WordPress shortcodes can be a very useful way to customize your site and add new features. All without having to code anything yourself. If you’ve been using the WordPress content management system for any time at all, or have installed any plugins, then you’ve probably come across the term “shortcode”.

Naturally, this term isn’t very self-explanatory, so you’re probably wondering what is a WordPress shortcode?

Soon you’ll know the exact answer to this question, and even more useful, how to add them to your own site.

Below we cover what shortcodes are, why they’re used, and how to use them within your WordPress hosting. Finally, you’ll learn about a few WordPress shortcode plugins that can help you use this valuable feature of WordPress.  


What Are WordPress Shortcodes?

Essentially, a shortcode is a piece of code that looks like this [shortcode].

The shortcode stands for an existing larger piece of code and is used to add functions to your site. Similar to how WordPress keyboard shortcuts work, shortcodes for WordPress are very versatile and can be added to almost any area of your sites including, pages and posts, headers, footers, and most widget areas.

Most existing themes and plugins are equipped with their own shortcodes that allow you to tap into additional features, or display certain plugins across your site.


Why Are WordPress Shortcodes Used?

Shortcodes are commonly used by plugin and theme developers to make site customization easy.

Think about it from the perspective of a developer. You’ve created a gallery plugin and you want to make it easy for users to embed different galleries into their site.

Chances are that not every user will want to place the gallery in the exact same location. So, instead of hard-coding the plugin’s function directly into the theme, you can use a shortcode to insert the gallery wherever you see fit.

Shortcodes are super flexible and let users display different plugins and implement WordPress theme customizations without having to touch the codebase itself.

Shortcodes give you complete control over the design, layout, and functionality of your site. But without understanding how shortcodes work, you’ll have a tough time making any meaningful customizations to your site.

Most plugins rely upon shortcodes in order to add them to your site as well. Plus, most themes are equipped with shortcodes to add more features and truly unlock the built-in customization features.


How to Use Shortcodes in WordPress

WordPress is equipped with built-in shortcodes that are available to you no matter what plugins and themes you’re using. These are default shortcodes that you can use at any time. (Note: We added a space so we could display them to you without the shortcode performing its intended function. To use them on your own WordPress blog, you’ll need to remove the space in between the brackets first.)

  • [ audio ]: Embed audio files with playback.
  • [ caption ]: Add captions to your content.
  • [ embed ]: Add an image gallery to your content.
  • [ playlist ]: Create a playlist with audio or video files.
  • [ video ]: Add a video to your site.

To implement any of the above, just fire up your post editor and enter one of the shortcodes:

built-in shortcodes

Make sure that you enter the shortcode into the ‘Text’ portion of your editor, not the ‘Visual’ editor. Otherwise, it won’t function properly. But, once you enter the shortcode into the text portion, you can switch back to the visual editor to customize accordingly, and see how it looks.

However, keep in mind that a lot of other shortcodes aren’t as simple as the one shown above. Generally, shortcodes will be more complex and have a variety of different parameters that you can customize, so the shortcode will display exactly as you wish.


Benefits of Using WordPress Shortcodes

Once you understand how to use WordPress shortcodes you’ll be amazed at how easy it is to customize your site. Without shortcodes, you’re stuck with the basic theme functionality, and you’re never really in complete control.

Luckily shortcodes are pretty easy to implement. If you know how to create a post in WordPress, then properly using shortcodes is just a few minutes away.

By using shortcodes you can avoid having to add tedious code to your WordPress site, all while adding more functionality to your site. Depending on how many custom functions you’re adding to your site, this can save quite some time—and let you do a lot without having any past development knowledge.

Here are just a few things you’ll be able to do (quickly and easily) once you know how to use shortcodes on WordPress:

  • Easily add contact forms to your site
  • Quickly add call-to-action buttons to your blog posts and across your site
  • Add image galleries to your site
  • Create pages with multiple columns
  • Add beautiful quotes to your content

And that’s just getting started. Once you tap into the WordPress plugin marketplace you’ll be amazed at the various ways plugins and shortcodes and enhance your site.


Best Practices for Using Shortcodes with WordPress

Even though shortcodes are incredibly useful and they’re a very useful feature of WordPress to master, you don’t want to overuse them. Before you implement any shortcodes into your site, you’ll want to read the section below.

Keep reading to learn the best practices you’ll want to keep in mind when utilizing shortcodes.


1. Know When to NOT Use Shortcodes

By now you understand that shortcodes can be incredibly useful. But, using too many shortcodes isn’t always the best idea. Just like you should take a minimalist approach to plugin usage, you should do the same in regards to shortcodes.

For example, if you find yourself adding the same shortcode to every single post you write, then you may want to look for a workaround, such as a plugin, or having that function coded into your theme.

By overusing shortcodes you’re just setting yourself up for the potentially more work if you ever want to remove that function. Instead of just removing a plugin you’ll have to go back and change every single piece of content that has the shortcode embedded.

So yes, shortcodes can be really great, but try to only use them when absolutely necessary.


2. Add Shortcodes to Your Widgets

Shortcodes don’t just stop with posts and pages. You can add shortcodes to the widgetized portions of your site as well. In some cases, you might not be able to automatically add shortcodes to your widgets, and you’ll have to turn on this feature.

To do this open up your functions.php file and add the following code:

add_filter(‘widget_text’, ‘do_shortcode’};

This will make it so you can add a shortcode to any text widget.


