WordPress Basics Part 2: The WordPress Dashboard

16 Min.
WordPress dashboard settings
Last updated on 16/07/2020

At first part of this series I explained what WordPress is, how a website is constructed and what the differences are between pages and posts. In this article we'll be taking a look at the WordPress admin dashboard. I will be showing you step by step where you can change settings and which of those settings are important. Of course I'll also be giving you tips and tricks throughout the article as to why I recommend certain settings.

Preparation

Before we get started, a note about username and password. Most hosters will allow you to set your own username and password. Unlike the password, changing the username usually entails considerable effort.

Username

The username should not be your first or last name and should not be "admin". It is best to choose something innocuous that has nothing to do with your real name. The username is not necessarily visible to the visitors, you can decide later with which name you appear on your website.

Password

The password should be completely secure! Please do not use "admin123", "password" or "vacation". It is best to use unique passwords with special characters and letter/number combinations. The more complex the better.

Tip: use a mnemonic sentence

In order to be able to remember complex passwords, think of a sentence that the password is then made up of.

For example, "Hello I am Johannes and this is my password for WordPress" becomes the password HiaJ&t=mPWfWP!

For Facebook the sentence would be "Hello I am Johannes and this is my password for Facebook" and the password would be HiaJ&t=mPWfFb!

Once you have thought of a sentence, you can customize it for each system and have individual passwords for each service.

As a secure password is one of the most important security measures (for example against Brute Force attacks), RAIDBOXES uses a validator for all login details to check if your chosen password is safe enough.

WordPress  Basics Part 2: The WordPress  Dashboard

The WordPress Dashboard

And we're in! After logging in with your individual username and password, you will find yourself in the WordPress dashboard, the "command center" of your WordPress site. Other names for this area include WordPress backend, WordPress admin dashboard or WP admin

WordPress  Basics Part 2: The WordPress  Dashboard

Don't worry if you feel a little overwhelmed when you first log in, it's (almost) impossible to break anything. Nevertheless, I recommend you first read this article from start to finish so you can go through the steps once more and read the sections that are most relevant for you. 

Attention!

The order you see may be slightly different depending on the hoster, installation, WordPress version, theme and setup. There may also be some items here you don't see on the list and vice versa but most of the points should stay the same.

With the WordPress dashboard you control and organize all your content, select a template (called a "theme" in WordPress), moderate comments, and complete a multitude of other tasks. The admin dashboard is the entire command center of your WordPress website. As with other content management systems, everything happens in the browser. So you can edit your website, create posts or pages from anywhere in the world as long as you have an internet connection.

Contrary to the order shown in the dashboard, we won't be going from top to bottom in this article but rather starting at the bottom in the settings. If you are configuring your WordPress website for the first time, I also recommend this order.

One more thing: there are several possible ways or locations in the dashboard to change most settings. Over time you will automatically come across various different ways. In this article I will show you just one possibility.

Settings

In this section you can define the basic settings of your CMS. Most of the time you will only be making these settings once, so you should think carefully about what you are doing. It's better take some time here and not rush through the list. This menu item is one of the few areas where you can actually mess something up.

If you click on "settings", you will be taken directly to:

General

WordPress  Basics Part 2: The WordPress  Dashboard

Here you can change the general settings, which I'll explain below.

Site title

The title of the web page is displayed at the top of the "header" in most themes. Here you can enter, for example, your own name, the name of the project you are creating a website for or the name of the association. 

Tagline

In many themes the tagline appears next to or below the title. In some theme, however, the subtitle is not displayed at all. Here you can enter a short description of yourself, your company or your association.

WordPress address (URL)

The WordPress address is the URL, domain, of your WordPress installation. Mostly it is the same URL as the website address. For some hosters it can be different, however.

Website address (URL)

This is the URL of your website.

Careful! Hands off these settings!

The WordPress address and the website address are important foundations of your system. You should only change these settings made by the hoster if you know exactly what you are doing and why. Here it is possible to destroy your entire site making repairs extremely difficult.

Administrator email address

The system will send important information to the email address you enter there. It therefore needs to be current and working. You will be notified, for example, when there are comments waiting to be approved.

