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 benefits to using WordPress to build, manage and grow your website or blog. One of these is that you can easily add content, expand your website’s functionality and rearrange the layout of your site with no web programming skills and knowledge required.

WordPress gives you the ability to quickly and easily insert, delete, and manage various blocks of content on your website’s sidebar menu (or header and footer sections, depending on what theme you use) using widgets.



This article explains how WP widgets work, what makes widgets so useful and how widgets can be used to help you expand the functionality of your website.

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

Widgets make managing and using WordPress easier

(Widgets make managing and using WordPress easier!)

A WordPress widget is a small module of code that performs a specific function, such as adding a form, or a text box or item to your website or blog.

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 code.

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

With widgets, users don’t need to know how to program PHP or manipulate PHP code in order to expand the functionality of their sites.

WordPress widgets help you manage many features and functions on your site without the need to touch code

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

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

In simple terms, a widget allows you to:

  • Easily add, edit and delete features to areas of your website without touching any underlying code, and
  • Rearrange how various elements display on widget-enabled areas of your site (e.g. the sidebar, header, footer and other areas) using drag-and-drop technology.

Here are just some of the additional components you can add to your site’s sidebar navigation area (and headers and footers and other areas, depending on your theme) using WP widgets:

  • pages on your site
  • post categories
  • archives
  • custom page menus
  • links to resources
  • posts that you want to promote
  • recent comments
  • clickable ads
  • quotations
  • surveys
  • content from RSS feeds
  • newsletter registration form
  • product catalog images
  • twitter feeds
  • add widgets from external sites (e.g. Facebook friends)
  • administrative forms (e.g. login, register, etc.)

In other posts, we provide detailed content about plugins and themes; what they are, what they do, how these easily add new features to WordPress and change the look and feel of your website or blog.

As you will learn in a moment, themes affect how widgets work on your website and many plugins also come with accompanying widgets that will extend your site’s usability.

Widgetized Themes

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

Usually, this is going to be in your sidebar menu, but depending upon the theme, these can also be in your site’s header, footer, and even above or below your content section.

It all depends on what theme you have installed.

For example, the WP theme in the screenshot below provides users with only one widget area for the theme’s sidebar navigation …

Some WP Themes only provide a single widget enabled area

(Some themes provide only a single widgetized area)

Below is an enlarged image of the widget screen of the theme shown above, where you can see that the theme only contains one widget area …

About WordPress Widgets A Basic Guide To Widgets For New Users

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

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

Many WP themes offer users multiple widgetized sections

(Many WordPress themes provide a number of widget-enabled areas)

Below is the widget section of the theme above, where you can see how many widget areas are included in this particular theme …

Multiple widgets areas

(Multiple widgets areas)

As you can see, in the above theme, widgets can be added to the sidebar area of 2 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 WP themes let you add widgets to your site’s footer area)

Where Do I Access My Widgets?

The Widgets section is located inside your WP admin area and can easily be accessed from the administration menu by clicking on Appearance > Widgets

Widgets - How Do They Work? Understanding Widgets For Website Owners

This opens the Widgets section in your browser window …

Widgets Area

(Widgets Screen)

The Widgets area displays all the widgets that are available.

The right-hand section of the window displays 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. become immediately active and available on your site.

The Widgets screen also includes an Inactive Widgets section that lets you remove any widgets that you no longer want on your site. Inactive widgets do not lose their settings.


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 Recent Posts, Recent Comments, Meta, 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, you may find that new widgets get added to your Widgets area whenever new WP plugins are installed on your website or blog …

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

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

WordPress Widgets Features: Drag-And-Drop

Widgets are great because you can easily insert, activate, deactivate, reorder and delete them right inside your Widgets area just by using drag and drop …

Rearrange your site's widgets using drag & drop

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

Using drag & drop technology lets you easily rearrange the layout of your widgetized areas.

For example, take a look at the image below. In this site, the widgets have already been configured to display:

  1. An opt-in form,
  2. A contact support button, and
  3. A couple of click to call sales buttons from a widgetized plugin …

Widgets control the order certain features display on your site

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

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

What Are WordPress Widgets? A Basic Guide To WordPress Widgets For Website Owners

If we rearrange the order the above widgets in the Sidebar Widget Area by dragging & dropping elements in the widget area …

Drag & drop to rearrange widgets in your widget area

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

The widget features have now been reorganized in the sidebar …

A Basic Guide To WordPress For Beginners: WordPress Widgets - What Are They?

This immediately changes the order of items in the 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) can now be found above the newsletter sign-up form (1) …

Widgets are really easy to use!

(Widgets are really easy to use!)

Cool, huh?

Let me just show you some other things about using widgets that are also worth keeping in mind about:

Widget Management – Widget Customizer 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 many things to widgets in preview mode, like adding, removing and reorganizing your active 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 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!)

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 (to avoid making errors), or manage widgets on the fly using the Widget editor screen as shown earlier.

Widget Configuration

As we’ve explained earlier, 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, using drag-and-drop …

Reorganizing sidebar elements using widgets can improve your site's visitor experience

(Reorganize sidebar elements with widgets to improve visitor experience)

In the above screenshot, for example, you can see that we have easily change the layout in the sidebar menu by switching around the search and testimonial sections. As you now know, this was easily done by simply dragging and dropping the widget elements into different positions inside the sidebar widget area.

Rearrange sidebar layout 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 many static websites, you would need to edit code in your website’s templates to rearrange the layout, make unique customizations to features on page elements like an opt-in subscription form, or just add features like a list of pages on your website, or a dropdown menu of your blog post categories, a blog post archive section, custom menus, links to recommended resources, a list of your most read posts, the latest comments, a section displaying clickable ad banners, quotations or polls, RSS content excerpts, 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 an optional title to the widget as shown in the example below …

Some widgets offer little to no customizing options

(Some widgets give you little to no configuration options)

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

Most widgets offer configuration options

(Most widgets provide users with configuration options!)

Using Widgets

As you have seen, widgets require no coding experience or programming expertise to use. Most widgets can be 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 great step-by-step tutorials showing you how to use a number of different widgets in WordPress to improve the effectiveness of your website, plus lots of cool tips on how to get 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, this article has given you a better understanding of issues that can affect your web site and how WordPress can help you get better results online. To learn more about the benefits of using WordPress for a business website 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

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Author: Martin Aranovitch

Martin Aranovitch is the founder of WPCompendium.org and the author of The Small Business Digital Manager. WPCompendium.org provides hundreds of FREE detailed step-by-step tutorials that will teach you how to use WordPress to grow your business online at minimal cost with no coding skills required!

Originally published as WordPress Widgets Explained.