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 benefits to using the WordPress CMS platform to manage and grow your website. One of these is that WordPress makes it very easy to add content, expand your website’s functionality and reconfigure the layout of your site without coding skills.

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


(WP widgets)

In this post you will learn how WP widgets work, what they do and how widgets can add functionality to your website or blog.

About WordPress Widgets: Understanding WordPress Widgets For New Users

WordPress widgets help make managing and using WordPress easy

(Widgets make managing and using WordPress easy!)

Widgets are small blocks of code that perform a specific function, such as adding a feature, or a script or item to your WordPress site.

WordPress is written using a web language called PHP (Hypertext Preprocessor). Normally, in order to add features and functions to a website, you have to learn how to script web code.

Now … don’t worry if this all sounds too geeky. As will soon discover, WordPress widgets are made for non-techies.

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

Widgets help you manage technical features and functions on your site without having to touch code

(Widgets help you control technical features and functions on your website without having to touch code)

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

Simply put, widgets let you do things like:

  • Easily add, edit and remove functionality to parts of your website without having to touch 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 many features you can add to your WordPress site’s sidebar area (plus headers and footers and other areas, depending on the theme you have installed) using WordPress widgets:

  • list of your web pages
  • blog categories
  • archives
  • custom menus
  • links to external sites
  • your most popular posts
  • comments
  • advertising banners
  • customer testimonials
  • survey results
  • RSS feed items
  • opt-in subscription form
  • video thumbnails
  • Facebook feeds
  • display widgets from other sites (e.g. Facebook friends)
  • administrative forms (e.g. login, register, etc.)

In other blog posts, we provide more detailed explanations of WP plugins and WP themes; what they are, what they do, how plugins and themes can add loads of new features to WordPress and alter the entire design of your website or blog.

As you will soon discover, WordPress themes affect where widgets display on your web site and many plugins also come with accompanying widgets that will further enhance your website or blog’s performance.

Widgetized Areas

Most WP themes support widgets and provide widgetized sections on your site where widgets can display.

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

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

For example, the WP theme shown in the screenshot below has only one widget area adding functionality to the theme’s sidebar navigation …

Some Themes have only one widget-ready area

(Some themes only have one widgetized section)

Below is an enlarged image of the widget section of the above theme, where you can see that the WordPress theme only includes one widget-enabled area …

A Basic Guide To WordPress For New Users: How Do Widgets Work?

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

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

Many WordPress themes offer users a number of widgetized areas

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

Below is an enlarged image of the widget screen of the above theme, and you can see how many widget areas are included in this WP theme …

Multiple widgets areas

(Multiple widgets 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 WP themes let you add widgets to your site's footer section

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

Where Do I Access My WordPress Widgets?

The Widgets area is located inside the admin by going to Appearance > Widgets

WordPress Widget: Understanding WordPress Widgets For Beginners

This brings up your Widgets area in your web browser …

Widgets Area

(Widgets Section)

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

On the right-hand side of the screen, you can see your “active” widgets …

Activate or deactivate widgets using drag & drop

(Activate or deactivate widgets using drag-and-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. become active on your site.

In addition, your Widgets panel includes an Inactive Widgets section that lets you remove widgets that you no longer want on your website. Inactive widgets do not lose their pre-configured settings.

Useful Information

In a default WordPress installation, your site already comes with several 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 right out of the box in the default WordPress theme and display items like Recent Posts, Archives, Categories, etc. to site visitors …

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

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

Sometimes, when new WP plugins are installed on your site, you may find that new widgets are also added to your Widgets area …

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

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

WordPress Widgets Features: Drag & Drop

WordPress widgets are great because you can easily add, activate, deactivate, rearrange and delete them inside your Widgets area using drag & drop …

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

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

With drag & drop you can easily reconfigure the order and layout of your site’s widgetized areas.

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

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

Widgets control how certain features appear on your site

(Widgets control how certain features on your site display)

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

An Introduction To WordPress For Business Owners: What Is A Widget?

Let’s now reorganize the above widgets in the Sidebar Widget Area by dragging & dropping elements in the widget area …

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

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

The widgets have now been reordered in the sidebar …

An Overview Of WordPress For New Users: What Do WordPress Widgets Do?

As you can see, this instantly reorganizes the order of items in your site’s sidebar. Note in the screenshot below that the click to call function (3) is now first the sidebar menu, and the contact us image banner (2) now sits above the newsletter sign-up form (1) …

Widgets are very easy to use!

(WordPress widgets are really easy to use!)

Cool, huh?

Let me show you some other useful things worth knowing about WP widgets:

Widget Management – Widget Previews

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

You can do many modifications and adjustments in preview mode, like adding, removing and reorganizing your active widgets to any widget areas that your theme makes available, and it’s all 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 your own WordPress 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 prior to publishing any changes you’ve made (and avoid making errors), or manage your widgets on the fly using the Widget editor area as discussed earlier.

Widget Configuration

As we have explained previously, with WordPress you can quickly and easily reorganize how content displays in widgetized areas like your site’s sidebars, footers and navigation menus with just a few clicks of your mouse, using drag-and-drop …

Rearrange sidebar layout with widgets to improve your site's visitor experience

(Rearrange sidebar layout using widgets to improve visitor experience)

In the screenshot above, for example, you can see that we have change the order of elements in the site’s sidebar by switching 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.

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 your site’s templates to rearrange the layout, make unique customizations to features on page elements like opt-in forms, or just add other features like a nested list of pages, or a dropdown menu of your blog categories, a blog post archive section, menus, links to recommended resources, links to your recent posts, the latest comments, a section displaying clickable ad banners, quotations or polls & surveys, RSS content excerpts, videos, Twitter 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 provide users with little to no configurable options

(Some widgets offer little to no customizing options)

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

Most widgets provide users with customizable options

(Many widgets give you customizing options!)

How To Use WordPress Widgets

As we have just seen, widgets require no coding experience or programming expertise to use. Most widgets can be easily 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 great tutorials showing you how to use various types of widgets in WordPress to boost the effectiveness of your web site, plus many great tips for getting the most benefit out of WordPress using widgets:

Related Posts

If you are learning how to use WordPress, you may also find the following topic-related posts useful:

Hopefully, this article has given you a better understanding of issues that can affect your website and how WordPress can help you improve your business online. To learn more about using WordPress please see other posts we have published on this site.


"If you're new to WordPress, this can stand on its own as a training course and will stay with you as you progress from beginner to advanced and even guru status." - Bruce (Columbus, Ohio)

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Author: Martin Aranovitch

Martin Aranovitch is the founder of WPCompendium.org and has authored hundreds of FREE WordPress tutorials for non-techies and 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!