Understanding the WordPress Dashboard

This is a beginner level WordPress post to teach beginner to intermediate WordPress users some of the things they may not have picked up just by learning the basics. No doubt you may already know some of these methods, but surely you will learn a couple things here even if you have been using WordPress for some time now. This tutorial concentrates on features of the WordPress dashboard, also known as the WordPress admin. It covers most of the features that are not obvious. I don’t cover some of the basic options that most of you probably already know already or options that are obvious just by looking at them.

Learning Admin Extras

Here are some attributes of the admin area everyone should be aware of.

  • Screen Options – If you have never noticed the Screen Options in the upper right corner of the WordPress dashboard or admin area, now is a good time to explore these options. You should be on the edit posts screen, then click the down arrow beside the Screen Options box to expand the top of the page and see what options exist there. Checking any of the options in the drop-down menu will result in that feature being added to the admin page somewhere below the WYSIWYG editor.
  • Custom Fields – This is a very handy feature if you need a custom variable for a custom script or feature you may wish to add to your blog. To learn more about custom fields see the WordPress codex or read about them in one of my more advanced tutorials on Wphub.com.
  • Discussion – add the ability to enable and disable comments, trackballs and pings from the admin page.
  • Comments – add the ability to the admin to add comments to the post or page you are currently editing.
  • Slug – allows you to control the link text of pages from the admin page.
  • Author – adds a drop-down that contains any authors that have registered on your blog. You can then change authors by selecting a new one if you so choose.
  • Revisions – provides a list of past revisions for the current page or post you are editing. You can select any of them to view, edit or use them as the current page if you like.
  • Page Attributes – allows you to change or edit page attributes such as parent, template and the order in which they appear in your blog.
  • Featured Image – allows you to select a featured image from the images in the current post or page.
  • Screen Layout – permits you to change your dashboard layout from two to one column and back as you wish.
  • Publish Panel – The publish box in the right column by default of the WordPress admin has some features you should also be aware of. Here are the features of this admin panel.
  • Preview Changes – is a button in the upper right corner of the box that allows you to preview any changes you have made with the WYSIWYG editor before committing to them with the update button.
  • Status – is a drop-down in the top left of the publish box that allows you to change the post or page’s status from published, pending review or draft. It has to be set to published to appear in your blog. The other two settings will block the post or page from public view until you change the status to published again. Drafts indicate that the page is not yet done and pending review indicates that it requires admin approval before it will be published.
  • Visibility – this is a very handy feature that some of you may not be aware of. One key thing it does is allows you to control whether or not a link is added to the main navigation menu for pages. If you do want the page you are editing to show in the main site navigation menu, then leave this set to public or change it to public if it isn’t already It should be public by default. If you do not want it to show in the navigation menu, simply change the visibility to private. Another nice feature of the visibility setting is that you can select password protect to add a password to the page you are editing. If you do that, site visitors cannot view the page without knowing and entering the password.
  • Published On – You may never use this feature, but if you ever have a reason to change the date a blog was published on, this is where you can do it. Simply click the “edit” link beside the date and it will allow you to change the publish date to whatever you like. This is the date that displays by each blog post or page indicating when it was published.
  • Move to Trash – This is a quick and easy way to scrap the current post or page. Clicking on the “Move to Trash” link doesn’t permanently delete the post or page. It stores it in the trash can which allows you to restore it later if you made a mistake by deleting it or just changed your mind. It is better to use this rather than deleting a post or page permanently if you think you might want it back some day.
  • Update Button – Finally in the lower right corner of the publish box is the update button. I am sure everyone is familiar with this, but I feel it is necessary to mention that you should hit this button every time you make even the smallest of changes. Some things seem like they may have been saved when they really have not. For example, when you change something like the visibility, it acts like you have saved it, but it isn’t ever truly saved until you use this update button, so no matter if you make a change to the content or just one of the settings, use the update button to lock in your changes before you are done.

