WordPress Widgets Explained

This tutorial explains what WordPress widgets are, how widgets work, and how widgets can help you customize and extend the functionality of your website or blog.

WordPressThere are lots of great benefits to choosing the WordPress web publishing application to build, manage and grow your website. One of these is that you can easily add content, expand your website’s functionality and reconfigure the layout of your website without web programming skills or knowledge.

WordPress allows you to quickly and easily add, remove, and manage various types of content in your site’s sidebar menu (and header and footer sections too, depending on what theme you use) using widgets.


(WordPress widgets)

This post explains what WP widgets are, what makes them so useful and how widgets can be used to add new functionality to your website.

How Do Widgets Work? A Basic Guide To Widgets For Business Users

WordPress widgets make managing and using WordPress easy

(WP widgets make managing and using WordPress easy!)

A widget is a self-contained block of code that performs a specific function, such as adding a feature, or a script or menu item to your site.

The WordPress application is written using a scripting language called PHP (Hypertext Preprocessor). Normally, in order to add features and functions to a website, you need to know how to script PHP code.

Now … don’t worry if the above sounds too geeky. As you are about to discover, widgets are perfect for non-technical users.

WP widgets help you control technical features and functions on your site without requiring coding skills.

Widgets help you manage specific features and functions on your website without the need to touch code

(Widgets help you manage specific features and functions on your site without requiring knowledge of coding)

Widgets were originally developed to provide a simple way to allow WordPress users to manage aspects of their site’s layout and functionality.

In simple terms, widgets allow you to:

  • Easily insert, edit and remove features in certain areas of your site without touching any web code, and
  • Reconfigure how various elements display on ”widgetized” areas of your site (e.g. the sidebar, header, footer and other areas) using drag-and-drop technology.

Here are just some of the many features you can add to your WP site’s sidebar navigation area (and headers and footers and other areas, depending on the theme you have installed) using widgets:

  • index of pages
  • blog post categories
  • post archives
  • menus
  • links to external sites
  • most popular posts
  • post comments
  • advertisements
  • testimonials
  • polls
  • RSS feed content
  • member login section
  • video thumbnails
  • social media share buttons
  • add widgets from external sites (e.g. Facebook friends)
  • administrative forms (e.g. login, register, etc.)

In other posts, we provide detailed information about plugins and themes; what they are, what they do, how plugins and themes can add loads of new functionality to WordPress and even drastically alter the entire design of your website.

As you will see in a moment, themes can affect where widgets display on your website and a number of plugins also come with accompanying widgets that will further enhance your website or blog’s capabilities.

Widgetized Areas

Most WP themes support widgets and provide widget-enabled areas in the theme’s layout where you can add widgets to.

Normally, you will find widget-powered features in the sidebar menu, but depending upon the theme, these can also be in the header section, in the footer area, sometimes even above or below your content.

It all depends on what theme you have installed.

For example, the theme shown in the screenshot below provides users with only one widget area for the theme’s sidebar navigation …

Some WP Themes only have one widget area

(Some themes only provide a single widget enabled section)

Here is the widget panel of the theme above, so you can see that the WP theme only contains one widget area …

What Do WordPress Widgets Do? A Basic Guide To WordPress Widgets For Business Website Users

As you can see, the only area where users can add widgets to their site using the above theme is in the site’s sidebar area.

In contrast, the WP theme shown in the screenshot below contains multiple widgetized areas …

Many themes provide multiple widget sections

(Many themes provide a number of widget sections)

Here is an enlarged image of the widget screen of the above theme, so you can see how many widget areas are included in this specific theme …

Multiple WordPress widget areas

(Multiple widgets areas)

As you can see, with the above theme, widgets can be added to the sidebar area of 2 different page templates (Main Sidebar and Showcase Sidebar) and 3 different Footer areas (Footer Area One, Footer Area Two, Footer Area Three) …

Some themes let you add widgets to your site's footer section

(Some themes let you add widgets to your site’s footer section)

How Can I See My WP Widgets?

To access the Widgets section go to Appearance > Widgets

An Overview Of WordPress For Business Users: WordPress Widgets - What Do They Do?

This brings up the Widgets section in your browser …

Widgets Area

(Widgets Area)

The Widgets section displays all the widgets you have available.

On the right-hand side of the screen, you can see your “active” widgets …

Activate or deactivate widgets using drag-and-drop

(Activate or deactivate widgets using drag-and-drop)

Available widgets can be made Active or Inactive using drag & drop.

Widgets dragged from the Available Widgets section to widget areas like your sidebar, footer, etc. automatically become activated for use.

Your Widgets area also includes an Inactive Widgets section that lets you remove widgets that you no longer want on your site. Inactive widgets do not lose their pre-configured settings.


By default, your site already comes with a number of pre-installed widgets (e.g. widgets for displaying your pages, links, posts, post categories, adding text, adding RSS feeds, adding tags, adding a search box, etc …) and active widgets.

