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 loads of great benefits to choosing the WordPress web publishing application for building and growing a web site. One of these is that WordPress makes it very easy to add content, enhance your website and rearrange your site’s layout without having any programming skills.

WordPress allows you to quickly and easily insert, remove, and rearrange various types of content on your blog’s sidebar menu (or header and footer sections too, depending on your theme) using widgets.

WP widgets

(WordPress widgets)

This post explains what WP widgets are, why widgets make life easier for non-technical users and how widgets can help you add functionality to your website.

Widgets – What Do They Do? A Basic Guide To Widgets For Business Users

Widgets make managing and using WordPress easy

(WordPress 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 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 know how to program code.

Now … don’t worry if it all sounds too technical. As you are about to learn, WordPress widgets are made for non-technical users.

With WordPress widgets, users don’t have to know how to write code or manipulate PHP code in order to customize their sites.

WP widgets help you manage many features and functions on your site without having to touch code

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

Widgets were originally designed to provide a simple way of giving WordPress users to control aspects of their site’s layout and functionality.

In plain English terms, widgets let you do things like:

  • Easily insert, edit and delete features in areas of your WordPress site without touching any web code, and
  • Rearrange the functional layout of your WP 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 area (plus headers and footers and other areas, depending on your theme) using WP widgets:

  • page lists
  • blog post categories
  • blog post archive
  • menus
  • links to resources
  • links to your recent posts
  • recent comments from users
  • clickable ad banners
  • quotations
  • poll results
  • content from RSS feeds
  • newsletter subscription form
  • video
  • twitter feeds
  • display widgets from external sites (e.g. affiliate programs)
  • administrative forms (e.g. login, register, etc.)

In other blog posts, we provide more detailed explanations of WP plugins and themes; what they are, what they do, how plugins and themes add loads of new functionality to WordPress and even drastically alter the whole look and feel of your site.

As you will see in just a moment, themes affect how widgets display on your website and a number of plugins include accompanying widgets that will help further fine tune your website’s usability.

Widget-Ready Areas

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

Normally, this is going to be in your sidebar menu, but depending upon the theme, widgets can also be in the header, the footer, sometimes even below the content area.

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 have only one widgetized section

(Some WordPress themes provide only one widgetized section)

Here is an enlarged image of the widget panel of the theme above, and you can see that this particular WordPress theme only includes one widgetized area …

Understanding WordPress For Business Owners: WordPress Widgets - How Do They Work?

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

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

Many themes offer users a number of widget sections

(Many themes offer users a number of widgetized sections)

Here is the widget screen of the theme above, and 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, you can add widgets to the sidebar area of two 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

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

Where Can I See My WordPress Widgets?

The Widgets section can be easily accessed inside the WordPress dashboard by going to Appearance > Widgets

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

This loads the Widgets panel in your web browser …

Widgets Area

(Widgets Area)

The Widgets panel displays a list of 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 & 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. instantly become active on your site.

In addition, your Widgets screen includes an Inactive Widgets section that lets you remove any widgets that you no longer want on your site. Inactive widgets retain 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 right out of the box in your default WordPress theme and display items like Search, Recent Comments, Meta, etc. to your site visitors …

By default, your site already comes with several pre-installed widgets

(By default, your site already comes with several pre-installed widgets)

Sometimes, whenever new plugins are installed on your site, you may find that new widgets are also added to your Widgets area …

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

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

WP Widgets Features: Drag-And-Drop

WP widgets are great because you can easily add, activate, deactivate, reorder and remove them within your Widgets section using drag & drop …

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

(Rearrange widgets using drag & drop)

With drag and drop you can easily reconfigure the order of your widgetized sections.

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

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

Widgets control how certain features on your site appear

(Widgets control how certain features on your site display)

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

About WordPress Widgets Understanding WordPress Widgets For Business Website Users

If we rearrange the above widgets in the Sidebar Widget Area using drag and drop …

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

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

The widgets have now been reorganized in the sidebar …

An Introduction To WordPress For New Users: What Are WordPress Widgets?

As you can see, this immediately changes the layout of your site’s sidebar. Note in the screenshot below that the click to call feature (3) is now the first item on the sidebar menu, and the contact us section (2) can now be found above the newsletter sign-up form (1) …

Widgets are very easy to use!

(WordPress widgets are very easy to use!)

Pretty cool stuff, huh?

Here are a few other useful things about using widgets that are also worth keeping in mind about:

Widget Management – Theme Customizer

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 see before committing these changes to the live website.

You can do a number of edits to widgets in preview mode, like adding, deleting and moving around the currently added widgets to any widget areas that your theme makes available, and everything is done 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!)

Widget management 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 any changes (and avoid making mistakes), or change widgets on the fly using the Widget editor screen as discussed previously.

Widget Configuration

As we have explained earlier, WordPress lets you quickly and easily reorder how information 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 with widgets to improve user experience

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

In the screenshot above, for example, you can see that we have reorganized the site’s sidebar 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 using widgets can improve visitor experience.

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


With many static websites, you would need to edit code in the web templates to rearrange the layout, customize features on page elements like subscription forms, or just add useful features like a page index, or a dropdown menu of your post categories, an archives section, custom menus, links to recommended resources, a list of your most popular posts, the latest post comments, a section displaying image banners, quotations or poll results, RSS feed content, 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 configuration options)

Many widgets offer additional 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 give you configurable options

(Most widgets provide users with customization!)

How To Use WP Widgets

As we have seen, widgets require no coding experience or programming expertise to use. Most widgets can be easily added to your WP website or blog 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 web site, plus lots of useful tips for getting the most benefit out of WordPress with widgets:

Related Posts

If you are a WordPress newbie, you may also find the following posts useful:

Hopefully, now you have a better understanding of issues that can affect your website and how WordPress can help you improve your business online. To learn more about using WordPress please see our related posts section.


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