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.

Get Thrive Leads for WordPress

WordPressThere are many benefits to using the WordPress web publishing application for building and growing a business online. One of these is that you can easily add content, enhance your site and rearrange the layout of your website without having web programming skills.

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



This post explains how widgets work, what makes widgets so useful and how widgets can help you to supercharge your website.

How Do Widgets Work? A Basic Guide To Widgets For Newbies

WP widgets help make managing and using WordPress easy

(Widgets make managing and using WordPress easier!)

WordPress widgets are self-contained modules of code that perform a specific function, such as adding a functionality, or a text box or item to your website or blog.

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

Now … don’t worry if the above sounds too geeky. As will soon learn, widgets are made for non-technical users.

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

WP widgets help you manage many features and functions on your site without the need to edit code

(WordPress widgets help you manage technical features and functions on your site without the need to edit code!)

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

Simply put, widgets let you do things like:

  • Easily insert, edit and delete features in certain parts of your site without touching any code, and
  • Reconfigure how various elements display 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 functions you can add to your WP site’s sidebar menu (plus headers and footers and other areas, depending on your theme) using widgets:

  • website page list
  • site categories
  • archives
  • menus
  • links to external sites
  • links to recent posts
  • comments
  • image banners
  • user testimonials
  • surveys & polls
  • RSS content
  • shopping cart forms
  • product images
  • twitter feeds
  • display widgets from other sites (e.g. Facebook friends)
  • administrative forms (e.g. login, register, etc.)

In other posts and tutorials, we write more extensively about plugins and WordPress themes; what they are, what they do, how plugins and themes add loads of new features to WordPress and even drastically change the design of your website or blog.

As you will learn in a moment, themes affect where widgets work on your web site and a number of plugins also come with accompanying widgets that can help further fine-tune your website or blog’s features.

Widgetized Themes

Most themes support widgets and provide widgetized areas in the theme’s layout where you can add widgets to.

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

It all depends on the theme you have installed.

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

Some WordPress Themes have only one widget-ready section

(Some themes have only a single widget enabled area)

Below is an enlarged image of the widget section of the theme above, so you can see that this particular WP theme only includes one widget area …

How Do Widgets Work? Understanding WordPress Widgets For New Users

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

In contrast, the WordPress theme shown in the screenshot below contains a number of different widget-ready areas …

Many themes provide a number of widget sections

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

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

Multiple widgets areas

(Multiple widgets areas)

As you can see, with 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 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 Widgets?

The Widgets area can be easily accessed inside the WP admin by going to Appearance > Widgets

A Basic Guide To WordPress For Business Users: WP Widget:

This brings up the Widgets section in your web browser …

Widgets Panel

(Widgets Panel)

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

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 activated or deactivated using drag & drop.

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

In addition, the Widgets screen 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 Search, Archives, Meta, etc. to your visitors …

By default, 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, new widgets get added to your Widgets area when new WordPress plugins are installed on your website or blog …

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

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

Widgets Features: Drag & Drop

Widgets are great because you can easily add, activate, deactivate, reorder and delete them inside your Widgets area just by using drag and drop …

Rearrange widgets using drag and drop

(Rearrange widgets using drag and drop)

Drag-and-drop lets you easily reconfigure the order and layout 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 display:

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

Widgets control the order certain features appear on your site

(Widgets control how certain features display on your WordPress site)

Looking inside this site’s Widget area, you would see that these features appear on the site in the same order as they have been arranged in their active widget section …

WordPress Widgets: An Overview Of WordPress Widgets For Beginners

Let’s now rearrange the order these widgets in the Sidebar Widget Area using drag-and-drop …

Drag and 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 …

An Introduction To WordPress For Business Owners: How Do Widgets Work?

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

Widgets are very easy to use!

(WordPress widgets are really easy to use!)

Pretty good stuff, huh?

Let me show you some other useful things about widgets that are also worth knowing about:

Widget Management – Widget Previews

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

You can do many modifications and adjustments to your widgets in preview mode, like inserting, removing and reorganizing your active 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.

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 your own 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 it (and avoid making errors), or change widgets on the fly using the Widget editor area as shown earlier.

Widget Configuration

As we’ve shown you in an earlier example, WordPress lets you completely reorder how content displays in widgetized areas of your website sidebars, footers and navigation menus with only a few clicks of your mouse button, using drag-and-drop technology …

Reorganizing sidebar layout using widgets can help improve user experience

(Reorganizing sidebar layout with widgets can help improve your site’s visitor experience)

In the above screenshot, for example, you can see that we have quickly and easily change the order of elements in the sidebar section by switching around 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.

Rearranging sidebar elements with widgets can 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 many traditionally-designed websites, you would need to edit code in your web templates to rearrange the layout, customize features on page elements like subscriber forms, or just add useful features like page lists, or a dropdown menu of your blog post categories, a post archives section, menus to display selected pages, links to recommended resources, links to your recent posts, the latest comments, a section displaying advertising, quotations or surveys & polls, RSS feed content, image galleries, 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 provide users with little to no customizing options

(Some widgets give you little to no customizing options)

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

Many widgets offer configurable options

(Many widgets offer configurable options!)

How To Use Widgets

As we have just seen, widgets require no coding experience or programming expertise to use. Most widgets can be easily added to your 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 detailed tutorials showing you how to use different types of widgets in WordPress to boost the effectiveness of your web site, plus many useful tips on how to get the most out of WordPress with 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 issues that can affect your website and how WordPress can help you build a better online. To learn more about the benefits of using WordPress please see other posts we have published on this site.


"If you're new to WordPress, this can stand on its own as a training course and will stay with you as you progress from beginner to advanced and even guru status." - Bruce (Columbus, Ohio)