Understanding the Dashboard is key to understanding how WordPress works. One of the first things to remember is that WordPress gives you more than one path for the most common tasks you’ll be doing. The second is that your Dashboard can change when you:
- add a new plugin
- change your theme
- select different options in the Screen Options drop-down menu
Now, let’s get into the nitty-gritty of the Dashboard, one menu at a time.
This is what you see when you first log into WordPress.
The page is divided into sections.
- The Toolbar runs across the top of the page
- Menus run down the left side of the page
- The main part of the page includes:
- Screen Options
- At a glance
- Quick draft
- WordPress news
The toolbar is essentially a navigational aid. It includes shortcuts to:
- WordPress information and help
- view your website
- update plugins
- view comments
- add new posts, media, pages or users
- manage your user profile and log out
Along the left side are menus. They include:
When you hover your mouse over a menu, you’ll see a flyout that includes each menu item. Or, click the menu to see the same information within the left-hand column, or sidebar.
Help / Screen Options
These live as dropdowns in the upper right corner of the Dashboard. Note that the available Screen Options are context-sensitive. That means they will change depending on where you are in the Dashboard. If you’re on the Home screen, you can show or hide the Welcome message, Quick Draft, WordPress News, or At a Glance. If you’re working on a Page, they’ll include Author, Categories, Tags, Comments and Date.
This is just one of the ways WordPress provides context-sensitive information where and when you need it.
Home and Updates are the only two items in the Dashboard menu.
This area comprises the main part of the Dashboard screen. It includes
- At a Glance
- Quick Draft
- WordPress News
Each of these items is a widget. Remember that word – you’ll be running into it again. A widget adds content and features to a “widgetized” area. As with all widgets in WordPress, they can be reordered by dragging and dropping.
Welcome to WordPress
Once you’re familiar with the Dashboard, you’ll likely want to remove this. There’s an easy way – just click the X in the upper right-hand corner. Or you can hide it by unchecking its box in Screen Options. The Welcome widget provides shortcuts for some of the most common tasks you’ll perform as you set up your WordPress site.
At a Glance
This widget shows you basic information about your site — the number of posts and pages, the version of WordPress, and the theme you’re using. It also tells you if your site welcomes search engines — at this point, you want it to show “Search Engines Discouraged.” (Don’t worry if it doesn’t, we’ll get to that quickly.)
The Activity widget shows a list of recent posts you’ve published.
This can be a useful tool for starting posts, or of quickly jotting down ideas for posts as they come to you. Just type in a title or subject, and a few sentences, then click the Save Draft button. Later, you can come back and expand on it.
As its name implies, this widget shows you recent news about WordPress, with links to the articles.
As you do more with WordPress, new plugins may add additional widgets to the Dashboard Home page.
Note that you can rearrange your home screen by dragging and dropping the widgets.
Just like your car needs regular oil changes and tire rotations, WordPress requires maintenance, too. Plugins and themes are updated to provide better security or more functionality, and so is WordPress itself.
It’s important that you keep your plugins, theme, and WordPress up to date with the latest releases. This improves your site’s security, and keeps it running faster and more smoothly.
All of the plugins and themes I recommend come from reputable programmers and designers. They are all updated regularly, and the maker will send a notice when an update is available. That information will show up on this Updates page.
The two types of content you’ll be using are Posts and Pages. While your readers probably won’t know or care about the differences, you should be aware of how WordPress displays each and decide in advance what type of content you’ll use in posts and what type you’ll use in pages. In general, a post is the best choice for your educational content, like blog posts and articles, while a page is better for content about your business, like your About Page. To make posts searchable, WordPress lets you add tags and categories. The Posts Menu includes:
- All posts
- Add new
Clicking on All Posts takes you to an index page displaying a list of posts and information about them.
It shows you the Title of the post, the Author, Categories, Tags, number of Comments, and the Date Published or last modified. It also shows you which are Drafts. Hover your mouse over the Title, and you’ll see additional links.
Everything you see in blue (or red when you hover your mouse over it, like the word Trash above) is a clickable link. Click any title, and it will take you to the editing screen for that post. Click the author, and you’ll see an index of all that author’s posts. Click any category or tag, and WordPress will show you a list of all the posts sharing that tag or category. Or, click any comment speech bubble, and you’ll see an index of all comments on that post.
Edit and Quick Edit are helpful links. Edit takes you to the regular editing screen for the post. Quick Edit shows a limited set of edits you can make directly from the posts index.
