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 so many great things about using the WordPress CMS platform to build and grow your business online. One of these is that you can easily add content, expand your site’s functionality and reconfigure your site’s layout with no web programming skills required.

WordPress gives you the ability to quickly and easily insert, remove, and control various types of content from your site’s sidebar menu (and header and footer sections too, depending on what theme you have installed) using widgets.

WordPress widgets

(WordPress widgets)

This post explains how widgets work, what widgets do and how widgets can help to supercharge your site.

WordPress Widgets – How Do They Work? An Overview Of Widgets For Business Website Owners

WP widgets help make managing and using WordPress easy

(WP widgets help make managing and using WordPress easier!)

WordPress widgets are self-contained blocks of code that perform a specific function, such as adding a feature, or a script or list item to your WordPress site.

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

Now … don’t worry if the above sounds too technical. As will soon learn, widgets are perfect for non-technical users.

WordPress widgets eliminate the need to know how to program or manipulate PHP code in order to customize your site.

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

(Widgets help you control technical features and functions on your site without requiring knowledge of coding)

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

In simple terms, widgets allow you to:

  • Easily add, edit and delete blocks of code in certain areas of your WordPress site without touching any web code, and
  • Rearrange the functional layout of your 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 cool things you can add to your WP site’s sidebar navigation area (plus headers and footers and other areas, depending on the theme you have installed) using WordPress widgets:

  • nested list of pages
  • content categories
  • archive
  • custom page menus
  • links to resources
  • your most popular posts
  • post comments
  • clickable text ads
  • testimonials
  • surveys
  • RSS content excerpts
  • opt-in subscription form
  • videos
  • Facebook feeds
  • display widgets from external sites (e.g. Facebook friends)
  • administrative forms (e.g. login, register, etc.)

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

As you will learn in just a moment, WordPress themes affect where widgets display on your web site and many plugins also add accompanying widgets that can extend your website’s capabilities.

Widget-Ready Areas

Most themes support widgets and provide widget-ready sections in the theme’s layout where widgets can show up in.

Normally, you will find widget-driven features in the sidebar, but depending upon the theme, these can also be found in the site’s header area, footer, and even below the content.

It all depends on the theme you have installed.

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

Some Themes provide only one widget section

(Some WordPress themes provide only one widgetized section)

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

An Overview Of WordPress For Business Users: About WordPress Widgets

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

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

Many themes offer users multiple widget-enabled sections

(Many WP themes provide multiple widget sections)

Below is the widget panel of the theme above, so you can see how many widget areas this specific theme includes …

Multiple widgets areas

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

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

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

How Do I Access My WordPress Widgets?

To access the Widgets panel go to Appearance > Widgets

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

This loads the Widgets section in your browser …

Widgets Screen

(Widgets Section)

The Widgets section displays all the widgets that are currently available for use on your site.

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 & drop)

Available widgets can be made Active or Inactive 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. immediately become active on your site.

In addition, the Widgets area 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 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 right out of the box in your default WordPress theme and display items like Recent Posts, Recent Comments, Categories, 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 a number of pre-installed widgets)

Sometimes, as new WP plugins are installed on your website, you may find that new widgets are also added to your Widgets section …

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

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

WordPress Widgets Features: Drag & Drop

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

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

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

Using drag-and-drop lets you easily reorder the order of your widgetized sections.

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

  1. An opt-in form,
  2. A contact support banner, and
  3. Click to call sales buttons from a widgetized plugin …

Widgets control the order certain features appear on your WordPress site

(Widgets control how certain features display on your WordPress site)

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

Understanding WordPress For Business Users: WP Widgets:

If we reorganize 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 and drop to rearrange widgets in your widget area)

The widget features have now been reordered in the sidebar …

What Are Widgets? Understanding Widgets For Business Owners

This immediately reorganizes the layout of your site’s 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 image button (2) now sits above the newsletter sign-up form (1) …

Widgets are very easy to use!

(Widgets are very easy to use!)

Pretty cool, huh?

Here are some other things worth keeping in mind when using widgets:

Widget Management – Widget Previews

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

You can do many things to widgets in preview mode, like inserting, removing and moving around your current widgets to any widget areas that your theme makes available, and everything is 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 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 prior to publishing it (to avoid making errors), or change widgets on the fly using the Widget editor area as shown previously.

Widget Configuration

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

Reorganize sidebar elements with widgets to improve visitor experience

(Rearrange sidebar elements using widgets to improve visitor experience)

In the screenshot above, for example, you can see that we have easily rearranged the 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.

Reorganizing sidebar layout using widgets can help 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 your website’s templates to rearrange the order of elements, customize features on page elements like a newsletter registration form, or just add things like your website’s page list, or a dropdown menu of your site categories, an archives section, menus that display only selected pages, links to recommended resources, a list of your most read posts, the latest post comments, a section displaying clickable images, quotations or poll results, RSS feed content, video thumbnails, Facebook feeds, 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 offer little to no customizable options

(Some widgets give you little to no customization)

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

Many widgets give you customizable options

(Many widgets provide users with customization!)

Using WordPress Widgets

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

Related Posts

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

Hopefully, this information has given you a better understanding of issues 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 please click on links to visit other posts we have published on this site.


"This is AMAZING! I had learnt about how to use WordPress previously, but this covers absolutely everything and more!! Incredible value! Thank you!" - Monique, Warrior Forum