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.

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WordPressThere are so many great things about choosing WordPress for building and growing your web site. One of these is that you can easily add content, expand your site’s functionality and rearrange the layout of your website without coding skills or knowledge.

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

WordPress widgets


In this blog post you will learn what widgets are, what widgets do and how widgets can help add new functionality to your web site.

WordPress Widgets – What Are They? An Introduction To WordPress Widgets For Newbies

WordPress widgets make managing and using WordPress easy

(Widgets help make managing and using WordPress easier!)

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

The WordPress application is written using a scripting language called PHP (Hypertext Preprocessor). Normally, to add features and functions to a website, you need to know how to script web code.

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

Widgets don’t require you to know how to write code or manipulate PHP code to customize your site.

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

(WP widgets help you control many features and functions on your site without having to mess with code)

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

In plain English terms, widgets let you do things like:

  • Easily insert, edit and delete features in certain areas of your site without touching any web code, and
  • Rearrange 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 many functionality you can add to your site’s sidebar navigation area (and headers and footers and other areas, depending on the theme you have installed) using WP widgets:

  • nested page lists
  • blog post categories
  • blog post archive
  • menus displaying only selected pages
  • links to resources
  • links to your recent posts
  • post comments
  • clickable text ads
  • testimonials
  • polls
  • RSS feed items
  • newsletter subscription form
  • images
  • twitter feeds
  • display widgets from other sites (e.g. Twitter)
  • administrative forms (e.g. login, register, etc.)

In other blog posts, we provide detailed information about 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 design of your website.

As you will see shortly, themes can affect where widgets display on your site and some plugins also install accompanying widgets that can help further extend your website or blog’s usability.

Widget-Ready Themes

Most themes support widgets and provide widgetized sections on your site where widgets can appear.

Normally, features controlled by widgets can be found in the sidebar, but depending on the theme, widgets can also be located in your site’s header section, the footer, and even below your content.

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

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

Some Themes have only one widget enabled section

(Some WordPress themes have only a single widget area)

Below is an enlarged image of the widget section of the above theme, where you can see that this particular WP theme only contains one widget area …

A Basic Guide To WordPress For Newbies: What Are Widgets?

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

In contrast, the WP theme shown in the screenshot below contains multiple widgetized areas …

Many themes provide multiple widgetized areas

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

Below is an enlarged image of the widget section of the above theme, so you can see how many widget areas this 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 area

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

How Do I Access My WordPress Widgets?

To access the Widgets area go to Appearance > Widgets

A Basic Guide To WordPress For Business Users: What Are Widgets?

This brings up the Widgets screen in your browser …

Widgets Panel

(Widgets Section)

The Widgets area displays all the widgets that you currently have available.

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

Activate or deactivate widgets using drag & drop

(Activate or deactivate widgets using drag and drop)

Available widgets can be activated or deactivated using drag-and-drop.

Widgets dragged from the Available Widgets section to widget areas like your sidebar, footer, etc. immediately become active on your site.

In addition, your Widgets area includes an Inactive Widgets section that lets you remove widgets that you no longer want to use on your website. Inactive widgets do not lose their settings.


By default, 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 in your default WordPress theme right out of the box and display items like Recent Posts, Recent Comments, Meta, 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, as new WP plugins are installed on your website, you will see that new widgets have also been added to your Widgets area …

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

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

Widgets Features: Drag & Drop

WordPress widgets are great because you can easily add, activate, deactivate, rearrange and delete them within your Widgets area using drag and drop …

Rearrange your site's widgets using drag & drop

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

With drag & drop technology you can easily reorder the order of your widget-enabled sections.

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

  1. A subscription form,
  2. A contact support button, and
  3. A couple of click to phone sales buttons from a widgetized WordPress plugin …

Widgets control how certain features appear on your WordPress site

(Widgets control how certain features on your site display)

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

What Is A Widget? Understanding WordPress Widgets For Business Users

Let’s now reorganize these widgets in the Sidebar Widget Area using drag & drop …

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 your sidebar …

An Overview Of WordPress For Business Users: WP Widgets:

This instantly reorganizes the order of items in your site’s sidebar. Note in the screenshot below that the click to call feature (3) is now at the top of the sidebar menu, and the contact us section (2) has been moved to the spot above the newsletter subscription form (1) …

Widgets are really easy to use!

(WordPress widgets are very easy to use!)

Pretty simple stuff, huh?

Here are a few other useful things worth knowing about widgets:

Widget Management – Widget Customizer Section

Depending upon the WP theme that you have installed on your site, you’re also able to customize 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 your live website.

You can do a number of modifications and adjustments to widgets in preview mode, like inserting, deleting 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!)

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 it (and avoid making mistakes), or change widgets on the fly using the Widget editor screen discussed earlier.

Widget Configuration

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

Reorganize sidebar elements using widgets to improve your site's visitor experience

(Reorganize sidebar layout using widgets to improve visitor experience)

In the above screenshot, for example, you can see that we have reorganized the layout in the site’s sidebar menu 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.

Rearranging sidebar elements with widgets can help to improve user experience.

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


With most static websites, you would need to edit code in the website’s templates to rearrange the layout, customize features on page elements like shopping cart forms, or just add features like a page index, or a dropdown menu of your categories, a post archives section, custom menus, links to external sites, a list of your most popular posts, the latest post comments, a section displaying clickable images, quotations or polls, content from RSS feeds, images, Facebook feeds, and more.

While some widgets are “fixed” in the sense that they provide little to no customizable 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 customizable options

(Some widgets give you little to no customizable options)

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

Most widgets provide users with customization

(Many widgets give you configuration options!)

How To Use 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 website or blog simply by activating a plugin and then dragging and dropping the plugin’s related widget into your Active widgets area.

For 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 cool 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 post 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 the WP web content publishing platform please see our related posts section.


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Originally published as WordPress Widgets Explained.