WordPress Dashboard Tutorial for Beginners

November 6, 2018

At first glance, the WordPress Dashboards can seem kind of intimidating. (That is, a WordPress dot org installation, not WordPress dot com! Head here to find out the difference). Because of it’s customisable nature, all WordPress Dashboards can be different to each other, depending on what plugins you’ve installed. This beginners WordPress Dashboard Tutorial will help you grasp the basics of the out-of-the-box WordPress Dashboard.

For me, when I’m managing multiple different websites on the platform, I try to have a different coloured WordPress Dashboard for each site to help me keep track of what site I’m editing. I’ll show you how to do this and more in this basic  WordPress Dashboard tutorial. You’ll get to take a look at the Dashboard of this website, and have a peek at the plugins I have installed, but I’ll go into more detail on those in another post.


WordPress Dashboard Tutorial: First Login

When you first log in, this (or something like this) will be your view, and it’ll probably be the default black. Down the left sidebar you can see all the main parts of the WordPress dashboard, including some added plugins. I’ve circled the plugins in blue to differentiate them and so you don’t worry if you don’t see them. Everything else is out of the box WordPress. To view your site, click on the “Home” symbol at the top left. You can click this again to return to the WordPress Dashboard, as you will always see the top menu bar while you’re logged in. If you want to see your website without the menu bar, I recommend just opening it in an incognito window, or another browser. In truth, you should get used to viewing your website in a variety of browsers and on different mobile operating systems to ensure it’s appearing and performing the way you intend, across the board.

WordPress Dashboard

WordPress Dashboard Tutorial: Posts

OK, just moving down the sidebar and skipping plugins, first is “Posts”. This is where your blog posts will sit, if indeed you intend on running a blog on your website. If you don’t, you can ignore this section. Click on Posts and then select Add New. From here you can compose your blog posts, save as a draft, preview your draft, publish, unpublish or schedule for the future. Here you can also create new Categories that your blog posts will sit under - try to think of these as menu items, and create a logical structure for them. Once you’ve figured out what your content niche will be, section off your blog posts using these categories. You can see in my right sidebar of this blog, I have links leading to the top four things I write about; these are my categories. Hover over one, and you can see creating a category will create a unique file path you can link to from anywhere (for example: https://laurafcreates.com/category/marketing/). This also means if you ever change the names of your categories or delete one, you will need to create a redirect so as not to encounter a 404 error. We will take a look at how to add these to your menu as well, later on! If you scroll down a bit, you will also see an option to add a “Featured Image”. Make sure you always give your Pages and Posts a Featured Image, so they appear correctly when shared across social media. You may notice that the left sidebar is now showing an extended menu for Posts, where you can view All Posts, and view, edit and delete and create categories and tags.

WordPress Dashboard Tutorial: Media

Next we have “Media”. This is an easy one - it’s where you will upload all media to your website, including images, videos, gifs, PDF’s and whatever else I haven’t thought of off the top of my head. It’s default sorted by most recently uploaded, but you can search for any file you need, or narrow it down to month uploaded. You can also sort by unattached files (any files that aren’t used anywhere on your website) for you to easily delete when doing a website purge.

WordPress Media Page

Click on any media file to view details about it, including its name and alt text, where it’s uploaded to and it’s dimensions. You will also notice that your media file will have created a unique URL. If you’re linking to a PDF from in text or from a button, this is the URL you’ll use. When you get to the level where you’re inserting images using HTML or CSS, this is also the URL you will need.

