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 great benefits to choosing the WordPress web publishing software for building and managing a 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 website without coding skills.

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

WordPress widgets

(WordPress widgets)

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

How Do WordPress Widgets Work? Understanding Widgets For Beginners

Widgets make managing and using WordPress easy

(Widgets make managing and using WordPress easy!)

Widgets are small modules of code that perform a specific function, such as adding an enhancement, or a text box or list item to your website or blog.

WordPress is written using a scripting language called PHP (Hypertext Preprocessor). Normally, to add features and functions to a website, you have to know how to program PHP code.

Now … don’t worry if this sounds like geek speak. As you are about to see, widgets are perfect for non-techie website owners.

With WordPress widgets, you don’t have to know how to write code or manipulate PHP code to enhance your site.

WordPress widgets help you control technical features and functions on your website without requiring coding skills

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

Widgets were originally developed to provide a simple way to give WordPress users to control aspects of their WordPress theme’s layout and functionality.

In plain English terms, widgets allow you to:

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

  • index of pages
  • post categories
  • post archives
  • custom menus
  • links to resources
  • posts that you want to promote
  • user comments
  • clickable images
  • quotations
  • poll results
  • RSS content excerpts
  • opt-in subscription form
  • product catalog images
  • social media buttons
  • display widgets from other sites (e.g. Twitter)
  • administrative forms (e.g. login, register, etc.)

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

As you will learn shortly, WordPress themes can affect how widgets display on your website and some plugins also add accompanying widgets that will improve your site’s usability.

Widget-Ready Themes

Most WordPress themes support widgets and provide widget-ready sections in the theme’s layout where widgets can show up in.

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

It all depends on the theme you have installed.

For example, the theme in the screenshot below provides users with only one widget area for the theme’s sidebar navigation …

Some WP Themes provide only a single widgetized section

(Some WordPress themes only provide a single widgetized section)

Below is the widget screen of the above theme, and you can see that this specific theme only contains one widgetized area …

About WordPress Widgets An Introduction To WordPress Widgets For Business Users

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

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

Many WordPress themes provide a number of widget areas

(Many WP themes provide a number of widget-enabled sections)

Below is the widget screen of the theme above, and 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 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?

To access the Widgets panel go to Appearance > Widgets

How Do WordPress Widgets Work? An Overview Of WordPress Widgets For Beginners

This brings up the Widgets section in your web browser …

Widgets Screen

(Widgets Screen)

The Widgets panel displays a list of all the widgets you can use 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 activated or deactivated using drag-and-drop.

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

In addition, the Widgets screen includes an Inactive Widgets section that lets you remove widgets that you no longer want actively displayed on your site. Inactive widgets retain their pre-configured settings.


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

By default, 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 website or blog, you will see that new widgets have also been added to your Widgets section …

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

(Installing 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 delete them from your Widgets area using drag & drop …

Rearrange your site's widgets using drag & drop

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

Drag & drop lets you easily rearrange the layout and order of your site’s 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 click for support banner, and
  3. Click to call sales buttons from a widgetized WP plugin …

Widgets control the order certain features on your site display

(Widgets control how certain features appear on your WordPress site)

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

Understanding WordPress For Business Users: What's A Widget?

Let’s now change the order 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 widget features have now been reorganized in the sidebar …

Understanding WordPress For New Users: About WordPress Widgets

This instantly changes the order of items in your 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 graphic button (2) is now found above the newsletter sign-up form (1) …

Widgets are very easy to use!

(WordPress widgets are very easy to use!)

Pretty simple, huh?

Here are some other things worth knowing about WP widgets:

Widget Management – Previewing Widgets

Depending upon the actual theme that you have installed, you’re also able to manage and customize 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 many edits, modifications and adjustments to your widgets 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 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 before publishing any changes (to avoid making mistakes), or change widgets on the fly using the Widget editor area discussed earlier.

Widget Configuration

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

Rearrange sidebar elements with widgets to improve visitor experience

(Rearrange sidebar layout using widgets to improve visitor experience)

In the screenshot above, for example, you can see that we have redesigned the site’s sidebar by switching around 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.

Reorganizing 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 your web templates to reorganize the order of elements, make unique customizations to features on page elements like subscriber forms, or just add useful features like a nested list of pages, or a dropdown menu of your blog categories, a blog post archive section, menus to display selected pages, links to recommended resources, a list of your most popular posts, the latest post comments, a section displaying advertising, quotations or survey questions & results, RSS content, videos, 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 customizing options

(Some widgets provide users with little to no configuration options)

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

Many widgets provide users with customization

(Many widgets provide users with customization!)

How To Use WordPress Widgets

As we have just seen, widgets require no coding experience or programming expertise to use. Most widgets can be added to your 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 detailed step-by-step tutorials showing you how to use a number of different widgets in WordPress to boost the effectiveness of your website or blog, plus many great tips for getting the most out of WordPress with widgets:

Related Posts

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

Hopefully, this post has given you 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 using WordPress for a business web site please click on links to visit 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.