Blogger (the new version), TypePad, and WordPress all have the ability to customize your sidebar content by using Widgets.
Today, we're going to talk about WordPress Widgets. We'll talk about TypePad and Blogger on a later date.
You Gotta Have Widgets To Use Widgets
First of all, in order to take advantage of Widgets, your theme must support Widgets. Not all do. If your theme doesn't, you can "Widgetize" your theme. But we're not going to cover how to do that. Not now, anyway.
So, how do you know if your theme supports Widgets?
Actually, it's pretty easy to find out.
First, turn on Widgets.
From your Wordpress Dashboard, click Plugins.
Note that if you are using Wordpress.com, you don't have that option. Wordpress.com is a WPMU platform (WordPress Multi-User) and not a standard WordPress platform.
If you use Blogsome (adapted from WordPress 1.5.1 alpha) or ItsAPundit (WPMU 1.0), you have a Plugins tab. (Full Disclosure: I am affiliated with ItsAPundit.com.).
If you use standard Wordpress (current version is 2.1, but this should work for most other versions, too), click the Plugins tab.
Scroll down to Sidebar Widgets (current version is 18.104.22.16870210b, but this should work for most versions).
Note: Widgets should already be active for WPMU-type blogs (such as Blogsome, ItsAPundit, and Wordpress.com; Full Disclosure: I am affiliated with ItsAPundit.com.).
Once Widgets are active, you should turn on the Widgets you want to use. Google Search, del.icio.us are usually available with the default Widgets pack, but need to be activated. Most other Widgets (including, but not limited to Search, Calendar, Meta, Categories, Archives, Links, among others) are automatically included.
I Don't Have Widgets. Now What?
If you don't have the option to turn on Widgets, that means one of two things.
- Widgets are turned on by default and you can't turn them off (you're using a WPMU or similar blogging system)
- or, Widgets aren't available.
If you're using Wordpress.com or ItsAPundit (Full Disclosure: I am affiliated with ItsAPundit.com.), Widgets are already on. Blogsome doesn't support Widgets.
Even if you can't turn Widgets on via the Plugins tab, you may still have the ability to use Widgets. Keep reading.
I Have Widgets. Now What?
Now that Widgets are activated (or might be activated), check your theme to see if it supports Widgets.
From the Dashboard, click Presentation.
If you have Widgets activated, and if your theme supportes Widgets, then you'll have a tab called Sidebar Widgets.
If you don't have that tab, you don't have Widgets. Sorry.
Click Sidebar Widgets.
You should see a Sidebar box for each sidebar. Most themes have one, some have two. Some even have more than two. Depends on the theme.
You should also see a box called Available Widgets.
Click and drag the items you want to the sidebar. They will appear in the order you arrange them. And you can rearrange them by dragging them up or down.
Some of the Widgets need to be configured. Some don't need to be configured but can be. Some cannot be configured.
For instance, the standard Search widget isn't configurable. Likewise, the standard Links and the standard Recent Posts widgets aren't configurable.
Some themes ... and some third-party widgets that can be installed (not possible with WPMU sites like Wordpress.com or ItsAPundit -- Full Disclosure: I am affiliated with ItsAPundit.com.) ... extend the capabilities of these widgets and allow you to configure them.
Configurable widgets can be configured by clicking the Configure icon on the right-hand side of the widget (you may have to pull it to the sidebar before you can configure it).
For example, the standard Categories widget can be configured to allow you to choose a different title, whether or not to show the number of posts in each category, and whether or not to show a heirarchy of categories.
Some Widgets require configuration. The Text Widgets, for example. Just dragging them out there without configuring them serves no purpose. You have to enter the text you want to display to make it meaningful.
ItsAPundit.com provides Widgets for these items, giving you most, if not all, functionality. Full disclosure: I am affiliated with ItsAPundit.
Once you have placed and configured all your Widgets, click Save Changes.
Open a separate window/tab and look at your blog.
Like what you see? Great. You're running Widgets. And you can adjust your sidebar via Widgets to add, remove, or rearrange stuff that goes there.
It's Wrong! Horribly Wrong!
If things look wrong, horribly wrong, you can do one of two things.
First, check to make sure you have the widgets arranged in the order you want.
Then, check to make sure you have configured the widgets that need to be configured.
If all that fails, re-read these instructions, re-doing anything you missed.
If you still have a problem, it's going to take more work to get them right. This is unusual, but not impossible.
So, if Widgets aren't working right, remove them.
Either go to Plugins and turn off () Widgets.
Or go to Presentation > Sidebar Widgets and drag them all off of the sidebar to the Available Widgets box. Then click Save Changes.
Everything should be fine.
If you're liking this whole Widgets thingy, and want to do more with it, you have a couple of options.
If you are running Wordpress, look for more Widgets. If you're on a WPMU site (Wordpress.com, ItsAPundit.com, etc), you're pretty much limited to what they offer. But it never hurts to ask.
Full Disclosure: I am affiliated with ItsAPundit.com.