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 benefits to using the WordPress web publishing software to build and grow your website. One of these is that WordPress makes it very easy to add content, expand your website’s functionality and rearrange your site’s layout without requiring any web programming skills and knowledge.

WordPress allows you to quickly and easily add, delete, and manage various types of content on your website’s sidebar menu (and header and footer sections, depending on what theme you are using) using widgets.

WordPress widgets


This article explains what WP widgets are, why widgets are great for non-technical users and how widgets can help add functionality to your website.

About WordPress Widgets: An Introduction To Widgets For Beginners

WP widgets make managing and using WordPress easy

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

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

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

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

WordPress widgets help you control technical features and functions on your site without having to mess with code.

Widgets help you control many features and functions on your site without having to edit code

(WP widgets help you control technical features and functions on your website without the need to touch code!)

Widgets were originally developed to provide an easy way to give WordPress users to manage aspects of their WordPress theme’s layout and functionality.

In simple terms, widgets let you do things like:

  • Easily add, edit and remove content sections in certain areas of your website without touching any web code, and
  • Rearrange the functional layout of your theme 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 features you can add to your WordPress site’s sidebar navigation area (and headers and footers and other areas, depending on the theme you have installed) using WP widgets:

  • website page list
  • categories
  • post archives
  • menus
  • links to resources
  • posts that you want to promote
  • comments
  • clickable text ads
  • quotations
  • poll results
  • RSS feed items
  • subscriber form
  • videos
  • Facebook feeds
  • add widgets from other sites (e.g. Facebook friends)
  • administrative forms (e.g. login, register, etc.)

In other blog posts, we write more extensively about WordPress plugins and WordPress themes; what they are, what they do, how these add new functionality to WordPress and alter the entire look and feel of your site.

As you will learn in just a moment, themes affect how widgets work on your site and many plugins also add accompanying widgets that will help further fine-tune your website or blog’s capabilities.

Widget-Ready Themes

Most themes support widgets and provide widgetized sections on your site where widgets can appear.

Usually, this is going to be in the sidebar, but depending upon the theme, widgets can also be found in your site’s header area, footer, even below your content section.

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

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

Some WP Themes only have one widget-ready section

(Some themes only provide a single widget-ready area)

Below is the widget section of the above theme, where you can see that this particular WordPress theme only includes one widgetized area …

Understanding WordPress For Beginners: About WordPress Widgets

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

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

Many themes offer users a number of widget-ready sections

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

Below is an enlarged image of the widget section of the theme above, so you can see how many widget areas are included in this specific WordPress theme …

Multiple widgets areas

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

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

How Do I Access My Widgets?

The Widgets section is located inside the WordPress administration area and can be accessed by going to Appearance > Widgets

WordPress Widgets: A Basic Guide To Widgets For Newbies

This loads the Widgets screen in your browser …

Widgets Panel

(Widgets Screen)

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

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 and drop)

Available widgets can be activated or deactivated by dragging & dropping items to different areas of the screen.

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

Your Widgets panel 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 settings.

Useful Information

By default, 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 in your default WordPress theme right out of the box and display items like Search, Archives, Categories, etc. to your site visitors …

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

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

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

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

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

Widgets Features: Drag-And-Drop

WordPress widgets are great because you can easily insert, activate, deactivate, rearrange and delete them all from 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 lets you easily rearrange the order and layout of your 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. A newsletter subscription form,
  2. A click for support button, and
  3. Click to call sales buttons from a widgetized plugin …

Widgets control how certain features display on your WordPress 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’s sidebar section in exactly the same order as their corresponding widgets have been arranged in their active widget area …

What Do Widgets Do? An Overview Of WordPress Widgets For Newbies

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

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 reordered in your sidebar …

What Are Widgets? Understanding WordPress Widgets For Website Owners

This instantly reorganizes the order of items in the site’s 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) has been moved to the place above the newsletter subscription form (1) …

WordPress widgets are very easy to use!

(WordPress widgets are very easy to use!)

Pretty simple, huh?

There are some more things worth knowing about using WP widgets:

Widget Management – Widget Customizer Section

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

You can do many modifications and adjustments in preview mode, like adding, removing and reorganizing your current widgets to any widget areas that your theme makes available, and see all changes 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!)

Widget management 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 mistakes), or change widgets on the fly using the Widget editor screen as shown earlier.

Widget Configuration

As we’ve shown you previously, WordPress lets you completely reorganize how content is displayed in areas of your site sidebars, footers and navigation menus with only a few clicks of your mouse button, using drag-&-drop technology …

Rearranging sidebar elements with widgets can help improve visitor experience

(Rearranging sidebar elements 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 redesigned the layout in the site’s sidebar area 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.

Reorganize sidebar elements with 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 many traditionally-designed websites, you would need to edit code in the web templates to rearrange the layout, make unique customizations to features on page elements like subscriber forms, or just add features like a page index, or a dropdown menu of your content categories, an archive section, custom page menus, links to external sites, a list of your most popular posts, the latest comments, a section displaying clickable text ads, customer testimonials or survey questions & results, RSS content excerpts, video thumbnails, social media sharing buttons, and more.

While some widgets are “fixed” in the sense that they provide little to no customizable 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 offer little to no customization)

Most widgets provide various settings that allow you to further configure 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 dimensions of sidebar images, videos, etc. and more …

Most widgets provide users with customization

(Many widgets give you customizing options!)

Using WP Widgets

As we have just seen, widgets require no coding experience or programming expertise to use. Most widgets can be added to your WordPress website 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 step-by-step tutorials showing you how to use various types of widgets in WordPress to improve the effectiveness of your website or blog, plus many cool tips for getting the most out of WordPress with widgets:

Related Posts

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

Hopefully, now you have a better understanding of issues 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 or blog please see other posts we have published on this site.


"Wow! I never knew there's so much to learn about WordPress! I bought one of the WordPress for Dummies three years ago, such authors need to be on this course!" - Rich Law, Create A Blog Now