how to change a wordpress theme

Around a third of all websites in the world are built on WordPress, and for good reason. It’s easy to use and extremely customizable.

But that doesn’t mean someone that’s inexperienced at running a website will naturally know how to manage the main types of functionality available with WordPress. It still has a learning curve.

For website owners working to get more out of their WordPress sites, widgets are a useful feature you’ll likely want to take advantage of. And sidebars are one of the most common types of widgets.

This post will help you gain an understanding of what WordPress widgets and sidebars are, and how to use them on your own website—even if you’re starting out as a total newbie. 

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What Are WordPress Widgets?

Widgets are one of the tools available to WordPress website owners for easily customizing your site. They allow you to add sections to your web pages that include set types of content and features. You can add a widget to one page specifically, or use them to update the overall template or website structure used across pages. 

Some common examples of features you can add to your WordPress site via widgets are:

  • Sidebars (more on that in a bit)
  • A search bar
  • An automatically generated list of recent blog posts (like the one on the right side of this page)
  • A list of your most popular blog posts
  • A navigation menu
  • An image gallery
  • An audio player
  • Embedded video
  • A calendar
  • A blogroll of links to sites you recommend
  • Recent comments

As you can see, a lot of the common elements you see on websites around the web can be added and managed using WordPress widgets.

How to Add a Widget in WordPress

Adding a new widget to your WordPress website is fairly easy, and you have a few different ways you can go about it. 

Option 1: Adding a Widget in the Widgets Section

When logged into WordPress, select Appearance in the menu on the left side of the screen, then Widgets. 

how to set up widgets in wordpress

If you already have any widgets on your site, those will show up on the right side of the page. On the left, you’ll see a list of the widget options that come included with WordPress, or with your WordPress theme. 

Scroll through the list until you see the type of widget you want. Click on it, select where on your site you’d like it to go (your default options likely include footer and sidebar).

add new widget in wordpress

You can also click on the widget you want to add, and drag it to the section on the right side of the page where you want it to go (e.g. drag and drop to Sidebar, if that’s where you want to add it).

Either way, you’ve now added a widget to your website! 

The widget box will provide details on what customizations options you have based on the type of widget it is. For example, a widget for recent posts will let you choose how many recent posts to show and choose whether to show the post’s date in the sidebar. 

Make your choices, fill in the appropriate information, and check your website to make sure it looks the way you want. 

examples of categories and recent posts widgets in wordpress

Option 2: Adding a Widget in the Customize Section

Our second main option for adding a widget to your website is by clicking on Appearance and Customize. This option will let you preview how your site will look as you make changes to it. 

add widget through customize appearance in wordpress

Select Widgets in the menu on the left side of the page. You’ll see the list of places on your website where you can add a widget. Click on the one you want, then select Add a Widget. 

how to customize widget in wordpress

You’ll see a list of options for the different types of widgets you can add. Select the type you want, then fill in the details to customize it the way you want. You can check that it looks the way you want it to in the view on the right side of the screen before you save the change. If you like what you see, click the Publish button in the top left. 

More Useful Things to Know About Widgets in WordPress

That covers the steps you need to take to add a widget, but there are a few questions you may have along the way. Here are some useful facts:

  • Your options depend on your theme. The default sections you see for where a widget can be added (e.g. sidebar, footer) will vary based on the WordPress theme you’ve used. The same thing goes for the widget options that will be included in the list for you.  
  • Customization options depend on the widget type. Each type of widget will have a box that includes some basic options for what you want the widget to look like and do. That may include adding text or an image, or it may be as simple as deciding whether to click a box or two. 
  • You can define where the widget shows up with Visibility. If you only want your widget to show up on some pages and not others, clicking on the Visibility button in the widget box will open up some options to control when and where the widget shows up. 
  • You have additional options with widget plugins. If you don’t see any widgets in the list available to you that match what you want to add to the page, the WordPress plugin library extends your options considerably. 

What Are WordPress Sidebars?

Sidebars are one of the most common types of widgets people use in WordPress. They control the content that shows up on the side of the web page. Many of the websites you visit have content on the right side of the page that’s set apart from the body of the page (the central part).

For example, we use a sidebar on the HostGator blog:

example of blog sidebar for wordpress website

Often, you’ll see the same information there across different pages on the site. If the website was built on WordPress, that information is added and managed via sidebar widgets. 

How to Add A Sidebar in WordPress

When you follow the instructions provided above for adding widgets in WordPress, with most themes, you’ll see the option to add widgets to a sidebar. But if your theme doesn’t already have one, or you want to create a custom sidebar for some pages or sections of your WordPress site, you can add one. 

All you do is select Widgets in the Appearance section of the menu, then click “Create a new sidebar” at the top of the page.  

how to add sidebar in wordpress

Fill in the details requested in the form. Click on Sidebar Location to establish where your sidebar will show up. Then add widgets to customize the information you want the sidebar to display. 

add new custom sidebar in wordpress

Get Started with Widgets and Sidebars on Your WordPress Site

WordPress can be extremely powerful, if you know how to use it. Adding widgets and sidebars to your site immediately extends the functionality available to you, and gives you a lot more room to customize your website to fit your needs.

Kristen Hicks is an Austin-based freelance content writer and lifelong learner with an ongoing curiosity to learn new things. She uses that curiosity, combined with her experience as a freelance business owner, to write about subjects valuable to small business owners on the HostGator blog. You can find her on Twitter at @atxcopywriter.