WordPress Admin Dashboard Left Navigation Menu

dashboardMost of the settings in WordPress are accessed from the main left hand side navigation menu. All of these next options are accessed from there. Some of the ones above can be too, but these are directly accessed from the left navigation menu. Below is an image of a typical WordPress Dashboard so you can see exactly what we are describing below the image.

  • Media – Moving over to the left column of the WordPress dashboard or admin area, there are several useful links in the left side navigation menu. Among these are the Media options. You can click on “Library” under “Media” to view, edit or delete any of the images or other media on your blog to date. You can also add images, movies, etc. here for later use. If you store such items in your media library, you can easily find them when you go to make a new post or page. You can add them from the “Library” option when adding an image from the WYSIWYG editor. While you don’t have to use the library feature at all, it helps you to keep your blog’s images organized and saves time as well.
  • Appearance – Again in the left column of the WordPress dashboard/admin area you will find the “Appearance” menu which has a sub menu with several items. Most you are probably familiar with, so I won’t cover all of them here. Take a look at the “Widgets” option. If you click on “Widgets”, an interactive, click and drag menu appears to the right of the left column. You can click and drag widgets from the available widgets box to any of the boxes in the right column such as side bar, footer, etc.

Here are some of the widgets you may not have explored so far on your own:

  1. Text – The text widget is for arbitrary text or HTML. This is great for doing things like adding a personal quote or other custom text to your sidebar or footer of your blog or website. To use it, click and drag the widget from available widgets to the sidebar or footer box. Then just add a title if you want one and some text in the textarea below it. It will show up in either the footer or side bar depending on where you placed the widget. Some people don’t realize this feature exists and go through all the trouble of developing a custom page template just to accomplish the same thing that can be done with this simple text widget. In the image below, where it says “Welcome” in the left column and all the text after that was put there with the text widget. “Welcome” was the title I added. I added the rest of the text in the textarea of the widget’s admin panel. You can also add HTML code in the textarea as well if you prefer to get fancy.
  2. dashboard text