Membership

If you want to build a community, you should check this box. This way everyone who wants to become part of your community can register. To build a community, you will later on need more plugins. I've written a separate article on this topic in the magazine. However, for most sites this is not necessary. So you can leave the box unchecked or deactivated.

New user default role

If you allow the registration of new members, you define here which role the members will get upon registration. I will go into more detail about user roles later. If you have not checked the box "Membership", this setting is irrelevant. If you have checked the box, I recommend the default role "subscriber".

Site language

Here you define the language in which your website is published. For some time now, this setting is also valid for the WordPress backend, i.e. the dashboard you are currently working on.

Time zone

Here you set the time zone of your website. Most of the time the system automatically detects the correct zone, sometimes you have to help a bit. Choose here the standard time zone that applies to your location.

Date format

Okay, the next bit is going to seem little long-winded, but we're almost done. Here you choose in which style and format your site displays the date. If you "only" want to create a classic website without a blog, it doesn't matter what you set here. But if you want to publish articles, it's worth giving it some thought. My recommendation is the top option: here the date is displayed in the European style and the month is written out. So for example 21st August 2020

Time format

Similar to the date format, the same applies here. I recommend the third option where the time is written out using the 24-hour clock. For example, 14:30.

Week starts on

To be honest, I have not yet been able to think of a good reason why this setting exists and which parts any changes would affect. But since we are in Europe, our week starts on Monday.

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Now we move on to the next categories in the WordPress settings

Post by Email

This option is left over from an era when not every watch was connected to the internet! You were able to publish posts here automatically by sending an email to the system. This function is usually no longer needed as you can also administrate your website with your smartphone. You can even use the WordPress app to do this.

Read

WordPress  Basics Part 2: The WordPress  Dashboard

Here you define what your home page looks like. Remember: we defined "homepage" in the first part of this series. This can be a static site like "about me" or a "post page", a special page in the WordPress system that lists your blog posts. If you don't want to create any blog posts at all, I recommend a static site. If you have added pages on at a later date, you can determine here which page should be your home page.

You also define how many blog posts should be displayed one below the other on the posts page. I recommend a number between five and ten. For my website, seven is a good average. Then it looks like this: www.johannesmairhofer.de/magazin. Here you see that my "homepage" is the page "Johannes", my "post page" is the page "magazine". I have listed seven posts one below the other and only "excerpt" of each post is shown. Displaying the whole text can make the page appear confusing and very much depends on the theme used. For this reason I recommend only showing an "excerpt".

You should simply try out a few options to find the best one for you. What the page ultimately looks like depends first on the theme you choose and also on how many posts, if any, you end up creating.

In my opinion there isn't much point in disabling the "search engine visibility" box. For one thing, checking this box doesn't guarantee that your website won't be indexed and, secondly, it doesn't make sense to publish a website that nobody can find.

Discussion

This is often a talking point: whether or not you should allow comments on your website. There is no clear answer to this question because, well, it depends. It would take an eternity to go into all the points in detail. Most of the subitems are self-explanatory and only relevant if you allow comments. Therefore I want to talk about comments in general and explain the pros and cons.

WordPress  Basics Part 2: The WordPress  Dashboard

If you're creating blog posts, it tends to make more sense to allow comments. If you "only" want to create a classic and static site, it would be rather uncommon to have comments. Many bloggers want to get in contact with their readers, get feedback and indeed initiate discussions.

Remember, however, that you must also moderate the comments if you allow them. Unfortunately, you are now on thin ice legally as personal data is processed during commenting. If in doubt, get legal advice or turn off comments if you are unsure.

Pingbacks

The top two points in the screenshot Attempt to notify all blogs that are linked to the post and Link notifications from other blogs to new posts are useful. Here I recommend enabling the checkboxes. This way all blogs or WordPress websites you link to can be notified about the link. 

If you get linked, you will get a notification on the start page of the dashboard.

Although this setting is useful, as it depends on so many factors there is unfortunately no guarantee that a notification will arrive. But it does no harm to let the system at least try to send and receive the notification.

