A Guided Tour of the WordPress Admin

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For users new to WordPress (or those who have only used it in a limited capacity) the WordPress Admin is often seen as an intimidating place. There are so many menus, submenus, and settings to become familiar with that it can all start to feel a bit daunting. It doesn’t help that every new theme or plugin you install only adds to the complexity.

I discovered fairly early on that the best way to overcome this obstacle was to break the WordPress Admin down menu by menu. By doing that, I saw that each section is relatively easy to understand and once you know each section, you become comfortable with the whole thing.

After all, complexity is often just multiple layers of simplicity working together. If you can see and understand the layers for what they are, the complex becomes understandable. That’s why in today’s post I’d like to walk you through each section of the WordPress Admin. In doing so I hope to equip you with an understanding that will empower you to use WordPress more fully and confidently in the future.

A Guided Tour of the WordPress Admin


First, let’s assume that you are starting with a fresh install of WordPress 4.1.1 or greater. Upon logging in, the above image is what you will see: the WordPress welcome screen with helpful prompts on where to get started and what to do next. This first section of the WordPress Admin is called the Dashboard.

The Dashboard


The Dashboard has two submenus: Home and Updates. The Home screen, pictured above, displays a set of widgets designed to provide you with a bird’s eye view of the most important elements of your WordPress Install. New widgets will often appear when you install new themes and plugins. You can choose to hide or display these widgets by accessing the screen options drop-down menu located in the upper right hand corner of the Home screen.


The second submenu under Dashboard is called Updates. This is where WordPress notifies you of any new theme, plugin, or core updates. And, of course, where those updates are carried out.


The next primary menu in the WordPress Admin is the Posts menu. It has several submenus: All Posts, Add New, Categories, and Tags. The default submenu is All Posts and it is designed to function as a backend archive for all of your WordPress blog posts. You can search it, sort by post status (All, Published, Draft, etc.), filter by date or taxonomy, and take bulk actions using the provided drop down menu.


The next submenu is Add New. This menu option takes you to the post editor where both new posts are created and old posts are edited. There are several important elements to this screen, explained below.


Title–the title box seems pretty self explanatory; that’s where the post title goes. However, what is not as self evident is that upon entering a title, that text is automatically converted into your post’s permalink, which appears directly below it. You can leave this be, or edit it to optimize for SEO. I would highly recommend editing out any unnecessary words (such as “it”, “the”, “and”, etc.) in favor of focusing on keywords.

Post Content–the large post content box is where the content of your post will be created. The controls above it, which should be familiar to anyone who regularly uses email or a word processor, allow you to format your content as rich text. You can hit the “kitchen sink” button on the end to reveal more options too. Or, if you are more comfortable writing and editing in markup and html you can use the tabs at the upper right hand corner of the content box to write in a plain text environment.

Publish–the right hand side of the editor consists of a column of “meta boxes”, as in meta controls; the first being Publish. The Publish meta box allows you to save your draft, preview your draft, change its status, change its visibility (public, private, password protected, or sticky), schedule your post, delete your post, or of course publish your post.

Format–the format meta box represents the various styles of posts you can choose from. However, not all WordPress themes provide unique styling for each post format. If they do, this information will typically be a part of the promotional or descriptive copy accompanying a WordPress theme.

Categories–the categories meta box will automatically populate with your existing categories or you can choose to create new ones. I’d recommend planning your blog around 5-10 fairly broad categories (all within one very broad blog topic) and sticking to those. This will bring more focus to your content.

Tags–the tag meta box functions the exact same way, except you are expected to come up with more or less new/unique tags per post. This is a good practice since tags are meant to be much more specific than categories. Previously used tags will autocomplete as you begin to type them, which means adding them to new posts is very easy.

Feature Image–every WordPress install comes with a featured image meta box in the post (and page) editor, but not every theme supports them. You’ll have to check your theme details to be sure whether or not yours does. If it does, and you want to add one to your post, simply click the “Set Featured Image” link and follow the instructions for adding new media (which I will get into in more detail below).

Add Media–the final important element of the post editor screen is the Add Media button above the post content box. If you want to add an image or other type of media to your post this is where you will either upload it for the first time or import it into your post from the media library. When explaining the primary Media menu I will show and explain how this process works.

Next, we have the Categories submenu.


