A Beginner’s Guide to the WordPress Back End

Posted by Will Morris on September 15, 2015

As the owner of a WordPress site, you’re tasked with handling things behind the scenes to make sure that the site is user-friendly and filled with great content. Fortunately, the WordPress back end makes those administrative tasks fairly easy.

Be careful not to confuse the back end and front end – the WordPress front end is the part that your visitors will see. That’s what is displayed when they point their browsers to your URL and click around within your website.

In this tutorial, we’ll cover basic WordPress terminology that you’ll need to understand as you use the back end. Then, we’ll tackle the basics of the back end itself.

WordPress Terminology

Before you start using the back end, you’re going to have to learn to “talk the talk”. The list below explains several words and phrases that might be new as you approach WordPress administration.

Post

You can think of a post as an article. It’s typically something you write that’s relevant to the overall scope of your site. It can be a news piece, an image, a video, or even a quotation.

Page

A page is typically more static than a post in that it’s often timeless and something that people will want to see no matter when or how often they visit the site. Classic examples of pages are “About Us” and “Contact”.

Slug

A slug in WordPress is a word or phrase that’s constructed as a part of a URL. It uniquely identifies the content within your WordPress site.

For example, if you have a category called “Clothing”, WordPress will probably create a slug from that called “clothing”. If you wanted to browse all posts in the “Clothing” category, the full URL would look something like http://myblogname.com/category/clothing.

Category

A category is used to group related posts. It can be hierarchical (e.g. “T-Shirts” is a subcategory of “Clothing”) or it can be standalone. Posts can have more than one category.

Tag

You can think of a tag as a keyword. If you’re writing an article that includes a mention of Andy Murray, you would probably add his name as a tag related to that post. Tags are comparable to entries in an index if your blog was a book.

Themes

WordPress enables you to change the look and feel of your site with the click of a button using themes, which are essentially aesthetic ‘skins’.

Plugins

WordPress enables you add other pieces of software to your site to enhance the functionality. These software installations are called plugins.

Widgets

It’s easy for people new to WordPress to get widgets and plugins confused, but they’re really nothing alike. A widget is a self-contained piece of user interface code. You can think of it as a small part of the screen output that’s typically added to the sidebar, header, or footer.

Getting Started

Now that you’re familiar with basic WordPress terminology, it’s time to get started with using the back end. To do that, you’ll have to log in with your name and password.

WordPress won’t allow just anyone to administer your site. That’s why you’re given a username with a password when you install WordPress for the first time. Remember these credentials because they will be necessary to log in again from time to time.

log-in-screen

The WordPress login screen

Typically, you’ll access the WordPress back end with the /wp-admin context. That usually follows your domain name in the URL. So, for example, if your domain name is mydomain.com, you would access the WordPress back end with the following URL: http://mydomain.com/wp-admin.

It should be noted, however, that this URL may vary slightly from installation to installation. Contact your support team for the exact URL.

Once you’ve supplied your username and password, you’ll be taken to the back end.

The Top Bar

wordpress-dashboard

Once you’re in the back end, there will be quite a bit on the screen to digest. This tutorial will focus primarily on the top bar and the left-hand sidebar. In this section, we’ll go over the top bar.

At the very left-hand side of the dashboard, you’ll see the WordPress logo. Clicking on that will give you some basic information about your WordPress site, such as the version of WordPress that you’re using.

admin-top-bar

The name of your site should be to the right of that. If you click on that, you’ll be taken to your site’s home page. It’s a valuable link to click when you’ve made configuration changes so that you can immediately view how those changes have impacted your site.

To the right of that is a speech bubble. That shows you how many comments are on your site. If you click on the bubble, you’ll be taken to a new screen that allows you to edit the comments.

To the right of the speech bubble, you’ll see the word New with a plus sign in front of it. If you click on that link, you’ll be taken to an edit screen that enables you to add new content to your site. Note that if you hover over the New link, you’ll see a drop-down menu that shows you what types of content you can add.

On the far right of the top bar you’ll see your name. If you hover over your name, you’ll notice a drop-down menu that gives you the option to edit your profile or log out of the back end.