Media

When you include images in blog posts or pages, you can specify whether the image is "small", "medium" or "large". In the "Media" settings, you can also adjust what is meant when you insert a "large" image into posts or blog entries. So you define different parameters. If you have no particular reason for changing the image sizes, you can leave the settings as they are.

Permalinks

The permalinks area is also of interest. Here you decide the settings for your permalink structure.

WordPress  Basics Part 2: The WordPress  Dashboard

The permalink is the path that appears at the top of the browser when you go to your site. I recommend here using the "Post name" setting. The name is a bit confusing but this way the permalink appears as the blog post, or the page, instead of displaying the page ID. So www.yourwebsite.com/about appears in the browser rather than www.yourwebsite.com/pageid=1.

"Readable links" sound better, are easier to remember and search engines are happier.

You can also customize the permalink structure. Here in the magazine, for example, it contains not only the article name, but also the category.

WordPress  Basics Part 2: The WordPress  Dashboard

Data protection

Similar to the contributions page, the data protection page is a special page in the WordPress system. This setting has only existed since the GDPR. Here you can define which of your pages is the "data protection" page. If you don't have one yet, you can easily create one in the "pages" section.

Now we'll work our way up and have a look at the tools.

Tools

In this area you can find some (rarely used) functions. For example, you can import and export your blog posts here if you want to switch to another hoster. Some plugins are also stored in this area and you can export your members' data or "delete personal data". This function is interesting if you have built a community and one of your members wants to know what data you have saved about him or her. As these tools are rarely used and only come up in exceptional cases, I don't want to dwell on them too much.

User

Here you define the users and their WordPress roles, i.e. the rights, or capabilities, of individual users for your website. You can also customize your own profile, upload a picture and create a text about yourself for your author profile. Whether and how this author profile appears, however, depends again on your WordPress theme. Here in the magazine, for example, my profile looks like this:

WordPress  Basics Part 2: The WordPress  Dashboard

Caution when assigning roles! Remember: "with great power comes great responsibility". So think carefully about whom you give what rights to on your website. I'll briefly outline the different roles below.

Administrator

Users assigned the WordPress role "administrator" are allowed to perform all tasks. For example, they can delete other administrators, change user roles or create new users. So you should only give this role to users you trust and who have used a secure password. Since administrators are allowed to change everything, they can potentially also ruin everything.

Editor

The editor is allowed to create, edit, publish and even delete their own and external posts. They may also create and edit categories and keywords.

Author

Users with the role "author" may create, edit and publish their own articles. In addition, they may upload photos and videos to the WordPress media library and can activate comments on their own posts.

Contributor

The contributor is allowed to create and edit their own articles, but not to publish them. Users with the role "contributor" can see the titles of other articles in the WordPress backend, but they cannot edit them. Contributors are thus quite restricted. A contributor role is useful, for example, if you want to allow other authors to create or add their own guest articles, but you want to be able to read the articles before publication.

Subscriber

The WordPress role "subscriber" has no editing capabilities. As a subscriber, you can leave comments under posts and edit your own profile. 

So far in this introduction we've covered the main areas where you can change your settings. Now we'll move on to the menu item "pages".

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Pages

Here you create your pages and enter and edit their content. Some themes will automatically add the newly created page to your navigation when you click on "publish". Depending on the template, it is also possible that the created pages won't be visible straight away. If this is the case, you should have a look at "individual menus" in the "design" section but we will come back to that later on. 

The important pages

It's your website, you decide which pages you want to create. But a few are important to have and I recommend including them on your website.

  • Legal notice: depending on your location, this page may be legally required!
  • Data protection: this site is also a must. As described above, in the settings you can now determine which special page is the THE data protection page.
  • Contact: this page is recommended for your contact details, phone, email etc.
  • Homepage: this is your homepage. Here you can introduce yourself (like on my homepage) or list your company's core offering and your unique selling points (as on the RAIDBOXES homepage). 
  • Blog: this is the page with your blog posts. It could also be called, for example, "news" or "latest news".
What does the perfect homepage look like?