The categories submenu is where you create and manage both the category name (as it will appear on your site) and it’s slug (how it will appear in links). You can create standalone parent categories as well as subcategories underneath those, if desired.


The same is true of the next submenu: Tags. Even though you will most likely enter the bulk of your tags with the post or page editor meta boxes provided, this screen provides a great tool for managing existing tags as well as adding new ones.


The next primary menu is titled Media. It’s submenus are Media Library and Add New. The Media Library is exactly what the name suggests. An archive of all the media (images, audio, video) that you have uploaded to your website. You can search it, filter it, or take bulk actions.


By clicking on an attached piece of media you can view its details, add details, delete it, or choose to edit it.


The editing options are not extensive but they are designed to do the basics most people will need, such as scaling an image, rotating it, cropping it, and more.


If you want to upload new media, outside of a particular post or page, you can use the Add New submenu under the primary Media menu and either drag or select your files using the upload features there.


This is exactly how you would also upload media when using the Add Media button within the post or page editor too.


There are two submenus under the primary Pages menu: All Pages and Add New. The All Pages submenu is exactly like the All Posts submenu above in terms of layout and functionality. Literally the only difference is you’re managing pages instead of posts.


The second submenu, Add New, is very similar to the Add New section under Posts but with slightly different meta boxes on the right hand side. Here you will notice there is a page attributes meta box–allowing you to set a parent page and menu order for you pages if you want. However, I would recommend managing these things in the Appearance > Customize or Appearance > Menus sections instead.

Additionally, depending on the theme or plugins you install more meta box options may appear. For example, it is not uncommon for themes or plugins to offer the options for you to choose a different page template on this screen.


The next primary menu is Comments. Comments has no submenus and functions very similarly to the All Posts and All Pages archives described above. Here however, you’re managing comments instead of page or post content. As you can see in the image below, there are quite a few options for quickly sorting, approving, denying, or replying to comments–among other things.



The next primary menu is Appearance, which has several submenus: Themes, Customize, Widgets, Menus, Header, Background, and Editor. The default submenu is Themes (pictured below) where you are able to manage installed themes as well as upload new ones.


By default, WordPress comes pre-loaded with a few of its signature themes. At the moment, every WordPress install will come with the Twenty Fifteen theme activated and a few others installed for you to switch to if you choose. The Add New Theme button works similarly to the Add Media button above. Simple drag your theme’s zipped file on to the space provided or select it via the file finder option.


The Customize submenu (pictured above) has become increasingly important in the last few major releases of WordPress. By default you are able to change the site title, tagline, colors (limited), header image, background image, and more. All while seeing a live preview in the adjacent panel on the right side of the screen.

You can also manage your widget areas here as well as make your home page a different static page from your blog archive. Many of these functions actually have separate submenus still dedicated to them (as you’ll see below) but as WordPress advances more and more importance seems to be placed on housing all customization features within the Customize submenu.


The widgets submenu is where you are able to add available widgets to all of your widgetized areas. How many widgetized areas you have at your disposal is almost always dependent on your theme. How many widgets you have to work with (in addition to those that come by default) is usually dependent on the plugins you have installed. However some themes also come with specific widgets too.

In order to place a widget all you have to do is drag it into place within the widget area you choose. Or you can click on a widget and choose its positioning via the dropdown menu that appears.


Next we have the Menus submenu under Appearance. This is where you are able to create and manage as many menus as your theme will support. Most themes come with one or two menus while others all for several. To create a new menu simply click the “Create a New Menu” link. You will be prompted to name it and then you will be able to populate it via the Pages, Links, and Categories meta boxes on the left. When your menu is complete simply click the blue Save Menu button and you should be able to view it live. If nothing shows up, this might be because you have not selected a theme location under Menu Settings. In that case, choose the appropriate location, click save, and view it again.


Finally, the Appearance primary menu finishes with the Editor submenu. This submenu is dedicated to the files that make up a theme. In this editor you can edit the PHP or CSS of these files if you choose. That said though, it is generally recommended that you do not edit theme files within this editor. Especially if you have not created a child theme, as any changes you make to a parent theme will simply be overwritten as soon as you update your theme.

All necessary code changes should be made via a child theme, the instructions for creating one can be found in another post here on the Cohhe blog.


The next primary default menu is called Plugins. This menu and the scripts for which it is named after are just as big a part of what makes WordPress great as themes–maybe more so, since plugins are where all of the functionality comes from. And this is the menu where all of those wonderful scripts are managed and installed.