The Left-Hand Navigation Bar

The left-hand navigation bar is probably where you’ll spend the lion’s share of your time as you work in the WordPress back end. Almost all of the options that you want to access are on that section of the screen.

left-hand-menu

It should be noted that the contents of the left-hand navigation bar will vary slightly (if not significantly) from installation to installation. That’s because installed plugins can (and often do) add new options to the sidebar. This tutorial will cover the basic options.

Dashboard

At the very top of the left-hand navigation bar is the word Dashboard. If you click that, you might notice that the page loads but nothing happens. That’s because the dashboard is the same thing as the default view of the back end. In other words, you’re already on the dashboard. So, if you’re ever “lost” and not sure how to get back to the initial screen on the back end, click this link.

Posts

add-new-post

This is the option you use to create, edit, update, and delete posts. If you hover over it, you might notice a fly-out menu that appears. That menu will give you the option to view all of your posts (which you can then edit or delete), create a post, view your tags, or view your categories.

If you opt to create a post, you’ll be taken to a screen that enables you to create content in WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) format. The icons at the top of the editor are very similar to what you would expect to see in any word processor. The right-hand sidebar on that screen gives you the opportunity to add categories, tags, and add a featured image to your post.

Media

insert-media

This is the option that you click if you want to view media that’s used on your website or add new media. In WordPress, media can be defined as images, recordings, videos, or other files. However, most of the time you upload media, you’ll probably be uploading an image.

The flyout menu that appears when you hover over the Media option gives you two additional options: Library and Add New. If you select the Library option, you’ll be taken to a screen where you can browse your media uploads. If you click Add New, you’ll be taken to a screen where you can upload images directly from your personal computer.

Pages

The Pages option functions similar to Posts except that it deals with pages. You can manage your pages or create a new page. This is the option you use if you want to create a “Contact” page or an “About Us” page.

Comments

It is strongly recommended that you adopt a more sophisticated comments system than the default option that comes with WordPress. Whatever system you select, you click this option to manage the comments that are on your site. This is also how you delete comments that are spam.

Appearance

Simply put, this option enables you to change the look and feel of your website. If you hover over it, you’ll see numerous options in the flyout menu that appears:

  • Themes: Select this option if you want to change the overall look and feel of your website. You can download some great themes for free from the WordPress website.
  • Customize: Click on this option if you want to change your site title and tagline.
  • Widgets: This will take you to a screen that shows you all of the widgets that are available to you. You actually “use” the widgets by dragging them to sections of the screen identified as graphical user interface (GUI) boxes. For example, you might drag a widget called “Latest Posts” from the left-hand side of the screen to a box that reads “Right Sidebar” on the right-hand side of the screen. That will display your latest posts on that sidebar on your site.
  • Menus: This will give you the option to manage your menus. You can create new menus, specify where you’d like the menus to appear, and add items to each menu. These menus will be displayed differently from theme to theme.
  • Editor: This is for advanced users. If you’re interested in changing the source code of your theme, you would go here, select the correct file from the right-hand sidebar, and make the necessary changes.

Plugins

plugins-screen

Click on this option if you’d like to review the plugins that you have installed or if you’d like to install a new plugin. Keep in mind that adding a new plugin will often change the contents of the left-hand navigation bar.

Users

You might not be the only one who uses your website. It’s possible that you rely on an army of authors and editors to create content for you. Click on this option to create, delete, and manage your team of users.

Settings

If you hover over the Settings option, you’ll see a flyout menu that gives you several other options:

  • General: Click this option if you’d like to change basic configuration information about your site, such as its title, tagline, or the email address of the site administrator.
  • Writing: Click this option to configure basic information about your posts, such as the default category and the post format.
  • Reading: Click this option if you want to set information about how your site is displayed to visitors.
  • Discussion: Click this option if you’d like to configure how your comments section is structured.
  • Media: Click this option to specify default dimensions for images of various sizes.
  • Permalinks: Click this option to configure how you’d like permalinks to appear on your website.

Wrapping It Up

This has been a very basic overview of the WordPress back end. As with any other new technology you endeavor to use, you’ll find that “mastering” this one requires some practice.

What’s confusing to you about the WordPress back end? What do you think that WordPress could handle better or make more user-friendly? What do you like about the back end? Feel free to sound off in the comments.

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