

Or click the Browse All button to display a menu of all available widgets. To add widgets to your sidebar, just click on a widget that will automatically be added to your sidebar. Then all you have to do is click “Update,” and the widget is now on your website. You can also add widgets using the WordPress theme customizer.

click Update and the widget will now be live on your website WordPress widgets Guide Beginners

Start by navigating Appearance – Customize, then click on the Widgets menu option. This will take you to a page where you can customize the widget area. Just click on the right sidebar menu option to add widgets to the sidebar.

Appearance Customize Widgets menu option

Wrapping WordPress widgets beginners guide up

Widgets are simple in design and concept, yet they’re surprisingly difficult to explain in simple terms. The good news, however, is once you’ve got your head around what they are and how they work, you’re unlikely ever to forget!

Claudio Pires

Claudio Pires is the co-founder of Visualmodo, a renowned company in web development and design. With over 15 years of experience, Claudio has honed his skills in content creation, web development support, and senior web designer. A trilingual expert fluent in English, Portuguese, and Spanish, he brings a global perspective to his work. Beyond his professional endeavors, Claudio is an active YouTuber, sharing his insights and expertise with a broader audience. Based in Brazil, Claudio continues to push the boundaries of web design and digital content, making him a pivotal figure in the industry.