22 Tools That Infinitely Improve the WordPress Admin

22 Tools That Infinitely Improve the WordPress Admin

When you think about making WordPress more useful the dashboard probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. However, if you spend a lot of time logged into /wp-admin/, and have never taken the time to customize that experience, you can almost certainly get more out of it than you’re getting right now.

If you run a Multisite network, maybe your own experience is less of a concern than that of your network’s users. Customizing the admin area and dashboard across a Multisite network can help differentiate your network, improve user experience, and create new opportunities to monetize the network.

Perhaps you manage a website with multiple authors, contributors, and editors. Customizing the admin for each user role can help ensure that they only see the admin screens they actually need to use.

There’s a lot you can do to customize the WordPress admin and dashboard to make them easier to use and more useful. For example:

One Clarification Before We Get Started

Before we jump into the customization options I want to clarify two terms: admin and dashboard. Those terms are often used interchangeably, but in this article, they are used to refer to two different things.

  • The WordPress admin includes all of the pages that include /wp-admin/ in the URL.
  • The dashboard, on the other hand, is just one screen in the admin. It’s the screen you reach when you click on the Dashboard link in the admin menu.

So when you log into /wp-admin/, every screen that you access in the WordPress backend is part of the admin. When you click on Dashboard, you’re taken to the dashboard, which happens to be part of the admin area.

Now that we’re on the same page, let’s get to the task at hand: turning a ho-hum WordPress admin area into one that is useful, efficient, beautiful, and customized to meet your specific needs.

Give Your Admin a New Look

One simple way to update your WordPress admin area is with an admin theme. If you know what you want, and aren’t afraid of writing CSS, then you can make your own without too much trouble.

If coding an admin theme isn’t something you’re interested in, there are several high-quality admin theme options available from WordPress.org. Just keep in mind that you’ll find them in the Plugins Directory rather than the Theme Directory. For a curated selection of the best admin themes, take a look at our post 11 Brilliant Admin Themes to Freshen Up Your Dashboard where one or two options are sure to catch your eye.

Two relatively new additions to the admin themes available at WP.org are Flatty and Zeus. They didn’t make it into our admin theme roundup and are worth taking a look at. So let’s do that now.

  • Flatty - Flat Admin Theme

    Flatty is a free admin theme that is designed to modernize the admin area. In addition, Flatty offers a few customization options. For example, you can easily create a modernized custom login screen that looks nothing like the default WordPress wp-login.php styling. In addition, you can manage which Dashboard widgets are shown with a simple checkbox menu located at Flatty > Dashboard settings.

    To modernize the WordPress admin, clean up the dashboard, and create a custom login screen in just a few clicks, consider Flatty.

    Interested in Flatty - Flat Admin Theme?

  • Zeus WordPress Admin

    Technically, Zeus WordPress Admin is an admin theme — or at least, it calls itself one. However, in reality, the styling tweaks Zeus WordPress applies are minimal. The real utility offered by Zeus WordPress Admin comes from three integrated features:

    • View the site front end while logged in and you’ll notice that a button has been added to the right side of the admin bar. Click the button and the admin bar slides out of the way. Click it again and the admin bar reappears.
    • An interface is provided to completely rearrange the admin menu. Use it to move menu items, move primary items to submenus, delete menu items, and add custom items.
    • An impressive sitewide search feature is built into the plugin. While in the WordPress admin area, press the backslash key or click the search icon in the admin bar and a sitewide search prompt will appear. Search results are generated on-the-fly with Ajax and include all of your site’s content and admin screens.

    Zeus makes WordPress more modern and spacious with subtle styling tweaks. It also adds a few useful features, the most notable of which is the sitewide search — a feature that feels like it would rapidly become a user-favorite on sites with lots of content.

    Interested in Zeus WordPress Admin?

Add a Business Intelligence Dashboard to the Admin

There are lots of Google Analytics plugins for WordPress that add an analytics widget to the dashboard. However, if you want to see Facebook Page Insights you have to go to Facebook. The same goes for other services you probably use, such as Twitter Analytics, Google Adsense, and Mailchimp. If you want to see the analytics data from those services you have to go straight to the source or sign up for third-party business intelligence dashboard services.

What if you could get all of that data in a single easy-to-use dashboard right from your WordPress admin? That’d make life easier, right? Well, you can.

  • SkyStats

    SkyStats is a business intelligence dashboard from inbound marketing agency, Thrive. The WordPress plugin pulls in data from Google Analytics, Adsense, Facebook Insights, Twitter Analytics, and MailChimp. It uses that data to build a business intelligence “mashboard” — a one-screen dashboard from which you can view the key data you need to run your business.

    To use the plugin you’ll have to sign up for a SkyStats plan. A free tier is available and offers all integrations for a single WordPress website. If you want to use the plugin on more than one website, view more than 30 days worth of data, or remove SkyStats branding, you’ll have to purchase a premium plan.

