Customizing the WordPress Admin Experience for Novice Clients

Customizing the WordPress Admin Experience for Novice Clients

If you’re creating or setting up a site for clients or non-technical users, customizing the WordPress admin can help them manage their site and work with content more easily.

Most of the sites I build are for clients who aren’t too familiar with WordPress and don’t have a lot of time to spend working out how to manage their site, so I like to customize the dashboard and other admin screens to make life easier for them. I also like to add some branding to the admin screens, just to remind them who created their site for them!

The customizations I make will vary depending on the needs of each client but will normally include one or more of:

  • Branding the login screen with my own logo.
  • Adding branding to the admin screens, from something as simple as changing the header and footer text to going further and rebranding the colours and layout of the screens.
  • Removing dashboard widgets that my clients don’t need and adding a new one with a helpful introduction to their site and what they need to know about it.
  • Removing admin menu items that clients don’t need access to and adding new ones where needed.
  • Adding metaboxes to editing screens to help clients add data via custom fields.

WordPress provides you with a bunch of hooks and functions that can help you if you want to code it yourself, which is what I often do (adding everything to a special admin plugin), but if you don’t fancy delving into the code or are in a hurry, then a plugin can be a simpler and quicker way to go things.

In this post, I’ll identify my top 10 plugins for customising the WordPress admin screens. These range from the full-featured plugins like Ultimate Branding which let you make a whole heap of admin customizations, to small plugins like Login Logo that just do one simple job. Which you use will depend on your needs and those of your clients.

So let’s start with the grandaddy of them all…

  • Ultimate Branding

    Ultimate Branding has it all when it comes to admin customization. It not only lets you customize the admin screens, but also gives you the option of making customizations to the front end of the sites in your network to, if you’re running Multisite.

    But Ultimate Branding isn’t just for networks: you can use it on standard installations or networks to brand your admin screens, customize the login screen, change the dashboard, remove unwanted menu items and reorder existing ones, create your own admin bar, add help text and much more.

    All of these features can be turned on and off from the dashboard, so you only use what you need for your site, as you can see in the screenshot:

    Ultimate Branding plugin - turn modules on and off in the dashboard
  • White Label CMS

    White Label CMS is the most popular free plugin for customizing the admin screens. It lets you add your own login logo, remove and add dashboard widgets, hide meta boxes on editing screens, remove items from the admin menus and add custom CSS in places.

    It isn’t as fully featured as Ultimate Branding and the single screen user interface can be a bit confusing, but it is free and offers the most functionality of all the available free plugins.

  • Admin Menu Editor

    If all you need to do is add, remove, reorder or edit items in the WordPress admin menu, then the Admin Menu Editor plugin makes it simple.

    The feature I like the most is the way it lets you change the text for each admin menu item: so for example if you’re creating a site for a client who will be using Posts for news, you can change the Posts text in the admin menu to News. This works in a similar way to the Menus admin screen for navigation menus.

    You can also reorder menu items and hide them from users who don’t have a specified capability level. With the Pro version you can move second-level menu items to other menus, which could be useful if you’ve removed a lot of menu items from two top level menus and want to combine the two.

  • Post Type Archive Link

    Something that often frustrates me about WordPress is how difficult it can be to add a link to the archive for a custom post type to the navigation menus. The only way to do it is to work out the URL of the relevant post type archive and then add that as a custom link, which can be tricky if you’re not familiar with the way WordPress generates URLs.

    The Post Type Archive Link plugin solves this problem for you. It adds a box for your custom post types to the menus admin screen, letting you add a link to each post type’s arrive to your navigation menu. If you’re using WordPress as a CMS and have registered multiple post types, this can be very useful.

  • Media Library Assistant

    If your site contains a lot of media files which you want to be able to manage more effectively than with the default media screens, the Media Library Assistant plugin can help.

    It lets you add categories and tags to media files and also displays information about each media file in the main Media screen, such as which post(s) each image is featured in, with a link to the post. This can be very useful if you need to replace or remove an image and you know the media file’s name but not where you uploaded it.

    Interested in Media Library Assistant?

  • Login Logo

    This plugin is a very simple one developed by WordPress core contributor Mark Jaquith. Login Logo lets you change the logo on the main WordPress login page by dropping a file called login-logo.png into the wp-content directory. Simply activate the plugin, upload the file and your logo will replace the WordPress logo.

    When you access this plugin on the plugin directory you’ll see a warning that it hasn’t been updated in over two years. Don’t worry about this: the plugin is so simple that it doesn’t need updating, and it’s from a developer you can trust.

  • Dashboard Widget Order

    Dashboard widgets can be really helpful – they give your users information about their site, let them quickly create new content, and help you get started with WordPress.

    But something I often find irritating is the fact that as a site owner or developer you can’t determine the default order of the widgets. You can remove them and add new ones but without some complex code, you can’t reorder them.

    The Dashboard Widget Order plugin solves this problem for you. It only works for Multisite but it lets you quickly reorder the widgets on your dashboard, meaning that every time a new site or user is created on your network, you know how the dashboard will appear to them.

  • Dashboard Feeds

    If like me, you’re creating sites for clients who aren’t web developers and aren’t particularly interested in WordPress, then chances are you’ll want to remove the ‘WordPress News’ dashboard widget. What’s even more useful is to replace it with another news widget.

    The Dashboard Feeds plugin lets you do this. Add as many RSS feeds to it as you want and it will populate the dashboard with a widget for each of them. If you’re creating sites for a particular industry, this might be a news feed for that industry. Or to promote your own work, you can use the RSS feed from your own site, to remind your users and clients what you’re up to and encourage them to click through to your site.

Wrapping Up

Customizing the WordPress backend can make life easier for your clients and users and it can hep you to promote your business, either by improving your branding or displaying information about your business or content from your own site.

If you use these plugins, you’ll be able to create an admin experience for your users and clients that projects a professional image and helps them manage and edit their sites.

Have you customized the backend of your site? What kinds of changes did you make? Are their customizations you always like to make for particular clients? Let us know what you think in the comments below.