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 benefits to using the WordPress web publishing software to manage and grow a business online. One of these is that you can easily add content, enhance your website and reconfigure your site’s layout without web programming skills.

WordPress lets you quickly and easily insert, delete, and manage various blocks of content from your website’s sidebar menu (and header and footer sections, depending on what theme you use) using widgets.

WP widgets


This post explains what widgets are, what widgets do and how widgets can help you grow your website or blog.

What Do Widgets Do? A Basic Guide To Widgets For Website Owners

WordPress widgets make managing and using WordPress easier

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

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

WordPress is written using a web language called PHP (Hypertext Preprocessor). Normally, in order to add features and functions that will enhance the functionality of a website, you need to learn how to write code.

Now … don’t worry if it all sounds too technical. As will soon learn, widgets are made for non-technical users.

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

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

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

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

Simply put, a widget lets you do things like:

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

  • list of pages
  • categories
  • archives
  • menus that display only selected pages
  • links to resources
  • links to recent posts
  • comments
  • text ads
  • testimonials
  • survey questions & results
  • RSS content excerpts
  • opt-in subscription form
  • video galleries
  • twitter feeds
  • add widgets from other sites (e.g. Facebook)
  • administrative forms (e.g. login, register, etc.)

In other articles, we provide additional information about WP plugins and themes; what they are, what they do, how these easily add loads of new features to WordPress and even alter the entire look and feel of your website.

As you will soon learn, WP themes can affect where widgets display on your site and a number of plugins add accompanying widgets that will enhance your website or blog’s capabilities.

Widgetized Themes

Most WP themes support widgets and provide widgetized areas in the theme’s layout where widgets can be added.

Typically, functions managed by widgets can be found in the theme’s sidebar, but depending upon the theme, widgets can also be located in your site’s header area, the footer area, even above or below the content.

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

For example, the WP theme in the screenshot below has only one widget area for the theme’s sidebar navigation …

Some Themes provide only a single widget section

(Some WP themes only have one widget area)

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

About WordPress Widgets Understanding WordPress Widgets For Newbies

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

In contrast, the theme shown below includes multiple widget-ready areas …

Many themes provide multiple widget-ready areas

(Many WordPress themes offer users multiple widget areas)

Here is the widget screen of the above theme, and you can see how many widget areas are included in this particular theme …

Multiple widgets areas

(Multiple widgets areas)

As you can see, with the above theme, widgets can be added 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 section

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

How Can I See My Widgets?

To access the Widgets panel log into your dashboard and go to Appearance > Widgets

Understanding WordPress For Business Users: Widgets - What Do They Do?

This loads the Widgets panel in your browser …

Widgets Screen

(Widgets Screen)

The Widgets panel 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 activated or deactivated by dragging & dropping items to different sections of the widgets panel.

Widgets dragged from the Available Widgets section to widget areas like your sidebar, footer, etc. become immediately activated for use 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 actively display on your website. 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 right out of the box in the default WordPress theme and display items like Recent Posts, Recent Comments, Categories, etc. to your visitors …

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

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

Sometimes, as new plugins are installed on your site, you will see that new widgets are also added to your Widgets section …

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

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

Widgets Features: Drag-And-Drop

WP widgets are great because you can easily insert, activate, deactivate, reorder and remove them all within your Widgets section using drag and drop …

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

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

Drag & drop technology lets you easily reorder the layout and order of your site’s widgetized 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. A couple of 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 this site’s Widget area, you would see that these features display on the site’s sidebar section in exactly the same order as they have been arranged in the active widget bar …

WordPress Widgets - What Are They? A Basic Guide To WordPress Widgets For Business Website Owners

If we change these widgets in the Main Sidebar Widget Area using drag & drop …

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

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

The widget features have now been reorganized in your sidebar …

Widgets - What Do They Do? An Overview Of WordPress Widgets For New Users

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 the first item on the sidebar menu, and the contact us banner (2) has been moved to the spot above the newsletter subscription form (1) …

WordPress widgets are very easy to use!

(WordPress widgets are very easy to use!)

Pretty cool, huh?

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

Widget Management – Previewing Widgets

Depending on the actual theme that you have installed, you’re also able to 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 your live website.

You can do many edits, modifications and adjustments to widgets in preview mode, like adding, deleting and moving around 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.

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 any changes you’ve made (to avoid making errors), or manage widgets on the fly using the Widget editor area shown previously.

Widget Configuration

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

Reorganize sidebar layout with widgets to improve visitor experience

(Reorganize sidebar elements with widgets to improve user experience)

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

Rearrange sidebar elements with widgets to 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 the site’s templates to rearrange the layout, make unique customizations to features on page elements like a newsletter registration form, or just add other features like your website’s page list, or a dropdown menu of your blog post categories, a post archives section, custom page menus, links to recommended resources, links to your recent posts, the latest user comments, a section displaying clickable ad banners, customer testimonials or polls, RSS feed items, images, Twitter feeds, 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 give you little to no customizing options)

Most widgets provide various options that allow you to further configure things. This can include things like 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 give you customizable options

(Many widgets provide users with customizing options!)

Using Widgets

As you have 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 related 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 boost the effectiveness of your website, 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 posts useful:

Hopefully, this article has given you a better understanding of problems that can affect your web site and how WordPress can help you build a better online. To learn more about the benefits of using WordPress for a business web site please see other posts we have published on this site.

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"These tutorials have so much information and are easy to understand. If you use WordPress or plan to in the future these will help you with everything you need to know." - Valisa (Mesa, Arizona)