WordPress Dashboard Tutorial: Pages

Next in the WordPress Dashboard, we come to “Pages”. This is just what it sounds like; the pages of your website. This section looks and works much the same as the “Posts” section. It’s worth noting this though; you’ll see I have a page called “Blog” which is assigned as “Posts Page” and a page called “Home” which is set as my “Front Page”. If you want your site set out like mine - as in the blog posts are separate to the home page, you will need to create two pages such as this as well. You can name them anything you like though, so you can call your “Posts Page” “News” if you prefer, or maybe “Latest”. Whatever this page is called though, it will contain no content, so don’t put any in there. If you don’t want a “Posts Page” just create a “Home” page. Alternatively, if you want your blog posts to appear as your “Front Page” with no preamble (common for sites set up purely as a blog), you don’t need to create any pages, as this is decided with a setting in Reading Settings. Jump to Settings to find out how to set pages as “Front Page” and “Posts Page”. The “Posts” page is the only one with this peculiarity though; all other pages, including Home, if you have one, should have content in it.

WordPress Dashboard Pages

WordPress Dashboard Tutorial: Comments

Below we have “Comments”. Here you will be able to Approve, Deny or Mark As Spam comments you receive on your Posts or Pages if they’re enabled. You can also reply to them from here or edit them if you’d like.

WordPress Dashboard Tutorial: Appearance

Now we get to the good part: “Appearance”. This where you choose everything about how you’d like your WordPress site to look. After clicking on Appearance you will be brought to Themes, which is were you can select a previously installed theme or upload a new one you’ve downloaded as .zip file from elsewhere. You can also Live Preview your website with a theme that isn’t activated, to see how it will look before going live with the changes. Once you have activated a theme, you can click on “Customise” to bring up the optional customisation your theme offers. Every theme offers something different, so yours will most likely look different to mine. At time of publishing, my website is based off the free version of this theme, by the way! Entering the Customisation menu brings up what is called a “front end” view of your website. This way you can see the changes you make in real time, without having to preview in a different tab or window. It shows you what parts of the website can be changed, indicated by the pencil symbol. Click through your theme options and see what other changes you can make. Down the bottom you will see options to view the site as if it’s on a tablet or mobile and you can hide the controls to get the full effect. You can add custom CSS in Additional CSS at the bottom to make more complex changes to your WordPress site your theme doesn’t have built in. Remember, WordPress is only limited by your imagination and ability! Click Publish and then the “X” to return to the Dashboard when you’re done.

WordPress C

Appearance: Widgets

Underneath “Customise” is “Widgets”. Depending on your theme you may be able to add widgets to a sidebar (like the one I have on the right side of my blog), to your header or your footer. Basically they’re little pieces of code that add extra functionality. They are completely optional, depending on how you want your website to look and function. You can also edit your widgets in Customise to see your changes live. Click on Live Preview at the top for this option.

Appearance: Menus

After “Widgets” is “Menus”. Again, this can also be found in Customise, and how many menus and where they will appear is dependent on your theme. With the theme I’m using at time of publishing, I have two menus: one at the top underneath the Header and one in the Footer. In this image we’re looking at my Main Menu in the Header. You can put anything you like in your menu, including a link to a specific Category as I mentioned earlier. You might use this if you post Podcasts (for example) and so that your users will have direct access to them from the menu.

WordPress dashboards Menus

You can also make child menus by dragging pages under another page as a dependent. Take a look at that in the image below. If I saved these changes, when I hover over “Blog” in my Main Menu, General Business would be a drop down option my visitors could click on. They’d then be taken to only the blog posts that were given this categorisation. Click the down arrows to make changes to the navigation label or delete the menu item altogether. Click on Live Preview at the top to view any changes you make live.

wordpress dashboards menu subitem

At the moment, this is all you need to worry about in Appearance as a WordPress beginner. The next menu under Appearance is “Editor”, but this involves making direct changes to your theme CSS files. If you make changes without understanding what you’re doing, there is a slight chance you could break your site. As such, I won’t go into further details about this here, as I won’t have time or space!

WordPress Dashboard Tutorial: Plugins

The next menu is “Plugins”. This is where you will manage, install and update any plugins you have on your website. I will go into more detail about plugins for beginners in a later blog post. Basically, much like a theme, you can download a plugin directly from the plugin website which will give you a .zip file you upload here. Or you can search for it through this menu, then install and activate without leaving the WordPress dashboard.

