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 using the WordPress CMS platform to manage and grow a business online. One of these is that you can easily add content, expand your site’s functionality and rearrange the layout of your site with no coding skills and knowledge required.

WordPress allows you to quickly and easily insert, delete, and manage various blocks of content in your site’s sidebar menu (and header and footer sections, depending on what theme you are using) using widgets.



This post explains how widgets work, why they are ideal tools for non-technical users and how widgets can add functionality to your web site.

What Are WordPress Widgets? An Introduction To Widgets For Business Website Owners

Widgets make managing and using WordPress easier

(Widgets help make managing and using WordPress easy!)

Widgets are self-contained blocks of code that perform a specific function, such as adding an enhancement, or a script or item to your WP site.

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

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

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

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

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

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

In plain English terms, a widget lets you do things like:

  • Easily insert, edit and delete features to certain parts of your website without touching any web code, and
  • Reconfigure 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 many cool things you can add to your WP site’s sidebar menu (and headers and footers and other areas, depending on the theme you have installed) using widgets:

  • page lists
  • blog post categories
  • blog post archive
  • custom page menus
  • links to resources
  • your most popular posts
  • comments
  • clickable ad banners
  • quotations
  • surveys
  • RSS feed content
  • registration box
  • videos
  • twitter feeds
  • display widgets from external sites (e.g. affiliate programs)
  • administrative forms (e.g. login, register, etc.)

In other articles, we provide additional information about WP plugins and WordPress themes; what they are, what they do, how plugins and themes can easily add new features to WordPress and change the design of your site.

As you will see in just a moment, themes affect where widgets work on your website and some plugins add accompanying widgets that will enhance your site’s capabilities.

Widgetized Areas

Most themes support widgets and provide widget-ready areas in the theme’s layout where widgets can show.

Usually, this is going to be in your sidebar, but depending on the theme, widgets can also be in the header area, the footer area, and even below or above the content area.

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

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

Some Themes only have one widget area

(Some WordPress themes only have one widget enabled section)

Here is an enlarged image of the widget panel of the theme shown above, so you can see that this WP theme only includes one widget area …

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

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

In contrast, the theme shown in the screenshot below includes multiple widget-enabled areas …

Many themes offer users a number of widgetized sections

(Many WordPress themes provide a number of widget-enabled sections)

Here is the widget section of the theme shown above, and you can see how many widget areas are included in the theme …

Multiple WordPress widget areas

(Multiple widgets areas)

As you can see, in the above theme, you can add widgets to the sidebar area of two different page templates (Main Sidebar and Showcase Sidebar) and 3 different Footer areas (Footer Area One, Footer Area Two, Footer Area Three) …

Some WP themes let you add widgets to your site's footer

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

Where Do I Access My WP Widgets?

To use widgets, access the Widgets section located inside the admin by going to Appearance > Widgets

Understanding WordPress For Business Users: About WordPress Widgets

This brings up your Widgets screen in your web browser …

Widgets Panel

(Widgets Screen)

The Widgets section displays a list of all the widgets that can be used on your site.

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 activated or deactivated using drag & drop.

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

In addition, your Widgets screen 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 settings.

Important Info

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

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

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

Sometimes, when new WordPress plugins are installed on your site, you may find that new widgets have also been added to your Widgets section …

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

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

Widgets Features: Drag And Drop

Widgets are great because you can easily add, activate, deactivate, reorder and remove them right inside your Widgets area using drag & drop …

Rearrange widgets using drag-and-drop

(Rearrange your site’s widgets using drag-and-drop)

Use drag-and-drop to easily reconfigure the order of your website’s 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 button, and
  3. Click to call sales buttons from a widgetized plugin …

Widgets control the order certain features appear on your WordPress site

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

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

An Overview Of WordPress For Website Owners: What Is A WordPress Widget?

If we change the order the above widgets in the Main Sidebar Widget Area using drag & drop …

Drag & drop to rearrange widgets in your widget area

(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 Owners: About WordPress Widgets

This instantly reorganizes the layout of the sidebar. Note in the screenshot below that the click to call function (3) is now first the sidebar menu, and the contact us graphic button (2) has been moved to the spot above the newsletter sign-up form (1) …

WordPress widgets are really easy to use!

(WordPress widgets are very easy to use!)

Pretty simple stuff, huh?

Here are some more things worth keeping in mind when using WP widgets:

Widget Management – Widget Previews

Depending upon the actual WP theme that you have installed on your site, you can also customize and manage 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 edits in preview mode, like adding, deleting and moving around your current widgets to any widget areas that your theme makes available, and everything is 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 on your site.

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 from within your WP 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 prior to publishing changes (and avoid making errors), or change widgets on the fly using the Widget editor screen as discussed earlier.

Widget Configuration

As we’ve shown you earlier, with WordPress you can easily and quickly reorder how information is displayed in areas of your website sidebars, footers and navigation menus with just a few clicks of your mouse button, using drag-and-drop …

Reorganize sidebar elements with widgets to improve user experience

(Reorganizing sidebar layout with widgets can improve user experience)

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

Rearrange sidebar elements using 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 web templates to rearrange the order of elements, make unique customizations to features on page elements like an opt-in subscription form, or just add useful features like a list of pages on your website, or a dropdown menu of your site categories, an archived blog post entries section, customized menus, links to external sites, links to your recent posts, the latest post comments, a section displaying advertisements, quotations or surveys, RSS content, video thumbnails, Facebook feeds, and more.

While some widgets are “fixed” in the sense that they provide little to no configuration options, 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 customizing options)

Most widgets offer various options that allow you to further customize 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 information, specifying dimensions of sidebar images, videos, etc. and more …

Most widgets offer customizable options

(Many widgets provide users with customization!)

How To Use Widgets

As you have 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 great tutorials showing you how to use various kinds of widgets in WordPress to boost the effectiveness of your website, 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 using WordPress please click on links to visit other posts we have published on this site.


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