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 choosing the WordPress CMS platform for building and managing a digital presence. One of these is that WordPress makes it very easy to add content, enhance your site and rearrange the layout of your site without having any web coding skills or knowledge.

WordPress allows you to quickly and easily insert, remove, and rearrange various types of content on your blog’s sidebar menu (or header and footer sections too, depending on what theme is installed on your site) using widgets.



This post explains how WordPress widgets work, why widgets are ideal applications for non-technical users and how widgets can be used to help you enhance the functionality of your web site.

WP Widgets: An Introduction To Widgets For Business Website Users

Widgets help make managing and using WordPress easier

(Widgets help make managing and using WordPress easy!)

Widgets are self-contained modules of code that perform a specific function, such as adding an enhancement, or a text box or menu item to your WordPress site.

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

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

Widgets help you control technical features and functions on your site without the need to touch code.

WordPress widgets help you control technical features and functions on your site without requiring knowledge of coding

(WP widgets help you control specific features and functions on your site without the need to touch code!)

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

In simple terms, a widget allows you to:

  • Easily insert, edit and remove functionality to areas of your site without having to touch any code, and
  • Reconfigure the functional layout of your WordPress 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 additional components you can add to your WordPress site’s sidebar area (and headers and footers and other areas, depending on the theme you have installed) using widgets:

  • nested page lists
  • post categories
  • archive
  • custom menus
  • links to external sites
  • links to your recent posts
  • user comments
  • clickable ads
  • testimonials
  • polls
  • RSS content
  • registration box
  • product catalog images
  • social media buttons
  • display widgets from external sites (e.g. Facebook)
  • administrative forms (e.g. login, register, etc.)

In other blog posts, we provide more detailed explanations of plugins and themes; what they are, what they do, how these easily add loads of new features to WordPress and even drastically change the whole design of your website.

As you will see in just a moment, WP themes affect where widgets display on your site and many plugins include accompanying widgets that will further enhance your site’s functionality.

Widget-Ready Areas

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

Usually, you will find functions driven by widgets in your theme’s sidebar menu, but depending upon the theme, these can also be located in the site’s header, footer, sometimes even below or above your content area.

It all depends on the 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 for the theme’s sidebar …

Some WordPress Themes only provide one widget section

(Some themes only provide a single widget-ready section)

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

About WordPress Widgets An Overview Of Widgets For Beginners

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

In contrast, the theme shown below contains a number of widget-enabled areas …

Many WordPress themes offer users a number of widget-ready sections

(Many WP themes provide multiple widget sections)

Here is the widget section of the theme above, and you can see how many widget areas this specific theme includes …

Multiple widgets areas

(Multiple WordPress widget areas)

As you can see, with 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 area

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

How Do I Access My WordPress Widgets?

The Widgets screen is found within your WP dashboard and can easily be accessed from the WP admin menu by clicking on Appearance > Widgets

About WordPress Widgets Understanding WordPress Widgets For Newbies

This brings you to the Widgets section in your web browser …

Widgets Panel

(Widgets Panel)

The Widgets panel displays all the widgets that can be used on your site.

On the right-hand side of the screen, 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 activated or deactivated by dragging & dropping items to different sections of the screen.

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 panel includes an Inactive Widgets section that lets you remove widgets that you no longer want actively displayed on your website. Inactive widgets do not lose their settings.


In a default WordPress installation, your site already comes with a number of 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, Recent Comments, Meta, etc. to site visitors …

By default, 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, when new plugins are installed on your website or blog, you may find that new widgets are also added to your Widgets section …

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

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

WordPress Widgets Features: Drag-And-Drop

WordPress widgets are great because you can easily insert, activate, deactivate, reorder and remove them within your Widgets area using simple drag and drop …

Rearrange widgets using drag and drop

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

Use drag and drop to easily reconfigure the layout of your site’s widgetized areas.

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

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

Widgets control how certain features display on your site

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

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

Widgets - How Do They Work? A Basic Guide To Widgets For Beginners

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

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

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

The widget features have now been reorganized in the sidebar …

WP Widgets: An Overview Of Widgets For Beginners

As you can see, 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 first the sidebar menu, and the contact us banner (2) has been moved to the spot above the newsletter sign-up form (1) …

Widgets are really easy to use!

(Widgets are very easy to use!)

Pretty simple stuff, huh?

Let’s go over some other useful things about WordPress widgets that are also worth knowing about:

Widget Management – Preview Widgets

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

You can do many edits in preview mode, like inserting, removing and moving around your active widgets to any widget areas that your theme makes available, and it’s all 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 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!)

The ability to manage widgets inside 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 before publishing it (to avoid making errors), or manage your widgets on the fly using the Widget editor screen as discussed previously.

Widget Configuration

As we have shown you in an earlier example, WordPress lets you easily reorder how content is displayed in areas like your site’s sidebars, footers and navigation menus with just a few clicks of your mouse, using drag-&-drop technology …

Reorganizing sidebar elements using widgets can help 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 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.

Reorganize sidebar layout with widgets to improve visitor experience.

Now … what about the widgets themselves? Can the widgets be customized instead of simply added, removed and rearranged?


With many static websites, you would need to edit code in the site’s templates to reorganize the order of elements, make unique customizations to features on page elements like subscriber forms, or just add things like a list of your web pages, or a dropdown menu of your blog categories, an archives section, menus that display only selected pages, links to external sites, a list of your most popular posts, the latest excerpts of comments added to your posts, a section displaying image banners, testimonials or poll results, RSS content, video galleries, Twitter 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 provide users with little to no customization

(Some widgets offer little to no customizable options)

Many widgets provide various settings that allow you to further configure things. This includes 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 customization

(Many widgets provide users with customizable options!)

How To Use Widgets

As we have just seen, widgets require no coding experience or programming expertise to use. Most widgets can be 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 tutorials showing you how to use various widgets in WordPress to improve the effectiveness of your web site, plus many useful tips for getting the most out of WordPress with 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 web site and how WordPress can help you build a better online. To learn more about using WordPress for a business website please see other posts we have published on this site.


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Originally published as WordPress Widgets Explained.