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 loads of benefits to choosing the WordPress web publishing tool for building and managing a digital presence. One of these is that you can easily add content, expand your site’s functionality and rearrange your site’s layout with no web programming skills required.

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

WP widgets


In this blog post you will learn how WP widgets work, why they are great for non-technical users and how widgets can help you supercharge your web site.

WordPress Widget: A Basic Guide To Widgets For Newbies

WP widgets help make managing and using WordPress easy

(Widgets help make managing and using WordPress easier!)

WP widgets are self-contained blocks of code that perform a specific function, such as adding an enhancement, or a text box or list item to your website or blog.

The WordPress application is written using a scripting language called PHP (Hypertext Preprocessor). Normally, in order to add features and functions that will enhance the functionality of a website, you have to learn how to script web code.

Now … don’t worry if the above sounds too technical. As will soon discover, widgets are perfect for non-technical users.

WP widgets don’t require users to know how to program code or manipulate PHP code to enhance the functionality of their website.

WordPress widgets help you control specific features and functions on your site without the need to edit code

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

Widgets were originally designed to provide an easy way to allow WordPress users to manage aspects of their WordPress theme’s layout and functionality.

Simply put, a widget allows you to:

  • Easily insert, edit and delete features in certain areas of your website without having to touch any code, and
  • Reconfigure the functional layout of your 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 additional components you can add to your WP site’s sidebar menu (plus headers and footers and other areas, depending on your theme) using widgets:

  • page lists
  • content categories
  • archived blog posts
  • menus that display only selected pages
  • links to external sites
  • links to your recent posts
  • recent comments
  • text ads
  • testimonials
  • surveys
  • RSS feed items
  • newsletter registration form
  • product images
  • Facebook feeds
  • add widgets from other sites (e.g. affiliate programs)
  • administrative forms (e.g. login, register, etc.)

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

As you will see in a moment, themes affect how widgets work on your web site and many plugins add accompanying widgets that can enhance your website or blog’s functionality.

Widget-Ready Areas

Most themes support widgets and provide widget-enabled areas in the theme’s layout where you can add widgets to.

Typically, widgets can be found in the theme’s sidebar, but depending on the theme, these can also be found in the site’s header area, in the footer, even below or above your content.

It all depends on the theme you have installed.

For example, the WordPress theme in the screenshot below has only one widget area displaying items in the theme’s sidebar area …

Some WP Themes provide only a single widget-ready section

(Some WP themes only provide one widget section)

Below is the widget panel of the above theme, so you can see that this specific theme only contains one widget area …

About WordPress Widgets Understanding WordPress Widgets For Business Website Owners

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

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

Many WP themes provide multiple widget-ready sections

(Many WP themes provide multiple widgetized sections)

Below is an enlarged image of the widget screen of the theme above, where you can see how many widget areas the theme includes …

Multiple widgets areas

(Multiple WordPress widget areas)

As you can see, in the above theme, you can add widgets 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 WP themes let you add widgets to your site's footer section

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

Where Do I Access My Widgets?

To access the Widgets area log into your admin and go to Appearance > Widgets

How Do Widgets Work? Understanding WordPress Widgets For Business Users

This opens the Widgets screen in your web browser …

Widgets Screen

(Widgets Area)

The Widgets area displays a list of all the widgets that are available.

The right-hand section of the screen displays your “active” widgets …

Activate or deactivate widgets using drag & drop

(Activate or deactivate widgets using drag-and-drop)

Available widgets can be activated or deactivated 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 active and can be used on your site.

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 retain their pre-configured settings.

Useful Info

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, Meta, etc. to your site visitors …

In a default WordPress installation, your site already comes with several pre-installed widgets

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

Sometimes, whenever new WP plugins are installed on your site, you may find that new widgets have also been added to your Widgets section …

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

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

WP Widgets Features: Drag And Drop

WP widgets are great because you can easily add, activate, deactivate, reorder and delete them within your Widgets area just by using drag & drop …

Rearrange your site's widgets using drag-and-drop

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

With drag and drop you can easily reorder the layout of your widget-enabled sections.

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

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

Widgets control how certain features display on your site

(Widgets control how certain features on your site appear)

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 active widget section …

What's A WordPress Widget? An Introduction To WordPress Widgets For New Users

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

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 your sidebar …

What Are WordPress Widgets? An Introduction To WordPress Widgets For Beginners

This instantly changes the layout of the site’s sidebar. Note in the screenshot below that the click to call feature (3) is now first the sidebar menu, and the contact us image banner (2) can now be found above the newsletter subscription form (1) …

Widgets are very easy to use!

(WordPress widgets are very easy to use!)

Pretty simple stuff, huh?

There are some other useful things worth keeping in mind with WordPress widgets:

Widget Management – Customize Widgets Section

Depending upon the 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 your changes to the live website.

You can do a number of edits and adjustments to your widgets in preview mode, like inserting, deleting and reorganizing the currently added 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 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!)

The ability to manage widgets from within your own WordPress 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 prior to publishing any changes (and avoid making errors), or manage your widgets on the fly using the Widget editor area discussed previously.

Widget Configuration

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

Rearranging sidebar elements with widgets can help to improve visitor experience

(Reorganize sidebar elements using widgets to improve visitor experience)

In the above screenshot, for example, you can see that we have quickly and easily change the order of elements in the site’s sidebar area by switching 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 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 many traditionally-designed websites, you would need to edit code in the web templates to rearrange the layout, make unique customizations to features on page elements like a customers login section, or just add other features like page lists, or a dropdown menu of your content categories, a blog post archive section, custom page menus, links to external sites, a list of your most read posts, the latest comments, a section displaying advertising banners, quotations or survey results, RSS content, video thumbnails, social media share buttons, and more.

While some widgets are “fixed” in the sense that they provide little to no customization, 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 offer little to no customization)

Most widgets offer a number of settings that allow you to further customize things. This can include things like 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 …

Many widgets offer customizing options

(Many widgets give you customizable options!)

Using WordPress Widgets

As we have just seen, widgets require no coding experience or programming expertise to use. Most widgets can be added to your WordPress 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 step-by-step tutorials showing you how to use various widgets in WordPress to boost the effectiveness of your web site, plus many great tips on how to get the most out of WordPress with widgets:

Related Posts

If you are new at WordPress, you may also find the following topic-related posts useful:

Hopefully, now you have a better understanding of issues that can affect your web site and how WordPress can help you grow your business online. To learn more about using WordPress for a business website or blog please see our related posts section.


"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 tutorials that show you how to use WordPress to grow your business online with no coding skills required! Get our FREE "101+ WordPress Tips, Tricks & Hacks For Non-Techies" e-course with loads of useful WordPress tips!

Originally published as WordPress Widgets Explained.