The default submenu under Plugins is Installed Plugins. This is another backend archive to help you keep track of the plugins you currently have installed. You can also see which are active or inactive, change those statuses quickly, or choose to edit or delete them just as easily. To add new plugins simply click the Add New button up top or click the next submenu under Add New.


The Add  Plugins screen has been optimized in recent versions to provide a great plugin browsing experience. The search feature is and categories are all connected to the official WordPress.org plugin repository, which gives you instant access to thousands of free plugins that can all be installed in just a few clicks.


The final submenu under Plugins is another code Editor. Only advanced users will want to make any edits to the files here, so if that isn’t you I wouldn’t worry much about it–aside from knowing it exists.


The Users menu contains three submenus: All Users, Add New, and Your Profile. The All Users submenu is an archive of all your registered users with search, filter, and action features similar to the other archives we explored above.


The Add New submenu is where you can manually enter in the details for a new site users. You will also have the ability to set their password and automatically send them their username and password via email.


And then of course there is the Profile submenu where each registered user (including site Admins) can fill in their personal details. For example this section is where blog authors would enter in the information that will appear in their bio sections on the front end. Certain plugins may provide more profile options depending how they affect registered users. Editorial and Social Network plugins would be two good examples.



The next primary menu in the WordPress admin is called Tools. It defaults to the submenu Available Tools, within which, there are two options: Press This, a bookmarklet for your browser; and the Categories and Tags Converter. Both are serviceable, and Press This could be great, but it does not seem that innovation on these built in tools is much of a priority for WordPress.


The next submenu is called Import. This screen houses all of the built in import tools for getting content from other platforms onto your WordPress website. All you have to do is click on the appropriate link and follow the step-by-step instructions.


The Export tool, which is the final submenu under Tools, is much simpler but still effective. It has all of three options from which to choose–All Content, Posts, or Pages–and in a single click it will give you an export file to be used on another WordPress website or platform of your choosing (assuming they have a WordPress import tool).



Last, but certainly not least, we have the primary Settings menu. Under the Settings menu there are several submenus: General, Writing, Reading, Discussion, Media, and Permalinks. All of which govern important aspects of your WordPress website.


Within the General settings (pictured above) you are able to write your site title and tagline, change your admin email, allow anyone to register, set the default user role of new users, set your timezone, format the date, format the time, and more. In this and the other settings submenus I would suggest leaving things in their default mode unless specifically needed or recommended.


The next submenu under Settings is Writing. The Writing screen can more or less be left as is, but if you want to change the formatting, default post category, and default post format for your specific purposes then go for it. There are also details providing you with all the information you will need to post via email.


The Reading submenu has one really important setting for anyone interested in using WordPress as more than just a blog. The top setting, called Front page displays, gives you the option of changing your front page to a static page instead of a feed of your latest blog posts. This will enable you to create a home and/or landing page that is separate from your blog.


The Discussion submenu provides you with a lot of options for tweaking the discussion experience on your website to suite your needs. I would recommend leaving everything as is until specific circumstances dictate a change. Examples being an increase or decrease in the amount of nested comments, blacklisting, etc.


The Media submenu allows you to control default image sizes as well as the default setting for file organization. Again, the default settings are pretty standard and probably don’t need to be changed.


Finally we come to the Permalink settings. This screen allows you to choose between five different permalink types or to create a custom one. Most WordPress experts and bloggers will recommend that you use the Post Name setting, myself included, but feel free to go with the setting that works best for you. The Post Name is generally considered to be best optimized for SEO but as long as you use proper keywords in your permalinks (via the Post or Page Editors) this should not become a problem when using different permalink structures. Unless, of course, you opt for a setting without any keywords present.

In Conclusion

The WordPress Admin has a lot of menus, options, and settings. And that’s before extra themes and plugins are installed! But I hope this post has shown that the broad strokes of each section can be easily understood, opening up an understanding of the whole backend.

If you have any questions about a specific default section or setting, just drop it in the comments below and we’ll do our best to provide a timely answer.


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Nathan is a professional writer and digital publisher. He's been using and writing about WordPress since 2010 and enjoys supplying useful WordPress news, reviews, tips, tricks, and tutorials. You can connect with him at his personal website or on facebook and twitter.


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