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.

For a white label version of this tutorial visit WPTrainingManual.com.

WordPressThere are so many great benefits to using the WordPress web publishing software to build and manage your website. One of these is that WordPress makes it very easy to add content, expand your site’s functionality and reconfigure your site’s layout without web coding skills.

WordPress lets you quickly and easily insert, delete, and manage various types of content from your blog’s sidebar menu (and header and footer sections, depending on what theme you use) using widgets.

WP widgets


This article explains how WP widgets work, what makes widgets so useful and how widgets can be used to add functionality to your website.

How Do WordPress Widgets Work? An Introduction To WordPress Widgets For Business Website Users

WP widgets help make managing and using WordPress easier

(Widgets help make managing and using WordPress easy!)

A WordPress widget is a small block of code that performs a specific function, such as adding a feature, or a script or item to your website or blog.

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

Now … don’t worry if this all sounds too technical. As will soon discover, WordPress widgets are perfect for non-techie users.

Widgets help you manage technical features and functions on your site without requiring coding skills.

Widgets help you manage many features and functions on your site without the need to touch code

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

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

Simply put, widgets allow you to:

  • Easily add, edit and delete features in areas of your site without touching any underlying code, and
  • Reconfigure the functional layout of your WP 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 things you can add to your site’s sidebar menu (plus headers and footers and other areas, depending on your theme) using WordPress widgets:

  • website page list
  • blog categories
  • post archives
  • custom page menus
  • links to resources
  • most popular posts
  • user comments
  • clickable images
  • quotations
  • surveys
  • RSS content excerpts
  • newsletter registration form
  • video
  • twitter 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 information about plugins and themes; what they are, what they do, how plugins and themes can add new features to WordPress and change the entire design of your site.

As you will soon discover, WP themes can affect where widgets display on your website and many plugins include accompanying widgets that will help further extend your site’s features.

Widget-Ready Themes

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

Usually, you will find features driven by widgets in your theme’s sidebar, but depending upon the theme, these can also be found in the site’s header area, footer, sometimes even above or below the content section.

It all depends on what theme you have installed.

For example, the theme in the screenshot below has only one widget area adding features to the theme’s sidebar area …

Some WordPress Themes only provide one widget-ready section

(Some WP themes have only one widget enabled area)

Here is an enlarged image of the widget panel of the theme above, and you can see that this WP theme only contains one widget-enabled area …

What Are WordPress Widgets? An Introduction To WordPress Widgets For New Users

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

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

Many WordPress themes offer users a number of widget-ready sections

(Many WP themes offer users multiple widgetized areas)

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

Multiple widgets areas

(Multiple widgets areas)

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

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

Where Do I Access My WordPress Widgets?

The Widgets panel is located inside the WP dashboard and can be accessed by going to Appearance > Widgets

What's A WordPress Widget? An Introduction To WordPress Widgets For Website Owners

This opens the Widgets section in your web browser …

Widgets Section

(Widgets Screen)

The Widgets screen displays 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 & drop)

Available widgets can be activated or deactivated by dragging & dropping items to different areas of the widgets screen.

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

The Widgets screen also 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 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 your 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 several pre-installed widgets

(In a default WordPress installation, 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 new plugins can sometimes add new widgets to your Widgets admin section!

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

WP Widgets Features: Drag And Drop

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

Rearrange widgets on your WordPress site using drag and drop

(Rearrange widgets using drag and drop)

Drag & drop lets you easily reconfigure the layout of your widget-enabled sections.

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

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

Widgets control how certain features appear on your site

(Widgets control the order certain features on your site display)

Looking inside the example site’s Widget area, you would see that these features appear on the site’s sidebar area in exactly the same order as they have been arranged in their active widget area …

Understanding WordPress For Newbies: Widgets - What Are They?

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

Drag & drop widgets in your widget area to rearrange their order

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

The widgets have now been reorganized in your sidebar …

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

As you can see, this instantly changes the layout of the sidebar. Note in the screenshot below that the click to call feature (3) is now the first item on the sidebar menu, and the contact us banner (2) has been moved to the place above the newsletter opt-in form (1) …

Widgets are very easy to use!

(Widgets are very easy to use!)

Pretty simple, huh?

Let’s go over some more useful things about widgets that are also worth keeping in mind about:

Widget Management – Customize Widgets Section

Depending upon the actual theme that you have installed, you’re also able to 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 these changes to the live website.

You can do many edits to your widgets in preview mode, like inserting, removing and reorganizing 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.

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 before publishing any changes (to avoid making errors), or change your widgets on the fly using the Widget editor screen shown previously.

Widget Configuration

As we’ve explained earlier, with WordPress you can quickly reorganize how information is displayed in widgetized areas of your website or blog, like sidebars, footers and navigation menus with only a few clicks of your mouse button, using drag-and-drop …

Rearranging sidebar elements using widgets can help to improve your site's user experience

(Rearrange sidebar layout using widgets to improve visitor experience)

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

Rearrange 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 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 subscriber forms, or just add things like a page index, or a dropdown menu of your blog post categories, an archived published posts section, custom page menus, links to recommended resources, links to your recent posts, the latest user comments, a section displaying clickable ad banners, quotations or survey results, content from RSS feeds, video galleries, social media buttons, and more.

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

(Some widgets offer little to no customizing options)

Most widgets offer a number of options that allow you to further configure things. 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 …

Many widgets offer customization

(Most widgets provide users with configurable options!)

Using Widgets

As you have 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 different widgets in WordPress to boost the effectiveness of your website or blog, plus lots of cool tips for getting the most benefit out of WordPress using widgets:

Related Posts

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

Hopefully, now you have a better understanding of issues that can affect your web site and how WordPress can help you build a better online. To learn more about the benefits of using the WP CMS platform please click on links to visit other posts we have published on this site.


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For a white label version of this tutorial visit WPTrainingManual.com.
Originally published as WordPress Widgets Explained.