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 lots of great things about using the WordPress CMS platform for building and managing your web site. One of these is that you can easily add content, enhance your site and reconfigure the layout of your site without having any coding skills.

WordPress lets you quickly and easily add, remove, and rearrange various blocks of content on your website’s sidebar menu (or header and footer sections, depending on what theme you use) using widgets.



This article explains how WP widgets work, why they make life easier for non-technical users and how widgets can be used to improve the functionality of your website or blog.

About WordPress Widgets: An Overview Of Widgets For Business Users

Widgets make managing and using WordPress easy

(WP widgets make managing and using WordPress easier!)

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

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

Now … don’t worry if this all sounds like geek speak. As will soon see, widgets are perfect for non-techies.

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

Widgets help you manage specific features and functions on your site without requiring knowledge of coding

(WordPress widgets help you control many features and functions on your website without having to touch code)

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

In plain English terms, a widget allows you to:

  • Easily add, edit and delete sections of code in areas of your WordPress site without touching any web code, and
  • Rearrange the functional layout of your WP 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 menu (and headers and footers and other areas, depending on the theme you have installed) using WordPress widgets:

  • pages on your website
  • blog categories
  • archive
  • menus displaying only selected pages
  • links to resources
  • links to your recent posts
  • excerpts of recent comments added to posts
  • text ads
  • quotations
  • poll results
  • RSS content
  • subscription form
  • images
  • social media share buttons
  • display widgets from external sites (e.g. StumbleUpon)
  • administrative forms (e.g. login, register, etc.)

In other posts, we provide more detailed explanations of WP plugins and WP themes; what they are, what they do, how plugins and themes can add new functionality to WordPress and alter the entire design of your site.

As you will learn shortly, themes can affect how widgets work on your site and some plugins include accompanying widgets that can improve your website’s capabilities.

Widgetized Areas

Most WP themes support widgets and provide widget-ready sections on your site where widgets can appear.

Usually, you will find functions managed by widgets in your sidebar, but depending upon the theme, these can also be found in the site’s header area, footer, sometimes even below the content section.

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

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

Some Themes have only one widget section

(Some WP themes only provide one widget enabled area)

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

What's A Widget? An Overview Of Widgets For Business Owners

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

In contrast, the theme shown below includes various widget-ready areas …

Many WordPress themes provide multiple widgetized areas

(Many themes provide a number of widgetized areas)

Below is an enlarged image of the widget screen of the theme above, and you can see how many widget areas the theme includes …

Multiple WordPress widget areas

(Multiple widgets areas)

As you can see, in the above theme, widgets can be added 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 WordPress themes let you add widgets to your site's footer section

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

Where Do I Access My Widgets?

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

An Introduction To WordPress For New Users: WP Widget:

This loads the Widgets section in your browser …

Widgets Screen

(Widgets Section)

The Widgets screen displays all the widgets that can be used on your site.

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

Activate or deactivate widgets using drag and drop

(Activate or deactivate widgets using drag & drop)

Available widgets can be activated or deactivated by dragging-and-dropping items to different areas of the widgets panel.

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

In addition, the Widgets panel includes an Inactive Widgets section that lets you remove widgets that you no longer want to actively display on your site. Inactive widgets retain 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, Categories, etc. to visitors …

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

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

Sometimes, whenever new plugins are installed on your site, you will see that new widgets are also added to your Widgets area …

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

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

WordPress Widgets Features: Drag & Drop

WP widgets are great because you can easily add, activate, deactivate, rearrange and delete them all right inside your Widgets area using drag & drop …

Rearrange widgets using drag-and-drop

(Rearrange your site’s widgets using drag & drop)

With drag and drop you can easily rearrange the layout and order of your widgetized sections.

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 subscription form,
  2. A click for support banner, and
  3. Click to call sales buttons from a widgetized plugin …

Widgets control the order certain features on your site display

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

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

Understanding WordPress For Website Owners: WordPress Widget:

If we reorganize these widgets in the Active Widget Area by dragging & dropping elements in the widget area …

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

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

The widget features have now been reorganized in the sidebar …

What Are Widgets? Understanding WordPress Widgets For Business Owners

As you can see, 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 banner (2) now sits above the newsletter opt-in form (1) …

Widgets are really easy to use!

(Widgets are very easy to use!)

Pretty simple stuff, huh?

Let me show you some other useful things about using widgets that are also worth keeping in mind about:

Widget Management – Widget Previews

Depending on the actual theme that you have installed, you’re also able to manage 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 a number of modifications and adjustments to widgets in preview mode, like adding, removing and moving around the currently added 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 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!)

The ability to manage widgets from your WP dashboard 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 it (to avoid making errors), or manage widgets on the fly using the Widget editor screen as discussed previously.

Widget Configuration

As we have shown you in an earlier example, WordPress lets you quickly reorganize how information displays in widgetized areas of your website or blog, like sidebars, footers and navigation menus with only a few clicks of your mouse, using drag-and-drop technology …

Reorganize sidebar layout using widgets to improve user experience

(Reorganize sidebar layout with widgets to improve user experience)

In the screenshot above, for example, you can see that we have quickly and easily reorganized the site’s sidebar 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.

Reorganize sidebar layout using 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 many traditionally-designed websites, you would need to edit code in the site’s templates to rearrange the layout, make unique customizations to features on page elements like a newsletter registration form, or just add other features like a list of your web pages, or a dropdown menu of your blog categories, an archived published posts section, menus to display selected pages, links to recommended resources, links to your recent posts, the latest comments, a section displaying advertisements, customer testimonials or poll results, RSS content, images, Facebook 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 give you little to no configuration options

(Some widgets offer little to no customizable options)

Many widgets offer a number of settings that allow you to further configure them. 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 sizes of sidebar images, videos, etc. and more …

Most widgets provide users with configuration options

(Many widgets give you configurable options!)

How To Use 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 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 site, plus many cool tips for getting the most out of WordPress with widgets:

Related Posts

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

Hopefully, now you have 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 please click on links to visit other posts we have published on this site.


"This is an awesome training series. I have a pretty good understanding of WordPress already, but this is helping me to move somewhere from intermediate to advanced user!" - Kim Lednum