WordPress Admin Dashboard: Become an Expert in 15 Minutes

The WordPress admin dashboard is the heart and soul of the Content Management System (CMS). This is where you oversee every aspect of your site, from configuring essential settings to publishing content, installing plugins and themes, and more. If you’re not familiar with the WP admin, you’ll have a hard time managing a website.

Understanding how to use the dashboard is easier than you might think. All of the WordPress admin components are highly intuitive. Once you learn how to use these different tools and settings, you’ll be able to get the most out of WordPress.

In this article, we’ll introduce you to the WordPress dashboard and every single one of its components. You’ll learn how to access the admin area, configure your website, publish content, and more. 

What is the WordPress admin dashboard?

The WordPress dashboard is the CMS control panel. Every WordPress installation has an admin panel with the same features and tools. Think about the dashboard as the “back end” of your site, where you configure and manage everything related to it.

Here’s what a regular WordPress admin dashboard looks like:

the default WordPress dashboard

At a quick glance, you can see two menus. The menu to the left includes most of the configuration and publishing tools that you’ll use on a day-to-day basis. At the top of the screen, there’s a navigation menu that enables you to jump back and forth between the front end and the dashboard.

We’ll talk about each option later in the post. For now, let’s discuss how to log into the WordPress admin.

How do you access your WordPress admin dashboard?

When you install WordPress, the CMS automatically sets up an admin area for your website. You can access the dashboard by going to yoursite.com/wp-admin.

WordPress login page

If you set up WordPress manually, you’ll create an admin user during that process, with a username and password. These are the same credentials you’ll use to log into your website and gain access to the WordPress admin panel.

Depending on your web hosting provider, they might set up WordPress for you. In that case, you might be able to choose your admin credentials during the signup process.

Keep in mind that you may not be the only user with access to the dashboard. As the administrator, you can enable registration and provide users with access to some of the same tools and configuration options on your site. 

If you lose access to WordPress, you can use the login screen to reset the password — as long as you have access to the email associated with that account.

Understanding the WordPress admin interface and menu

By default, the WordPress admin includes a broad number of links and tools. Although you may not use all of them on a daily basis, it’s essential that you understand where to go for each task.

As soon as you log into WordPress, you’ll see the Home screen under the Dashboard section.

WordPress dashboard home

The Home page tells you how many pages, posts, and comments your website contains. You’ll also see notifications about site health, comment activity, and WordPress news and events. If you want, you can even use the Quick Draft option to create and save content without leaving the page.

For the majority of users, the Home page is just a pit stop. You’ll spend most of the time using the menu to the left of the screen. This menu includes options for publishing content, reviewing existing posts and pages, checking comments, managing plugins and themes, and more.

left-hand menu of the WordPress dashboard

You’ll also notice a main navigation menu at the top of the screen. This menu enables you to jump to the comments queue or the WordPress editor. 

The menu’s primary functionality, though, is to help you jump back and forth between your site’s front end and the WordPress admin. If you hover over the name of your site, you’ll see the Visit Site option.

Visit Site link in the WordPress dashboard

Clicking on Visit Site will send you to your site’s homepage. If you’re logged in while browsing the website, the main navigation menu will still appear at the top of the screen. 

You can hover over your site’s name and you’ll see options to return to the dashboard home or to the themes screen. The menu also includes an Edit site button, which will open the WordPress customizer.

link to the WordPress dashboard

If you’re not sure what some of those options do, don’t worry. We’ll cover each component within the WordPress admin in the next section.

How to use your WordPress admin dashboard (15 steps)

The WordPress dashboard can be intimidating at first due to the number of options that it contains. Your main point of interest while using the dashboard will be the left-side menu. 

In this section, we’ll walk you through the different options that you’ll find in the menu. This way, you’ll know where to start when you want to take any specific action on your website.

1. How to create and manage pages and posts

Creating and managing pages and posts is one of the main things you’ll be doing in WordPress. If you take a look at the left-side menu in the admin, you’ll see two options called Pages and Posts.

Selecting either option will send you to a page that lists every page or post that you’ve created. This includes published content, drafts, and even a trash bin for pages that you decide to delete.

list of posts on a WordPress site

This list of posts includes information about each entry’s author, category, tags, comments, and publish date. You can also hover over individual entries to see editing options.

post information shown when hovering

When you hover over a page or a post, you’ll see options to launch the editor or do a quick edit. If you want to learn how to use the WordPress editor (also known as the Block Editor), we recommend that you check out the official Gutenberg page.