In his related article Felix Brodbeck explains how to win over your target group with an elevator pitch on your homepage.

Create a page

Creating a page is easier than you think. If you want to create a new page, you just have to click on "create". You will probably end up in the Gutenberg Editor. This is the new standard editor since WordPress 5.0. Within the WordPress community the Gutenberg editor is very controversial, which is why some people choose to deactivate it. Therefore you may also still end up in the old "classic editor".

Both text editors are very easy to use and are almost like all familiar word processors. You can just get started straight away and try it out. As long as you don't click on "publish", there's not much you can do wrong at this point.

If you are only now starting out with WordPress, I recommend using the Gutenberg editor from the outset. Because the way things are going at the moment, it seems like the whole system is beginning to incorporate more and more Gutenberg features.

Attributes (for advanced users)

When you create a page, you can set attributes and so define the "parent" page of the one you are creating. This sounds strange but all it means is that you are determining the hierarchical page parent. Remember the permalinks? This setting refers to those.

So how does it work? Just imagine you are a photographer and want to put your pictures online. You take photographs in two subject areas:cars and people. You want to present these two subjects separately. So you create the "gallery" page and also two subpages (also called child pages): People and Cars. To make this work, you select the "gallery" page as the parent page for the two subpages cars and people. In the browser address bar it would look, for example, like this:

www.yourwebsite.com - the homepage
www.yourwebsite.com/gallery - the gallery
www.yourwebsite.com/legalnotice - the legal notice
www.yourwebsite.com/gallery/people - your photos of people
www.yourwebsite.com/galley/cars - your photos of cars

Just try it out and consider whether you need subpages at all.

This brings us to the next important menu item: posts

Posts

WordPress was originally a pure blogging system. Over the years WordPress developed substantially and gradually new options were added, including the ability to create pages. Eventually WordPress become a complete CMS and the blogging function has even taken a back seat.

This menu item is only important if you want to use your WordPress as a blog. You can create and edit posts here, and manage categories and keywords.

If you want to create a post, just click on "create". The editor is also the Gutenberg editor, as described above in the pages section.

Categories

You will also find the setting "Categories" under the item posts. Here you can sort your posts and assign them to different topics you want to blog about. When choosing a category, I recommend that you use less rather than more. Of course you can change categories later. However, you should consider carefully which categories you want to use. Because if the category is part of your URLs (see my explanation above about permalinks), the links will change when you change a category. In this case you should set up redirects so that your old links aren't broken.

The categories are clickable and have their own URL, such as this page from the category "Online Marketing". So your visitors can view and read all posts from a certain category.

Tags

You can certainly use tags in abundance and they are individual to each blog post. While a post is usually only assigned one category, it can have several tags (also known as "hashtags") Tags are clickable and have their own URL, such as this subpage with the tag "WooCommerce".

Categories versus tags

What's the difference? In short: categories are topics on your blog and tags are the specific keywords for them. For example, if you have a travel blog, the categories would be tour, city trip and on the sea. These categories apply to the entire blog. If you are writing a post about a journey with the cruise line Aida,  the category might be "on the sea" and the related keywords might be Aida, Mediterranean, vacation, sun and ship.

But don't worry, you don't have to read too much into it right now and these definitions aren't set in stone. Especially at the start you can just spend time here trying things out. It's likely that you will develop the right sense for it over time by yourself.

Which brings us to the...

Plugins

With WordPress plugins you can extend the functionality of your website. Similar to themes, which we will discuss later, you can choose between free plugins, commercial plugins or have plugins developed. There are also plugins which are a mix of these categories, for example ones which have only limited free features and all other features need to be unlocked for a charge.

Via the submenu item "Install" you can install plugins, either directly from the WordPress plugin directory or by uploading a ZIP file. The latter is often the case if you have purchased a plugin. If you install from the plugin directory you can also see reviews and comments from other users, when the last update was made and other relevant information. Make sure that the plugin has good ratings and has been installed by plenty of other users.

Spoilt for choice

WordPress developer Torsten Landsiedel has published a related article with 13 valuable tips for you on how to choose the right plugin

Comments

If you have allowed comments in the settings, you can view the individual comments here, approve them or mark them as spam. If you only run a website without a blog, I would disable the comments, i.e. do not allow commenting.

