This week I wanted to give you a quick overview of a few of the weird words you’ll hear people using when they are talking about WordPress. All three of these things – plugins, widgets and sidebars – are powerful tools in WordPress, and it is important you understand what each is and how it works.
A plugin is basically some code which a programmer has created to do one particular job, and do it well (we hope). These vary from tools to add Google Analytics to all the pages of your website, to photo gallery tools, to contact forms, to spam prevention, and everything in between. Plugins can make your life much easier, by doing repetitive tasks automatically (imagine having to create a photo gallery using the media tool and create a page for it). They can also do things behind the scenes, such as giving you better tagging tools which check your posts against search engines, inserting Google Analytics code, improving your code for search engines, etc. So basically, a plugin is a piece of code which does one thing to make your life easier when maintaining your website. There are thousands of plugins available for WordPress, and more are created each day.
If you find yourself doing the same thing over and over again (ie adding & formatting testimonials, creating and categorizing FAQ, etc.) chances are we can help you find a plugin to make that job easier for you, or our programmers can create a custom plugin that does exactly what you need.
Widgets are normally something which is included in a plugin (see above) and can be included in a sidebar (see below). WordPress comes with some widgets already (Text, Recent Posts, Categories, etc.) which you can use to group similar information together. Some plugins will come with new widgets, so you can include more information in your sidebars. Things like fancy tag clouds, event calendars, lists of upcoming events, rotating testimonials are all widgets which could be added to your site using the appropriate plugin.
Sidebars is a bit of a misnomer, but normally this is what they are called in WordPress. More properly they are called widget-areas or dynamic sidebars, which do a slightly better job of explaining them, but not much. A dynamic sidebar is an area built into the theme (template) of your website which allows you to customize what appears within it. These are normally found on the right or left side of your template, but they can go at the top, bottom, or anywhere you like. They are ‘dynamic’ because you have the ability to change them in your dashboard.
If you go to Appearance > Widgets in your dashboard, you should see one or more gray boxes on the right-hand side of the page. These are the areas available for you to customize on your site. Hopefully the theme programmer has named these so they make sense (ie Sidebar Left, Footer 1), but if not, you can check them by adding a widget and seeing where it appears on your website. You can customize these to look the way you want by dragging the widgets from the left side of the page, and entering any options you are given you should see the new widget appear on your website. You can rearrange these at any time by simply dragging them to rearrange.
One last note, most sidebars have a default ‘set’ of widgets that will appear there (ie Recent Posts, Categories, Meta). This is set up by the programmer when they create the theme. If you haven’t selected the widgets you want to have appear in that space, the default widgets will appear instead. If you want the widget area to be blank, you may need to add an empty text widget, or have a programmer alter the theme for you so there are no default widgets assigned.
Hopefully this has helped you understand the different between plugins, widgets and sidebars. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to post them below.