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 white label version of this tutorial visit WPTrainingManual.com.

WordPressThere are loads of great things about using the WordPress CMS platform for building, managing and growing your web site. One of these is that WordPress makes it very easy to add content, enhance your site and rearrange the layout of your website without requiring web coding skills and knowledge.

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



In this post you will learn how WordPress widgets work, what they do and how widgets can be used to expand the functionality of your site.

How Do Widgets Work? Understanding Widgets For Business Users

WP widgets help make managing and using WordPress easier

(WordPress widgets make managing and using WordPress easier!)

A WordPress widget is a small module of code that performs a specific function, such as adding an enhancement, or a text box or menu item to your site.

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

Now … don’t worry if this sounds like geek speak. As will soon discover, WordPress widgets are perfect for non-technical users.

Widgets help you manage specific features and functions on your site without the need to edit code.

Widgets help you control technical features and functions on your website without the need to edit code

(WordPress widgets help you control technical features and functions on your website without having to touch code)

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

Simply put, a widget lets you do things like:

  • Easily add, edit and remove functionality to certain parts of your website without touching any underlying code, and
  • Reconfigure how various elements display 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 features you can add to your WordPress site’s sidebar area (plus headers and footers and other areas, depending on your theme) using widgets:

  • list of your web pages
  • categories
  • archive
  • menus displaying only selected pages
  • links to external sites
  • links to recent posts
  • post comments
  • text ads
  • testimonials
  • polls
  • RSS content
  • subscriber form
  • product catalog images
  • social media buttons
  • display widgets from external sites (e.g. Facebook friends)
  • administrative forms (e.g. login, register, etc.)

In other posts and tutorials, we provide additional information about plugins and themes; what they are, what they do, how plugins and themes can add loads of new functionality to WordPress and alter the design of your website or blog.

As you will soon learn, WP themes affect how widgets work on your site and a number of plugins also add accompanying widgets that will help further fine tune your website or blog’s performance.

Widget-Ready Areas

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

Usually, widget-driven functions can be found in the sidebar, but depending upon the theme, these can also be located in the header section, the footer section, even below the content.

It all depends on what theme 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 navigation …

Some Themes provide only a single widgetized area

(Some WP themes have only a single widget-ready section)

Below is the widget screen of the theme above, and you can see that this specific theme only contains one widgetized area …

WordPress Widgets: An Overview Of WordPress Widgets For Beginners

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 below includes various widget-enabled areas …

Many themes offer users multiple widget sections

(Many themes provide multiple widget-ready areas)

Here is an enlarged image of the widget panel of the theme shown above, so you can see how many widget areas this theme includes …

Multiple widgets areas

(Multiple WordPress widget areas)

As you can see, in the above theme, widgets can be added to the sidebar area of two 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 WP themes let you add widgets to your site’s footer section)

How Do I Access My WordPress Widgets?

To use widgets, access the Widgets panel located inside the administration by going to Appearance > Widgets

Understanding WordPress For Website Owners: Widgets - What Are They?

This brings up the Widgets section in your browser …

Widgets Section

(Widgets Section)

The Widgets panel 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-and-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. instantly become active on your site.

The Widgets panel also 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 pre-configured 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 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

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

Sometimes, as 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 admin section!

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

Widgets Features: Drag-And-Drop

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

Rearrange your site's widgets using drag & drop

(Rearrange widgets using drag-and-drop)

Use drag-and-drop to easily rearrange the order and layout of your site’s widget-enabled sections.

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 button, and
  3. Click to call sales buttons from a widgetized plugin …

Widgets control the order certain features display on your site

(Widgets control how certain features display on your site)

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

What Do WordPress Widgets Do? An Introduction To Widgets For Business Website Users

If we reorganize these widgets in the Widget Area by dragging & dropping elements in the widget area …

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

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

The widget features have now been reordered in the sidebar …

A Basic Guide To WordPress For Newbies: WP Widget:

This immediately reorganizes the layout of the 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 banner (2) is located above the newsletter opt-in form (1) …

Widgets are really easy to use!

(WordPress widgets are very easy to use!)

Pretty cool stuff, huh?

Let’s go over some other useful things worth keeping in mind when using widgets:

Widget Management – Customize Widgets Section

Depending upon the theme that you have installed, you can also manage 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 several modifications and adjustments to your widgets in preview mode, like inserting, removing and moving around the currently added 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!)

The ability to manage widgets from your 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 (and avoid making mistakes), or change your widgets on the fly using the Widget editor screen shown previously.

Widget Configuration

As we’ve explained in an earlier example, WordPress lets you completely reorganize how content is displayed in areas of your website or blog, like sidebars, footers and navigation menus with only a few clicks of your mouse button, using drag-and-drop technology …

Rearranging sidebar layout using widgets can help to improve user experience

(Rearranging sidebar layout using widgets can help improve visitor experience)

In the above screenshot, for example, you can see that we have easily change the widget elements in the site’s sidebar by switching 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.

Reorganize sidebar elements with widgets to improve user experience.

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


With most traditionally-designed websites, you would need to edit code in your site’s templates to reorganize the order of elements, make unique customizations to features on page elements like shopping cart forms, or just add things like a list of pages on your website, or a dropdown menu of your categories, an archive section, customized menus, links to recommended resources, a list of your most popular posts, the latest post comments, a section displaying text ads, quotations or poll results, RSS feed content, 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 give you little to no customization

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

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

Most widgets provide users with configurable options

(Most widgets provide users with customizing options!)

How To Use Widgets

As we have just seen, widgets require no coding experience or programming expertise to use. Most widgets can be easily added to your WP web site simply by activating a plugin and then dragging and dropping the plugin’s corresponding widget into your Active widgets area.

For some useful tips and tricks to using widgets, see these detailed tutorials showing you how to use a number of different widgets in WordPress to boost the effectiveness of your website, plus lots of great tips on how to get the most benefit out of WordPress with widgets:

Related Posts

If you are a new WordPress user, you may also find the following 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 for a business web site please click on links to visit our related posts section.


"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


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