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 choosing the WordPress web publishing software to build, manage and grow a web site. One of these is that you can easily add content, expand your site’s functionality and reconfigure your site’s layout without requiring coding skills and knowledge.

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


(WordPress widgets)

In this blog post you will learn what widgets are, what they do and how widgets can help you add functionality to your site.

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

WP widgets help make managing and using WordPress easy

(WordPress widgets make managing and using WordPress easy!)

WP widgets are small blocks of code that perform a specific function, such as adding a feature, or a text box or menu item to your website.

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

Now … don’t worry if it all sounds like geek speak. As will soon discover, WordPress widgets are made for non-techie users.

Widgets don’t require you to know how to program or manipulate PHP code to enhance your website.

WordPress widgets help you control specific features and functions on your site without having to edit code

(Widgets help you manage technical features and functions on your website without having 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.

In simple terms, widgets allow you to:

  • Easily insert, edit and delete content sections to parts of your site without having to touch any underlying code, and
  • Rearrange the functional layout of your 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 great things you can add to your site’s sidebar section (plus headers and footers and other areas, depending on the theme you have installed) using widgets:

  • list of pages
  • post categories
  • archive
  • menus that display only the pages you select
  • links to external sites
  • links to your recent posts
  • recent comments from users
  • advertisements
  • testimonials
  • polls
  • content from RSS feeds
  • opt-in subscription form
  • image galleries
  • twitter feeds
  • display widgets from other sites (e.g. affiliate programs)
  • administrative forms (e.g. login, register, etc.)

In other articles, we write more extensively about WP plugins and themes; what they are, what they do, how plugins and themes can add new functionality to WordPress and alter the whole look and feel of your website or blog.

As you will learn in just a moment, WordPress themes can affect where widgets work on your website and some plugins also add accompanying widgets that can extend your site’s functionality.

Widget-Ready Themes

Most themes support widgets and provide widget-ready sections on your site where you can add widgets to.

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

It all depends on the theme that you have installed.

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

Some WordPress Themes only have a single widgetized area

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

Here is the widget screen of the theme above, so you can see that this WP theme only contains one widgetized area …

A Basic Guide To WordPress For Beginners: WP Widget:

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

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

Many WP themes provide multiple widgetized sections

(Many themes provide multiple widget sections)

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

Multiple WordPress widget areas

(Multiple WordPress widget 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 themes let you add widgets to your site's footer

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

How Do I Access My WordPress Widgets?

To access the Widgets area log into your WP administration and go to Appearance > Widgets

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

This brings up the Widgets section in your web browser …

Widgets Panel

(Widgets Panel)

The Widgets section displays a list of all the widgets that are currently available for use on your site.

On the right-hand side of the screen, you can see 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. become activated for use on your site.

Your Widgets screen also includes an Inactive Widgets section that lets you remove any widgets that you no longer want to actively display on your website. Inactive widgets do not lose their pre-configured settings.


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 Recent Posts, Archives, Meta, etc. to 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, new widgets display in your Widgets area as new WordPress plugins are installed on your website or blog …

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

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

WP Widgets Features: Drag And Drop

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

Rearrange widgets using drag & drop

(Rearrange widgets on your WordPress site using drag & drop)

Using drag and drop lets you easily reorder the layout of your website’s widget-enabled areas.

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

  1. A newsletter opt-in form,
  2. A contact support button, and
  3. Click to call sales buttons from a widgetized plugin …

Widgets control how certain features on your site display

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

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

WordPress Widget: An Introduction To WordPress Widgets For Business Users

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

Drag and drop to rearrange widgets in your widget area

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

The widgets have now been reorganized in your sidebar …

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

This immediately changes the order of items in the 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 graphic banner (2) now sits above the newsletter opt-in form (1) …

WordPress widgets are really easy to use!

(Widgets are really easy to use!)

Pretty simple stuff, huh?

Let me just show you some more things about WP widgets that are also worth keeping in mind about:

Widget Management – Widget Previews

Depending on the actual WordPress theme that you have installed on your site, 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 many edits in preview mode, like adding, deleting and reorganizing your current widgets to any widget areas that your theme makes available, and it’s all 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 before publishing any changes (and avoid making mistakes), or change widgets on the fly using the Widget editor area shown previously.

Widget Configuration

As we’ve shown you earlier, WordPress lets you quickly rearrange how information is displayed in widgetized areas like your site’s sidebars, footers and navigation menus with just a few clicks of your mouse, using drag-and-drop technology …

Reorganize sidebar elements with widgets to improve visitor experience

(Rearranging sidebar elements using widgets can help to improve visitor experience)

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

Reorganizing sidebar elements using 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 traditionally-designed websites, you would need to edit code in your site’s templates to rearrange the order of elements, make unique customizations to features on page elements like subscriber forms, or just add useful features like a list of your web pages, or a dropdown menu of your site categories, an archived blog posts section, custom page menus, links to recommended resources, links to your recent posts, the latest comments, a section displaying advertising, quotations or survey questions & results, RSS content excerpts, video galleries, Twitter feeds, 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 provide users with little to no configurable options

(Some widgets give you little to no configurable options)

Many widgets offer a number of options that allow you to further configure your site features. This includes making certain types of information hidden to your site visitors but visible to registered users, displaying additional forms, fields, or data, specifying sizes of sidebar images, videos, etc. and more …

Many widgets provide users with configuration options

(Most widgets provide users with configuration options!)

Using WP Widgets

As you have just seen, widgets require no coding experience or programming expertise to use. Most widgets can be added to your website or blog simply by activating a plugin and then dragging and dropping the plugin’s corresponding widget into your Active widgets area.

For some useful tips and tricks to using widgets, see these detailed step-by-step tutorials showing you how to use different widgets in WordPress to boost the effectiveness of your web site, plus lots of useful tips on how to get the most out of WordPress using widgets:

Related Posts

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

Hopefully, now you have a better understanding of issues that can affect your web site and how WordPress can help you get better results online. To learn more about the benefits of using WordPress please click on links to visit other posts we have published on this site.


"These tutorials have so much information and are easy to understand. If you use WordPress or plan to in the future these will help you with everything you need to know." - Valisa (Mesa, Arizona)