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 benefits to using the WordPress web publishing tool to manage and grow a web site. One of these is that WordPress makes it very easy to add content, expand your site’s functionality and rearrange the layout of your website with no programming skills or knowledge required.

WordPress lets you quickly and easily insert, remove, and control various blocks of content in your website’s sidebar menu (or header and footer sections too, depending on what theme is installed on your site) using widgets.

WP widgets

(WordPress widgets)

This article explains what widgets are, why widgets can make life easier for non-technical users and how widgets can be used to help you supercharge your site.

WordPress Widgets – What Do They Do? A Basic Guide To Widgets For Beginners

Widgets help make managing and using WordPress easier

(WP widgets help make managing and using WordPress easy!)

Widgets are small modules of code that perform a specific function, such as adding a functionality, or a script or item to your WP site.

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

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

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

WP widgets help you manage technical features and functions on your website without requiring knowledge of coding

(WordPress widgets help you manage technical features and functions on your website without requiring knowledge of coding)

Widgets were originally developed to provide a simple way of allowing WordPress users to manage 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 blocks of code to certain areas of your site without having to touch any web code, and
  • Reconfigure 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 many functionality you can add to your site’s sidebar navigation area (plus headers and footers and other areas, depending on your theme) using widgets:

  • nested page lists
  • content categories
  • archive
  • menus that display only selected pages
  • links to resources
  • links to your recent posts
  • user comments
  • advertising
  • testimonials
  • surveys & polls
  • RSS feed content
  • subscriber form
  • video thumbnails
  • Facebook feeds
  • add widgets from external sites (e.g. Facebook friends)
  • administrative forms (e.g. login, register, etc.)

In other articles, we provide an overview of WordPress plugins and WordPress themes; what they are, what they do, how plugins and themes can easily add new features to WordPress and change the entire design of your website or blog.

As you will soon discover, themes can affect how widgets display on your web site and a number of plugins also come with accompanying widgets that will fine-tune your website’s functionality.

Widgetized Themes

Most WordPress themes support widgets and provide widgetized sections on your site where you can have widgets in.

Normally, features managed by widgets can be found in the sidebar, but depending on the theme, widgets can also be in the site’s header, footer, sometimes even below the content section.

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

For example, the theme in the screenshot below has only one widget area adding features to the theme’s sidebar area …

Some Themes only provide a single widget-ready area

(Some themes only provide one widget-ready section)

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

An Introduction To WordPress For Beginners: How Do Widgets Work?

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

In contrast, the WP theme shown below contains multiple widget-enabled areas …

Many WP themes offer users a number of widget areas

(Many themes provide a number of widget-ready areas)

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

Multiple WordPress widget areas

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

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

How Can I See My Widgets?

The Widgets panel is located within the WP administration area and can be easily accessed by going to Appearance > Widgets

What Are Widgets? A Basic Guide To WordPress Widgets For Business Owners

This brings up the Widgets section in your web browser …

Widgets Screen

(Widgets Area)

The Widgets area displays all the widgets you 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 & drop)

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

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

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


In a default WordPress installation, your site already comes with a number of 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 your site visitors …

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

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

Sometimes, new widgets are added to your Widgets area whenever new plugins are installed on your site …

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

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

WP Widgets Features: Drag And Drop

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

Rearrange widgets on your WordPress site using drag and drop

(Rearrange widgets using drag-and-drop)

Use drag and drop technology to easily rearrange the layout of your site’s widget-enabled 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. An opt-in form,
  2. A click for support button, and
  3. Click to call sales buttons from a widgetized WP plugin …

Widgets control the order certain features on your site appear

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

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

What's A WordPress Widget? Understanding Widgets For Business Website Users

If we reorganize the above widgets in the Main Sidebar Widget Area using drag-and-drop …

Drag and drop to rearrange widgets in your widget area

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

The widgets have now been reordered in your sidebar …

How Do Widgets Work? An Introduction To Widgets For Newbies

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

WordPress widgets are very easy to use!

(Widgets are really easy to use!)

Cool, huh?

Here are a few more things about widgets that are also worth keeping in mind about:

Widget Management – Widget Previews

Depending on the actual theme that you have installed on your site, you’re also able to customize your 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 your live website.

You can do several edits to widgets in preview mode, like adding, deleting and moving around the currently added widgets to any widget areas that your theme makes available, and it’s all 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 to your site 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 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 before publishing any changes you’ve made (and avoid making mistakes), or change your widgets on the fly using the Widget editor screen as discussed earlier.

Widget Configuration

As we have explained in an earlier example, with WordPress you can completely reorder how information is displayed in areas like your site’s sidebars, footers and navigation menus with just a few clicks of your mouse, using drag-&-drop technology …

Rearranging sidebar elements using widgets can help improve your site's user experience

(Reorganize sidebar elements using widgets to improve your site’s user experience)

In the screenshot above, for example, you can see that we have quickly and easily rearranged the sidebar area 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.

Reorganize sidebar elements with 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 most static websites, you would need to edit code in the web templates to rearrange the layout, customize features on page elements like shopping cart forms, or just add useful features like your website’s page list, or a dropdown menu of your blog categories, a post archives section, customized menus, links to external sites, a list of your most popular posts, the latest excerpts of comments added to your posts, a section displaying advertisements, client testimonials or poll questions & results, RSS feed items, video galleries, Facebook feeds, and more.

While some widgets are “fixed” in the sense that they provide little to no configuration options, other than to add something like an optional title to the widget as shown in the example below …

Some widgets offer little to no configuration options

(Some widgets provide users with little to no customizing options)

Most widgets offer a number of settings that allow you to further customize your site features. This includes 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 give you customizing options

(Most widgets offer configuration 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 WP web 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 detailed tutorials showing you how to use a number of different widgets in WordPress to improve the effectiveness of your site, plus many useful tips on how to get the most benefit out of WordPress with widgets:

Related Posts

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

Hopefully, this post has given you a better understanding of issues that can affect your website and how WordPress can help you grow your business online. To learn more about 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)