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 many benefits to using the WordPress web publishing tool to build and manage a web site. One of these is that WordPress makes it very easy to add content, expand your website’s functionality and rearrange the layout of your website without programming skills and knowledge.

WordPress lets you quickly and easily insert, delete, and rearrange various blocks of content in your blog’s sidebar menu (or header and footer sections too, depending on what theme you have installed) using widgets.



In this blog post you will learn what widgets are, why widgets are great for non-technical users and how widgets can add functionality to your website or blog.

How Do WordPress Widgets Work? An Introduction To Widgets For New Users

Widgets help make managing and using WordPress easier

(WordPress widgets help make managing and using WordPress easier!)

A WP widget is a small block of code that performs a specific function, such as adding a functionality, or a text box or menu item to your website or blog.

WordPress is written using a web 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 this all sounds like geek speak. As will soon discover, widgets are perfect for non-technical users.

WP widgets help you control technical features and functions on your site without requiring coding skills.

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

(WordPress widgets help you manage specific features and functions on your site without having to mess with code)

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

In simple terms, a widget lets you do things like:

  • Easily add, edit and remove functionality to parts of your WordPress site without touching any 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 cool things you can add to your site’s sidebar menu (plus headers and footers and other areas, depending on your theme) using widgets:

  • list of your web pages
  • blog post categories
  • post archives
  • custom page menus
  • links to external sites
  • your most read posts
  • user comments
  • advertising banners
  • quotations
  • poll questions & results
  • RSS feed content
  • subscriber form
  • video
  • Facebook feeds
  • 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 themes; what they are, what they do, how these can add new features to WordPress and even change the design of your website.

As you will learn in just a moment, themes can affect where widgets work on your site and some plugins add accompanying widgets that can enhance your website’s capabilities.

Widget-Ready Areas

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

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

It all depends on the theme you have installed.

For example, the WordPress theme shown in the screenshot below provides users with only one widget area adding items to the theme’s sidebar area …

Some Themes provide only a single widget enabled section

(Some themes only provide a single widget-ready area)

Below is an enlarged image of the widget panel of the theme above, so you can see that the WP theme only contains one widget area …

About WordPress Widgets An Overview Of Widgets For Website Owners

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

In contrast, the WP theme shown below includes a number of different widget-enabled areas …

Many themes offer users multiple widget-ready sections

(Many themes provide a number of widget areas)

Below is an enlarged image of the widget panel 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, with 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 themes let you add widgets to your site's footer area

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

How Can I See My Widgets?

To use widgets, access the Widgets area located inside the WP dashboard by going to Appearance > Widgets

What's A Widget? A Basic Guide To WordPress Widgets For Business Website Owners

This brings up the Widgets section in your web browser …

Widgets Panel

(Widgets Panel)

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

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 & drop)

Available widgets can be made Active or Inactive by dragging & dropping items to different sections of the panel.

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

In addition, the Widgets screen includes an Inactive Widgets section that lets you remove any widgets that you no longer want to use 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 Recent Posts, Archives, Categories, etc. to visitors …

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

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

Sometimes, new widgets appear in your Widgets section whenever new plugins are installed on your website …

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

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

Widgets Features: Drag-And-Drop

Widgets are great because you can easily insert, activate, deactivate, reorder and remove them within your Widgets section using simple drag & drop …

Rearrange widgets on your WordPress site using drag & drop

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

Use drag-and-drop to easily reconfigure the layout of your site’s widget-enabled areas.

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

  1. A subscription form,
  2. A click for support button, and
  3. A couple of click to call sales buttons from a widgetized plugin …

Widgets control how certain features on your site display

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

If we were to peek inside the example site’s Widget area, you would see that these features display on the site in the same order as their corresponding widgets have been arranged in their active widget bar …

How Do Widgets Work? An Overview Of Widgets For Business Users

Let’s now reorganize these widgets in the Widget Area by dragging and dropping elements in the widget area …

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

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

The widget features have now been reordered in your sidebar …

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

This instantly reorganizes the layout of the site’s sidebar. Note in the screenshot below that the click to call function (3) is now the first item on the sidebar menu, and the contact us section (2) now sits above the newsletter sign-up form (1) …

Widgets are very easy to use!

(WordPress widgets are very easy to use!)

Pretty simple stuff, huh?

Let me just show you some more useful things worth keeping in mind when using WordPress widgets:

Widget Management – Preview Widgets

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

You can do several edits, modifications 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’ve 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 prior to publishing it (to avoid making errors), or configure widgets on the fly using the Widget editor screen as discussed previously.

Widget Configuration

As we’ve shown you in an earlier example, WordPress lets you quickly and easily rearrange how information displays in areas of your website sidebars, footers and navigation menus with just a few clicks of your mouse, using drag-&-drop technology …

Reorganizing sidebar elements using widgets can help to improve user experience

(Reorganizing sidebar elements with widgets can improve your site’s user experience)

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

Rearranging sidebar layout with widgets can help to improve 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 the website’s templates to reorganize the layout, make unique customizations to features on page elements like subscription forms, or just add other features like a nested list of pages, or a dropdown menu of your blog post categories, an archive section, custom page menus, links to recommended resources, a list of your most read posts, the latest post comments, a section displaying advertising, testimonials or surveys & polls, RSS content, video thumbnails, Facebook feeds, 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 offer little to no customization

(Some widgets give you little to no configurable options)

Many widgets offer a number of options that allow you to further customize them. 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 provide users with customizable options

(Many widgets give you configurable options!)

Using WP Widgets

As we have just seen, widgets require no coding experience or programming expertise to use. Most widgets can be easily added to your web site simply by activating a plugin and then dragging and dropping the plugin’s related widget into your Active widgets area.

For some useful tips and tricks to using widgets, see these detailed tutorials showing you how to use various widgets in WordPress to boost the effectiveness of your web site, plus many useful tips on how to get the most out of WordPress using widgets:

Related Posts

If you are new at WordPress, you may also find the following 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 the benefits of using WordPress for a business web site please click on links to visit other posts we have published on this site.


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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 grow your business online at minimal cost!

Originally published as WordPress Widgets Explained.