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 things about choosing the WordPress CMS platform for building, managing and growing a website or blog. One of these is that you can easily add content, expand your website’s functionality and rearrange your site’s layout without having web coding skills or knowledge.

WordPress allows you to quickly and easily add, delete, and manage various types of content on your website’s sidebar menu (and header and footer sections, depending on what theme you have installed) using widgets.


(WordPress widgets)

In this blog post you will learn what widgets are, why they can make life easier for non-technical users and how widgets can improve the functionality of your web site.

About WordPress Widgets: An Introduction To WordPress Widgets For Business Website Users

Widgets help make managing and using WordPress easier

(WP widgets make managing and using WordPress easier!)

A WordPress widget is a small block of code that performs a specific function, such as adding a functionality, or a text box or item to your WP site.

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

Now … don’t worry if it all sounds too technical. As you are about to discover, WP widgets are made for non-technical users.

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

WP widgets help you manage technical features and functions on your website without the need to touch code

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

Widgets were originally designed to provide a simple way of allowing WordPress users to control aspects of their site’s layout and functionality.

In plain English terms, a widget allows you to:

  • Easily add, edit and delete content sections in certain areas of your site without touching any underlying code, and
  • Rearrange 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 many functions you can add to your site’s sidebar menu (plus headers and footers and other areas, depending on your theme) using WP widgets:

  • list of your web pages
  • blog categories
  • post archives
  • customized menus
  • links to resources
  • your most read posts
  • post comments
  • clickable ads
  • quotations
  • polls
  • content from RSS feeds
  • shopping cart forms
  • images
  • Facebook feeds
  • display widgets from external sites (e.g. Facebook)
  • 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 these add new functionality to WordPress and even alter the entire look and feel of your website.

As you will learn shortly, WP themes affect where widgets work on your web site and some plugins also install accompanying widgets that will improve your website or blog’s performance.

Widgetized Areas

Most WP themes support widgets and provide widgetized sections on your site where you can add widgets to.

Normally, this is going to be in the theme’s sidebar, but depending upon the theme, these can also be located in the header, footer, even below the content.

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

For example, the theme shown in the screenshot below provides users with only one widget area adding features to the theme’s sidebar …

Some Themes only provide one widget area

(Some WP themes only provide a single widget area)

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

What Do WordPress Widgets Do? Understanding Widgets For Business Users

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 WordPress themes provide a number of widget areas

(Many WP themes offer users multiple widget-enabled areas)

Below is an enlarged image of the widget screen 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

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

Where Do I Access My WP Widgets?

To access the Widgets area go to Appearance > Widgets

WP Widgets: An Overview Of WordPress Widgets For Newbies

This opens the Widgets section in your browser window …

Widgets Screen

(Widgets Panel)

The Widgets screen displays a list of all the widgets that are currently available for use on your site.

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 by dragging-and-dropping items to different sections of the widgets screen.

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

In addition, your Widgets panel includes an Inactive Widgets section that lets you remove any widgets that you no longer want on your site. Inactive widgets retain their pre-configured 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 Search, Archives, Categories, etc. to your site visitors …

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

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

Sometimes, you may find that new widgets appear in your Widgets section as new WordPress plugins are installed on your website …

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

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

WordPress Widgets Features: Drag-And-Drop

Widgets are great because you can easily add, activate, deactivate, reorder and remove them all within your Widgets section using simple drag and drop …

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

(Rearrange widgets using drag & drop)

With drag & drop you can easily reorder the order and layout of your widgetized 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 click for support banner, and
  3. Click to call sales buttons from a widgetized WordPress plugin …

Widgets control how certain features on your site appear

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

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

An Overview Of WordPress For New Users: WP Widget:

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

Drag and drop to rearrange widgets in your widget area

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

The widgets have now been reorganized in your sidebar …

About WordPress Widgets Understanding Widgets For Website Owners

This immediately reorganizes the order of items in the site’s sidebar. Note in the screenshot below that the click to call feature (3) is now first the sidebar menu, and the contact us image button (2) can now be found above the newsletter subscription form (1) …

Widgets are really easy to use!

(Widgets are really easy to use!)

Pretty cool stuff, huh?

There are some more things worth knowing about using WordPress widgets:

Widget Management – Previewing Widgets

Depending on the WP theme that you have installed on your site, you can also manage and 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 several things to widgets in preview mode, like inserting, removing and reorganizing your current widgets to any widget areas that your theme makes available, and see all changes 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 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 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 changes (to avoid making mistakes), or configure widgets on the fly using the Widget editor screen as shown earlier.

Widget Configuration

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

Reorganize sidebar layout using widgets to improve your site's user experience

(Reorganize sidebar elements using widgets to improve user experience)

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

Rearranging sidebar layout with widgets can improve your site’s user 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 web templates to rearrange the order of elements, make unique customizations to features on page elements like a newsletter registration form, or just add things like a page index, or a dropdown menu of your post categories, an archives section, custom menus, links to external sites, a list of your most popular posts, the latest user comments, a section displaying clickable images, quotations or poll questions & results, content from RSS feeds, images, social media buttons, and more.

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

Some widgets offer little to no configuration options

(Some widgets offer little to no customizing options)

Most widgets offer a number of 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 data, specifying dimensions of sidebar images, videos, etc. and more …

Most widgets provide users with customizing options

(Many widgets offer configurable options!)

How To Use WordPress Widgets

As you 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 widget into your Active widgets area.

For some useful tips and tricks to using widgets, see these great step-by-step tutorials showing you how to use different kinds of widgets in WordPress to boost the effectiveness of your site, plus lots of cool tips on how to get the most benefit out of WordPress using widgets:

Related Posts

If you are learning how to use WordPress, 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 get better results online. To learn more about using WordPress for a business web site please see our related posts section.

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"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


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Originally published as WordPress Widgets Explained.