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 benefits to choosing the WordPress CMS platform to manage and grow a digital presence. One of these is that you can easily add content, enhance your site and rearrange the layout of your website without programming skills or knowledge.

WordPress allows you to quickly and easily add, remove, and rearrange various types of content in your blog’s sidebar menu (or header and footer sections too, depending on what theme is installed on your site) using widgets.


(WordPress widgets)

In this post you will learn how WP widgets work, why they are ideal tools for non-technical users and how widgets can help to improve the functionality of your website.

WordPress Widgets – What Do They Do? An Overview Of Widgets For New Users

WordPress widgets help make managing and using WordPress easy

(Widgets make managing and using WordPress easy!)

WP widgets are self-contained modules of code that perform a specific function, such as adding a functionality, or a script or menu item to your website.

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

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

Widgets help you control technical features and functions on your site without requiring coding skills.

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

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

Widgets were originally designed to provide a simple way to allow WordPress users to manage aspects of their site’s layout and functionality.

In plain English terms, a widget allows you to:

  • Easily insert, edit and remove functions to certain parts of your site without touching any code, and
  • Rearrange how various elements display 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 great things you can add to your WordPress site’s sidebar section (and headers and footers and other areas, depending on the theme you have installed) using widgets:

  • list of your web pages
  • post categories
  • archived content posts
  • menus
  • links to resources
  • most popular posts
  • excerpts of recent comments added to your posts
  • text ads
  • user testimonials
  • surveys
  • RSS feed content
  • opt-in subscription form
  • images
  • social media buttons
  • display widgets from external sites (e.g. affiliate programs)
  • administrative forms (e.g. login, register, etc.)

In other posts and tutorials, we provide detailed content about WordPress plugins and themes; what they are, what they do, how plugins and themes easily add new functionality to WordPress and even alter the entire design of your site.

As you will see shortly, WordPress themes affect how widgets work on your site and some plugins also come with accompanying widgets that can fine tune your website’s capabilities.

Widgetized Areas

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

Usually, widget-driven features can be found in the sidebar, but depending on the theme, these can also be in your site’s header section, the footer area, sometimes even below or above the content.

It all depends on what theme that you have installed.

For example, the WordPress theme in the screenshot below has only one widget area for the theme’s sidebar area …

Some WP Themes only provide a single widget-ready area

(Some WP themes provide only one widget section)

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

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As you can see, the only location where users can add widgets to their site using the theme above is in the site’s sidebar section.

In contrast, the WP theme shown in the screenshot below contains multiple widget-ready areas …

Many themes offer users a number of widget-ready sections

(Many themes offer users multiple widget areas)

Below is the widget panel of the theme shown above, where you can see how many widget areas are included in this particular theme …

Multiple widgets 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 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 area

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

How Can I See My WP Widgets?

The Widgets panel is found within the WP admin area and can easily be accessed from the administration menu by clicking on Appearance > Widgets

WordPress Widgets - How Do They Work? An Overview Of Widgets For Website Owners

This loads the Widgets panel in your web browser …

Widgets Panel

(Widgets Area)

The Widgets panel displays all the widgets that are 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 & 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 active on your site.

In addition, the Widgets panel includes an Inactive Widgets section that lets you remove any widgets that you no longer want to use on your website. Inactive widgets do not lose their settings.

Useful 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, Meta, etc. to your 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, you may find that new widgets display in your Widgets area whenever new WordPress plugins are installed on your site …

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

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

Widgets Features: Drag-And-Drop

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

Rearrange widgets using drag-and-drop

(Rearrange widgets using drag & drop)

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

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

  1. An opt-in form,
  2. A click for support banner, and
  3. A couple of click to phone sales buttons from a widgetized plugin …

Widgets control how certain features on your site appear

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

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

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

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

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

The widgets have now been reordered in the sidebar …

About WordPress Widgets An Overview Of Widgets For Newbies

As you can see, this immediately reorganizes the order of items in the sidebar. Note in the screenshot below that the click to call feature (3) is now the first item on the sidebar menu, and the contact us image button (2) now sits above the newsletter opt-in form (1) …

Widgets are really easy to use!

(Widgets are really easy to use!)

Cool, huh?

There are some other useful things about WP widgets that are also worth knowing about:

Widget Management – Preview Widgets

Depending upon the actual WordPress theme that you have installed on your site, you’re also able to customize and manage your widgets without making actual changes to your site, so you can be sure that you like what you see before committing your changes to your live website.

You can do a number of edits, modifications and adjustments to widgets in preview mode, like adding, removing and reorganizing 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 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!)

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 prior to publishing it (to avoid making mistakes), or change widgets on the fly using the Widget editor area as shown earlier.

Widget Configuration

As we’ve explained previously, with WordPress you can quickly and easily reorder how content is displayed in widgetized areas of your website sidebars, footers and navigation menus with only a few clicks of your mouse button, using drag-&-drop …

Rearrange sidebar layout using widgets to improve your site's visitor experience

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

In the above screenshot, for example, you can see that we have quickly and easily reorganized the sidebar by switching the search and testimonial sections. As you now know, this was easily done by dragging and dropping the widget elements into different positions inside the sidebar widget area.

Rearrange sidebar elements using widgets to 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 the web templates to rearrange the order of elements, customize features on page elements like subscription forms, or just add things like a page index, or a dropdown menu of your categories, an archived content posts section, customized menus, links to external sites, a list of your most read posts, the latest user comments, a section displaying advertising, quotations or polls, RSS feed content, videos, social media buttons, 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 customizing options

(Some widgets offer little to no configurable options)

Most widgets provide additional settings that allow you to further customize them. This can include things like 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 …

Most widgets offer configuration options

(Most widgets offer customizing options!)

Using WordPress Widgets

As we have seen, widgets require no coding experience or programming expertise to use. Most widgets can be easily added to your WP website simply by activating a plugin and then dragging and dropping the plugin’s related 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 various kinds of widgets in WordPress to improve the effectiveness of your web site, plus many cool tips on how to get the most benefit out of WordPress with widgets:

Related Posts

If you are learning how to use WordPress, you may also find the following posts useful:

Hopefully, this information has given you a better understanding of problems that can affect your website and how WordPress can help you expand your business online. To learn more about the benefits of using the WP platform please see our related posts section.


"Learning WordPress has been a huge stumbling block for me. I've been looking for something that covers absolutely everything but doesn't cost an arm and a leg. Thank you so much ... you have just provided me with what I have been looking for! Truly appreciated!" - Tanya


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