Join Morten Rand-Hendriksen for an in-depth discussion in this video Using widgets, part of WordPress 4 Essential Training.
- As you've been following along in the course you may have noticed that when I scroll up and down I have a bunch of these extra pieces of content in my left hand sidebar. And chances are if you're using the 2015 theme you don't have these items in your sidebar. All you have is the site title and maybe the menu that you've just created. These items that you see in the sidebar are what's known as widgets. They're little packaged programs that you can add to any widgetized area within your site. And depending on the theme you're using you'll find that you usually have wigetized areas either in the sidebar or in the footer of your site but they can be placed in other places too.
Now it's time to take a look at what these widgets are and how to customize them. Like before, all this is done from the customizer and you can see that directly under Menus you have an option for Widgets. Now just like with the menus, you have Widget Areas in your theme and depending on what theme you're using, like I said, you may have several different widget areas. In 2015 you only have one widget area. That is this sidebar here which also ends up being the top bar if you have a very small screen.
Within this widget area you can add as few or as many widgets as you want and you can customize those widgets to do pretty much whatever you want. So, as you can see right now, I have a Search widget, a Recent Posts widget, a Recent Comments widget, an Archive widget, a Category widget, and a Meta widget, all of which show up as individual units in the sidebar. To add widgets to your widgetized area, simply click on this +Add a Widget button and you'll open the list of available widgets. WordPress ships with a long list of default widgets and you'll also see that as you add more plugins like Jetpack or something else you may have additional widgets that show up.
Adding a widget, like the Pages widget, as simple as clicking on it and it'll appear in the sidebar here. Whenever you add a widget you get the option of giving it a title. So I'll call this my, "Custom Page Widgets." And you'll see it appears all the way at the bottom here. If you don't give your widget a title it'll usually show up with a default title, like in this case PAGES, but there are some widgets that don't have titles by default because you want to display them without titles and then you can choose to add them in.
This is a great feature if you want to change what a widget title says or if you want to translate a widget or something else. After the Title, each widget usually has some sort of Settings options. In this case, you can see that for Pages you can sort the pages either by Title, by Page Order, or by Page ID. And you can also set a list of pages to exclude based on IDs. Now these settings changed depending on what widget you're using. As an example, the Search widget only allows you to change the Title.
The Recent Posts widget allow you to define how many recent posts you want to display and also whether you want to Display the Post Date. The Recent Comments widget allows you to change how many comments are displayed. The Archives allows you to display the archives as either a list, like you see here, or as a drop down. And the same goes for the Categories. Just like with menus, if you want to move a widget from one location to another, you can simply grab it and drag it and drop it off to the location where you want it to be displayed.
And if you don't want a widget displayed that is already in the sidebar or another widgetized area, simply open it and click Remove and that widget is automatically removed. Now here's the thing, there are a couple of hidden features in the customizer that are not easy to find unless you know they are there. So let me draw your attention to those in particular. First of all, when you're working with widgets, the page you are currently in in the preview defines what widgetized areas are available to you. So, for example, there are many themes that'll have multiple different widgetized areas.
You may, for example, have one that only appears in the front page and another that only appears on a Contact page. If you are using the customizer to customize those widgetized areas you actually have to navigate to those specific pages in the preview area to be able to gain access to those widgetized areas because you are customizing only what you can see. So, in some cases, you may have to search a bit to find those different widget-dized areas. Now at the end of the movie I can show you how you can bypass that problem. But I want to show you one more really cool thing.
So right now I am just in the customizer and I am looking at my page and I see oh there's a widget I want to change. If you take your mouse and hover over that widget-dized area it says, "Shift-click to edit this widget." So I'll hit shift on my keyboard and click and this automatically opens the widget customizer to the specific widget I was looking at. So here I can now edit just that widget without even navigating to the widget customizer and then once I'm done, scroll up to the top, navigate my way back and then Save & Publish to save and publish my changes or abandon this by cancelling everything out.
Now like I said, there's another way you can manage your widget-dized areas that can come in handy, especially if you're trying to figure out how many different widgetized areas you have available in your theme. To see this, go to the admin panel, and then go down to Appearance and Widgets. This brings you to the legacy widgets view and from here you can edit all the widgetized areas in one display. You don't have to navigate between pages. You see that here we have all the widgets displayed on the left hand side. You can grab any of them and dump it into your widget-dized area. You can open and customize any widget you don't want and you can move things out again.
There is an additional really neat feature here which is the inactive widgets section. So if you create a custom widget, let's say a text widget that has some text. So let's say you create a new text widget with some custom content, for example an ad about this Awesome Days thing that is happening in 2025, and then you realize, you know what, 2025 is really far away so it might not be a good idea to have this in my widgetized areas right now. I can grab that text widget and place it in Inactive Widgets.
That way my customized stations are saved, rather than wiped out, and I can bring it back from memory later. Now, there's one final thing I need to mention about the widgets view on the back end. Unlike the customizer, if you make changes to your widgets from this Widgets view, you are making changes on your live site as well. So if you start taking widgets away and people are visiting your site they will see the widgets disappear. If you add in widgets that are wrong from this view they will also see those wrong widgets appear immediately. So this view has to be used with some caution but like I said in certain circumstances it's a lot easier to manage your widgets from here.
Note: This course covers an older version of WordPress, which features the Classic Editor. Watch this course only if you are using the Classic Editor plugin or using WordPress 4.9 or earlier. Otherwise, watch WordPress 5 Essential Training, which covers the new Block Editor experience.
- Creating posts and pages
- Formatting text
- Publishing and scheduling posts
- Adding images, audio, and video
- Bulk editing posts and pages
- Customizing themes and menus
- Using widgets
- Extending WordPress with plugins
- Editing users profiles
- Configuring settings
- Getting new readers
- Keeping WordPress up to date and secure