WordPress: What are widgets?

Do  you keep hearing people mentioning widgets, but have no idea what they are? Basically widgets are little tools which you can add into your blog, and are generally seen on the right sidebar or footer.  On this blog the widgets I’m using include text widgets (in the right sidebar) for social media links, plus the Follow Blog widget to make it easy for readers to subscribe to blog posts.

Widgets can do all sorts of things: from integrating with your social media accounts (Facebook, twitter, Meebo, Flickr etc) to showing site stats, recent comments and followers and lots more – we’ll get into that later on.

Your blog has set areas where you can drag and drop widgets – usually in the right sidebar or footer areas, although this depends on the theme you have chosen.

To get to widgets click on appearance in your left menu, then select widgets from the sub-menu underneath.

WordPress widgets

The central panel shows you which widgets are available, the right sidebar shows you where you can put your widgets (right sidebar, footer etc) and which widgets are already in use on your blog.  N.b. The areas for widgets differ between blog themes – if you’re not happy with, for example, only having widgets in the footer you may need to change to a different theme.

To use a widget out simply drag and drop from the central panel to the widget area on the right. In the example above you can see I’ve got the following widgets enabled: Search, Recent Posts, Archives, Categories, Meta.

To see what the widget looks like simply view your blog. If you don’t like the widget simply drag back into the central panel and voila! it’s gone.

Here is a run down of the most common widgets for WordPress hosted blogs:

  • Askimet: this blocks spam comments and the widget shows how much spam has been blocked on your blog
  • Archives: a monthly archive of your site’s posts
  • Author Grid: useful if you have more than one author on your blog – shows a grid of author avatar images
  • Authors: list of authors
  • Blog Stats: how many visitors / hits your blog is getting
  • Box.net file sharing
  • Calendar: a calendar of your blog’s posts
  • Categories: a list or drop down of categories – this can be a useful navigation tool
  • Category Cloud: your most used categories in cloud format
  • Custom Menu: Make your own custom menu and add it as a widget
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook like box: show a Facebook like box to connect visitors to your Facebook page or profile
  • Flickr
  • Follow Blog: an email sign-up for people who want to follow your blog
  • Gravatar: insert a Gravatar image
  • Image: display an image in your sidebar
  • Meebo
  • Meta: log in/out, admin feed and WordPress links
  • Pages: a list of your blog’s pages
  • Recent comments
  • Recent posts: the most recent posts on your site
  • RSS: entries from any RSS or Atom feed
  • RSS Links: Links to your blogs RSS feeds
  • Search: a search box for your blog
  • SocialVibe: get sponsored and support a charity
  • Tag Cloud: your most used tags in cloud format
  • Text: you can put your own text or html in this box
  • Top Clicks
  • Top Posts and Pages
  • Top Rated: your top rated posts, pages or comments
  • Twitter: display your tweets
  • Vodpod Videos

This is the current list of widgets available in WordPress hosted blogs, you also get some widgets in self-hosted WordPress blogs, but the list is more limited. This is no problem as you can extend the functionality of self-hosted blogs using plugins.

The best way, as with a lot of things in blogging, is just to try the widgets out and see what suits you.

I would recommend initially avoiding anything which shows your site stats, subscribers or comments as this can just draw attention to the fact that you don’t have much traffic. Wait until you’ve got a few thousand views a day and an active community of commenters and then start publicising the fact!.