Across the top of the screen, you’ll see a Search box on the right. Underneath it are arrows that let you scroll from page to page in the index. On the left are links for easy sorting and display. All posts is the default, but you can choose Published, Drafts, or Trash, and WordPress displays the number of each as well. Click Drafts, for example, and a much shorter list displays. Trash shows you the posts you’ve moved into the trash previously, and includes a handy Empty Trash button.
Select Bulk Actions, and you have the options to restore or delete permanently.
WordPress also provides shortcuts for editing the index of posts. Note the line of dropdown boxes and buttons. Dropdowns include:
- Bulk Actions
Note that the Bulk Actions dropdown is contextual. When you’re looking at All Posts or Published, the choices are Edit and Move to Trash. To edit or trash multiple posts at once, click the checkbox next to each post you want to select, select the desired action in the menu, then click Apply. You can also filter and sort the post index you see. All Dates includes the entire history of your site, or you can select a specific month. Similarly, choose All Categories or a specific category from the list. When you’re finished selecting, click the Filter button to see only those posts that meet your filtering criteria.
Last, you can sort your posts in ascending or descending order, the same way you might sort an Excel spreadsheet. Hover your mouse next to Title or Date, and a small arrow appears. Click it to show the posts in alphabetical order, A-Z or Z-A, or in date order with most recent first or oldest first. Note: Most of the WordPress index screens include this capability, as well as the contextual bulk actions.
Select Add New when you’re ready to create a new post. You’ll see a new page where you can add the title and begin typing the new post.
Clicking Categories takes you to an index of existing categories. On this screen, you can add or edit a category, and see how many posts have been assigned to each category.
This page looks very much like the Categories page, and shows existing tags and the posts assigned to each.
The Media Menu includes two items:
- Add New
The Library holds all your media, including images, audio, video, and some documents. For a current list of all the file types you can upload to the library, click here. (Note that some web hosts may not allow all types, or may not allow you to upload large files.) By default, your media library is displayed in Grid View, which looks like this.
Click on any image for details including
- File type
- Date uploaded
- File size
- Image URL
- Title (which can be different from the filename)
- Alt text
- Uploaded by
- Uploaded to (the name of the post or page)
There are also links to let you edit the image, edit its details, view the attachment page, or delete it.
If you prefer, you can look at your media in a list view, which is similar to the categories and tags pages. It includes a thumbnail image of the file, the author (person who uploaded it), the post or page it was uploaded to, and the date it was uploaded.
Hover over the name of the image to see additional options to edit, delete permanently, or view.
Add New, like its counterpart in the Posts menu, lets you add new media to the library. You can drag and drop an image onto the screen, or navigate to the file to upload it. Once it’s uploaded, click the Edit link or the image itself to make changes and add information.
(I took the time to collect dozens and dozens of images from my Photos app, renamed them all meaningful names, and uploaded in bulk, giving me a rich library of images to choose from at any time.)
The Pages menu is similar to the Posts menu, and includes two items — All Pages and Add New. You’ll find the same filtering and bulk options, and you can sort the Title and Date columns in the same way.
Click Comments (there are no submenus) and you’ll see an index page listing all comments, in reverse chronological order. It displays the comment Author, the text of the comment, and which post it’s attached to.
Just as the Posts and Pages indexes include links to quickly filter by draft, published, etc., the comments can be filtered by All, Pending, Approved, Spam and Trash.
Bulk actions include:
- Mark as spam
- Move to Trash
The Comment Types dropdown includes:
- All comment types
Hover your mouse over the text of the comment, and additional shortcuts pop up:
- Quick edit
The Quick Edit menu pops up an editable version of the comment, without making you navigate to the post the comment is attached to. If you click on Spam or Trash, the corresponding index includes a button to empty the spam or trash in a single step.
The Appearance Menu is one you’ll need to get familiar with quickly as you’re setting up your WordPress site. It always includes these submenus, and may include others depending on the theme you have installed:
- Custom CSS
- Edit CSS
This is where you add a new theme and change the theme your site is using.
The Customize menu will vary substantially depending on the theme you’re using. When you click Customize, you’ll see a panel on the left, with a live preview of your site on the right. This allows you to make changes and see immediately what they look like when applied. At a minimum, choices in this menu include:
- Site Identity
- Static Front Page
Site Identity includes the name of your website, and the tagline. You can change them here, and also in the Settings menu. Menus allows you to create a new navigation menu, and to assign a custom menu to a specific menu area. Your theme will dictate how many custom menus you can use in the layout. Menu settings are also available in the Menus item in the Appearance menu. I referred to Widgets earlier, and mentioned it’s a word you should get to know. Widgets add content and features to a widgetized area. The WordPress Dashboard uses widgets, and so does your site. Anything you see in a sidebar or footer, for example, is a widget. Your theme may provide other widgetized areas. Use widgets when you want to provide content that repeats across all pages or posts on the site.
