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 great things about using WordPress to build, manage and grow a business online. One of these is that you can easily add content, expand your website’s functionality and reconfigure the layout of your website without coding skills.

WordPress lets you quickly and easily add, remove, and reconfigure various types of content on your site’s sidebar menu (or header and footer sections too, depending on what theme you have installed) using widgets.

WP widgets

(WordPress widgets)

In this post you will learn what widgets are, what they do and how widgets can be used to help you supercharge your web site.

Widgets – What Are They? A Basic Guide To Widgets For Newbies

Widgets make managing and using WordPress easier

(WP widgets help make managing and using WordPress easy!)

A widget is a small module of code that performs a specific function, such as adding a feature, or a script or menu item to your site.

The WordPress software 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 need to learn how to program code.

Now … don’t worry if the above sounds too geeky. As will soon see, WordPress widgets are made for non-techie website owners.

Widgets eliminate the need to know how to write code or manipulate PHP code to enhance their website.

WP widgets help you control technical features and functions on your site without requiring knowledge of coding

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

Widgets were originally developed to provide an easy way of giving WordPress users to manage aspects of their site’s layout and functionality.

In simple terms, widgets allow you to:

  • Easily add, edit and remove functions to certain areas of your WordPress site without having to touch any code, and
  • Rearrange the functional layout of your WordPress 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 functions you can add to your site’s sidebar navigation area (and headers and footers and other areas, depending on your theme) using widgets:

  • nested list of pages
  • categories
  • archive
  • custom page menus
  • links to resources
  • your most read posts
  • recent comments
  • clickable ads
  • user testimonials
  • poll questions & results
  • RSS content
  • registration box
  • product images
  • social media sharing buttons
  • display widgets from external sites (e.g. affiliate programs)
  • administrative forms (e.g. login, register, etc.)

In other blog posts, we provide an overview of WP plugins and themes; what they are, what they do, how plugins and themes can easily add new features to WordPress and change the whole look and feel of your website.

As you will soon discover, themes affect where widgets work on your web site and many plugins include accompanying widgets that will enhance your website or blog’s usability.

Widget-Ready Themes

Most WP themes support widgets and provide widget-ready sections in the theme’s layout where widgets can be added to.

Usually, features controlled by widgets can be found in your sidebar menu, but depending upon the theme, widgets can also be located in your site’s header, in the footer, sometimes even below or above the content area.

It all depends on what theme that you have installed.

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

Some WordPress Themes only have a single widget-ready area

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

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

An Overview Of WordPress For New Users: About WordPress Widgets

As you can see from the above, the only area where users can add widgets to their website using the theme shown above 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 a number of widget areas

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

Below is the widget screen of the theme above, so you can see how many widget areas are included in the theme …

Multiple widgets areas

(Multiple WordPress widget areas)

As you can see, with the above theme, you can add widgets to the sidebar area of two 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 WordPress themes let you add widgets to your site’s footer)

Where Can I See My Widgets?

The Widgets screen is found inside the WP admin area and can be accessed by going to Appearance > Widgets

Understanding WordPress For Website Owners: What Is A WordPress Widget?

This loads the Widgets section in your browser …

Widgets Section

(Widgets Screen)

The Widgets section displays a list of all the widgets that are currently available for use on your site.

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 using drag-and-drop.

Widgets dragged from the Available Widgets section to widget areas like your sidebar, footer, etc. instantly become active and available on your site.

The Widgets panel also includes an Inactive Widgets section that lets you remove widgets that you no longer want to use on your site. Inactive widgets retain their settings.


By default, 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 in the default WordPress theme right out of the box and display items like Search, Recent Comments, Meta, etc. to your visitors …

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

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

Sometimes, when new plugins are installed on your website or blog, you will see that new widgets have also been added to your Widgets area …

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

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

WP Widgets Features: Drag-And-Drop

Widgets are great because you can easily add, activate, deactivate, reorder and delete them all in your Widgets section just by using drag & drop …

Rearrange widgets using drag-and-drop

(Rearrange your site’s widgets using drag & drop)

With drag-and-drop you can easily reorder the order and layout of your website’s widget-enabled 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. Click to call sales buttons from a widgetized plugin …

Widgets control the order certain features on your site display

(Widgets control how certain features on your site appear)

If you could peek inside this site’s Widget area, you would see that these features display on the site’s sidebar menu in the same order as they were arranged in the active widget section …

What Do WordPress Widgets Do? Understanding Widgets For Business Website Owners

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

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

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

The widget features have now been reorganized in your sidebar …

What Are WordPress Widgets? An Overview Of WordPress Widgets For Newbies

This immediately reorganizes the layout of your site’s sidebar. Note in the screenshot below that the click to call function (3) is now at the top of the sidebar menu, and the contact us section (2) has been moved to the location above the newsletter opt-in form (1) …

Widgets are really easy to use!

(Widgets are really easy to use!)

Cool, huh?

Let’s go over some other useful things about widgets that are also worth knowing about:

Widget Management – Preview Widgets

Depending on the theme that you have installed on your site, you can also customize and manage 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 the live website.

You can do several edits and adjustments to your widgets in preview mode, like adding, removing and moving around 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 to 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 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 it (to avoid making mistakes), or manage your widgets on the fly using the Widget editor screen shown earlier.

Widget Configuration

As we’ve shown you in an earlier example, WordPress lets you completely reorder how information is displayed in widgetized areas like your site’s sidebars, footers and navigation menus with just a few clicks of your mouse, using drag-and-drop technology …

Reorganizing sidebar layout using widgets can improve visitor experience

(Rearranging sidebar elements using widgets can improve your site’s visitor experience)

In the above screenshot, for example, you can see that we have rearranged the layout in the sidebar menu 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.

Rearranging sidebar elements using widgets can improve your site’s user 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 site’s templates to rearrange the order of elements, customize features on page elements like shopping cart forms, or just add other features like a page index, or a dropdown menu of your categories, an archive section, custom menus, links to external sites, a list of your most read posts, the latest excerpts of comments added to your posts, a section displaying clickable ad banners, user testimonials or survey questions & results, RSS content, image galleries, Facebook feeds, and more.

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

(Some widgets give you little to no configuration options)

Many widgets offer additional options that allow you to further configure these. This includes 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 …

Most widgets provide users with customization

(Many widgets provide users with customization!)

Using WordPress Widgets

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

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

Related Posts

If you are a WordPress newbie, 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 get better results online. To learn more about using WordPress please click on links to visit our related posts section.


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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!

Originally published as WordPress Widgets Explained.