Media

Here you see an overview of all your media like photos, documents, videos etc. Everything you have uploaded appears here sorted by date. I recommend adding a picture description to each photo. This will increase the accessibility of your website and so make it accessible to more people. In the article "Accessible websites benefit us all" I've written much more on this topic.

Design

Here you set the design (theme) and make adjustments to it. The nice thing about content management systems is that they manage and organize content and design templates separately from each other. That means you can manage the content by creating pages and blog posts and customize the design as you like and independently of the content. Managing design and content separately - that's a great thing. 

There are thousands of free themes in the official WordPress theme directory. But you can also buy themes or have one programmed especially. In this case I use the terms theme and template synonymously; both refer to the design of your website. 

Finding the right theme

Due to the vast number of themes available, choosing the right one for you is no easy task. You can find out about what you need to pay attention to in this article .

Customizer

In the Customizer you can customize your WordPress theme to your exact requirements. For example, you can adjust colors, layout or logos. The customizer looks different with every template, however, so I can't go into much detail here. But almost all themes come with instructions to guide you. 

Widgets

Widgets are comparable to small tiles that have a specific function. If you're using Windows 10, you might know the tiles from the Start menu.

Widgets can have a variety of different content:

  • Static, like text or an image.
  • Dynamic, such as your Twitter feed or an automatic listing of your most read posts.
  • WordPress content, for example an individual menu.

Sidebars

Sidebars are a type of area in the theme. Many WordPress themes have different sidebars, i.e. areas where widgets can be "dropped" into. Often sidebars are only on the side of the page, but they can also sometimes be in the header or footer area of your website.

Widgets and sidebars

Sidebars are certain areas of the website. Widgets are placed into the sidebar. Simply drag the desired widget with the mouse and drop it into the chosen sidebar.

Menus

Here you can create individual menus and display them in widgets, in the header or in the footer of your website. In combination with the hierarchical order of pages (the "parent pages" mentioned above) you can further individualize your site with custom menus. 

In my opinion, this feature is the most underestimated in the whole system.

Admittedly, it's quite confusing and seems pointless at first, but once you've played around with it a bit and tried it out, you'll really appreciate it.

For example, a good idea for a custom menu is to move the legal notice and data protection to a special menu that appears in the footer instead of the header section of your website. This way you don't "spoil" the main navigation and the legal notice is still visible. In addition, you can also put pages, categories or external links in individual menus.

Theme editor

If you are familiar with code, in the "Editor" section you can also work with every page

of the theme directly in code. Please only do that if you know what you're doing! You can do a whole lot of damage to your website otherwise.

If you want to change your theme code, please read about "child themes" otherwise the changes would be overwritten during the next theme update.

WordPress  Basics Part 2: The WordPress  Dashboard

Tips, security and updates

Homepage - WordPress Backend

This is where you will always land after login. In the overview you can see, for example, if you have received comments, whether updates are pending or if your blog is linked somewhere.

The updates are important. Please check your system regularly for updates if your hoster does not do it for you already.

Updates

My tip, if you prefer to take care of it yourself: do plugin and theme updates immediately but wait at least 2-3 days before completely updates of the WordPress core software.

Here you should also observe the WordPress community and determine whether a core update (update of the entire system) is wise or not. Usually these core updates work very well. In the past, however, some updates have led to massive errors. As with all updates, the same applies here: make a backup of your site!

You should delete unused plugins rather than simply deactivating them. This reduces the area on which your site can be attacked. Every additional plugin adds code and is therefore a potential security risk for your site.

One last tip: Professional WordPress hosters like RAIDBOXES look after these updates for you. Simply change your hosting plan and you don't have to worry about it anymore! 😉

Johannes is very curious and has already reached various stages in his career. From a trained IT specialist to a freelance photographer, he is versatile and can therefore put on the different "glasses" of his customers. Today he works as a freelance photographer and consultant for WordPress and photography. [Photo: Dennis Weißmantel]

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