These widgets are available in your default WordPress theme right out of the box and display items like Recent Posts, Archives, Meta, etc. to your site visitors …

In a default WordPress installation, your site already comes with several pre-installed widgets

(In a default WordPress installation, your site already comes with a number of pre-installed widgets)

Sometimes, when new plugins are installed on your website or blog, you may find that new widgets are also added to your Widgets section …

Installing new WordPress plugins can sometimes add new widgets to your Widgets section!

(Installing new plugins can sometimes add new widgets to your Widgets admin section!)

WP Widgets Features: Drag And Drop

WordPress widgets are great because you can easily add, activate, deactivate, reorder and delete them all inside your Widgets area using drag and drop …

Rearrange widgets on your WordPress site using drag-and-drop

(Rearrange your site’s widgets using drag-and-drop)

Drag & drop technology lets you easily reorder the layout and order of your site’s widgetized sections.

For example, take a look at the image below. In this site, the widgets have already been configured to display the following:

  1. A subscription form,
  2. A contact support button, and
  3. A couple of click to phone sales buttons from a widgetized WP plugin …

Widgets control the order certain features appear on your site

(Widgets control the order certain features on your site display)

If we took a peek inside this site’s Widget area, you would see that these features appear on the site in exactly the same order as they have been arranged in the active widget bar …

WordPress Widget: An Overview Of Widgets For Business Website Owners

Let’s now reorganize these widgets in the Main Sidebar Widget Area using drag & drop …

Drag & drop to rearrange widgets in your widget area

(Drag-and-drop to rearrange widgets in your widget area)

The widget features have now been reorganized in the sidebar …

What Are Widgets? Understanding Widgets For Business Website Owners

As you can see, this instantly reorganizes the order of items in the site’s sidebar. Note in the screenshot below that the click to call function (3) is now first the sidebar menu, and the contact us banner (2) has been moved to the location above the newsletter subscription form (1) …

WordPress widgets are very easy to use!

(Widgets are very easy to use!)

Cool, huh?

Let me show you some more things about using widgets that are also worth keeping in mind about:

Widget Management – Customize Widgets Section

Depending on the actual theme that you have installed on your site, you can also manage and customize widgets without making actual changes to your site, so you can be sure that you like what you have done before committing these changes to the live website.

You can do many edits to widgets in preview mode, like adding, deleting and moving around your current widgets to any widget areas that your theme makes available, and see all changes in real time. If you like what you have done and click the “Save and Publish” button, your changes will then be instantly updated and reflected on your site to visitors.

Widget management - work in preview mode or configure widgets on the fly!

(Widget management – work in preview mode or configure widgets on the fly!)

The ability to manage widgets inside your own dashboard is a great feature of WordPress. You can work in preview mode inside the WordPress Theme Customizer screen (Appearance > Customize) and see how your widget content will appear prior to publishing it (to avoid making errors), or manage your widgets on the fly using the Widget editor screen as discussed earlier.

Widget Configuration

As we have shown you previously, with WordPress you can quickly reorganize how content is displayed in areas of your website sidebars, footers and navigation menus with just a few clicks of your mouse button, using drag-and-drop …

Rearrange sidebar layout using widgets to improve user experience

(Reorganizing sidebar layout with widgets can help improve your site’s visitor experience)

In the screenshot above, for example, you can see that we have quickly and easily change the order of elements in the site’s sidebar by switching the search and testimonial sections. As you now know, this was easily done by simply dragging and dropping the widget elements into different positions inside the sidebar widget area.

Rearrange sidebar layout with widgets to improve your site’s user experience.

Now … what about the widgets themselves? Can the widgets be customized instead of simply added, removed and rearranged?


With many traditionally-designed websites, you would need to edit code in your website’s templates to rearrange the layout, customize features on page elements like a customers login section, or just add things like an index of your site pages, or a dropdown menu of your blog post categories, an archives section, custom page menus, links to external sites, links to your recent posts, the latest excerpts of comments added to your posts, a section displaying clickable text ads, quotations or poll results, RSS feed content, product catalog images, social media share buttons, and more.

While some widgets are “fixed” in the sense that they provide little to no configuration options, other than to add something like an optional title to the widget as shown in the example below …

Some widgets offer little to no configuration options

(Some widgets provide users with little to no customization)

Most widgets offer additional options that allow you to further customize them. This includes making certain types of information hidden to visitors but visible to registered users, displaying additional forms, fields, or information, specifying sizes of sidebar images, videos, etc. and more …

Most widgets give you configuration options

(Many widgets give you configuration options!)

Using WP Widgets

As you have just seen, widgets require no coding experience or programming expertise to use. Most widgets can be added to your web site simply by activating a plugin and then dragging and dropping the plugin’s widget into your Active widgets area.

For useful tips and tricks to using widgets, see these great tutorials showing you how to use a number of different widgets in WordPress to boost the effectiveness of your site, plus many useful tips on how to get the most out of WordPress using widgets:

Related Posts

If you are learning how to use WordPress, you may also find the following related posts useful:

Hopefully, now you have a better understanding of issues that can affect your web site and how WordPress can help you get better results online. To learn more about the benefits of using the WP web content publishing software please click on links to visit our related posts section.


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