WordPress Dashboard Tutorial: Users

Next we have “Users” which is where you can add, edit or delete other Administrators or Editors, Authors etc, depending on how much access you want other people to have to your website. If you are ever in contact with the support team for your theme or a plugin and they request access to your website, I recommend creating another Administrator user profile here, that you can delete immediately after they’re done. Similarly, if you hire a web designer or developer, they will need Administrator rights, but you can delete them after they’re done if you don’t need ongoing management. Never give out your own log in details, especially if you are the only Administrator. Only give Administrator rights to confirmed support teams. Never give them to someone you’re speaking to in a forum or via direct email as this will be unacceptably insecure. Here you can also edit your own User Profile, which is where you can set the colour theme for your WordPress dashboard, upload an image of yourself and write a little biography which may be shown at the end of blog posts depending on your theme.

WordPress Dashboard Tutorial: Tools

Next is “Tools”. The only part worth noting at the moment here is the Export and Erase Personal Data menu items. This is a GDPR requirement; if anyone comments on your website their personal details will be stored here. They may contact you to request their details be completely erased, and under GDPR laws, unless you have a genuine legal reason not to, you are required to comply. Even though this is an EU law, it will apply to you whether you are physically within the EU or not; it only matters where your users are located. Please seek legal advice if you are unsure about your own compliance requirements.

WordPress Dashboard Tutorial: General and Reading Settings

And last, but not least we have “Settings.” In General Settings you can choose your timezone, default site language, and the Site Title and Tagline. We can jump ahead to Reading Settings which is where you will select your “Front Page” and “Posts Page” as mentioned earlier. If you just want your site to show your Blog Posts on the home page,  select the “Your Latest Posts” option. Here you can also choose to discourage search engines from indexing your site, if needed. You may choose this if you’re building your site slowly and aren’t ready for Google to find it. Just make sure you turn this setting off again when you launch, otherwise it won’t ever be found by search engines!

Settings: Permalinks

Let’s jump ahead again to Permalinks. This is where you will select how your URL’s are structured, whether they have a date in them or are just a series of numbers. Make sure you make this decision early on and try not to change it later. If you do change it after your website is live, you will need to make sure you have redirections in place for the old URL’s so you don’t end up with broken links everywhere.

Settings: Privacy

Under Privacy, our last menu item, we have more GDPR requirements. It’s best practice to make sure you have a legal/privacy policy, regardless of where in the world you are located. WordPress will make suggestions for what content should be included in your privacy policy but it is your responsibility to use the information in the optimal legal manner. Again, please seek legal advice if you are unsure about your own compliance requirements.

And there we have it! A much longer post than I expected it to be, which is why I’ve broken it up into menu items with a contents section at the top. Bookmark this WordPress Dashboard Tutorial and return to it for reference during your WordPress journey. Remember that any menu items I haven’t gone over here are either plugins that are specific to my website, or don’t have any functionality that is relevant to you right now, as a beginner. Be sure to familiarise yourself with all WordPress has to offer, and don’t be afraid of it! If you need extra help, or feel in over your head please get in touch with me! I’m always keen to hear from new WordPress users to see how I can help you realise your dream website.

And please do let me know if you found this guide helpful, or what else about WordPress you're dying to learn about!


Laura x

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Laura F Gosney
Hey, I'm Laura
I’m a Soulful Brand and Website Designer specialising in creating beautiful, personality-driven brands that showcase how remarkable you truly are.

For more than 5 years, I’ve worked with innovative e-commerce founders, passionate service-based businesses, and inspiring creatives to capture the remarkable soul of their work and transform that into a brand and website they can feel proud of.
Find out how I can help
I acknowledge the First Nations people as the Traditional Owners of the land on which I live and work, i.e. Meanjin, Brisbane. Sovereignty was never ceded.
Copyright © 2023 Laura F Gosney ABN: 88 413 183 164

Words by Brit Stevens
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