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 many great things about using the WordPress CMS platform for managing and growing a web site. One of these is that you can easily add content, enhance your site and rearrange the layout of your site without coding skills.

WordPress lets you quickly and easily add, remove, and manage various types of content in your website’s sidebar menu (or header and footer sections, depending on what theme you have installed) using widgets.


(WordPress widgets)

This article explains how WP widgets work, why widgets are great for non-technical users and how widgets can grow your site.

What Are Widgets? An Overview Of Widgets For Website Owners

Widgets make managing and using WordPress easier

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

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

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

Now … don’t worry if it all sounds too technical. As will soon discover, widgets are made for non-techies.

WordPress widgets help you manage specific features and functions on your site without requiring coding skills.

Widgets help you manage many features and functions on your site without having to edit code

(Widgets help you manage specific features and functions on your website without the need to edit code!)

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

Simply put, a widget allows you to:

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

  • site pages
  • categories
  • blog post archive
  • menus displaying only selected pages
  • links to resources
  • posts that you want to promote
  • post comments
  • advertising banners
  • quotations
  • surveys
  • RSS feed content
  • opt-in subscription form
  • video thumbnails
  • social media share buttons
  • add widgets from external sites (e.g. Facebook)
  • administrative forms (e.g. login, register, etc.)

In other posts, we provide more detailed explanations of plugins and themes; what they are, what they do, how plugins and themes can add new features to WordPress and change the look and feel of your website or blog.

As you will soon discover, themes can affect how widgets work on your site and many plugins also add accompanying widgets that can enhance your site’s functionality.

Widgetized Areas

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

Normally, widgets can be found in your theme’s sidebar, but depending on the theme, these can also be in your site’s header area, footer, sometimes even above or below your content.

It all depends on what theme you have installed on your site or blog.

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

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, where you can see that this particular theme only includes one widgetized area …

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

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

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

Many themes provide a number of widget sections

(Many WP themes offer users a number of widgetized areas)

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

Multiple widgets areas

(Multiple WordPress widget areas)

As you can see, with the above theme, you can add widgets 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

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

Where Do I Access My Widgets?

The Widgets section is located inside your WordPress administration area and can be accessed from the admin menu by choosing Appearance > Widgets

An Overview Of WordPress For Beginners: WordPress Widgets:

This brings up the Widgets screen in your web browser …

Widgets Section

(Widgets Screen)

The Widgets area 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 activated or deactivated using drag-and-drop.

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

In addition, your Widgets panel includes an Inactive Widgets section that lets you remove widgets that you no longer want to use on your site. Inactive widgets retain their 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 Recent Posts, Archives, Meta, etc. to site visitors …

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

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

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

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

(Installing 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 delete them all from 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)

Use drag-and-drop to easily reorder the order and layout of your widget-enabled sections.

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

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

Widgets control how certain features on your site appear

(Widgets control how certain features appear on your site)

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

About WordPress Widgets An Overview Of Widgets For Website Owners

If we reorganize the above widgets in the Sidebar Widget Area by dragging and dropping elements in the widget area …

Drag & drop to rearrange widgets in your widget area

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

The widgets have now been reordered in your sidebar …

Understanding WordPress For Beginners: About WordPress Widgets

This immediately reorganizes 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 graphic banner (2) now sits above the newsletter sign-up form (1) …

Widgets are really easy to use!

(Widgets are very easy to use!)

Pretty cool stuff, huh?

There are some more useful things about using widgets that are also worth knowing about:

Widget Management – Widget Customizer Section

Depending on the WordPress theme that you have installed on your site, you’re also able to 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 several edits, modifications and adjustments in preview mode, like adding, deleting and moving around the currently added widgets to any widget areas that your theme makes available, and it’s all done 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!)

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 before publishing any changes you’ve made (to avoid making errors), or change your widgets on the fly using the Widget editor screen discussed earlier.

Widget Configuration

As we’ve explained earlier, WordPress lets you easily reorganize how information displays in widgetized areas of your site sidebars, footers and navigation menus with just a few clicks of your mouse, using drag-and-drop technology …

Reorganizing sidebar elements with widgets can improve user experience

(Reorganizing sidebar layout with widgets can help improve user experience)

In the screenshot above, for example, you can see that we have reorganized the site’s sidebar by switching around 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.

Reorganize sidebar elements using widgets 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 traditionally-designed websites, you would need to edit code in the website’s templates to reorganize the order of elements, make unique customizations to features on page elements like shopping cart forms, or just add useful features like a nested list of pages, or a dropdown menu of your categories, a blog post archive section, custom page menus, links to recommended resources, a list of your most popular posts, the latest excerpts of comments added to your posts, a section displaying clickable ad banners, testimonials or surveys & polls, RSS feed content, product catalog images, social media 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 give you little to no customizable options

(Some widgets provide users with little to no configuration options)

Many widgets provide various options that allow you to further configure these. This can include things like 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 give you customizing options

(Most widgets provide users with customizing options!)

How To Use WordPress Widgets

As we have seen, widgets require no coding experience or programming expertise to use. Most widgets can be added to your website 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 tutorials showing you how to use a number of different widgets in WordPress to improve the effectiveness of your web site, plus lots of cool tips for getting the most benefit out of WordPress with widgets:

Related Posts

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

Hopefully, now you have a better understanding of issues that can affect your web site and how WordPress can help you build a better online. To learn more about the benefits of using WordPress please see our related posts section.


"Wow! I never knew there's so much to learn about WordPress! I bought one of the WordPress for Dummies three years ago, such authors need to be on this course!" - Rich Law, Create A Blog Now