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 things about using the WordPress web publishing tool for managing and growing your business online. One of these is that WordPress makes it very easy to add content, expand your website’s functionality and rearrange your site’s layout without programming skills and knowledge.

WordPress gives you the ability to quickly and easily add, delete, and rearrange various types of content on your blog’s sidebar menu (and header and footer sections too, depending on what theme you are using) using widgets.

WP widgets


In this blog post you will learn how WordPress widgets work, what makes widgets so useful and how widgets can help you supercharge your web site.

About WordPress Widgets: A Basic Guide To WordPress Widgets For Newbies

Widgets make managing and using WordPress easy

(Widgets make managing and using WordPress easy!)

A WordPress widget is a small block of code that performs a specific function, such as adding a feature, or a script or list item to your site.

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

Now … don’t worry if this all sounds too technical. As will soon see, WP widgets are perfect for non-technical users.

WP widgets help you control many features and functions on your site without requiring knowledge of coding.

Widgets help you control specific features and functions on your website without having to touch code

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

Widgets were originally developed to provide an easy way of giving WordPress users to control aspects of their site’s layout and functionality.

Simply put, a widget allows you to:

  • Easily insert, edit and remove content sections in certain areas of your website without having to touch any underlying code, and
  • Rearrange how various elements display on widget-enabled 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 menu (and headers and footers and other areas, depending on the theme you have installed) using WordPress widgets:

  • page lists
  • post categories
  • archived blog post entries
  • menus displaying only selected pages
  • links to resources
  • most popular posts
  • recent comments
  • clickable ad banners
  • quotations
  • survey results
  • content from RSS feeds
  • member login section
  • images
  • social media buttons
  • add widgets from other sites (e.g. Facebook friends)
  • administrative forms (e.g. login, register, etc.)

In other articles, we provide more detailed explanations of WordPress plugins and WordPress themes; what they are, what they do, how these can easily add new features to WordPress and even alter the entire look and feel of your website.

As you will soon discover, themes can affect how widgets work on your website and some plugins also come with accompanying widgets that can further fine-tune your website’s functionality.

Widget-Ready Areas

Most themes support widgets and provide widgetized areas in the theme’s layout where widgets can appear.

Usually, widget-driven functions can be found in the theme’s sidebar, but depending on the theme, these can also be located in your site’s header, the footer area, and even above or below your content area.

It all depends on the theme that you have installed.

For example, the WordPress theme shown in the screenshot below has only one widget area for the theme’s sidebar navigation …

Some Themes have only one widget enabled section

(Some themes only provide a single widget area)

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

Understanding WordPress For Newbies: What Do WordPress Widgets Do?

As you can see from the above, the only location where you can add widgets to your website using the theme above is in the site’s sidebar area.

In contrast, the theme shown below includes various widget-enabled areas …

Many WordPress themes offer users multiple widgetized areas

(Many WordPress themes provide a number of widget sections)

Here is an enlarged image of the widget screen of the theme above, so you can see how many widget areas this particular theme includes …

Multiple WordPress widget areas

(Multiple WordPress widget areas)

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

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

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

Where Do I Access My Widgets?

The Widgets panel can be easily accessed inside the admin by going to Appearance > Widgets

A Basic Guide To WordPress For Website Owners: What Are WordPress Widgets?

This loads the Widgets screen in your browser …

Widgets Panel

(Widgets Panel)

The Widgets screen displays all the widgets that are currently available for use on your site.

On the right-hand side of the window, 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 activated or deactivated by dragging-and-dropping items to different areas of the widgets panel.

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

In addition, your Widgets area includes an Inactive Widgets section that lets you remove widgets that you no longer want on your website. Inactive widgets retain their pre-configured settings.


In a default WordPress installation, 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, Recent Comments, Meta, etc. to visitors …

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

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

Sometimes, new widgets display in your Widgets area when new plugins are installed on your website …

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

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

WP Widgets Features: Drag-And-Drop

Widgets are great because you can easily add, activate, deactivate, rearrange and delete them within your Widgets section 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 lets you easily reconfigure the layout and order of your website’s widgetized areas.

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

  1. A newsletter opt-in form,
  2. A click for support button, and
  3. Click to call sales buttons from a widgetized WordPress plugin …

Widgets control the order certain features on your site appear

(Widgets control how certain features on your site appear)

Looking inside this site’s Widget area, you would see that these features display on the site in exactly the same order as their corresponding widgets have been arranged in their active widget bar …

Understanding WordPress For Business Users: What Do WordPress Widgets Do?

If we reorganize these widgets in the Sidebar Widget Area using drag & drop …

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

(Drag & drop to rearrange widgets in your widget area)

The widget features have now been reorganized in your sidebar …

A Basic Guide To WordPress For Business Users: WordPress Widget:

As you can see, this instantly reorganizes the layout of your sidebar. Note in the screenshot below that the click to call feature (3) is now at the top of the sidebar menu, and the contact us section (2) has been moved to the location above the newsletter sign-up form (1) …

Widgets are very easy to use!

(WordPress widgets are really easy to use!)

Pretty simple, huh?

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

Widget Management – Preview Widgets

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

You can do many modifications and adjustments in preview mode, like inserting, deleting and moving around the currently added widgets to any widget areas that your theme makes available, and see all changes in real time. If you like what you’ve done and click the “Save and Publish” button, your changes will then be instantly updated and reflected to your site 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 WordPress 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 before publishing it (and avoid making mistakes), or change your widgets on the fly using the Widget editor area discussed previously.

Widget Configuration

As we have explained previously, WordPress lets you quickly reorganize how information displays in widgetized areas of your website sidebars, footers and navigation menus with only a few clicks of your mouse button, using drag-&-drop technology …

Rearrange sidebar elements using widgets to improve visitor experience

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

In the above screenshot, for example, you can see that we have redesigned the sidebar by switching around the search and testimonial sections. As you now know, this was easily done by simply dragging and dropping the widgets into different positions inside the sidebar widget area.

Reorganizing sidebar layout using widgets can improve user experience.

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


With most static websites, you would need to edit code in the site’s templates to reorganize the layout, make unique customizations to features on page elements like an opt-in subscription form, or just add other features like a nested list of pages, or a dropdown menu of your content categories, an archived published posts section, menus that display only selected pages, links to external sites, links to your recent posts, the latest post comments, a section displaying clickable text ads, quotations or polls, RSS feed content, product images, Twitter feeds, and more.

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

Some widgets provide users with little to no customization

(Some widgets give you little to no configurable options)

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

Most widgets provide users with customizable options

(Many widgets give you customizable options!)

Using WP Widgets

As we 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 corresponding widget into your Active widgets area.

For useful tips and tricks to using widgets, see these great step-by-step tutorials showing you how to use different types of widgets in WordPress to improve the effectiveness of your website or blog, plus lots of cool tips for getting the most out of WordPress using widgets:

Related Posts

If you are new at WordPress, you may also find the following related posts useful:

Hopefully, this article has given you a better understanding of problems that can affect your website and how WordPress can help you get better results online. To learn more about using the WP CMS software please click on links to visit our related posts section.


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