Click Widgets in the Customize menu, and you’ll see a list of available widgetized areas.
Click on any of them to see which widgets are already installed in that widgetized area, add new widgets, or rearrange the widgets.Static Front Page lets you quickly choose whether you want to show your visitors a blog-style front page. This is also available in the Settings menu. A front page is what most of us think of as the home page. It’s what your visitors first see when they click a link (to http://www.mydomain.com) or type your URL into their browser.
Your theme may give you the option to create a more complex front page. Here’s a good rule of thumb: if your theme gives you tools to create a front page that doesn’t look like a standard blog, select “Front page displays your latest posts.” If you create the front page yourself using HTML, select “Front page displays a static page.” If it doesn’t look as you expect it to, check your theme’s documentation.
When you select the static page, two additional choices appear. You’ll need to specify which page to use as the front page, and which page to use for your posts.
If you’ve made any changes in the Customizer, remember to click the Save & Publish button to keep your changes!
You can manage widgets here the same way you do in the Customizer. On the left, you’ll see available widgets. These will vary depending on the plugins you’ve installed and your theme. On the right, you’ll see your available widgetized areas.
To add a widget to a widgetized area, simply click the name. In the dropdown box, select the widgetized area where you want it, and click Add Widget. Some widgets will require additional steps to set up. Once they appear in the correct widgetized area, click the small triangle icon on the upper right-hand corner of the widget to expand it and provide the additional information.
You can rearrange widgets by simply dragging and dropping them.
When you understand menus, you’ll be able to make it easy for visitors to navigate your site.
By default, most themes will add all top-level pages to the primary navigation menu. This can get messy, and may not be at all helpful for site visitors. Instead of relying on the defaults, you should create a custom menu that includes exactly the navigation you want your visitors to see.
If you’re using an image in your header, this is where you upload it. Your theme documentation should tell you more about the header image size and other specifications.
If you’re using a background image, this is where you upload it. Your theme documentation should tell you more about the background image size and other specifications.
If you want to customize a part of your site’s design, you can change the CSS styling with this tool, or add styling to it.
This option opens the Customizer, where you can add new CSS styling.
The editor lets you change the underlying code for your theme. I strongly advise against using it, for two reasons.
First, unless you’re experienced with WordPress, PHP and CSS code, the potential for site-breaking errors is large. And second, best practices call for editing these files in a text editor and uploading them back to the site via FTP.
Plugins extend the functionality of what WordPress and your theme can do. You’ll quickly become familiar with the Plugins Menu.
Click on Installed Plugins to see an index of all the plugins currently installed. You’ll notice a lot of similarities between this index page and some of the others we’ve already introduced.
Across the top, you’ll see links to All, Active, and Drop-Ins. If you were to deactivate a plugin, that list of links would change.
You now have links to Inactive and Recently Active plugins. Bulk Actions include:
Plugins are listed alphabetically, and unlike the Posts, Pages, and other index screens we’ve seen so far, there are no columns that you can sort to reorder
Click on the Add New item in the Plugins menu, and you’ll see a grid of plugins available from WordPress.org.
You can search for plugins in four categories:
Or, if you know the name of the plugin you want, or the type of plugin, enter it into the search box on the right.To install any of these plugins, click its Install Now button. If you want to install a plugin you’ve previously downloaded to your computer, click the Upload Plugin link at the top of the page, select the zip file, and click Install Now.
As with the Editor in the Themes menu, this allows you to directly edit the plugin code. We recommend that you do not use it at all.
A WordPress site can have multiple users — people who are entitled to log in to the WordPress dashboard.
Because you don’t want to give other users the ability to change your WordPress site, you can assign a specific role to each user. This is the menu where you can add users and assign them roles.
Like other index pages in WordPress, this index shows a list of all users, and information about them.
This is where you add new users. All information can be modified later except for the username.
On this screen, you can change your preference for how the WordPress Dashboard looks to you, as well as making changes to your information. The username cannot be changed, but you can change the rest of the user information, including contact and biographical information.
Some plugins will add additional information to this screen.
This menu includes tools for uploading and downloading to and from WordPress.
At a minimum, this screen includes the Press This bookmarklet. It’s a way to add content to your WordPress site as you’re browsing the web.
You can export all your content into an XML file. This is useful for some archival purposes, but mainly it’s used when you’re changing hosts.
Similarly, you can import content into WordPress. With the appropriate downloaded tool, you can import from:
- Category and Tags Converter
- Live Journal
- Moveable Type and TypePad
This is the menu you use to set up basic settings for WordPress to follow.
