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 so many great benefits to using the WordPress CMS platform to manage and grow your website. One of these is that you can easily add content, expand your website’s functionality and rearrange your site’s layout without having any coding skills.

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

WordPress widgets

(WP widgets)

This article explains what widgets are, what widgets do and how widgets can help you to add new functionality to your site.

What Are WordPress Widgets? A Basic Guide To WordPress Widgets For Beginners

Widgets help make managing and using WordPress easier

(WordPress widgets help make managing and using WordPress easy!)

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

The WordPress application 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 script PHP code.

Now … don’t worry if the above sounds too technical. As you are about to learn, widgets are made for non-techie users.

Widgets eliminate the need to know how to program or manipulate PHP code in order to expand the functionality of their website.

Widgets help you manage many features and functions on your website without requiring coding skills

(Widgets help you control specific features and functions on your site without requiring knowledge of coding)

Widgets were originally designed to provide a simple way to allow 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 parts of your website without touching any underlying code, and
  • Rearrange the functional layout of your WP 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 things you can add to your WordPress site’s sidebar navigation area (plus headers and footers and other areas, depending on the theme you have installed) using widgets:

  • website page list
  • blog categories
  • archive
  • menus that display only selected pages
  • links to resources
  • links to recent posts
  • comments
  • advertising
  • testimonials
  • polls & surveys
  • RSS feed content
  • newsletter registration form
  • images
  • social media sharing buttons
  • add widgets from external sites (e.g. Facebook friends)
  • administrative forms (e.g. login, register, etc.)

In other posts and tutorials, we provide more detailed explanations of WP plugins and WP themes; what they are, what they do, how these can add loads of new functionality to WordPress and change the whole look and feel of your website.

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

Widgetized Areas

Most WP themes support widgets and provide widget-ready areas on your site where you can add widgets to.

Normally, features managed by widgets can be found in the sidebar, but depending on the theme, these can also be located in your site’s header section, in the footer, sometimes even below the 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 WordPress Themes only have a single widget section

(Some WP themes only provide one widget enabled section)

Here is an enlarged image of the widget section of the theme above, and you can see that this WordPress theme only includes one widget area …

WordPress Widgets - What Do They Do? An Introduction To WordPress Widgets For Business Owners

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

In contrast, the theme shown below includes a number of widget-ready areas …

Many themes offer users multiple widgetized sections

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

Below is the widget screen of the above theme, and you can see how many widget areas are included in the theme …

Multiple widgets areas

(Multiple widgets areas)

As you can see, with the above theme, you can add widgets to the sidebar area of two different page templates (Main Sidebar and Showcase Sidebar) and three different Footer areas (Footer Area One, Footer Area Two, Footer Area Three) …

Some WordPress themes let you add widgets to your site's footer section

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

Where Can I See My Widgets?

The Widgets section is located inside your admin by going to Appearance > Widgets

Understanding WordPress For Newbies: About WordPress Widgets

This loads the Widgets panel in your web browser …

Widgets Panel

(Widgets Section)

The Widgets screen 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 made Active or Inactive by dragging-and-dropping items to different sections of the screen.

Widgets dragged from the Available Widgets section to widget areas like your sidebar, footer, etc. instantly become available for use.

The Widgets screen also includes an Inactive Widgets section that lets you remove widgets that you no longer want to actively display 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 right out of the box in the default WordPress theme and display items like Recent Posts, Archives, Meta, etc. to your site visitors …

By default, your site already comes with a number of pre-installed widgets

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

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

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

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

WP Widgets Features: Drag And Drop

WP widgets are great because you can easily insert, activate, deactivate, reorder and remove them all inside your Widgets area just by using drag & drop …

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

(Rearrange your site’s widgets using drag and drop)

Drag & drop technology lets you easily reconfigure the layout of your widgetized areas.

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

Widgets control how certain features on your site appear

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

If we could peek 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 active widget section …

Widgets - How Do They Work? An Overview Of WordPress Widgets For Business Website Owners

If we reorganize the above widgets in the Active Widget Area using drag & drop …

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 reorganized in your sidebar …

An Introduction To WordPress For Website Owners: What Are WordPress Widgets?

As you can see, this instantly changes the layout of the sidebar. Note in the screenshot below that the click to call function (3) is now first the sidebar menu, and the contact us image banner (2) is located above the newsletter opt-in form (1) …

Widgets are very easy to use!

(Widgets are very easy to use!)

Easy, huh?

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

Widget Management – Previewing Widgets

Depending upon the WP theme that you have installed on your site, you can also manage and customize your widgets without making actual changes to your site, so you can be sure that you like what you see before committing these changes to the live website.

You can do many edits to widgets in preview mode, like adding, removing and moving around 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!)

The ability to manage widgets from your own WP 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 changes (and avoid making errors), or manage your widgets on the fly using the Widget editor screen as discussed earlier.

Widget Configuration

As we have explained previously, WordPress lets you quickly rearrange how information is displayed in areas of your website sidebars, footers and navigation menus with just a few clicks of your mouse, using drag-&-drop …

Reorganizing sidebar elements using widgets can help improve visitor experience

(Reorganize sidebar elements with widgets to improve your site’s user experience)

In the above screenshot, for example, you can see that we have quickly and easily rearranged the sidebar by switching around 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.

Reorganizing sidebar elements using widgets can improve your site’s visitor 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 the site’s templates to reorganize the layout, make unique customizations to features on page elements like subscription forms, or just add things like an index of your site pages, or a dropdown menu of your post categories, an archives section, customized menus, links to external sites, links to your recent posts, the latest post comments, a section displaying clickable text ads, quotations or surveys, RSS content excerpts, product catalog images, Twitter 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 offer little to no configuration options)

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

Most widgets offer configurable options

(Most widgets give you customizing options!)

How To Use WP Widgets

As we have seen, widgets require no coding experience or programming expertise to use. Most widgets can be added to your website 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 detailed tutorials showing you how to use various types of widgets in WordPress to improve the effectiveness of your website, 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 posts useful:

Hopefully, this article has given you a better understanding of issues that can affect your website and how WordPress can help you expand your business online. To learn more about using WordPress please click on links to visit other posts we have published on this site.


"I have used the tutorials to teach all of my clients and it has probably never been so easy for everyone to learn WordPress ... Now I don't need to buy all these very expensive video courses that often don't deliver what they promise." - Stefan Wendt, Internet Marketing Success Group


Originally published as WordPress Widgets Explained.