Widgets and gadgets: The building blocks of your blog’s layout

What’s a widget?

image courtesy CPA Training Vault.

image courtesy CPA Training Vault.

Aside from templates, widgets will be the most important choices regarding the look and functionality of your blog. Widgets (called gadgets on Blogger) are small visual utilities that display specific content or connect your blog with another social media service.

You most likely already have a few widgets on your blog. Those little boxes with About Me, Archives, Recent Posts, Categories are usually added to your left or right sidebar by default, and they’re some of the simplest and most ubiquitous examples of widgets. But widgets can range from calendars to small games to background music players to, as we discovered last class, a picture of a puppy that changes every day.

Adding and customising widgets

Accessing widgets in WordPress.

Accessing widgets in WordPress.

Widgets and gadgets are simple to add and customise on WordPress and Blogger. You can find the option on WordPress under Dashboard->Appearance->Widgets. There, you can go through a list of available widgets, and choose which part of your blog you want them to be placed in.

Or, you can add and modify them more directly by clicking Customise (not Widgets) under your blog title in the top left corner. Doing so will open a design tools bar that allows you to modify different elements of your template, including your widgets.

The location of your Widget Areas (Primary, Secondary, Feature etc) depends on the template you’ve chosen. On most simpler templates, the Primary Widget Area is the right sidebar. Other areas, like Header and Footer, are self-explanatory.

Here’s a short video going through the process on Blogger:

This video is a bit more in-depth, in case you need the extra help.

Which widgets should I use?

Use whichever widgets you feel are relevant to your project or enhance your blog. Widgets can be as much about personal expression as they are about practicality.  If you’re going to be displaying a lot of (your own) images, use a slideshow widget. Use an audio widget to stream (your own) music. Use a poll widget to get feedback or data from readers. Just don’t add too many widgets, and be smart in how you position them. It’s very easy to make your blog look messy, cluttered or tacky if you overdo it.

Your priority at this point should be establishing your blog as the backbone of a multi-faceted project, and with that in mind, I’ll offer you one important recommendation in the next few paragraphs.

Using widgets to link your project

Last week, we learned how to add links to posts. We agreed, however, that it would be a lot more efficient if certain links could just be permanently displayed on a sidebar or menu instead. This is where widgets come in.

Both WordPress and Blogger feature simple link list widgets on their widget selection pages. It’s Link List on Blogger. On WordPress, it’s a two-step process. Go to to the Links section in your Dashboard, create a list of links, then go to the widget page and add the Links widget. Those links will then appear on your blog. Using these widgets, you can very easily add a fixed, prominent list of links to your Facebook page, Youtube channel, or any other aspect of your project. I’ve added a temporary example to my left sidebar.

But depending on where you want to link to, and which blog service you’re using, you’ll be able to use specialised widgets for certain platforms. Blogger, for example, has a +1 gadget for Google+, while WordPress has a Like widget that allows users to quickly join your connected Facebook fan page. If you search around, there are sites that offer a wide variety of specialised widgets and gadgets that can be added to your page with a little tweaking. However, for now, I recommend that you stick to the options offered officially on the widget/gadget pages on WordPress and Blogger.

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