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 great benefits to choosing the WordPress web publishing tool to build, manage and grow a web site. One of these is that WordPress makes it very easy to add content, enhance your website and rearrange the layout of your website without having any web programming skills and knowledge.

WordPress gives you the ability to quickly and easily insert, delete, and rearrange various types of content on your blog’s sidebar menu (and header and footer sections too, depending on what theme you are using) using widgets.

WordPress widgets


This post explains how WP widgets work, what makes them so useful and how widgets can enhance the functionality of your web site.

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

WordPress widgets make managing and using WordPress easy

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

A WordPress widget is a small module of code that performs a specific function, such as adding a feature, or a script or item to your website or blog.

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

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

Widgets help you manage specific features and functions on your site without having to edit code.

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

(Widgets help you control technical features and functions on your website without requiring coding skills)

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 allow you to:

  • Easily insert, edit and remove functions in parts of your site without touching any underlying code, and
  • Reconfigure the functional layout of your WordPress 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 functions you can add to your site’s sidebar navigation area (and headers and footers and other areas, depending on your theme) using widgets:

  • site pages
  • site categories
  • archive
  • custom page menus
  • links to external sites
  • links to your recent posts
  • excerpts of recent comments added to your posts
  • advertisements
  • quotations
  • survey questions & results
  • RSS feed items
  • shopping cart forms
  • video thumbnails
  • Facebook feeds
  • display widgets from external sites (e.g. StumbleUpon)
  • administrative forms (e.g. login, register, etc.)

In other posts, we provide more detailed explanations of plugins and WP themes; what they are, what they do, how plugins and themes can add loads of new functionality to WordPress and change the entire design of your website or blog.

As you will soon discover, WP themes affect how widgets work on your web site and a number of plugins also come with accompanying widgets that will further fine tune your site’s capabilities.

Widgetized Areas

Most WordPress themes support widgets and provide widget-ready areas in the theme’s layout where you can have widgets in.

Normally, this is going to be in the theme’s sidebar, but depending on the theme, these can also be located in your site’s header section, the footer, and even above or below the content.

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

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

Some Themes only provide a single widgetized area

(Some WP themes only have a single widget-ready section)

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

Understanding WordPress For Business Owners: About WordPress Widgets

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

In contrast, the WordPress theme shown in the screenshot below contains a number of widgetized areas …

Many themes offer users a number of widget-enabled sections

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

Below is the widget screen of the above theme, where you can see how many widget areas this particular theme includes …

Multiple widgets areas

(Multiple WordPress widget 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 three different Footer areas (Footer Area One, Footer Area Two, Footer Area Three) …

Some themes let you add widgets to your site's footer

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

Where Do I Access My WordPress Widgets?

The Widgets area is found within your WordPress dashboard and can be easily accessed from the WordPress dashboard menu by selecting Appearance > Widgets

What Are Widgets? An Introduction To WordPress Widgets For Business Owners

This brings up the Widgets panel in your web browser …

Widgets Area

(Widgets Section)

The Widgets screen 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-and-drop)

Available widgets can be made Active or Inactive using drag & drop.

Widgets dragged from the Available Widgets section to widget areas like your sidebar, footer, etc. become active and can be used 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 actively display on your website. Inactive widgets do not lose their pre-configured settings.

Important 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 in the default WordPress theme right out of the box and display items like Search, Recent Comments, Categories, etc. to visitors …

By default, your site already comes with a number of 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 area as new WordPress plugins are installed on your website …

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

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

WP Widgets Features: Drag And Drop

Widgets are great because you can easily add, activate, deactivate, rearrange and delete them within your Widgets section using drag & drop …

Rearrange widgets using drag and drop

(Rearrange your site’s widgets using drag-and-drop)

Use drag & drop technology to easily reconfigure the order and 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:

  1. A subscription form,
  2. A click for support banner, and
  3. Click to call sales buttons from a widgetized plugin …

Widgets control the order certain features on your site appear

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

Looking inside the example site’s Widget area, you would see that these features display on the site in the same order as they have been arranged in the active widget section …

A Basic Guide To WordPress For Website Owners: WordPress Widget:

Let’s now rearrange these widgets in the Main Sidebar Widget Area using drag and 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 widgets have now been reordered in your sidebar …

An Overview Of WordPress For Newbies: About WordPress Widgets

As you can see, this instantly reorganizes the layout of your sidebar. Note in the screenshot below that the click to call feature (3) is now first the sidebar menu, and the contact us banner (2) is found above the newsletter subscription form (1) …

WordPress widgets are very easy to use!

(Widgets are really easy to use!)

Easy, huh?

Let me show you some other useful things worth keeping in mind with widgets:

Widget Management – Previewing Widgets

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

You can do a number of edits to widgets in preview mode, like adding, removing and moving around your active 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!)

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 changes (to avoid making mistakes), or manage your widgets on the fly using the Widget editor area discussed previously.

Widget Configuration

As we’ve explained previously, with WordPress you can completely reorder how content displays in widgetized areas like your site’s sidebars, footers and navigation menus with just a few clicks of your mouse, using drag-and-drop …

Rearrange sidebar elements with widgets to improve your site's visitor experience

(Rearrange sidebar layout using widgets to improve your site’s user experience)

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

Reorganize sidebar layout 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 many static websites, you would need to edit code in your web templates to rearrange the layout, customize features on page elements like subscription forms, or just add features like page lists, or a dropdown menu of your blog categories, an archive section, menus, links to external sites, a list of your most read posts, the latest comments, a section displaying clickable ads, quotations or surveys & polls, RSS feed content, video galleries, social media buttons, and more.

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

Some widgets offer little to no customizing options

(Some widgets offer little to no customization)

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

Many widgets give you configuration options

(Most widgets give you customization!)

Using Widgets

As you have just seen, widgets require no coding experience or programming expertise to use. Most widgets can be 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 useful tips and tricks to using widgets, see these great tutorials showing you how to use a number of different widgets in WordPress to improve the effectiveness of your web site, plus lots of great tips on how to get the most benefit out of WordPress with widgets:

Related Posts

If you are new at WordPress, you may also find the following topic-related posts useful:

Hopefully, now you have a better understanding of problems that can affect your website 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 our related posts section.


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