Theming your WordPress Dashboard: Leveraging the dashboard

Themeing Your WordPress Dashboard

The WordPress Dashboard is not necessarily for every user. For those that do see it, you can customize the widgets to be more relevant for them. This post discusses redirection and Dashboard customization.

There is an awesome article written by Austin Gil called “How to Build WordPress Sites That Clients Love.” The article discusses the importance of user-focused websites and suggests that we also maximize our client’s ability to administer them. Everything that Austin mentions is dead on accurate.

I suggest that you give it a read after you’re done here. I have always been a supporter of leveraging the dashboard no matter what the task is. It’s relatively simple to hook into (using a plugin or your child theme) and the possibilities are endless. In this post, we’re going to look at three plugins to help you personalize the WP Dashboard (wp-admin).

Notice: Before you install a plugin, or make any kind of changes to your live WordPress website, please make a backup of your site first. We also recommend testing new themes and plugins on a staging or local environment first — like with DesktopServer.

Leveraging the dashboard

When you or your clients log into WordPress, you’re taken directly to the WordPress Dashboard ( The dashboard is an at-a-glance view of what’s going on with your site. Think in terms of Post counts, recent comment updates, or statistical information.

You can also set up many useful tools called Widgets. These are internal widgets and they are not the same as widgets that you can add to your sidebars. Instead of going into a plugin settings page to see some stats or updated news, a plugin might have a dashboard widget that you can leverage. It’s actually easy to see if your active plugins provide a dashboard widget. We’ll cover that in a bit.

As a WordPress user myself, I usually skip the dashboard and jump straight into my daily tasks. But how can you allow your users to skip the dashboard all together when they log-in? I’ll show you.

Leveraging Login Redirects

[wp-pic type=”plugin” slug=”peters-login-redirect” align=”right” ajax=”yes” ]The first plugin I want to introduce you to today is called Peter’s Login Redirect. Want to guess what it does? That’s right. When a user logs into your WordPress site, you can redirect a specific user role to a specific page in the WordPress Admin.

Say you have a user and their user role is set to editor. This person is responsible for reading, editing, and publishing articles written by the site authors. Instead of having your editor log into the Dashboard area, you can redirect them directly to “Posts > All Posts.”

If you have a membership site, you can set all newly registered users to a role of subscriber. That option comes standard in WordPress. You can use the redirect plugin to send all logged in subscribers directly to their profile page or to the homepage. Once your subscribers login, you could also direct them to a new product page. The possibilities are endless!

Dashboard Widgets

But what about for those that you do want directed to the Dashboard? Can you make that a bit more relevant for them? Of course!

Head over to your WordPress Dashboard. In the top right-hand corner of the Dashboard, you will see a tab element named Screen Options. Click on the tab and you will see a drop down with the available widgets that you can add to your WordPress Dashboard.

If you check the box next to a widget name, you can add that widget to your dashboard. After checking the box, the widget will appear in the dashboard automatically. Uncheck the box and the widget will be removed.


If you install plugins like Yoast SEO, The Events Calendar, or Jetpack by (I highly recommend all three of these plugins) you will be able to add more widgets to the Dashboard main page.

I use Jetpack’s Site Stats feature regularly. There is a widget specifically for the Site Stats. It allows me to see how many views my site has received by day, week, month, and year. Every time I log in, I don’t have to click 5 or 6 times to get to my stats page. There is a widget on my Dashboard and I can see my stats as soon as I log in.

Fun Fact: When editing a page or post, you will also see a tab element called screen options. This drop down will show you the available boxes to add. Some of these include a box to change the discussion settings on the specific post/page, change the author of the post, and show all custom fields.


Create your own Documentation Dashboard Widget

[wp-pic type=”plugin” slug=”wp-help” align=”right” ajax=”yes” ]Maybe you are passing off a site to your client and want to provide them with documentation about their new website. Creating your own Dashboard widget that lists FAQ articles or docs would be great!

If you are into writing code and figuring things out on your own, you can create your own custom widgets based on the WordPress Codex docs.

My good friend, Bridget Willard, likes using the WP Help plugin. It’s a clever plugin that allows you to write documentation for other users. My WP Help widget is full of “How To’s” and “Order of Operations” sections. I’ve been using it for the last few months and it has come in handy for several client sites.

Let’s take another scenario. Let’s say I just added a new feature to my WordPress site that I want all editors and authors to be aware of. So I write or record a training session on how to use it. I also write helpful documentation and add it to my Dashboard widget. Now, if anyone forgets how to use the new feature, they can refer to the widget.

Hide everything about WordPress

Some developers or agencies like to hide, or change, certain elements in the WordPress Dashboard. For instance, at the very bottom of the Dashboard, there is a message that reads “Thank you for creating with WordPress.” Don’t ask me why, but some developers/agencies want to change that message to something more personal.

Another example is the WordPress Logo located at the very top left corner of your browser, located in the WP-Admin bar. Once again, some may want to change it to the client’s logo or to your logo. If that’s the case, let me save you time and headaches. NEVER, I REPEAT, NEVER CHANGE ANYTHING IN THE CORE FILES OF WORDPRESS!

Why would someone change, or hack, core files of WordPress? Believe it or not, at one time that was the only way that you could actually change the aforementioned items. The problem with changing core files and images is simple. Sure, you make the changes today and everything is good to go. But tomorrow, WordPress releases an update. You click on install and all of your changes are overwritten. That’s the good news. The bad news is that if changed code in the core files (ex: you replace a semi-colon with a comma or you simply do not know what you are doing) you can break your site. Meaning that WordPress is still installed but you can’t use it until you fix your problems. Luckily for you, that brings us to our last plugin.

Sidenote: Using a child theme allows you to change elements of your site without overwriting your saved changes. The WordImpress team has a great article on doing that.

White Label WordPress

[wp-pic type=”plugin” slug=”white-label-cms” align=”right” ajax=”yes” ]There are several plugins that allow you to customize (brand) your WordPress install. My favorite is called White Label CMS. This plugin allows complete customization of dashboard panels and logos, removal of menus, giving editors access to widgets and menus and a lot more.

WordPress uses hooks, filters, and actions. Essentially they let developers “hook,” into another piece of code and change what will be finally output, wherever the hook is being used.

Think of it like this. Your theme has a small piece of code called a function. That function is designed to add the text “Featured Posts” at the top of every post that is assigned to a category called Featured Posts. Maybe you want that text to say “Awesome News” instead of “Featured Posts.” You could use a filter to change that text without changing the theme files at all. Pretty cool right?

White Label CMS uses hooks, filters, and actions. All three to be exact. One of the coolest features of the plugin is that it allows you to change the background image and the logo on the WordPress login page. There are too many plugin features to mention. You’re definitely going to want to check it out.

How Will You Leverage Your Dashboard?

WordPress has many ways of providing tools to help you accomplish whatever it is you are trying to do with your WordPress Dashboard. After reading Austin Gil’s post and this post, you should have more than enough tools to start leveraging the dashboard.

Missed the first post in this series?

Theming Your WordPress Dashboard: Slate Admin Theme

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