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 CMS platform for managing and growing your web site. One of these is that WordPress makes it very easy to add content, expand your site’s functionality and reconfigure your site’s layout with no web programming skills and knowledge required.

WordPress allows you to quickly and easily insert, delete, and manage various blocks of content on your blog’s sidebar menu (or header and footer sections, depending on what theme you have installed) using widgets.

WordPress widgets

(WP widgets)

In this post you will learn what widgets are, what widgets do and how widgets can be used to help you supercharge your website or blog.

How Do WordPress Widgets Work? An Introduction To Widgets For Business Website Users

WordPress widgets make managing and using WordPress easier

(WordPress widgets make managing and using WordPress easy!)

Widgets are self-contained modules of code that perform a specific function, such as adding a feature, or a script or menu item to your site.

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

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

With widgets, users don’t have to know how to write code or manipulate PHP code to enhance the functionality of their website.

WP widgets help you manage many features and functions on your website without the need to touch code

(WP widgets help you control specific features and functions on your site without requiring coding skills)

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

In simple terms, widgets allow you to:

  • Easily insert, edit and delete features in certain areas of your WordPress site without touching any underlying code, and
  • Rearrange how various elements display 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 cool things you can add to your WP site’s sidebar navigation area (and headers and footers and other areas, depending on the theme you have installed) using widgets:

  • site pages
  • content categories
  • archive
  • customized menus
  • links to resources
  • posts that you want to promote
  • recent comments
  • advertisements
  • quotations
  • survey results
  • RSS feed content
  • subscription form
  • video thumbnails
  • twitter feeds
  • add widgets from external sites (e.g. Facebook friends)
  • administrative forms (e.g. login, register, etc.)

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

As you will soon discover, WP themes affect where widgets display on your web site and some plugins also install accompanying widgets that will extend your site’s functionality.

Widgetized Areas

Most themes support widgets and provide widgetized areas on your site where widgets can be added to.

Typically, you will find widget-powered features in your theme’s sidebar, but depending on the theme, these can also be in the header, in the footer section, even above or below your content.

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

For example, the WP theme in the screenshot below provides users with only one widget area adding items to the theme’s sidebar …

Some Themes only have a single widgetized area

(Some WordPress themes only provide one widget enabled section)

Here is the widget section of the above theme, where you can see that the WP theme only includes one widget-enabled area …

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

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

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

Many WP themes provide multiple widget areas

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

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

Multiple WordPress widget areas

(Multiple WordPress widget areas)

As you can see, in 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 themes let you add widgets to your site's footer

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

How Can I See My Widgets?

The Widgets area is found within the WordPress admin area and can easily be accessed by going to Appearance > Widgets

A Basic Guide To WordPress For Website Owners: What Are WordPress Widgets?

This brings you to the Widgets area in your browser …

Widgets Area

(Widgets Area)

The Widgets screen displays a list of all the widgets that are available.

On the right-hand side of the screen, you can see your “active” widgets …

Activate or deactivate widgets using drag & drop

(Activate or deactivate widgets using drag & 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 active and available on your site.

The Widgets area also includes an Inactive Widgets section that lets you remove any widgets that you no longer want on your site. Inactive widgets retain their 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 your default WordPress theme and display items like Search, Archives, Categories, etc. to your site visitors …

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

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

Sometimes, you may find that new widgets are added to your Widgets area when new plugins are installed on your site …

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

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

Widgets Features: Drag-And-Drop

Widgets are great because you can easily add, activate, deactivate, reorder and remove them in your Widgets section just by using drag & drop …

Rearrange widgets on your WordPress site using drag & drop

(Rearrange widgets using drag-and-drop)

Using drag & drop technology lets you easily reorder the layout and order of your widgetized areas.

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

Widgets control how certain features on your site appear

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

Inside this site’s Widget area, you would see that these features display on the site’s sidebar area in the same order as their corresponding widgets have been arranged in their active widget area …

What Are Widgets? Understanding Widgets For Business Users

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

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

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

The widget features have now been reordered in the sidebar …

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

As you can see, this instantly changes the layout of the sidebar. Note in the screenshot below that the click to call function (3) is now first the sidebar menu, and the contact us banner (2) is located above the newsletter sign-up form (1) …

Widgets are really easy to use!

(WordPress widgets are very easy to use!)

Cool, huh?

Here are some more useful things about widgets that are also worth keeping in mind about:

Widget Management – Previewing Widgets

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

You can do lots of edits to your widgets in preview mode, like adding, removing and reorganizing your active widgets to any widget areas that your theme makes available, and everything is done 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 (and avoid making errors), or change widgets on the fly using the Widget editor screen as shown earlier.

Widget Configuration

As we’ve explained earlier, WordPress lets you completely reorganize how information displays in widgetized areas of your website sidebars, footers and navigation menus with just a few clicks of your mouse button, using drag-&-drop …

Reorganize sidebar elements using widgets to improve visitor experience

(Reorganize sidebar elements using widgets to improve your site’s visitor experience)

In the screenshot above, for example, you can see that we have reorganized the layout in the site’s sidebar section by switching around 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 layout using widgets can help 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 website’s templates to reorganize the layout, make unique customizations to features on page elements like an opt-in subscription form, or just add features like a list of your web pages, or a dropdown menu of your content categories, an archived blog posts section, menus that display only selected pages, links to external sites, a list of your most read posts, the latest user comments, a section displaying clickable text ads, customer testimonials or survey results, content from RSS feeds, video galleries, Facebook feeds, and more.

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

Some widgets offer little to no customizable options

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

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

Many widgets give you configurable options

(Most widgets offer configurable 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 site simply by activating a plugin and then dragging and dropping the plugin’s corresponding widget into your Active widgets area.

For useful tips and tricks to using widgets, see these great step-by-step tutorials showing you how to use various widgets in WordPress to boost the effectiveness of your website or blog, plus lots of useful tips for getting the most out of WordPress using widgets:

Related Posts

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

Hopefully, this article has given you a better understanding of problems that can affect your website and how WordPress can help you build a better online. To learn more about using WordPress 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