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 things about using the WordPress web publishing application for building, managing and growing a website or blog. One of these is that WordPress makes it very easy to add content, expand your website’s functionality and rearrange your site’s layout without requiring web coding skills or knowledge.

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

WP widgets


In this article you will learn what WordPress widgets are, what widgets do and how widgets can be used to help you grow your website.

How Do Widgets Work? Understanding WordPress Widgets For Business Website Users

WP widgets help make managing and using WordPress easy

(Widgets help make managing and using WordPress easier!)

A WP widget is a small module of code that performs a specific function, such as adding a form, or a script or item to your website.

WordPress 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 code.

Now … don’t worry if it all sounds too technical. As you are about to learn, WordPress widgets are perfect for non-techie users.

With widgets, users don’t need to know how to program or manipulate PHP code to enhance their websites.

Widgets help you manage technical features and functions on your site without having to mess with code

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

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

Simply put, widgets allow you to:

  • Easily add, edit and remove functions to areas of your site without touching any 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 features you can add to your WordPress site’s sidebar section (plus headers and footers and other areas, depending on your theme) using WP widgets:

  • list of your web pages
  • blog post categories
  • archives
  • custom page menus
  • links to external sites
  • links to your recent posts
  • recent comments from users
  • clickable ad banners
  • client testimonials
  • poll results
  • RSS content excerpts
  • shopping cart forms
  • videos
  • social media sharing buttons
  • display widgets from other sites (e.g. Facebook)
  • administrative forms (e.g. login, register, etc.)

In other articles, we provide an overview of plugins and WP themes; what they are, what they do, how plugins and themes easily add new functionality to WordPress and even alter the look and feel of your website or blog.

As you will soon learn, themes can affect where widgets display on your web site and many plugins add accompanying widgets that can fine tune your site’s capabilities.

Widgetized Areas

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

Normally, you will find widgets at work in your theme’s sidebar menu, but depending on the theme, these can also be found in the site’s header section, in the footer area, sometimes even below or above your content.

It all depends on the theme that you have installed.

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

Some WP Themes provide only a single widget section

(Some WP themes only have a single widgetized area)

Below is an enlarged image of the widget screen of the theme above, so you can see that this particular theme only includes one widget area …

An Introduction To WordPress For New Users: What Is A WordPress Widget?

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

In contrast, the theme shown in the screenshot below contains multiple widget-ready areas …

Many themes provide multiple widget-ready areas

(Many themes offer users a number of widget sections)

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

Multiple widgets areas

(Multiple WordPress widget areas)

As you can see, with the above theme, widgets can be added 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 themes let you add widgets to your site's footer section

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

How Can I See My Widgets?

To access the Widgets area go to Appearance > Widgets

An Overview Of WordPress For Website Owners: What Do Widgets Do?

This brings up the Widgets section in your web browser …

Widgets Section

(Widgets Area)

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 using drag & drop.

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

In addition, your Widgets area includes an Inactive Widgets section that lets you remove any widgets that you no longer want actively displayed on your site. Inactive widgets retain 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 Recent Posts, Archives, Categories, etc. to 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, new widgets appear in your Widgets area as new WP plugins are installed on your website or blog …

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

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

WP Widgets Features: Drag-And-Drop

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

Rearrange widgets on your WordPress site using drag and drop

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

Drag and drop lets you easily reconfigure 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:

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

Widgets control the order certain features appear on your site

(Widgets control how certain features appear on your WordPress site)

If we could peek inside this site’s Widget area, you would see that these features display on the site’s sidebar section in the same order as their corresponding widgets were arranged in their active widget area …

Understanding WordPress For New Users: What's A Widget?

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

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

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

The widgets have now been reordered in the sidebar …

What Do Widgets Do? Understanding Widgets For New Users

This immediately reorganizes the layout of the 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 banner (2) now sits above the newsletter sign-up form (1) …

Widgets are really easy to use!

(WordPress widgets are very easy to use!)

Cool, huh?

Let me just show you some more useful things worth knowing about widgets:

Widget Management – Previewing Widgets

Depending on the actual WordPress theme that you have installed, you’re also able to manage your 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 your live website.

You can do several edits and adjustments to widgets in preview mode, like adding, removing and reorganizing 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 have 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!)

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 any changes you’ve made (to avoid making mistakes), or change widgets on the fly using the Widget editor area discussed previously.

Widget Configuration

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

Rearranging sidebar elements with widgets can improve your site's user experience

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

In the above screenshot, for example, you can see that we have quickly and easily reorganized 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.

Reorganizing sidebar layout with widgets can help to 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 most static websites, you would need to edit code in your web templates to rearrange the layout, make unique customizations to features on page elements like opt-in forms, or just add features like page lists, or a dropdown menu of your post categories, a post archives section, custom menus, links to recommended resources, a list of your most read posts, the latest excerpts of comments added to your posts, a section displaying clickable images, quotations or polls & surveys, RSS content excerpts, videos, social media share 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 provide users with little to no customizing options

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

Most widgets provide various settings that allow you to further configure your site features. 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 give you customizable options

(Most widgets give you configuration options!)

How To Use Widgets

As we have seen, widgets require no coding experience or programming expertise to use. Most widgets can be added to your WordPress web site 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 step-by-step tutorials showing you how to use different widgets in WordPress to boost the effectiveness of your site, plus many useful tips for getting the most benefit out of WordPress using widgets:

Related Posts

If you are learning how to use WordPress, you may also find the following posts useful:

Hopefully, this article has given you a better understanding of problems that can affect your web site and how WordPress can help you improve your business online. To learn more about the benefits of using WordPress for a business web site please see other posts we have published on this site.


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Author: Martin Aranovitch

WPCompendium.org provides hundreds of FREE WordPress tutorials for beginners. Our detailed step-by-step tutorials will save you money and teach you how to start, manage, and grow a website or blog using WordPress that puts you in complete control and delivers results with no coding skills required!

Originally published as WordPress Widgets Explained.