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 things about using the WordPress CMS platform for managing and growing a digital presence. One of these is that you can easily add content, expand your website’s functionality and rearrange the layout of your site without code editing skills and knowledge.

WordPress allows you to quickly and easily add, delete, and manage various types of content from your site’s sidebar menu (or header and footer sections too, depending on what theme you have installed) using widgets.

WP widgets

(WordPress widgets)

This article explains how widgets work, why widgets are great for non-technical users and how widgets can improve the functionality of your website.

What Do WordPress Widgets Do? An Overview Of Widgets For Business Website Owners

WP widgets help make managing and using WordPress easy

(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 list item to your website or blog.

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

Now … don’t worry if this all sounds like geek speak. As will soon discover, WP widgets are perfect for non-techies.

With WP widgets, you don’t have to know how to program code or manipulate PHP code in order to expand the functionality of your site.

Widgets help you manage many features and functions on your site without requiring knowledge of coding

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

Widgets were originally developed to provide an easy way to give WordPress users to manage aspects of their WordPress theme’s layout and functionality.

Simply put, widgets allow you to:

  • Easily insert, edit and remove blocks of code in parts of your site without having to touch any code, and
  • Rearrange 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 many functionality you can add to your WP site’s sidebar navigation area (plus headers and footers and other areas, depending on your theme) using widgets:

  • list of pages
  • post categories
  • blog post archive
  • menus
  • links to resources
  • your most popular posts
  • user comments
  • text ads
  • quotations
  • survey questions & results
  • RSS feed content
  • shopping cart forms
  • video galleries
  • social media buttons
  • add widgets from external sites (e.g. affiliate programs)
  • administrative forms (e.g. login, register, etc.)

In other blog posts, we provide detailed content about WP plugins and themes; what they are, what they do, how these easily add loads of new features to WordPress and even change the entire look and feel of your site.

As you will soon learn, WP themes affect where widgets work on your web site and a number of plugins also come with accompanying widgets that can further enhance your website’s functionality.

Widget-Ready Areas

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

Normally, widget-powered features can be found in the sidebar menu, but depending on the theme, widgets can also be in your site’s header, the footer, and even above or below your content.

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

For example, the theme shown in the screenshot below has only one widget area displaying items in the theme’s sidebar area …

Some Themes only have one widget-ready area

(Some WP themes only provide a single widget enabled area)

Below is the widget section of the theme shown above, so you can see that this particular theme only contains one widget-enabled area …

Understanding WordPress For Website Owners: How Do WordPress Widgets Work?

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

In contrast, the WP theme shown below includes a number of different widgetized areas …

Many WordPress themes provide a number of widget-enabled areas

(Many WordPress themes offer users multiple widget sections)

Here is an enlarged image of the widget screen of the theme above, so you can see how many widget areas are included in this specific WP theme …

Multiple WordPress widget areas

(Multiple widgets areas)

As you can see, in the above theme, widgets can be added 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 area)

How Do I Access My Widgets?

The Widgets section is located inside your WordPress administration by going to Appearance > Widgets

An Introduction To WordPress For Newbies: About WordPress Widgets

This loads the Widgets panel in your web browser …

Widgets Screen

(Widgets Panel)

The Widgets screen displays all the widgets that are 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 using drag-and-drop.

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

In addition, your Widgets panel 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 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 right out of the box in the default WordPress theme and display items like Search, Archives, Categories, etc. to visitors …

By default, 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, whenever new WordPress plugins are installed on your website or blog, you may find that new widgets are also added to your Widgets section …

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

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

Widgets Features: Drag & Drop

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

Rearrange widgets using drag & drop

(Rearrange widgets using drag-and-drop)

With drag & drop technology you can easily reorder the layout and order of your site’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 the following:

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

Widgets control the order certain features on your site display

(Widgets control the order certain features appear on your site)

If we take a peek inside the example site’s Widget area, you would see that these features display on the site in the same order as they were arranged in the active widget section …

What Do WordPress Widgets Do? An Introduction To Widgets For New Users

Let’s now reorganize these widgets in the Main Sidebar Widget Area by dragging and dropping elements in the widget area …

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

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

The widget features have now been reordered in your sidebar …

Understanding WordPress For Business Owners: WordPress Widgets:

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

Widgets are really easy to use!

(Widgets are really easy to use!)

Pretty good stuff, huh?

Let me just show you some more things about using WordPress widgets that are also worth knowing about:

Widget Management – Customize Widgets Section

Depending on the actual theme that you have installed, you’re also able to customize your widgets without making actual changes to your site, so you can be sure that you like what you have done before committing these changes to the live website.

You can do several things in preview mode, like adding, removing 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 own 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 changes (to avoid making errors), or manage widgets on the fly using the Widget editor screen as discussed previously.

Widget Configuration

As we’ve shown you previously, WordPress lets you easily rearrange how information is displayed in widgetized areas of your website sidebars, footers and navigation menus with only a few clicks of your mouse button, using drag-and-drop …

Rearranging sidebar layout using widgets can improve your site's user experience

(Rearrange sidebar elements using widgets to improve user experience)

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

Reorganize sidebar elements with widgets to 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 website’s templates to reorganize the order of elements, make unique customizations to features on page elements like newsletter subscription forms, or just add features like page lists, or a dropdown menu of your content categories, an archive section, custom menus, links to recommended resources, a list of your most popular posts, the latest post comments, a section displaying clickable ad banners, client testimonials or survey results, RSS feed items, image galleries, social media sharing 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 provide users with little to no configuration options

(Some widgets give you little to no configurable options)

Many 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 site visitors but visible to registered users, displaying additional forms, fields, or data, specifying sizes of sidebar images, videos, etc. and more …

Many widgets give you customization

(Many widgets provide users with configurable options!)

Using Widgets

As we have just seen, widgets require no coding experience or programming expertise to use. Most widgets can be easily 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 some useful tips and tricks to using widgets, see these great step-by-step tutorials showing you how to use a number of different widgets in WordPress to improve the effectiveness of your website or blog, plus many cool 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 the benefits of using WordPress for a business web site please click on links to visit other posts we have published on this site.


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