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 so many benefits to using the WordPress web publishing software for managing and growing a business online. One of these is that WordPress makes it very easy to add content, expand your site’s functionality and reconfigure the layout of your website without having web coding skills.

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



In this blog post you will learn what widgets are, what makes widgets so useful and how widgets can help add functionality to your web site.

WP Widgets: An Overview Of Widgets For New Users

Widgets make managing and using WordPress easier

(WP widgets make managing and using WordPress easier!)

WP widgets are self-contained blocks of code that perform a specific function, such as adding a functionality, or a text box or list item to your WP site.

The WordPress application is written using a web language called PHP (Hypertext Preprocessor). Normally, in order to add features and functions that will enhance the functionality of a website, you have to learn how to program PHP code.

Now … don’t worry if this all sounds too geeky. As you are about to learn, WP widgets are perfect for non-technical users.

WordPress widgets help you manage technical features and functions on your website without having to edit code.

Widgets help you control specific features and functions on your website without the need to edit code

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

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

In simple terms, widgets let you do things like:

  • Easily add, edit and delete functions to certain areas of your site without having to touch 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 great things you can add to your WordPress site’s sidebar area (and headers and footers and other areas, depending on your theme) using widgets:

  • nested page lists
  • categories
  • blog post archive
  • menus that display only the pages you choose
  • links to resources
  • links to your recent posts
  • excerpts of recent comments added to posts
  • text ads
  • user testimonials
  • polls
  • RSS content excerpts
  • member login section
  • product catalog images
  • twitter feeds
  • add widgets from other sites (e.g. affiliate programs)
  • administrative forms (e.g. login, register, etc.)

In other articles, we write more extensively about WordPress plugins and WP themes; what they are, what they do, how plugins and themes can add loads of new features to WordPress and even drastically alter the whole design of your site.

As you will soon discover, WordPress themes affect where widgets work on your site and some plugins add accompanying widgets that can fine tune your site’s functionality.

Widget-Ready Themes

Most WordPress themes support widgets and provide widgetized sections in the theme’s layout where widgets can show.

Normally, widgets can be found in the theme’s sidebar, but depending upon the theme, widgets can also be in the site’s header section, the footer section, and even above or below the content.

It all depends on the theme that you have installed on your site.

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

Some Themes provide only a single widget-ready area

(Some WP themes provide only a single widget-ready section)

Below is an enlarged image of the widget screen of the theme above, so you can see that the WordPress theme only includes one widget area …

What Are WordPress Widgets? A Basic Guide To Widgets For New Users

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

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

Many themes offer users multiple widget areas

(Many themes offer users a number of widget-ready areas)

Here is the widget section of the theme above, so you can see how many widget areas this theme includes …

Multiple widgets areas

(Multiple widgets areas)

As you can see, in the above theme, you can add widgets 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 WordPress themes let you add widgets to your site’s footer)

How Do I Access My WP Widgets?

The Widgets screen is located inside the WP dashboard and can easily be accessed from the WordPress dashboard menu by selecting Appearance > Widgets

Understanding WordPress For Beginners: What's A Widget?

This loads the Widgets area in your browser window …

Widgets Panel

(Widgets Screen)

The Widgets section displays a list of 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 & drop

(Activate or deactivate widgets using drag and drop)

Available widgets can be made Active or Inactive by dragging-and-dropping items to different sections of the widgets screen.

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

In addition, the Widgets area includes an Inactive Widgets section that lets you remove any widgets that you no longer want to use on your website. Inactive widgets do not lose their pre-configured settings.

Useful Info

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 the default WordPress theme right out of the box and display items like Recent Posts, Recent Comments, Categories, etc. to visitors …

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

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

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

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

(Installing new WordPress 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, reorder and delete them inside your Widgets section using simple drag & drop …

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

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

Using drag-and-drop lets you easily reconfigure the order and layout of your widgetized sections.

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

  1. A subscription form,
  2. A click for support banner, and
  3. Click to call sales buttons from a widgetized plugin …

Widgets control how certain features on your site display

(Widgets control how certain features appear on your site)

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

What Do WordPress Widgets Do? A Basic Guide To Widgets For Website Owners

If we change these widgets in the Sidebar Widget Area by dragging & dropping elements in the widget area …

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

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

The widgets have now been reordered in your sidebar …

A Basic Guide To WordPress For Newbies: WordPress Widget:

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 the first item on the sidebar menu, and the contact us section (2) now sits above the newsletter subscription form (1) …

WordPress widgets are very easy to use!

(Widgets are really easy to use!)

Cool, huh?

Let me just show you some other things worth keeping in mind with widgets:

Widget Management – Previewing Widgets

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

You can do lots of things 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 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!)

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 any changes (and avoid making mistakes), or manage widgets on the fly using the Widget editor screen discussed earlier.

Widget Configuration

As we have shown you in an earlier example, WordPress lets you easily and quickly reorganize how content displays in widgetized areas of your site sidebars, footers and navigation menus with just a few clicks of your mouse, using drag-&-drop technology …

Reorganize sidebar layout using widgets to improve user experience

(Reorganize sidebar elements with widgets to improve user experience)

In the screenshot above, for example, you can see that we have quickly and easily redesigned the sidebar area 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.

Reorganizing sidebar layout with widgets can help to improve visitor experience.

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


With most traditionally-designed websites, you would need to edit code in your site’s templates to reorganize the order of elements, make unique customizations to features on page elements like subscription forms, or just add useful features like an index of your site pages, or a dropdown menu of your blog post categories, an archived content posts section, custom page menus, links to external sites, a list of your most popular posts, the latest excerpts of comments added to your posts, a section displaying advertising banners, quotations or poll questions & results, RSS feed items, video galleries, social media buttons, and more.

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

Some widgets give you little to no customizable options

(Some widgets offer little to no configuration options)

Most widgets offer various settings that allow you to further configure these. This can include things like making certain types of information hidden to site visitors but visible to registered users, displaying additional forms, fields, or data, specifying sizes of sidebar images, videos, etc. and more …

Many widgets offer configuration options

(Most widgets provide users with customization!)

How To Use 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 simply by activating a plugin and then dragging and dropping the plugin’s related widget into your Active widgets area.

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

Related Posts

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

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


"This is AMAZING! I had learnt about how to use WordPress previously, but this covers absolutely everything and more!! Incredible value! Thank you!" - Monique, Warrior Forum