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 and managing a web site. One of these is that WordPress makes it very easy to add content, enhance your website and reconfigure the layout of your site without requiring any programming skills.

WordPress gives you the ability to quickly and easily add, remove, and manage various types of content on your blog’s sidebar menu (and header and footer sections too, depending on what theme you use) using widgets.

WP widgets

(WordPress widgets)

This article explains how widgets work, why widgets are ideal applications for non-technical users and how widgets can be used to help you improve the functionality of your site.

Widgets – How Do They Work? An Overview Of Widgets For Business Website Users

Widgets help make managing and using WordPress easier

(Widgets help make managing and using WordPress easier!)

Widgets are small modules of code that perform a specific function, such as adding a feature, or a text box or list item to your website or blog.

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

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

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

Widgets help you manage many features and functions on your site without requiring knowledge of coding

(WordPress widgets help you manage specific features and functions on your website without requiring coding skills)

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

In plain English terms, widgets allow you to:

  • Easily insert, edit and remove content sections to certain parts of your site without touching any 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 many great things you can add to your site’s sidebar area (plus headers and footers and other areas, depending on the theme you have installed) using widgets:

  • site pages
  • post categories
  • blog post archive
  • customized menus
  • links to resources
  • your most popular posts
  • excerpts of recent comments added to posts
  • advertising banners
  • quotations
  • survey questions & results
  • RSS content
  • newsletter subscription form
  • video
  • social media buttons
  • display widgets from other sites (e.g. Facebook)
  • administrative forms (e.g. login, register, etc.)

In other posts, we write more extensively about plugins and WP themes; what they are, what they do, how these add new features to WordPress and even alter the whole look and feel of your site.

As you will learn shortly, themes can affect where widgets display on your website and a number of plugins also come with accompanying widgets that will improve your website’s functionality.

Widget-Ready Themes

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

Usually, you will find functions managed by widgets in your sidebar menu, but depending upon the theme, these can also be found in the site’s header, in the footer area, sometimes even below or above your content area.

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 …

Some Themes only have a single widgetized area

(Some WordPress themes provide only a single widgetized section)

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

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

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 area.

In contrast, the WP theme shown below contains a number of different widgetized areas …

Many themes provide a number of widgetized sections

(Many themes provide multiple widget-enabled areas)

Below is the widget screen of the above theme, where you can see how many widget areas this particular theme includes …

Multiple WordPress widget 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 themes let you add widgets to your site’s footer)

How Can I See My Widgets?

The Widgets area is located inside your WordPress dashboard by going to Appearance > Widgets

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

This loads the Widgets screen in your browser window …

Widgets Area

(Widgets Section)

The Widgets section displays 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 & drop

(Activate or deactivate widgets using drag & drop)

Available widgets can be made Active or Inactive using drag & drop.

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

Your Widgets screen also includes an Inactive Widgets section that lets you remove any widgets that you no longer want actively displayed on your website. Inactive widgets do not lose their pre-configured settings.

Useful Information

In a default WordPress installation, 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 the 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

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

Sometimes, whenever new WP plugins are installed on your website or blog, 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 section!

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

Widgets Features: Drag And Drop

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

Rearrange your site's widgets using drag & drop

(Rearrange widgets using drag-and-drop)

Using drag-and-drop lets you easily rearrange the layout and order of your site’s 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 newsletter subscription form,
  2. A click for support button, and
  3. A couple of click to phone sales buttons from a widgetized plugin …

Widgets control the order certain features display on your site

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

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

About WordPress Widgets Understanding Widgets For Beginners

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

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

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

The widget features have now been reorganized in the sidebar …

How Do WordPress Widgets Work? A Basic Guide To Widgets For Website Owners

As you can see, this instantly changes 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 banner (2) is found above the newsletter opt-in form (1) …

Widgets are really easy to use!

(WordPress widgets are very easy to use!)

Pretty simple stuff, huh?

Here are some more things about widgets that are also worth keeping in mind about:

Widget Management – Customize Widgets Section

Depending on the actual WP theme that you have installed, you’re also able to manage and customize your 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 many edits and adjustments to widgets in preview mode, like inserting, deleting 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 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!)

The ability to manage widgets from your WP dashboard 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 configure widgets on the fly using the Widget editor area as discussed previously.

Widget Configuration

As we’ve shown you previously, WordPress lets you easily reorganize how content displays in areas like your site’s sidebars, footers and navigation menus with only a few clicks of your mouse, using drag-&-drop technology …

Reorganizing sidebar layout using widgets can help improve user experience

(Rearrange sidebar elements using widgets to improve your site’s visitor experience)

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

Rearrange sidebar elements with widgets to 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 website’s templates to rearrange the order of elements, customize features on page elements like an opt-in subscription form, or just add useful features like page lists, or a dropdown menu of your blog post categories, an archived content posts section, customized menus, links to external sites, links to your recent posts, the latest excerpts of comments added to your posts, a section displaying clickable images, quotations or surveys, RSS content, videos, Facebook feeds, and more.

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

Some widgets give you little to no customizable options

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

Most widgets offer various options that allow you to further customize things. This can include things like making certain types of information hidden to your 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 customizable options

(Most widgets give you configuration options!)

Using WP Widgets

As we have just seen, widgets require no coding experience or programming expertise to use. Most widgets can be added to your WP website or blog 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 step-by-step tutorials showing you how to use various widgets in WordPress to improve the effectiveness of your website, plus lots of great tips for getting the most out of WordPress with widgets:

Related Posts

If you are a WordPress newbie, you may also find the following related posts useful:

Hopefully, now you have a better understanding of problems that can affect your web site and how WordPress can help you get better results online. To learn more about using the WordPress web content management platform please click on links to visit other posts we have published on this site.


"These tutorials have so much information and are easy to understand. If you use WordPress or plan to in the future these will help you with everything you need to know." - Valisa (Mesa, Arizona)

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Author: Martin Aranovitch

Martin Aranovitch is the founder of WPCompendium.org and has authored hundreds of FREE WordPress tutorials for beginners. WPCompendium.org provides detailed step-by-step tutorials that will teach you how to use WordPress with no coding skills required and at minimal cost!

Originally published as WordPress Widgets Explained.