  3. Tag cloud – Also among the widgets you will find the tag cloud widget in the available widgets box by default. If you drag this to the footer or sidebar it will add a list of tags that act as links to your blog or website. This is commonly known as a tag cloud and you have probably seen them on websites before. They are great for SEO purposes because they add relative keywords and links to the Web page, both of which help with search engines.
  4. Editor – Also under the Appearance heading in the left column, is the editor. The editor feature is for customizing PHP, CSS, HTML and JavaScript files for your current theme. You should only use this if you are a more advanced WordPress user. I wanted to bring it to the attention of readers who may be aspiring to become WordPress gurus in the future. This is a feature you will be using to edit theme files if you ever decide to learn how to build custom theme templates yourself. If you know CSS reasonably well, you probably could use the editor already to make some style changes to your WordPress blog. Select the style.css file in the right column of the page to edit you blog or website’s main style sheet. You can figure out what styles to edit by going to the page that you want to change in your browser and viewing the source code to find out the id or class for the elements you want to change. Then find the corresponding id or class in the style.css file to make changes to that style. It is possible, but rare that some themes may not use style.css for the main style sheet, so if that is the case, search through the other files with the .css extension and see which corresponds with the page you want to edit the style of. A quick search for a particular class name should help you find the right file.
  • Plugins/Editor – There is also another “editor” option under the “Plugins” menu which is just after “Appearance” in the left navigation menu. This editor works the same but for plug-in files as the prior one works for theme files. Again, this is for more advanced WordPress users and plug-in developers.
  • Users – Another feature available in the left navigation menu is the “Users” option which allows you to add and delete users. If you are planning on having more than one person add content to your blog or website, it is a very good idea to give each user their own user account. That way you can tell who added what and the user’s name will show up under each post that they added.
  • Profile – Under the “Users” option of the left navigation menu is the “Profile” link. Click it to fill in or edit your personal profile information. One important option available on the profile setting screen that I want to point out is the “display name publicly as” option. You have probably noticed that WordPress often refers to you as “Admin” or something else that might not be ideal for your situation. By changing the publicly displayed name, you can control what name gets displayed on the blog or website. This way you will no longer have to see the generic admin name any longer. It can display your name or your nickname instead.
  • Tools – The “Tools” option is also in the main left navigation menu. It contains three options under it. The available tools option just shows any available tools from WordPress.org. The import and export options are the interesting ones that I want to explain to you. WordPress has a built in XML feature called WordPress eXtended RSS or WXR for short. With these import and export features, you can export the entire content of your blog and then go and import that same content into another WordPress blog. This is a very easy way to transfer content from one WordPress site to another.
  • Settings – Finally, at or near the bottom of the left navigation panel, is the settings option. Clicking or hovering over “Settings” gives you several other options. Most of these are fairly important, so I will go over each in more detail below:
    General – The “General” option under “Settings” has several general settings for your blog or website. From the general panel, you can change the following settings:
    Site Title – is what shows up at the top of most WordPress sites and also in browser tabs.
    Tagline – is another block of text that normally shows up near the top of your WordPress site. This is the text that says: “Just another WordPress site” by default until you change it here. You can change it or make it empty whichever you prefer.
    Site URLs – there are two options for altering URLs of your site. There is the WordPress Address which is set to the root folder of your WordPress installation and there is the Site Address, which is a URL you can alter if you want your home page to be different than your WordPress root folder.
    Email Address – is the admin email. This is used for whenever your blog needs to notify you of something and is mostly used for comments. If you have the mediate comments option on, you will receive an email at this address each time someone comments on one of your postings. You can then approve, deny or trash the comment from links in that email or by going to the WordPress dashboard.
    Membership – consists of a single check box that reads: “Anyone can register” if you want your site to have open registration to the public, meaning anyone who visits your site can sign up, then check this box. If you don’t want anyone to be able to register but a few select people, then do not check this box, register them manually instead to avoid unwanted registrations.
    New User Default Role – This option allows you to set the default role all new users will have when they sign up.
    Time Zone – is where you set the time zone for your blog. Setting this is important if you want dates and times to be correct all the time in blog posts. Since I am in the Eastern Time zone, I set mine to “New York”. You can do the same if you are in the Eastern time zone. If you are in another time zone, either select your city or one close by and it should be okay. If you know the UTC time, you can use that as well. For example, UTC for eastern time zone is UTC-5 because we are five hours off.
    Date Format – allows you to change the way the date appears in posts. The date shows when the post was published.
    Time Format – allows you to alter the time format.
    Week Starts On – lets you select what day you want your week to start on for your blog because some people like it to start on Sunday like a calendar week and others prefer their week to start on Monday like a typical work week.
  • That pretty much covers the settings options from the WordPress dashboard. Be sure to always click on the “Save Changes” button at the bottom of the page when ever you make a change to the settings page or the changes will not be recorded.

    Summary

    I hope you learned something new about the WordPress dashboard by reading this tutorial. Sometimes, the best way to figure out the WordPress admin pages and settings is to simply play with them. Don’t play with them on your live blog though. This is where a test site comes in handy. If you would like to know how to make a clone of your WordPress site just for testing and experimentation, see my tutorial about cloning WordPress sites and it will show you how to do it the quick and easy way. You should always have at least one backup and one test site cloned just for testing and learning. I have a few myself that I use for testing and experimenting to write these WordPress tutorials. I test everything before I write about it so I know my tutorials are technically accurate.

    This article was authored by:

    Ian Lincicome is a web developer and freelance writer with over 20 years experience in web development and writing. He specializes in Web Development, Custom WordPress Development, Programming, Online Application Development, Fiction Writing and Technical Writing. He enjoys sharing his knowledge with others on WPHub.com.

    Ian Lin has authored 38 posts.Visit Website

    Showing 2 Comments

    • This is greatest writing about wordpress dashboard I have ever read. Good job, lan Lin! (y)

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    • Thank you for this great writing. I have never read any fantastic writing about wordpress dashboard like this one. Goodd Job, lan Lin!

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