The Quick Edit option will enable you to edit a post’s basic settings without needing to access a new page.

the quick edit screen for a post

If you select multiple posts, you can use the Bulk actions menu above the list of entries. This menu offers options for editing multiple posts or moving them to the trash bin.

bulk editing WordPress posts

If you accumulate a large content library, you’ll want to use the search and filter tools to navigate. You can filter posts by dates and categories, or use the search bar to find specific entries.

filtering posts by date

In the example above, we showed you the Posts → All Posts page. You’ll find the same exact settings if you navigate to Pages → All Pages in the dashboard. 

To add a new page or post to your website, go to Posts → Add New or Pages → Add New. Either option will launch the Block Editor. You can also navigate to the main Posts or Pages screen and click on the Add New button.

From a practical standpoint, creating and managing posts and pages in WordPress works much the same. The difference is that you’re dealing with two types of content.

2. How to create and manage WordPress categories and tags

WordPress uses a taxonomy system to help you classify posts. This system consists of categories and tags. Categories are broader classifications, whereas tags are more specific.

To give you an idea, this article could fall under the WordPress Tutorials category. You might also want to assign it tags like WordPress Dashboard, WordPress Login, and more.

You can create as many categories and tags as you want and apply them to posts in any combination that you see fit. To start, go to Posts → Categories. Here, you’ll see a list of existing categories and a menu that enables you to add new ones.

category page in WordPress

To add a new category, select a name for it. You can also write a short description and choose for it to fall under a parent category, if desired. 

Meanwhile, the slug is the URL-friendly version of the category name. If you have a category called WordPress Tutorials, the slug would be /wordpress-tutorials or something similar.

When you add a category, you’ll see it appear on the list to the right. To assign a category to a post, you’ll need to use the editor.

list of blog post categories

Moving on to the Tags page, the process for creating and managing WordPress tags works exactly the same. You get to select a name and a slug, and set a description for each tag that you add.

tag page in WordPress

Just as with categories, you assign tags to posts through the editor. 

Categories and tags make it simpler for visitors to navigate your content library and find related posts. As your content library grows, so should your website’s taxonomy.

3. How to upload and manage media files

Media files are a key component of any website. WordPress supports a broad array of media file formats. So many, in fact, that we recommend you check out the official WordPress.org entry on supported file types.

WordPress enables you to upload and display most of the popular image, video, and audio file types. You can do this using the WordPress media library, located under Media → Library.

the WordPress media library

The library provides you with an overview of every media file that you upload. You can upload files directly from the library using the Add New button or by clicking on Media → Add New.

When you upload a file, WordPress will ask you to either drag it into an upload “area” or use the Select Files option to browse your local files.

adding files to the media library

You can add multiple files at once, but there’s a maximum upload file size. This size will depend on your web host and your site’s configuration.

Once you upload your files, you can click on them within the media library. Clicking on any media file will display a details screen. This includes the file’s name, its metadata, alt text, captions, descriptions, and URL.

photo in the media library, with alt text and other detaills

You can use the Attachment details screen to edit any media file’s metadata. For images, you’ll also see an Edit Image option at the bottom of the screen. Selecting this option will open a basic image editor.

WordPress’ built-in image editor includes options for cropping, rotating, flipping, and resizing images. For every image that you upload, WordPress also creates a thumbnail, which you can resize from this screen as well.

scaling and cropping options

When you’re done editing, click on the Save button to save your changes. When it comes to audio and video, you can also edit metadata and play the files. Note that WordPress doesn’t come with video or audio editing functionality.

As your site’s media library grows, you may need to rely on the admin’s filtering tools. The Library page enables you to sort files by type and date. You can also use a search tool and bulk select files to edit or delete them.

search bar for images

Note that there’s no limit to how many media files you can upload to WordPress. The only limitation you might face is with your hosting plan’s storage settings. To save space and run a more efficient site, you should occasionally clean up your media library to remove unused files.

Quick note: If you try to upload a file type that WordPress doesn’t support, the admin will return an error. 

4. How to manage WordPress comments 

Since WordPress was designed to be a blogging platform, it comes with a robust comments system. If you enable the comments feature, users will be able to write responses to posts and pages.

comment on a WordPress site

WordPress gives you full control over your comments. First off, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with the Comments page. There, you’ll find every comment published on your website, including its status.

