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 great benefits to using the WordPress CMS platform for managing and growing your business online. One of these is that WordPress makes it very easy to add content, enhance your site and reconfigure your site’s layout with no programming skills or knowledge required.

WordPress allows you to quickly and easily insert, remove, and rearrange various blocks of content from your website’s sidebar menu (or header and footer sections too, depending on what theme you use) using widgets.



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

Widgets – What Are They? Understanding WordPress Widgets For Website Owners

WP widgets help make managing and using WordPress easier

(Widgets help make managing and using WordPress easy!)

A WordPress widget is a self-contained block of code that performs a specific function, such as adding a form, or a script or menu item to your website or blog.

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

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

WP widgets eliminate the need to know how to program code or manipulate PHP code in order to customize their websites.

Widgets help you control many features and functions on your website without requiring coding skills

(WordPress widgets help you manage specific features and functions on your site without the need to edit code!)

Widgets were originally developed to provide a simple way of allowing WordPress users to control aspects of their site’s layout and functionality.

In simple terms, widgets let you do things like:

  • Easily add, edit and remove functionality to certain parts of your website without having to touch any web code, and
  • Rearrange the functional layout of your WP 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 functionality you can add to your site’s sidebar area (plus headers and footers and other areas, depending on the theme you have installed) using widgets:

  • site pages
  • categories
  • archived content posts
  • custom menus
  • links to external sites
  • posts that you want to promote
  • comments
  • clickable ad banners
  • quotations
  • polls & surveys
  • content from RSS feeds
  • newsletter registration form
  • images
  • social media sharing buttons
  • add widgets from external sites (e.g. Facebook)
  • administrative forms (e.g. login, register, etc.)

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

As you will learn in a moment, themes affect where widgets work on your site and a number of plugins include accompanying widgets that can fine tune your website or blog’s functionality.

Widgetized Themes

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

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

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

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

Some Themes only have one widgetized area

(Some themes only have one widget-ready section)

Here is an enlarged image of the widget section of the above theme, so you can see that the theme only contains one widget-enabled area …

A Basic Guide To WordPress For New Users: About WordPress Widgets

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

In contrast, the WordPress theme shown below contains various widget areas …

Many WP themes provide multiple widget-ready sections

(Many themes provide multiple widgetized sections)

Here is the widget section of the theme shown above, and 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, widgets can be added to the sidebar area of two 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 WP themes let you add widgets to your site’s footer area)

How Can I See My WP Widgets?

The Widgets panel is found within your WordPress administration area and can be accessed by going to Appearance > Widgets

What Is A WordPress Widget? A Basic Guide To WordPress Widgets For Business Owners

This opens the Widgets screen in your browser window …

Widgets Screen

(Widgets Area)

The Widgets screen displays all the widgets that you currently 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 made Active or Inactive using drag & drop.

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

In addition, your Widgets screen includes an Inactive Widgets section that lets you remove any widgets that you no longer want to use on your website. Inactive widgets do not lose their pre-configured settings.


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

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

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

Sometimes, as new WordPress plugins are installed on your website, you may find that new widgets have also been added to your Widgets area …

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

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

Widgets Features: Drag-And-Drop

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

Rearrange widgets on your WordPress site using drag and drop

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

Use drag-and-drop to easily rearrange the layout of your website’s widgetized sections.

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

  1. A subscription form,
  2. A click for support button, and
  3. A couple of click to phone sales buttons from a widgetized plugin …

Widgets control the order certain features on your site display

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

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

An Overview Of WordPress For New Users: WordPress Widgets:

If we rearrange these widgets in the Main Sidebar Widget Area using drag and drop …

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

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

The widget features have now been reorganized in the sidebar …

What Are Widgets? Understanding WordPress Widgets For Website Owners

This instantly changes the layout of the 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 graphic banner (2) now sits above the newsletter subscription form (1) …

Widgets are very easy to use!

(Widgets are really easy to use!)

Cool, huh?

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

Widget Management – Previewing Widgets

Depending upon the actual theme that you have installed on your site, 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 see before committing any changes to the live website.

You can do several edits to your widgets in preview mode, like inserting, 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 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 before publishing it (to avoid making mistakes), or configure widgets on the fly using the Widget editor area shown previously.

Widget Configuration

As we’ve shown you earlier, with WordPress you can quickly reorganize how information displays in widgetized areas like your site’s sidebars, footers and navigation menus with just a few clicks of your mouse, using drag-&-drop technology …

Rearrange sidebar layout using widgets to improve your site's user experience

(Rearrange sidebar elements with widgets to improve visitor experience)

In the screenshot above, for example, you can see that we have easily change the layout in the sidebar by switching 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.

Rearranging sidebar elements with widgets can help to improve 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 your site’s templates to reorganize the layout, customize features on page elements like subscriber forms, or just add other features like a list of your web pages, or a dropdown menu of your blog categories, an archives section, custom menus, links to external sites, a list of your most popular posts, the latest post comments, a section displaying clickable text ads, testimonials or poll results, RSS content excerpts, product catalog images, social media buttons, and more.

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

Some widgets provide users with little to no customization

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

Many widgets offer a number of options that allow you to further customize things. This includes making certain types of information hidden to visitors but visible to registered users, displaying additional forms, fields, or data, specifying dimensions of sidebar images, videos, etc. and more …

Many widgets provide users with configuration options

(Most widgets offer configurable options!)

Using WordPress Widgets

As we have seen, widgets require no coding experience or programming expertise to use. Most widgets can be easily added to your 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 various widgets in WordPress to improve the effectiveness of your website or blog, plus many great tips for getting the most benefit out of WordPress with widgets:

Related Posts

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

Hopefully, now you have a better understanding of problems that can affect your web site and how WordPress can help you expand your business online. To learn more about the benefits of using WordPress please click on links to visit our related posts section.


"I have used the tutorials to teach all of my clients and it has probably never been so easy for everyone to learn WordPress ... Now I don't need to buy all these very expensive video courses that often don't deliver what they promise." - Stefan Wendt, Internet Marketing Success Group