Here’s where you’ll find your site’s Title and Tagline. You’ll also see the WordPress URL and Site URL here — and yes, they can be different! This allows you to install WordPress in a subfolder, while keeping the URL for visitors simple.
Note: Several additional steps are required to make this work. If you’ve installed WordPress in a subfolder and you’d like to send your visitors to a different URL, click the want your site home page to be different from your WordPress installation directory link, and follow the instructions there. The email address here is the email that WordPress will send administrative notices to.
Check the box next to Membership if you want readers to be able to sign up on your website, and choose the New User Default Role. When you schedule a post to publish at a specific time, WordPress sends it at that time for the Timezone you select here. Additional fields on this screen include Date Format, Time Format and Week Starts On. Last, you can specify a Site Language.
Writing settings control how WordPress handles input.
Formatting lets you choose how to show emoticons, and lets WordPress automatically correct XHTML code. Use the Default Post Category to choose the category you want WordPress to automatically assign a new post to if you don’t specify a category. Use the Default Post Format to choose the format for new posts, unless you specify a different format. Available formats will vary depending on your theme. When you use WordPress, you don’t need to create your posts within the program. You can email them in. If you’re going to do that (there are pros and cons, which we’ll discuss later), set up the email information in the Post Via Email section of the Writing screen.
Use the Reading Settings screen to tell WordPress how you want readers to see the information on the site.
For many visitors, the first part of your site they see is the home page (or front page, as WordPress now refers to it). Do you want visitors to see a blog when they first arrive at your site? Or will you create a different type of home page. Make your selections in the Front Page Displays area of the Reading screen. You can choose to display Your latest posts or a Static page. If you choose a static page, use the dropdown boxes to select which page to display for the static homepage, and for your posts (blog) page. You can only select these options once you have published pages or posts to choose from. Next, choose how many posts to display on a page of your site, and in an RSS feed. (Not sure what an RSS feed is? Here’s a quick primer.) Do you want to show the full text or a summary of each post?
Last, and this is important, check or uncheck the box next to Search Engine Visibility depending on whether you want search engines to spider the site. When you’re first setting up your new WordPress site, it’s a good idea to check this box to discourage search engines. Do remember to uncheck it later, though, when you’re ready for the site to go public. If you forget, your site may never appear in the search results!
The Discussion menu controls aspects of the commenting system on your WordPress site. There are a number of settings and choices on this screen. If you’re new to WordPress or WordPress commenting, it’s okay to leave the default settings until you’ve become more familiar with it.
Many sites have problems with comment spam. I’ll address that later on.
The Media Settings menu controls how images are displayed on your site, and how media files are organized. Most of today’s themes override these settings, so check your theme documentation if you have questions about the sizes of images on your site.
It’s a good idea to check the box next to Organize my uploads into month- and year-based folders as it makes it easier to find specific images and other media files.
If you make no changes here, WordPress will create URLs for your posts and pages that look something like this: http://mysite.com/?p=285
That’s not helpful or informative, for your readers or for the search engines. It’s better to use a URL that’s more descriptive, like: http://mysite.com/what-are-widgets
When someone lands on that page, the URL confirms that they can expect to see information about widgets here. Search engines also use that information to confirm that the content of the page matches the URL, helping to boost its ranking.
You make this happen in WordPress by using permalinks. When you open this screen, you’ll see a list of examples of the most common permalinks. Select one, or, if you know how to use the tags correctly, create your own.
For most bloggers, the post name permalink is the best choice. Note: if you want to install WordPress in one directory while choosing a different URL as the site URL, you will need to change the permalink from the default.
Note how I’ve chosen to use a custom structure that incorporates the category + post name. If you’re creating news content that is dated, include a date structure on the end of your URLs. Otherwise, I recommend leaving the date off.
WordPress Basics for Bloggers Series
- What Is WordPress
- How To Get Started With WordPress
- How To Use The WordPress Dashboard (you are here)
- How To Use WordPress Themes
- How To Use WordPress Plugins
- Understanding WordPress Site Security
- WordPress Blogs: It’s All About The Content
- How To Optimize WordPress For Speed
- How To Prepare Your Blog To Build Traffic From Search
- How To Prepare Your Blog To Build Traffic From Social
Next Steps For New Bloggers
- Validate your blogging idea and create a plan using the Blogging Startup Planner.
- Follow the steps outlined in How To Start A Blog: The Ultimate Free Guide.
- Use the Ultimate Blogging Planner to plan your blog content and strategy for the coming year.
- Use the Blog Promotion Checklist to get maximum visibility to your blog posts each and every time.