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 WordPress to build and grow your web site. One of these is that you can easily add content, expand your site’s functionality and rearrange the layout of your site without coding skills and knowledge.

WordPress gives you the ability to quickly and easily insert, remove, and reconfigure various blocks of content on your blog’s sidebar menu (and header and footer sections, depending on what theme you have installed) using widgets.

WordPress widgets


This article explains what widgets are, what widgets do and how widgets can be used to help you improve the functionality of your website or blog.

How Do Widgets Work? A Basic Guide To Widgets For Newbies

WP widgets help make managing and using WordPress easy

(WP widgets help make managing and using WordPress easy!)

Widgets are small modules of code that perform a specific function, such as adding an enhancement, or a script or menu item to your website.

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

Now … don’t worry if this sounds too geeky. As will soon learn, WP widgets are perfect for non-techies.

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 site without having to touch code

(WP widgets help you manage technical features and functions on your site without requiring knowledge of coding)

Widgets were originally designed to provide an easy way to allow WordPress users to manage aspects of their site’s layout and functionality.

Simply put, a widget allows you to:

  • Easily add, edit and delete content sections to certain parts of your site without having to touch any underlying code, and
  • Reconfigure the functional layout of your theme 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 great things you can add to your site’s sidebar section (plus headers and footers and other areas, depending on your theme) using widgets:

  • list of your web pages
  • site categories
  • blog post archive
  • menus displaying only selected pages
  • links to external sites
  • posts that you want to promote
  • excerpts of recent comments added to posts
  • clickable ad banners
  • client testimonials
  • poll questions & results
  • RSS feed content
  • registration box
  • video thumbnails
  • social media buttons
  • add widgets from external sites (e.g. Facebook friends)
  • administrative forms (e.g. login, register, etc.)

In other blog posts, we write more extensively about plugins and themes; what they are, what they do, how plugins and themes can add new functionality to WordPress and change the entire design of your website.

As you will learn in just a moment, WP themes can affect where widgets work on your site and many plugins also come with accompanying widgets that can fine-tune your website’s functionality.

Widgetized Themes

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

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

It all depends on the theme you have installed.

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

Some Themes have only one widgetized area

(Some WP themes have only a single widgetized section)

Here is an enlarged image of the widget section of the theme above, where you can see that this theme only includes one widget-enabled area …

About WordPress Widgets Understanding WordPress Widgets For New Users

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

In contrast, the WP theme shown in the screenshot below contains various widget areas …

Many themes provide a number of widget areas

(Many themes provide multiple widget-ready sections)

Below is an enlarged image of the widget screen of the theme shown above, so you can see how many widget areas are included in the WordPress theme …

Multiple widgets areas

(Multiple widgets areas)

As you can see, in the above theme, widgets can be added to the sidebar area of 2 different page templates (Main Sidebar and Showcase Sidebar) and three 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 WP themes let you add widgets to your site’s footer area)

How Do I Access My Widgets?

The Widgets screen is found inside your WP dashboard and can easily be accessed by going to Appearance > Widgets

A Basic Guide To WordPress For Website Owners: How Do Widgets Work?

This brings up the Widgets panel in your browser …

Widgets Area

(Widgets Section)

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

The right-hand section of the screen displays 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 panel.

Widgets dragged from the Available Widgets section to widget areas like your sidebar, footer, etc. instantly become active on your site.

In addition, the Widgets screen includes an Inactive Widgets section that lets you remove any widgets that you no longer want to actively display on your site. Inactive widgets retain their settings.

Useful Info

By default, your site already comes with several 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 the default WordPress theme right out of the box and display items like Search, Archives, Meta, etc. to visitors …

By default, your site already comes with a number of pre-installed widgets

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

Sometimes, when new plugins are installed on your site, you may find that new widgets have also been added to your Widgets section …

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

(Installing new WordPress plugins can sometimes add new widgets to your Widgets area!)

WP Widgets Features: Drag-And-Drop

WordPress widgets are great because you can easily add, activate, deactivate, rearrange and remove them all inside your Widgets section using drag & drop …

Rearrange widgets using drag & drop

(Rearrange widgets using drag-and-drop)

Using drag and drop technology lets you easily rearrange the order and layout of your website’s widget-enabled areas.

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

  1. An opt-in form,
  2. A contact support banner, 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 display on your site)

If you take a look inside this site’s Widget area, you would see that these features display on the site’s sidebar section in exactly the same order as their corresponding widgets were arranged in the active widget area …

Understanding WordPress For Website Owners: What Are Widgets?

If we rearrange the order the above widgets in the Main Sidebar Widget Area by dragging & dropping elements in the widget area …

Drag & drop to rearrange widgets in your widget area

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

The widgets have now been reorganized in the sidebar …

About WordPress Widgets An Overview Of Widgets For Business Website Users

As you can see, this instantly reorganizes the order of items in your site’s 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) now sits above the newsletter opt-in form (1) …

WordPress widgets are very easy to use!

(WordPress widgets are very easy to use!)

Pretty cool, huh?

Let’s go over some other useful things about using WP widgets that are also worth knowing about:

Widget Management – WP Theme Customizer

Depending on the actual WP theme that you have installed, 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 your live website.

You can do many edits and adjustments in preview mode, like inserting, removing and reorganizing 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 on your site.

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

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

Widget management is a valuable 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 changes (and avoid making errors), or manage widgets on the fly using the Widget editor screen as discussed previously.

Widget Configuration

As we’ve shown you earlier, with WordPress you can easily and quickly reorder how information is displayed in widgetized areas of your website or blog, like sidebars, footers and navigation menus with only a few clicks of your mouse button, using drag-&-drop technology …

Reorganizing sidebar elements with widgets can help improve visitor experience

(Reorganize sidebar elements using widgets to improve your site’s visitor experience)

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

Rearranging sidebar elements with widgets can help to improve your site’s visitor 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 rearrange the layout, make unique customizations to features on page elements like subscription forms, or just add things like page lists, or a dropdown menu of your site categories, a post archives section, menus to display selected pages, links to external sites, a list of your most popular posts, the latest user comments, a section displaying advertising banners, user testimonials or survey questions & results, RSS content excerpts, video thumbnails, social media sharing buttons, and more.

While some widgets are “fixed” in the sense that they provide little to no configurable 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 give you little to no customizable options)

Most widgets offer a number of options that allow you to further configure things. This can include things like 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 provide users with customizable options

(Most widgets give you customizable options!)

How To Use Widgets

As you have 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 different widgets in WordPress to improve the effectiveness of your website, plus lots of great tips on how to get the most benefit out of WordPress using widgets:

Related Posts

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

Hopefully, now you have a better understanding of problems that can affect your web site and how WordPress can help you build a better online. To learn more about using WordPress for a business website or blog please see other posts we have published on this site.


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