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 tool for building, managing and growing your business online. One of these is that WordPress makes it very easy to add content, expand your website’s functionality and rearrange the layout of your site without requiring programming skills.

WordPress allows you to quickly and easily add, delete, and reconfigure various blocks of content from your website’s sidebar menu (or header and footer sections too, depending on what theme is installed on your site) using widgets.

WordPress widgets


This post explains how widgets work, why they are great for non-technical users and how widgets can help to expand the functionality of your web site.

What Do Widgets Do? An Introduction To Widgets For Business Website Owners

WordPress widgets help make managing and using WordPress easier

(WordPress widgets make managing and using WordPress easier!)

A WP widget is a self-contained module of code that performs a specific function, such as adding a feature, or a text box or list item to your WP site.

The WordPress software 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 web code.

Now … don’t worry if it all sounds too geeky. As you are about to learn, WP widgets are perfect for non-techies.

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

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

(Widgets help you manage many features and functions on your site without having to touch code)

Widgets were originally designed to provide an easy way to give WordPress users to control aspects of their site’s layout and functionality.

In simple terms, widgets allow you to:

  • Easily add, edit and remove sections of code to certain areas of your site without having to touch any web 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 functions you can add to your site’s sidebar section (and headers and footers and other areas, depending on your theme) using widgets:

  • nested page lists
  • site categories
  • archived blog posts
  • menus displaying only selected pages
  • links to external sites
  • posts that you want to promote
  • user comments
  • clickable images
  • quotations
  • poll questions & results
  • RSS feed content
  • member login section
  • image galleries
  • twitter feeds
  • add widgets from external sites (e.g. Facebook friends)
  • administrative forms (e.g. login, register, etc.)

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

As you will see in just a moment, WP themes affect where widgets work on your web site and many plugins also add accompanying widgets that can help further improve your website’s features.

Widgetized Areas

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

Typically, functions powered by widgets can be found in your theme’s sidebar menu, but depending upon the theme, these can also be in the header area, the footer area, and even below or above the content.

It all depends on the theme that you have installed on your site or blog.

For example, the WP theme in the screenshot below has only one widget area for the theme’s sidebar …

Some Themes provide only a single widget area

(Some WordPress themes only have one widget section)

Below is the widget screen of the theme above, and you can see that this theme only contains one widget-enabled area …

What Are WordPress Widgets? An Introduction To Widgets For Beginners

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

In contrast, the theme shown in the screenshot below includes multiple widget-enabled areas …

Many themes offer users multiple widget areas

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

Here is the widget panel of the above theme, where you can see how many widget areas this theme includes …

Multiple widgets areas

(Multiple widgets areas)

As you can see, with the above theme, you can add widgets to the sidebar area of 2 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

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

How Can I See My Widgets?

The Widgets panel can be easily accessed inside the admin by going to Appearance > Widgets

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

This brings up the Widgets section in your browser …

Widgets Screen

(Widgets Area)

The Widgets section displays a list of all the widgets that can be used on your site.

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 made Active or Inactive by dragging-and-dropping items to different areas of the widgets panel.

Widgets dragged from the Available Widgets section to widget areas like your sidebar, footer, etc. automatically become active and can be used.

The Widgets area also includes an Inactive Widgets section that lets you remove widgets that you no longer want on your site. Inactive widgets do not lose their pre-configured 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 Search, Recent Comments, Meta, etc. to your 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, you may find that new widgets appear in your Widgets section as new plugins are installed on your website or blog …

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

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

Widgets Features: Drag-And-Drop

Widgets are great because you can easily insert, activate, deactivate, rearrange and delete them all in your Widgets area using simple drag and drop …

Rearrange widgets using drag and drop

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

Use drag & drop technology to easily reconfigure the layout and order of your site’s widgetized sections.

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

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

Widgets control the order certain features appear on your site

(Widgets control how certain features on your site appear)

If you were to peek inside the example site’s Widget area, you would see that these features appear on the site in exactly the same order as they were arranged in the site’s active widget bar …

WordPress Widgets: A Basic Guide To WordPress Widgets For Business Owners

If we change the order these widgets in the Widget Area using drag and drop …

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

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

The widgets have now been reordered in the sidebar …

A Basic Guide To WordPress For Website Owners: What Do Widgets Do?

This immediately changes the order of items in the sidebar. Note in the screenshot below that the click to call function (3) is now first the sidebar menu, and the contact us section (2) is now located above the newsletter opt-in form (1) …

Widgets are very easy to use!

(Widgets are really easy to use!)

Pretty cool stuff, huh?

Here are some other useful things about using widgets that are also worth keeping in mind about:

Widget Management – Widget Customizer Section

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

You can do a number of modifications and adjustments to your widgets in preview mode, like inserting, deleting and moving around your active widgets to any widget areas that your theme makes available, and everything is 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 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 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 any changes (to avoid making mistakes), or change your widgets on the fly using the Widget editor screen as shown previously.

Widget Configuration

As we’ve shown you in an earlier example, with WordPress you can quickly reorder how information displays in areas like your site’s sidebars, footers and navigation menus with only a few clicks of your mouse button, using drag-and-drop …

Rearranging sidebar layout with widgets can help to improve your site's visitor experience

(Rearranging sidebar layout with widgets can help to improve your site’s visitor experience)

In the screenshot above, for example, you can see that we have change the widget elements in the sidebar section 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.

Reorganize 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 most static websites, you would need to edit code in your website’s templates to reorganize the layout, make unique customizations to features on page elements like user registration areas, or just add features like nested page lists, or a dropdown menu of your site categories, a post archives section, menus that display only selected pages, links to recommended resources, a list of your most popular posts, the latest user comments, a section displaying text ads, quotations or poll results, RSS feed items, video thumbnails, social media sharing buttons, and more.

While some widgets are “fixed” in the sense that they provide little to no configurable 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 configuration options

(Some widgets offer little to no customization)

Most widgets provide a number of options that allow you to further configure them. This includes making certain types of information hidden to site visitors but visible to registered users, displaying additional forms, fields, or data, specifying sizes of sidebar images, videos, etc. and more …

Most widgets offer customization

(Most widgets offer configuration options!)

How To Use Widgets

As we have just seen, widgets require no coding experience or programming expertise to use. Most widgets can be added to your web 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 tutorials showing you how to use various widgets in WordPress to boost the effectiveness of your website or blog, plus lots of great tips on how to get the most benefit 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 problems that can affect your website and how WordPress can help you get better results online. To learn more about using WordPress please see our related posts section.

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"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)


Originally published as WordPress Widgets Explained.