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.

For a whitelabel version of this tutorial visit WPTrainingManual.com.

WordPressThere are so many great things about choosing the WordPress CMS platform for building, managing and growing your website. One of these is that you can easily add content, enhance your site and rearrange your site’s layout without code editing skills.

WordPress lets you quickly and easily add, delete, and control various blocks of content from your website’s sidebar menu (or header and footer sections, depending on what theme is installed on your site) using widgets.

WP widgets

(WordPress widgets)

In this post you will learn how WP widgets work, what makes them so useful and how widgets can be used to add new functionality to your website or blog.

WordPress Widgets: Understanding WordPress Widgets For Business Website Owners

WordPress widgets help make managing and using WordPress easier

(WordPress widgets 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 feature, or a script or item to your website or blog.

The WordPress application 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 know how to script web code.

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

WordPress widgets eliminate the need to know how to program or manipulate PHP code in order to expand the functionality of their websites.

Widgets help you control specific features and functions on your site without having to touch code

(WordPress widgets help you control technical features and functions on your website without the need to edit code!)

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

Simply put, a widget lets you do things like:

  • Easily insert, edit and remove features in parts of your site without having to touch any 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 cool things you can add to your WP site’s sidebar section (plus headers and footers and other areas, depending on the theme you have installed) using WordPress widgets:

  • nested page lists
  • categories
  • archived posts
  • menus
  • links to resources
  • most read posts
  • comments
  • text ads
  • testimonials
  • polls
  • content from RSS feeds
  • subscription form
  • video galleries
  • twitter feeds
  • add widgets from external sites (e.g. Pinterest)
  • administrative forms (e.g. login, register, etc.)

In other blog posts, we provide detailed content about plugins and WordPress themes; what they are, what they do, how these can add loads of new features to WordPress and even change the entire look and feel of your site.

As you will soon discover, themes can affect where widgets work on your site and some plugins also come with accompanying widgets that can further fine-tune your website’s capabilities.

Widget-Ready Themes

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

Typically, this is going to be in your sidebar, but depending upon the theme, these can also be in the header, footer, and even above or below the content.

It all depends on what theme you have installed.

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

Some WordPress Themes provide only one widget enabled section

(Some themes only have one widget-ready section)

Here is an enlarged image of the widget panel of the theme shown above, so you can see that the WP theme only includes one widget area …

WordPress Widgets - How Do They Work? An Introduction To Widgets For New Users

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

In contrast, the WP theme shown below contains a number of widgetized areas …

Many WordPress themes offer users a number of widgetized sections

(Many WP themes provide a number of widgetized areas)

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

Multiple WordPress widget 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 themes let you add widgets to your site's footer

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

Where Do I Access My WordPress Widgets?

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

WP Widgets: Understanding Widgets For Business Website Owners

This loads the Widgets screen in your browser …

Widgets Screen

(Widgets Area)

The Widgets screen displays a list of all the widgets that can be used on your site.

The right-hand section of the window 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 by dragging-and-dropping items to different areas of the panel.

Widgets dragged from the Available Widgets section to widget areas like your sidebar, footer, etc. automatically become active and available.

The Widgets screen also includes an Inactive Widgets section that lets you remove any widgets that you no longer want actively displayed on your website. Inactive widgets retain 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 in the default WordPress theme right out of the box and display items like Search, Recent Comments, Categories, etc. to site visitors …

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

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

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

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

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

WP Widgets Features: Drag And Drop

WP 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 widgets on your WordPress site using drag-and-drop

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

Using drag & drop technology lets you easily reorder the layout of your website’s widget-enabled sections.

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

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

Widgets control how certain features on your site display

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

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

An Overview Of WordPress For Newbies: About WordPress Widgets

Let’s now rearrange these widgets in the Active Widget Area by dragging & dropping elements in the widget area …

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

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

The widgets have now been reorganized in the sidebar …

How Do WordPress Widgets Work? Understanding Widgets For Business Website Users

This immediately changes the layout of your site’s sidebar. Note in the screenshot below that the click to call feature (3) is now the first item on the sidebar menu, and the contact us section (2) can now be found above the newsletter subscription form (1) …

Widgets are very easy to use!

(WordPress widgets are very easy to use!)

Pretty cool stuff, huh?

Let me show you some more things worth knowing about widgets:

Widget Management – Customize Widgets Section

Depending on the theme that you have installed, you’re also able to manage and 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 many modifications and adjustments in preview mode, like adding, removing and moving around the currently added 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 to your site 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!)

The ability to manage widgets from your own dashboard 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 any changes (to avoid making errors), or manage widgets on the fly using the Widget editor area as shown previously.

Widget Configuration

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

Rearranging sidebar elements using widgets can help to improve your site's visitor experience

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

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

Rearrange sidebar layout using widgets to improve user 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 reorganize the layout, make unique customizations to features on page elements like user registration areas, or just add useful features like page lists, or a dropdown menu of your categories, a post archives section, menus to display selected pages, links to external sites, links to your recent posts, the latest comments, a section displaying text ads, user testimonials or surveys & polls, RSS feed content, product catalog images, Facebook feeds, and more.

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

Some widgets offer little to no configuration options

(Some widgets give you little to no configuration options)

Many widgets provide various settings that allow you to further customize 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 provide users with configurable options

(Many widgets give you configuration options!)

How To Use Widgets

As you have seen, widgets require no coding experience or programming expertise to use. Most widgets can be added to your WordPress website or blog 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 or blog, plus lots of cool tips for getting the most out of WordPress using widgets:

Related Posts

If you are a new WordPress user, 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 grow your business online. To learn more about the benefits of using WordPress please click on links to visit other posts we have published on this site.

Get Thrive Leads for WordPress


"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


For a whitelabel version of this tutorial visit WPTrainingManual.com.
Originally published as WordPress Widgets Explained.