Comments in WordPress can be approved, pending, trashed, or marked as spam. By default, WordPress has some spam recognition capabilities, but it will fall on you to filter and approve comments.

a comment viewed in the WordPress dashboard

To configure your site’s comment settings, go to Settings → Discussion. This page includes multiple comment settings as well as configurations for your regular posts.

The Allow people to submit comments on new posts option will determine whether visitors can leave comments at all. Disabling that setting will disable the entire commenting system.

comment settings in WordPress

If you enable that setting, scroll down to the Other comment settings section. Here, you’ll be able to configure the information users must share to comment and if they need to register to do so.

This section also includes options for automatically closing comment sections, controlling cookies, enabling nested comments, and adding pagination to comments.

other comment settings in WordPress

The Discussion settings also include options for receiving notifications when visitors leave a comment, or if there are entries that you need to moderate. If you check out the Before a comment appears section, you’ll be able to configure whether comments require manual approval. 

There’s also an option that enables users with previously-approved comments to skip the moderation queue.

email settings for comments

To make moderation easier, WordPress includes a feature that enables you to automatically flag comments that include specific words or identifying data, like usernames, emails, or IP addresses.

comment moderation options in WordPress

The default WordPress comment system works fairly well, but it can struggle to filter spam as your site becomes more popular. Consider installing a plugin to stop comment spam on WordPress.

5. How to manage your website’s appearance

The Appearance menu in the WP admin dashboard enables you to choose which theme to use. You can also use this menu to launch the WordPress full-site editor. 

To choose a theme, go to Appearance → Themes. Out of the box, WordPress ships with a handful of default themes.

theme options in the WordPress dashboard

You can select any of them and switch to one by hovering over the selection and clicking on Activate.

activating a WordPress theme

Switching themes will drastically change your website’s style. With that in mind, we recommend that you use the Live Preview tool to see how the theme looks in action.

previewing a theme with the Live Preview tool

The preview feature enables you to customize the theme’s style so you can see if it’s a good fit for your needs. If a theme doesn’t meet your standards, you can always look for new options.

Return to the Themes tab and click on Add New or Add New Theme. Doing so will load the WordPress.org theme repository. The repository is a massive collection of themes, all of them free.

themes in the WordPress repository

From here, you can select any theme that you like and click on either Install or Preview. The preview feature will enable you to check out the theme before installing it.

If you want to upload theme files directly, you can do so using the Upload Theme button. Clicking on this option will enable you to upload themes in .zip format. This is the route you’ll want to take if you purchase a premium theme from another source.

adding a theme ZIP file

After you install a theme, it will appear under the Appearance → Themes menu as a part of your collection. You can install as many themes as you like, but you can only use one at a time.

If you go to Appearance →  Editor, you’ll launch the WordPress full-site editor. Full-site editing is a relatively new feature in WordPress. It enables you to edit your theme templates using the Block Editor.

opening the full site editor in WordPress

Learn more about the full site editor.

6. How to manage plugins and tools

There are thousands of WordPress plugins to choose from. Each plugin adds one (or several) new features and tools to the CMS, which is one of the reasons why WordPress is so incredibly popular.

When you launch a new website, your web host might pre-install some plugins for you. To see what plugins you have installed, go to Plugins → Installed Plugins.

list of plugins on a WordPress site

Inside, you’ll find a list of installed, active, and inactive plugins. You can see basic information and enable automatic updates for each one.

If you have an inactive plugin that you want to activate, select the Activate option under its name. To disable a plugin, select the Deactivate option.

viewing information about each plugin

To add new plugins, click on Add New at the top of the screen. The WordPress admin will display the official plugin repository, which includes thousands of options to choose from.

viewing available plugins on WordPress

To install a plugin, click on Install Now and wait for WordPress to download its files. Once the plugin is ready, you can activate it by clicking on the Activate button.

You can also upload plugin files directly to WordPress. Click on Upload Plugin and WordPress will ask you to select the .zip file that you want to upload.

adding a plugin ZIP file

When it comes to plugins, we encourage you to research your options carefully. Not sure what to look for? Learn how to select the best WordPress plugins for your site. 

7. How to manage WordPress updates

To keep your site working its best, you’ll need to ensure that all of your site’s components are up to date. This means updating WordPress core and any plugins and themes that you use.

Browsing the Plugins and Themes pages will reveal any plugins or themes that need to be updated. WordPress displays a notice showing how many plugins or themes you can update in the left-hand menu.