    What SkyStats does is hook into the various APIs offered by these analytics programs and pull that data into WordPress. However, SkyStats just grabs data from other analytics programs. It does not actually embed Google analytics tracking code in your site’s markup. You’ll need to use another plugin, such as Google Analytics +, to add tracking code to your site before you’ll be able to view that data in SkyStats.

White Label WordPress

When you log into a standard WordPress installation, it is branded as such. The logo in the admin bar is the WordPress logo, hover over it and links to various pages at WordPress.org will appear, and scroll to the bottom of any admin page to see “Thank you for creating with WordPress.” and the current version of WordPress displayed in the page footer. The login screen also displays the WordPress logo prominently and links to WordPress.org.

Have you ever had a client confused by all of the WordPress branding? By getting rid of all of the WordPress branding, replacing it with your own, and incorporating your own styling and colors, you can turn the admin from a WordPress advertisement to a white-label CMS branded to the site frontend.

  • Ultimate Branding

    Ultimate Branding is one of our most popular plugins. It’s designed to make it easy to make WordPress completely white label and integrate your own logo and links.

    Branding isn’t the only thing Ultimate Branding can do. In addition to rebranding WordPress as you see fit, Ultimate Branding offers the following features:

    • The ability to completely customize the login screen with an integrated login page CSS stylesheet.
    • The ability to build your own admin theme with an integrated admin CSS stylesheet.
    • Complete control over the widgets displayed in the WordPress dashboard.
    • The ability to build a site-specific help drop-down menu. Pair it with Integrated Video Tutorials for a genuinely helpful menu your users will actually use.
    • Features designed specifically for multisite networks such as global footer and header content, a rebranded meta widget, network-wide text changes, and an admin message displayed in the dashboard of every site in the network.
    • Much more.

    In addition, Ultimate Branding is easy to use. It offers a clean interface and field labels and settings that non-developers can understand. Add that to the fact that Ultimate Branding is compatible with multisite, and Ultimate Branding may the best option on offer for customizing the WordPress admin of every site in a multisite network.

    Interested in Ultimate Branding?

  • White Label CMS

    This plugin makes it easy to customize the WordPress admin screens so that they look like a custom CMS. It is a good option for developers doing client work who want to build a customer-specific backend that will be easy to use and more attractive than the standard admin.

    White Label CMS settings are broken into four categories:

    • Branding: These settings are used to replace WordPress branding with your own customized branding choices throughout the admin area and login screens.
    • Dashboard panels: Eliminate unnecessary widgets from the WordPress dashboard and add a custom welcome widget and an RSS feed widget to the dashboard.
    • Admin settings: Hide just about anything including update notices, post and page meta boxes, and the help and screen options tabs from the user roles of your choosing. In addition, you can write custom CSS right in the plugin or upload a custom CSS stylesheet to build a custom admin theme within the plugin.
    • Modify menus: Limit the menus visible to non-admins by selecting the top level menu items that should be hidden.

    White Label CMS is a feature-rich plugin. In addition, it offers a well-organized interface and is easy to use making it a very strong candidate if you want to white label WordPress for your clients.

  • Admin Customizer

    Admin Customizer is an option to consider if you want a simple plugin that allows you to make WordPress white label without offering a lot of additional features. It offers a well-designed, easy to use interface and the following features:

    • Remove or replace all WordPress branding and create an admin theme by adding custom CSS to an integrated stylesheet.
    • Remove items from the admin bar and hide it entirely for non-admins.
    • Hide any of the standard WordPress dashboard widgets and create a custom widget.
    • Determine what appears in the admin footer or remove it completely.
    • Customize the login page.
    • Control the number of revisions stored in the post and page revisions.
    • Add a customized default email address to all automatic email notifications.

    What really makes Admin Customizer stand out is ease-of-use. All of its settings are contained in a handful of tabs on a single admin screen. You can have it set up and configured in just a few minutes.

    Interested in Admin Customizer?

Make WordPress Easier to Use

You’re good with WordPress, but what about your clients and users? Maybe not so much. If that’s the case, you can make WordPress a lot easier for novice users by simplifying the admin menu and dashboard.

  • Adminimize

    Adminimize is all about minimizing the number of items that show up in the WordPress admin. You can use it to remove virtually anything — admin bar menu items, sidebar menu items, widgets, and more — with the changes being applied based on the logged in user’s role.

    If you want a plugin that will remove unnecessary admin items for certain types of users, and want to control what each type of user sees, take a look at Adminimize.

  • WP Admin UI

    WP Admin UI combines many useful features for customizing the WordPress admin area based on the logged in user’s role. Use it to create a custom login screen, to define custom admin styles, and to remove things like the help tab and dashboard widgets. The most useful feature offered by WP Admin UI is the ability to completely rework the items that appear in the admin menu and to create a custom admin bar.

    If you run a blog with multiple contributors, editors, and authors, WP Admin UI is a great tool to lock down the WordPress admin area so that non-admins only have access to the menus they actually need to use.

