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 so many great things about choosing the WordPress CMS platform for building and managing your business online. One of these is that you can easily add content, expand your website’s functionality and rearrange your site’s layout without requiring any web coding skills or knowledge.

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

WP widgets


This blog post explains what WP widgets are, why they are great for non-technical users and how widgets can help to add functionality to your web site.

WordPress Widgets – What Are They? An Introduction To WordPress Widgets For Newbies

WP widgets make managing and using WordPress easier

(WordPress widgets help make managing and using WordPress easier!)

Widgets are small blocks of code that perform a specific function, such as adding an enhancement, or a text box or item to your site.

The WordPress application 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 program web code.

Now … don’t worry if it all sounds like geek speak. As you are about to learn, widgets are perfect for non-techie website owners.

With widgets, users don’t have to know how to program or manipulate PHP code to enhance the functionality of their websites.

WordPress widgets help you control technical features and functions on your website without having to edit code

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

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

In plain English terms, widgets allow you to:

  • Easily add, edit and remove functionality in certain parts of your website without touching any web 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:

  • index of pages
  • blog post categories
  • archive
  • custom page menus
  • links to resources
  • most read posts
  • post comments
  • clickable text ads
  • user testimonials
  • surveys
  • RSS content
  • shopping cart forms
  • image galleries
  • twitter feeds
  • add widgets from external sites (e.g. Facebook)
  • administrative forms (e.g. login, register, etc.)

In other posts and tutorials, we provide additional information about WP plugins and WP themes; what they are, what they do, how plugins and themes easily add loads of new features to WordPress and even alter the whole design of your website.

As you will see in a moment, themes affect how widgets display on your web site and many plugins also install accompanying widgets that can further enhance your website or blog’s usability.

Widget-Ready Themes

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

Usually, widget-powered functions can be found in the sidebar, but depending upon the theme, these can also be found in the site’s header area, footer, sometimes even below the content.

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

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 one widget enabled area

(Some WordPress themes only provide one widget area)

Here is an enlarged image of the widget screen of the theme shown above, and you can see that this theme only contains one widget-enabled area …

An Overview Of WordPress For Business Users: What's A Widget?

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

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

Many themes provide a number of widgetized areas

(Many themes provide a number of widget-enabled sections)

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

Multiple widgets areas

(Multiple WordPress widget areas)

As you can see, in 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 area

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

Where Can I See My WP Widgets?

The Widgets panel is located inside your WordPress admin area and can easily be accessed by going to Appearance > Widgets

What Do WordPress Widgets Do? An Overview Of WordPress Widgets For Business Owners

This opens the Widgets area in your browser window …

Widgets Screen

(Widgets Screen)

The Widgets area displays a list of all the widgets you have available.

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-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. become available for use.

The Widgets area also 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 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 in the default WordPress theme right out of the box and display items like Search, Archives, Categories, etc. to site visitors …

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

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

Sometimes, you may find that new widgets appear in your Widgets section as new plugins are installed on your website or blog …

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

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

WordPress Widgets Features: Drag-And-Drop

Widgets are great because you can easily insert, activate, deactivate, reorder and delete them all right inside your Widgets area using drag & drop …

Rearrange widgets on your WordPress site using drag-and-drop

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

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

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

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

Widgets control how certain features appear on your WordPress site

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

If you were to peek inside this site’s Widget area, you would see that these features display on the site in the same order as they were arranged in the active widget area …

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

Let’s now rearrange the above widgets in the Main Sidebar Widget Area by dragging and dropping elements in the widget area …

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

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

The widget features have now been reorganized in the sidebar …

What's A Widget? An Overview Of Widgets For Newbies

As you can see, this immediately reorganizes the order of items in your 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) is now found above the newsletter opt-in form (1) …

WordPress widgets are very easy to use!

(WordPress widgets are very easy to use!)

Pretty cool, huh?

Here are some more things about WP widgets that are also worth keeping in mind about:

Widget Management – Preview Widgets

Depending upon the actual WordPress theme that you have installed, you can also manage and 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 the live website.

You can do several modifications and adjustments to widgets in preview mode, like adding, deleting and reorganizing the currently added widgets to any widget areas that your theme makes available, and see all changes 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 within your own 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 before publishing any changes you’ve made (and avoid making errors), or change your widgets on the fly using the Widget editor area as shown previously.

Widget Configuration

As we have shown you in an earlier example, with WordPress you can easily reorder how information is displayed in areas of your website or blog, like sidebars, footers and navigation menus with just a few clicks of your mouse, using drag-and-drop technology …

Rearranging sidebar elements using widgets can help improve user experience

(Reorganizing sidebar elements with widgets can help improve user experience)

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

Reorganizing sidebar layout 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 most traditionally-designed websites, you would need to edit code in your web templates to rearrange the layout, make unique customizations to features on page elements like a newsletter registration form, or just add other features like an index of your site pages, or a dropdown menu of your post categories, a post archives section, customized menus, links to external sites, a list of your most read posts, the latest excerpts of comments added to your posts, a section displaying clickable images, quotations or polls, RSS content excerpts, image galleries, Facebook feeds, and more.

While some widgets are “fixed” in the sense that they provide little to no configurable 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 customizable options

(Some widgets offer little to no customization)

Many widgets offer a number of options that allow you to further customize them. 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 …

Most widgets offer customizable options

(Many widgets give you configuration options!)

Using Widgets

As we have seen, widgets require no coding experience or programming expertise to use. Most widgets can be added to your WP website or blog 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 tutorials showing you how to use different kinds of widgets in WordPress to improve the effectiveness of your website, plus lots of useful tips on how to get the most out of WordPress using widgets:

Related Posts

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

Hopefully, this post has given you a better understanding of problems that can affect your website and how WordPress can help you get better results online. To learn more about the benefits of using the WP software please click on links to visit our related posts section.


"This is AMAZING! I had learnt about how to use WordPress previously, but this covers absolutely everything and more!! Incredible value! Thank you!" - Monique, Warrior Forum