Updating plugins is simple. Identify the plugins that need updating and select the update now option that will appear under those entries.

updating a WordPress plugin

WordPress will automatically download and install any necessary files. If you turn on auto-updates for a specific plugin, you won’t need to remember to update it manually. You can turn on auto-updates by selecting the Enable auto-updates option to the right of any plugin entry.

option to enable auto-updates for plugins

If you want a full overview of every site component that requires an update, go to Dashboard → Updates. This page will provide a list of any plugins or themes that require updates. You’ll also find out if there are new versions of WordPress available.

available WordPress updates on a site

Typically, it’s very hard to miss available updates if you check the WordPress admin panel on a regular basis. If you keep up with updates, your site will be much more secure. 

8. How to manage user accounts in WordPress

By default, WordPress will assign you an administrator account when you create a website. WordPress itself comes with a comprehensive user system that includes multiple types of roles, including:

  • Administrator
  • Author
  • Editor
  • Contributor 
  • Subscriber

The options you have access to in the WordPress dashboard will depend on your user role. As the site’s owner, you should be the only user with full access to every setting and page within the dashboard.

If you visit the Users → All Users page, you’ll see an overview of every existing user account.

list of users on a WordPress site

To add a new user account, click on Add New at the top of the screen or go to Users → Add New from the left-hand menu. In the next screen, you can set a username, email, first and last name, a website, and a password for the new account.

adding a new user in WordPress

By default, WordPress only requires you to enter a username and an email. It will automatically send a notification to that email if you leave the Send User Notification option turned on.

WordPress will also generate strong passwords for new accounts. If it detects a weak password, it will ask you to confirm if you want to use it.

WordPress notification of a weak password

You can use the Role menu to assign a user role to the new account. Once the fields are all ready, click on Add New User

If you don’t want to add user accounts manually, you can enable registration on your website. This way, visitors will be able to use a pre-built form. 

To turn on that setting, go to Settings → General and tick the Anyone can register option next to Membership. From here, you can also designate a default role for new users,

enabling user registration on WordPress

9. How to configure WordPress settings

The bulk of the configuration options for your WordPress website lie within the Settings menu. We’ve already covered the Discussion settings. Let’s look at what other options are available.

10. WordPress General Settings

The WordPress General Settings screen enables you to set a title for a website and to configure its URLs. You can also update your admin email from this page and enable user registration.

WordPress general settings

If you scroll down, you’ll see options for changing your site’s language. This will switch the language that the WordPress admin uses. You can also update timezones, switch date and time formats, and set when the week starts.

WordPress options for language, date, and time

When you’re happy with the changes that you made, click on the Save Changes button. You should only need to configure general settings once.

11. WordPress Writing Settings

The Settings → Writing screen enables you to configure the default post formats and categories. Changing default post formats can help if you use custom post types.

WordPress writing settings

WordPress also offers an interesting feature called Post via email. With this function, WordPress will automatically publish any posts that you send to a specific email address.

post via email options in WordPress

By and large, that may not be a feature that you’ll use regularly. Every time that you publish a post, it should be carefully edited and formatted, which means using the Block Editor.

12. WordPress Reading Settings

The Settings → Reading screen is where you can designate the page you want to be your site’s homepage. Under the heading Your homepage displays, you can choose between a collection of your site’s latest posts or a static page.

reading settings in WordPress

If you scroll down, you can configure how many posts will appear on your blog pages. For older posts, users will need to navigate from page to page. You can also decide whether to display post excerpts or their full text in the blog feed.

WordPress blog settings

Finally, you can enable the Discourage search engines from indexing this site option if you want to prevent your website from appearing in Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs).

In most cases, you want to appear in the SERPs to get more traffic. You shouldn’t discourage search engines from indexing your pages unless you have a good reason to do so (like wanting to run a private site).

13. WordPress Media Settings

The Settings → Media page includes options for configuring the default resolution for any new images that you upload. When you upload an image to WordPress, it automatically generates multiple copies of it in different sizes (in pixels).

WordPress media settings

WordPress does this so you can choose from those sizes when inserting images into posts. If you’re not happy with any of the default image resolutions, you can change their dimensions.

At the bottom of the screen, you’ll find an option for WordPress to automatically organize your media files into date-based folders. These folders won’t be apparent from inside the WordPress admin area. To see them, you’ll need to connect to your website via File Transfer Protocol.

14. WordPress Permalink Settings

Permalinks are a key component of how WordPress works. When you publish a new page or post, it automatically generates a link. The URL’s format depends on the permalink structure that you select.