3. Know What Shortcodes You Have Available

If you have multiple WordPress themes and plugins currently installed, then you probably want to know what shortcodes you have available.

Instead of going through the documentation of every plugin, and your existing theme, you can use a plugin to help uncover what shortcodes you have available.

If you want to save some time, then install the plugin called Shortcode Reference.

shortcode reference

Once you’ve installed and activated the plugin you’ll be able to see the existing shortcodes you have available.


Best WordPress Shortcode Plugins

If you’re looking to add more shortcode functionality to your site, then using a WordPress shortcode plugin is your best bet.

Sure, you can add custom shortcodes yourself, but this will require programming experience.

The following plugins are all great choices and make it easy to employ custom shortcodes across your site.


1. Shortcodes Ultimate

shortcodes ultimate

Shortcodes Ultimate is the most popular WordPress shortcodes plugin. This plugin will offer you a massive library of shortcodes you can implement. You’ll get access to things like buttons, sliders, galleries, and a lot more.

Beyond the initial library of shortcodes, you’ll also have the option to purchase additional shortcodes, add shortcode skins, and even create custom shortcodes through the plugin.


2. Vision Shortcodes

vision shortcodes

Vision Shortcodes is a premium WordPress shortcode plugin that makes it incredibly easy to add shortcodes to your site. It’s equipped with an easy to use interface, and you can insert shortcodes into your site with a single click.

You’ll get access to additional functions like buttons, rice boxes, animations, icons, and more. You can even customize the color options of the various shortcode elements.


3. WP Shortcode by MyThemeShop

wp shortcode

WP Shortcode by MyThemeShop is a lightweight and easy to use shortcode plugin. With this plugin, you’ll be able to add things like buttons, dividers, columns, and a lot more. As a more beginner-oriented plugin, you won’t have access to advanced customization options, but it is quite easy to implement.

If you’re looking to setup basic shortcodes, then this plugin can help you do just that.


4. Shortcodes by Angie Makes

shortcodes by angie

Shortcodes by Angie Makes is a very easy to use WordPress shortcode plugin that lets you make simple customizations to your site via its shortcode library. Included in the library are shortcodes like columns, borders, additional spaces, tables, social media icons, and a lot more.

You can even create custom shortcodes with this plugin. There isn’t any dedicated support available, however, the plugin is intuitive enough, you shouldn’t run into any issues.


5. WordPress Shortcodes

wordpress shortcodes

WordPress Shortcodes is a shortcode editor that makes it easy to add various shortcodes to your site. It even has a built-in preview option, so you can see what your shortcodes look like before publishing them live.

There is a wide range of shortcodes included, like message boxes, UI layouts, buttons, and more. You can even customize the appearance of each shortcode with custom CSS.


How to Add Shortcodes to WordPress With a Plugin

If you don’t want to custom code shortcodes into your site, then using one of the WordPress plugins above is the best course of action. Your theme will probably have bundled shortcodes you can access via your theme documentation, but if not, then a plugin is a great choice.

Installing a WordPress shortcode plugin will be the same as installing any other type of plugin on your site.

To do this navigate to your WordPress dashboard. Then, click on Plugins>Add New. On the next screen, we’ll search for the plugin called ‘Shortcodes Ultimate’. We’re using this in our example as it’s one of the most popular WordPress shortcode plugins around.

Locate the plugin that looks like the one below:

install shortcodes ultimate

Install and activate this plugin. Then, you’ll have a new option on your WordPress dashboard called ‘Shortcodes’. Once you click on this you’ll see all of the various shortcodes you now have available.

shortcodes ultimate dashboard

How to Create Your Own Shortcodes From Scratch

The simplest approach will be adding shortcodes to your site with a WordPress shortcode plugin. But, if you want to create your own shortcode from scratch you can do that too.

Keep in mind that you’ll be editing the WordPress core files. So, don’t take this approach unless you feel confident, and your site is fully backed up.

We’ll start by opening the functions.php file. Here we’ll create and name our new shortcode.

// “Hi, My Name Is” Shortcode

function shortcode_mynameis () {

Return ‘Hi, my name is.’;

add_shortcode(‘my-name-is’, ’shortcode_mynameis’};

This shortcode is pretty simple and doesn’t accomplish much, but whenever you add the shortcode [my-name-is] to your site the text ‘Hi, my name is.’ will display. You can add this wherever you want this awesome sentence to display!

Obviously, there’s a lot more you can do than create simple sentences. But, hopefully, the example gets your brain thinking about the different shortcodes you can create.

In some cases, you might have to navigate to the backend of your hosting account in order to modify your site’s files. If this seems too technical, then just stick with one of the plugins mentioned above.


How Will You Use Shortcodes on Your WordPress Site?

Shortcodes are one of the most effective ways to customize your site without knowing how to code. Without shortcodes, you’re basically left with the original theme options, or have to take the long path of learning how to code yourself.

Hopefully, you have a better understanding of what WordPress shortcodes are, when they should be used, and the most effective ways of adding shortcodes to your WordPress site.

By taking the time to understand how to effectively use shortcodes you’ll know how to customize your site however you see fit, and you’ll be making your life a whole lot easier.

If you have any questions using shortcodes on your WordPress site, contact HostGator support. We’re happy to help!


Kevin Wood writes about technology and human potential. You can find him at his virtual homes Wooden Writing and Counter Culturist.