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 great benefits to choosing WordPress to manage and grow a web site. One of these is that WordPress makes it very easy to add content, expand your website’s functionality and rearrange the layout of your website with no programming skills required.

WordPress gives you the ability to quickly and easily add, remove, and reconfigure various types of content from your site’s sidebar menu (or header and footer sections, depending on what theme is installed on your site) using widgets.

WordPress widgets

(WordPress widgets)

This blog post explains how widgets work, what makes widgets so useful and how widgets can be used to improve the functionality of your site.

What’s A WordPress Widget? Understanding WordPress Widgets For Business Users

WP widgets help make managing and using WordPress easier

(Widgets make managing and using WordPress easier!)

A WordPress widget is a small module of code that performs a specific function, such as adding a functionality, or a script or menu item to your website or blog.

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

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

Widgets help you control specific features and functions on your site without having to touch code.

Widgets help you control technical features and functions on your website without the need to touch code

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

Widgets were originally designed to provide an easy way of giving WordPress users to manage aspects of their site’s layout and functionality.

Simply put, widgets allow you to:

  • Easily insert, edit and remove features to areas of your website without touching any underlying code, and
  • Rearrange the functional layout of your WordPress 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 functionality you can add to your site’s sidebar section (and headers and footers and other areas, depending on your theme) using WordPress widgets:

  • nested list of pages
  • site categories
  • post archives
  • menus
  • links to external sites
  • your most popular posts
  • excerpts of recent comments added to posts
  • advertisements
  • testimonials
  • polls & surveys
  • RSS feed content
  • subscription form
  • videos
  • twitter feeds
  • add widgets from external sites (e.g. Amazon)
  • administrative forms (e.g. login, register, etc.)

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

As you will soon discover, WordPress themes can affect how widgets display on your web site and some plugins add accompanying widgets that will further extend your site’s capabilities.

Widgetized Areas

Most WP themes support widgets and provide widget-enabled areas on your site where widgets can show.

Typically, widget-driven functions can be found in your sidebar, but depending on the theme, these can also be in the site’s header, in the footer area, 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 provides users with only one widget area for the theme’s sidebar …

Some WP Themes have only a single widget-ready section

(Some WP themes only have one widget-ready section)

Below is the widget panel of the above theme, and you can see that this theme only contains one widget-enabled area …

What Is A Widget? A Basic Guide To WordPress Widgets For Business Website Users

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

In contrast, the WP theme shown in the screenshot below includes a number of widget-enabled areas …

Many WP themes offer users a number of widgetized sections

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

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

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 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 section

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

Where Can I See My WordPress Widgets?

The Widgets screen is located inside the WP admin area and can be accessed by going to Appearance > Widgets

What Are WordPress Widgets? An Overview Of Widgets For Business Users

This brings up the Widgets screen in your web browser …

Widgets Panel

(Widgets Screen)

The Widgets section displays all the widgets that you currently have available.

The right-hand section of the screen displays your “active” widgets …

Activate or deactivate widgets using drag and drop

(Activate or deactivate widgets using drag and 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. automatically become activated for use on your site.

In addition, the Widgets panel includes an Inactive Widgets section that lets you remove widgets that you no longer want actively displayed on your website. Inactive widgets retain their settings.

Useful Info

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 your default WordPress theme and display items like Recent Posts, Recent Comments, Meta, etc. to your site visitors …

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

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

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

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

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

WordPress Widgets Features: Drag-And-Drop

Widgets are great because you can easily insert, activate, deactivate, reorder and delete them all inside 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)

Using drag-and-drop lets you easily reorder the layout and order of your website’s widgetized sections.

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

  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 display on your site

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

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

An Introduction To WordPress For Beginners: What Are WordPress Widgets?

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

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

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

The widget features have now been reordered in the sidebar …

WordPress Widgets - What Are They? Understanding WordPress Widgets For Business Users

This immediately changes the layout of the sidebar. Note in the screenshot below that the click to call feature (3) is now first the sidebar menu, and the contact us section (2) has been moved to the place above the newsletter sign-up form (1) …

Widgets are very easy to use!

(WordPress widgets are really easy to use!)

Easy, huh?

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

Widget Management – Customize Widgets Section

Depending on the actual theme that you have installed, you’re also able to manage and customize 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 your live website.

You can do several modifications and adjustments in preview mode, like adding, deleting and reorganizing 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 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 it (to avoid making errors), or manage widgets on the fly using the Widget editor area discussed previously.

Widget Configuration

As we’ve shown you earlier, WordPress lets you easily and quickly reorder how information 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 technology …

Reorganizing sidebar layout with widgets can improve your site's visitor experience

(Rearrange sidebar elements using widgets to improve your site’s visitor experience)

In the above screenshot, for example, you can see that we have easily redesigned the site’s 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.

Reorganizing sidebar layout with widgets can help 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 static websites, you would need to edit code in the site’s templates to reorganize the layout, make unique customizations to features on page elements like opt-in forms, or just add things like page lists, or a dropdown menu of your blog post categories, a post archives section, menus to display selected pages, links to external sites, links to your recent posts, the latest user comments, a section displaying clickable ad banners, testimonials or survey questions & results, RSS content excerpts, image galleries, social media sharing buttons, and more.

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

Some widgets offer little to no configuration options

(Some widgets offer little to no configurable options)

Most widgets provide a number of settings that allow you to further customize them. This includes making certain types of information hidden to your site visitors but visible to registered users, displaying additional forms, fields, or data, specifying dimensions of sidebar images, videos, etc. and more …

Many widgets give you configuration options

(Most widgets offer customizable options!)

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 WordPress 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 detailed tutorials showing you how to use different widgets in WordPress to improve the effectiveness of your website or blog, plus many great tips on how to get the most benefit out of WordPress with widgets:

Related Posts

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

Hopefully, now you have a better understanding of problems 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 please click on links to visit our related posts section.


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