To choose a structure, go to Settings → Permalinks. Inside, you’ll find a selection of available URL structures. The custom part of the URL comes after the domain. In this example, that domain is yourwebsite.com.

permalink settings in WordPress

Ideally, you’ll choose a URL format as soon as you create a new website. Changing permalink structures for a website that’s been around for a while can lead to errors and affect your search engine rankings.

The most popular permalink structures for most websites are the Post name and Month and name options. They’re both relatively short, and you can set the slug for each URL when editing that blog post or page.

If you use WooCommerce, the Permalinks page will also enable you to change the URL structure for online products. Note that the default options for WooCommerce don’t include numbers or dates.

15. WordPress Privacy Settings

User privacy is incredibly important and WordPress offers a built-in tool to help you generate a privacy policy page for your website.

To access that tool, go to Settings → Privacy.  If you select Create a new Privacy Policy Page, WordPress will automatically set up a new page with a template for you.

WordPress privacy policy page generator

The Select a Privacy Policy page option will enable you to choose one existing page and designate it as your site’s policy. This means you get full control over its appearance and contents.

Visitors will be able to access the privacy policy that you set from both the login and registration screens. You can also add links to the page elsewhere.

How to use the WordPress customizer

The customizer is a tool within the WordPress dashboard that you can use to edit some of your website’s basic settings (but not its style).

To access the customizer, go to Appearance → Customize in the admin. A new page will open, with a menu to the left and a preview of your site to the right.

The menu to the left includes your site’s title and shows which theme you’re using. You can use this menu to change or preview active themes without leaving the customizer.

the WordPress Customizer

Opening the Site Identity tab will enable you to update your site’s title and tagline.

editing WordPress site identity

The Homepage Settings tab gives you the option of changing your site’s homepage. From this screen, you can choose whether to use a static homepage or to display your latest posts.

homepage settings in the Customizer

Some plugins will cause additional tabs to appear in the customizer menu, like WooCommerce. What options you see in those tabs will depend on which plugins you’re using.

The customizer also includes an Additional CSS tab. You can use the editor within that tab to add custom CSS to your website.

adding CSS to the Customizer

This is just one of several ways to add custom CSS to WordPress. Note that if you add CSS through the customizer, the code will apply to the entire website. 

WordPress admin dashboard frequently asked questions

If you still have any questions left about the WordPress admin, this section will answer them. Let’s start by talking about reorganizing menu items. 

Can you reorganize your WP admin panels?

If you’re comfortable editing WordPress core files, you can remove items from the main admin menu. It’s also possible to rearrange or hide WordPress admin menu entries.

An easier approach is to use a plugin. The Admin Menu Editor plugin gives you full control over every menu entry in the dashboard. With this plugin, you can change menu titles and URLs, re-organize entries, hide links, and more.

Can you change the appearance of the WP admin interface?

There’s a collection of plugins that enables you to change the style of the WP admin. These plugins are called “admin themes” or “dashboard themes.” Installing a dashboard theme won’t impact the WordPress admin’s functionality. 

To find admin themes, we recommend checking out the official WordPress plugin repository.  A quick search for “admin themes” will reveal a large number of plugins. Keep in mind that admin themes don’t affect the style of the front end at all.

Can you add a dark mode to your WP admin interface?

Yes, you can add a dark mode to the WP admin by using a dashboard theme plugin. One great option is WP Dark Mode.

Can you disable the WP admin toolbar?

When you browse your site’s front end while logged in, WordPress displays an admin toolbar at the top of the screen. You can disable that toolbar for specific users by going to the Users page in the admin and editing a specific account.

In that account’s settings, look for the option that says Show toolbar when viewing site, and disable it. Save the changes to the user settings and repeat the process for other accounts.

Become a WordPress admin expert

Navigating the WordPress admin can be daunting at first, but after using it for a while, you’ll learn the ins and outs of the dashboard. After reading our guide, you’ll know where all the most important settings are and where to go if you want to change a specific configuration.

For now, we recommend that you get to work on creating your website’s first pages and posts. If you have any doubts about how to approach any aspect of using WordPress, you’ll find hundreds of tutorials at the ready to help you. That’s the real beauty of WordPress.

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Simon Keating profile
Simon Keating

Simon has worked in marketing and product development for over 10 years, previously at HubSpot, Workday, and now Automattic (Jetpack). He has a varied education, with a degree in chemical engineering and a masters in computer science to his name. His passion is helping people and their businesses grow.

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