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 choosing WordPress for building and growing your business online. One of these is that you can easily add content, expand your site’s functionality and reconfigure the layout of your site with no programming skills required.

WordPress lets you quickly and easily add, delete, and control various blocks of content from your blog’s sidebar menu (or header and footer sections too, depending on what theme you are using) using widgets.


(WP widgets)

In this blog post you will learn how WordPress widgets work, why they are great for non-technical users and how widgets can help you to enhance the functionality of your website.

WP Widgets: A Basic Guide To WordPress Widgets For Business Owners

WordPress widgets help make managing and using WordPress easier

(WP widgets make managing and using WordPress easier!)

A widget is a small module of code that performs a specific function, such as adding a feature, or a text box or list item to your website.

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

Now … don’t worry if this sounds too geeky. As will soon discover, widgets are perfect for non-techie users.

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

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

(Widgets help you manage many features and functions on your site without having to edit code)

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

In simple terms, widgets let you do things like:

  • Easily add, edit and delete content sections to certain parts of your site without having to touch any web code, and
  • Reconfigure 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 many great things you can add to your site’s sidebar section (plus headers and footers and other areas, depending on your theme) using widgets:

  • list of pages
  • blog categories
  • archived blog posts
  • menus
  • links to resources
  • posts that you want to promote
  • excerpts of recent comments added to posts
  • clickable images
  • quotations
  • surveys
  • RSS feed items
  • subscription form
  • product catalog images
  • social media buttons
  • display widgets from other sites (e.g. Facebook friends)
  • administrative forms (e.g. login, register, etc.)

In other articles, we write more extensively about WordPress plugins and WP themes; what they are, what they do, how these can add new features to WordPress and even change the design of your website.

As you will learn in a moment, WP themes can affect where widgets display on your website and many plugins also install accompanying widgets that can fine tune your site’s usability.

Widget-Ready Themes

Most WP themes support widgets and provide widgetized areas in the theme’s layout where you can add widgets to.

Usually, you will find widgets at work in the theme’s sidebar, but depending on the theme, widgets can also be located in your site’s header area, the footer, sometimes even below or above your content.

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

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

Some WordPress Themes provide only one widget area

(Some themes provide only a single widgetized area)

Here is the widget panel of the above theme, and you can see that this specific WP theme only includes one widgetized area …

An Overview Of WordPress For Newbies: About WordPress Widgets

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

In contrast, the theme shown below contains various widgetized areas …

Many WordPress themes offer users a number of widget-enabled sections

(Many themes provide a number of widgetized sections)

Below is an enlarged image of the widget panel of the theme shown above, where you can see how many widget areas are included in the WP theme …

Multiple WordPress widget areas

(Multiple widgets areas)

As you can see, with the above theme, you can add widgets 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 area

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

How Can I See My WP Widgets?

To access the Widgets area go to Appearance > Widgets

About WordPress Widgets A Basic Guide To WordPress Widgets For Business Owners

This loads the Widgets screen in your web browser …

Widgets Section

(Widgets Area)

The Widgets panel displays all the widgets you have 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-and-drop)

Available widgets can be made Active or Inactive by dragging-and-dropping items to different areas of the widgets screen.

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.

Your Widgets area also includes an Inactive Widgets section that lets you remove widgets that you no longer want on your website. Inactive widgets retain their settings.

Useful Information

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 the default WordPress theme and display items like Recent Posts, Recent Comments, Meta, etc. to visitors …

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

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

Sometimes, when new plugins are installed on your website or blog, you may find that new widgets have also been added to your Widgets section …

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

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

Widgets Features: Drag-And-Drop

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

Rearrange your site's widgets using drag-and-drop

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

Drag & drop lets you easily reorder the layout of your website’s widgetized areas.

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 button, and
  3. A couple of click to call sales buttons from a widgetized plugin …

Widgets control how certain features on your site display

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

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 site’s active widget section …

About WordPress Widgets A Basic Guide To WordPress Widgets For Business Users

Let’s now reorganize the above widgets in the Active Widget Area using drag & drop …

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 reordered in the sidebar …

Understanding WordPress For New Users: What Do WordPress Widgets Do?

As you can see, this immediately changes the order of items in the site’s sidebar. Note in the screenshot below that the click to call function (3) is now first the sidebar menu, and the contact us image button (2) now sits above the newsletter subscription form (1) …

Widgets are really easy to use!

(WordPress widgets are very easy to use!)

Easy, huh?

There are some other useful things about using widgets that are also worth keeping in mind about:

Widget Management – Previewing Widgets

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

You can do many modifications and adjustments to your widgets in preview mode, like inserting, removing and reorganizing 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 have 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 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 it (to avoid making errors), or configure widgets on the fly using the Widget editor screen as discussed earlier.

Widget Configuration

As we’ve explained earlier, with WordPress you can easily and quickly reorder how content displays in areas of your website or blog, like sidebars, footers and navigation menus with just a few clicks of your mouse, using drag-&-drop technology …

Reorganizing sidebar layout using widgets can help improve your site's visitor experience

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

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

Reorganize sidebar elements using widgets to improve 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 website’s templates to reorganize the order of elements, make unique customizations to features on page elements like an opt-in subscription form, or just add features like nested page lists, or a dropdown menu of your blog post categories, an archives section, custom menus, links to recommended resources, a list of your most read posts, the latest comments, a section displaying clickable images, testimonials or survey results, RSS content, video thumbnails, social media share buttons, and more.

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

Some widgets give you little to no customizable options

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

Most widgets provide various options that allow you to further configure your site features. This includes making certain types of information hidden to your site visitors but visible to registered users, displaying additional forms, fields, or information, specifying sizes of sidebar images, videos, etc. and more …

Most widgets provide users with configurable options

(Many widgets give you customizing options!)

Using WP Widgets

As you have just seen, widgets require no coding experience or programming expertise to use. Most widgets can be easily added to your web site 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 great tutorials showing you how to use various widgets in WordPress to improve the effectiveness of your web site, plus lots of 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 topic-related posts useful:

Hopefully, this information has given you a better understanding of problems that can affect your web site and how WordPress can help you get better results online. To learn more about using WordPress for a business website or blog please click on links to visit other posts we have published on this site.


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