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.

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WordPressThere are loads of benefits to using WordPress to build, manage and grow your digital presence. One of these is that WordPress makes it very easy to add content, enhance your website and reconfigure the layout of your site with no web programming skills required.

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

WP widgets

(WordPress widgets)

In this article you will learn how WordPress widgets work, what makes them so useful and how widgets can be used to help you improve the functionality of your web site.

How Do Widgets Work? Understanding Widgets For Business Website Owners

WP widgets make managing and using WordPress easy

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

Widgets are self-contained blocks of code that perform a specific function, such as adding a feature, or a text box 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 have to know how to program code.

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

With widgets, you don’t need to know how to program PHP or manipulate PHP code to expand the functionality of your website.

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

(Widgets help you manage specific features and functions on your website without having to touch code)

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

Simply put, widgets let you do things like:

  • Easily insert, edit and delete 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 things you can add to your WP site’s sidebar section (and headers and footers and other areas, depending on the theme you have installed) using widgets:

  • list of pages
  • content categories
  • post archives
  • customized menus
  • links to external sites
  • links to your recent posts
  • comments
  • clickable text ads
  • client testimonials
  • survey results
  • RSS feed items
  • shopping cart forms
  • product images
  • Facebook feeds
  • display widgets from other sites (e.g. Amazon)
  • administrative forms (e.g. login, register, etc.)

In other articles, we provide additional content about plugins and WordPress themes; what they are, what they do, how these add loads of new features to WordPress and even change the look and feel of your website.

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

Widgetized Themes

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

Typically, you will find widget-driven features in the sidebar menu, but depending upon the theme, widgets can also be located in the site’s header area, footer, and even below or above your content.

It all depends on what theme you have installed.

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

Some WordPress Themes provide only a single widgetized section

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

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

What Do WordPress Widgets Do? Understanding WordPress Widgets For Website Owners

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

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

Many WordPress themes offer users multiple widgetized sections

(Many WP themes offer users multiple widget-ready areas)

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

Multiple widgets areas

(Multiple widgets areas)

As you can see, with 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 WordPress themes let you add widgets to your site's footer section

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

How Do I Access My WordPress Widgets?

The Widgets area is found within the WordPress administration area and can be easily accessed by going to Appearance > Widgets

An Overview Of WordPress For New Users: What Do WordPress Widgets Do?

This brings up the Widgets section in your browser …

Widgets Screen

(Widgets Section)

The Widgets screen displays all the widgets that are available.

On the right-hand side of the window, you can see your “active” widgets …

Activate or deactivate widgets using drag & drop

(Activate or deactivate widgets using drag & drop)

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

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

In addition, your Widgets panel includes an Inactive Widgets section that lets you remove widgets that you no longer want actively displayed on your site. Inactive widgets do not lose their settings.

Important Info

In a default WordPress installation, 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 right out of the box in your default WordPress theme and display items like Search, Recent Comments, Meta, etc. to your visitors …

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

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

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

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

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

WP Widgets Features: Drag And Drop

Widgets are great because you can easily insert, activate, deactivate, reorder and remove them all from your Widgets section using drag & drop …

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

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

With drag and drop you can easily rearrange the order of your site’s widgetized sections.

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 contact support banner, and
  3. A couple of click to call sales buttons from a widgetized WP plugin …

Widgets control how certain features appear on your WordPress site

(Widgets control how certain features on your site display)

Inside the example site’s Widget area, you would see that these features display on the site in exactly the same order as their corresponding widgets were arranged in their active widget section …

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

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

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

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

The widgets have now been reorganized in the sidebar …

A Basic Guide To WordPress For Business Users: What Are WordPress Widgets?

This instantly 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) has been moved to the place above the newsletter sign-up form (1) …

Widgets are really easy to use!

(Widgets are very easy to use!)

Easy, huh?

There are some more useful things about using WP widgets that are also worth keeping in mind about:

Widget Management – Customize Widgets Section

Depending upon the actual theme that you have installed on your site, you can also customize your 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 your live website.

You can do several modifications and adjustments to your widgets in preview mode, like inserting, removing and reorganizing your current 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 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 prior to publishing changes (and avoid making errors), or configure widgets on the fly using the Widget editor area shown earlier.

Widget Configuration

As we’ve explained in an earlier example, WordPress lets you quickly and easily reorganize how content displays in widgetized areas of your site sidebars, footers and navigation menus with only a few clicks of your mouse button, using drag-and-drop …

Rearranging sidebar layout using widgets can help to improve visitor experience

(Reorganize sidebar layout 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 sidebar by switching the search and testimonial sections. As you now know, this was easily done by simply dragging and dropping the widget elements into different positions inside the sidebar widget area.

Rearrange sidebar layout with widgets to improve your site’s 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 site’s templates to rearrange the order of elements, make unique customizations to features on page elements like newsletter subscription forms, or just add things like your website’s page list, or a dropdown menu of your post categories, a post archives section, custom page menus, links to recommended resources, a list of your most read posts, the latest post comments, a section displaying clickable images, user testimonials or surveys & polls, RSS content, product images, social media share 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 offer little to no customizable options

(Some widgets offer little to no customizing options)

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

Many widgets offer customization

(Many widgets give you configuration options!)

How To Use Widgets

As you have just seen, widgets require no coding experience or programming expertise to use. Most widgets can be easily added to your WordPress 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 detailed tutorials showing you how to use various widgets in WordPress to boost the effectiveness of your website or blog, plus lots of great tips for getting the most benefit out of WordPress using widgets:

Related Posts

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

Hopefully, this article has given you 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.


"I have used the tutorials to teach all of my clients and it has probably never been so easy for everyone to learn WordPress ... Now I don't need to buy all these very expensive video courses that often don't deliver what they promise." - Stefan Wendt, Internet Marketing Success Group