    If WP Admin UI has one area for improvement, it would be the fact that you can only define a single menu structure. So if you want to create different admin menus for different user roles, WP Admin UI won’t fit the bill.

  • WP Admin UI Customize

    WP Admin UI Customize offers pretty much the same features as WP Admin UI and a similar interface. However, there are two differences you should be aware of.

    • First, some of the terminology and input field labels in WP Admin UI Customize are vague and are not non-developer friendly. A certain amount of trial and error is involved in figuring out what some options do.
    • Second, you can use WP Admin UI Customize to create custom menus that appear based on the logged in user’s role if you purchase the WP Admin UI Customize Multiple Add-on.

    If you know you want to create different admin menus that will be applied based on the logged in user’s role, and don’t mind spending a few dollars on a premium add-on, then you should think about using WP Admin UI Customize.

    Interested in WP Admin UI Customize?

  • AG Custom Admin

    AG Custom Admin is a lot like WP Admin UI Customize and WP Admin UI. What makes AG Custom Admin stand apart is the polished interface and beginner-friendly field labels and setting options.

    With AG Custom Admin you can customize the admin bar by removing anything you like. You can also remove any item from the primary admin menu, rename the remaining items, and add menu items. You can also build a custom login screen.

    AG Custom Admin offers three different features you can use to control the visual styling of the admin area.

    • The Colorizer feature can be used to control any colors used in the admin area.
    • The CSS feature includes the option to add custom CSS and JavaScript to control admin appearance and interactions.
    • The Themes feature can be used to install more than ten prebuilt admin themes. Most of the available themes do carry a pricetag, but there are two free options available.

    AG Custom Admin doesn’t really do anything to stand out from the options offered by WP Admin UI and WP Admin UI Customizer, but what makes it worth taking a hard look at is the polished interface and overall solid user experience it offers.

  • Client Dash

    If you build websites for clients, and want to give them a simplified dashboard and admin experience, Client Dash can help you do that. Features include the ability to build custom menus based on user role and a simplified WordPress dashboard that you can further customize to suit your needs if you are a WordPress developer.

    What Client Dash does not offer is any customized styling. So, if you use Client Dash and want to style your WordPress admin, you’ll need to install an admin theme or, better yet, create your own.

Multisite Admin Superpowers

Ultimate Branding offers a lot of features that are useful in a Multisite network. For example, you can control admin footers and headers throughout the network, add a Multisite favicon, display a message in every site admin area, and control the login screen for every site in the network.

As self-declared Multisite experts, you’d think we’d have more options for customizing the WordPress admin of a Multisite network. If you had that thought, then you’re right.

  • Admin Ads

    If you’re searching for ways to monetize your multisite network, take a look at Admin Ads.

    This plugin adds a billboard to the dashboard of every site in a multisite network. Use it to advertise your own services, upgraded network features, or sell the space to third party advertisers.

  • Admin Panel Tips

    This plugin can be used to create a list of tips that are displayed randomly when users access different screens within the admin area. Use the plugin to display helpful tips, relevant news articles, special offers, and other messages.

    If you want to, you can even allow users to opt-out of seeing the tips on their site’s dashboard.

  • Dashboard Feeds

    The default WordPress dashboard includes an RSS feed of WordPress news. If you want to add your own custom RSS feed, Dashboard Feeds can do the job for you. It’s multisite compatible, so you can use the plugin to create an RSS news feed that is displayed on every Dashboard in your network.

  • Dashboard Widget Order

    With Ultimate Branding you can remove any dashboard widgets that you don’t want to be displayed across your multisite network. Pair Ultimate Branding with Dashboard Widget Order to determine the order in which dashboard widgets appear in every site in your multisite network. That way, you can ensure that the dashboard content you want your network users to see is displayed front and center.

    Interested in Dashboard Widget Order?

Fine Tune, Tweak, and Fix Admin Problem Areas

Maybe your site’s admin area is just about where you want it to be, except for one or two minor issues. Or maybe you like the standard admin just fine, but want to be as productive as possible by making a few minor optimizations. If that’s the case, here are a few plugins you can use to tighten up WordPress admin problem areas.

  • Admin Menu Editor makes it easy to build a custom admin menu with a drag-and-drop interface.
  • Admin Columns gives you control over the width and order of the columns shown when you go to the admin screens that list posts, pages, and custom post types.
  • WP Hotkeys adds hotkeys to the WordPress admin so you can get to the screen you’re looking for without reaching for the mouse.
  • Dashboard Widget Sidebar makes it possible to add any of your front end widgets to the WordPress dashboard.
  • Remove Dashboard Access makes it easy to block certain user roles from accessing /wp-admin/ and redirects users to the URL you choose.
  • Admin Bar Button adds a button to the admin bar that can close the admin bar when viewing the site while logged in.
  • Dashboard Commander can be used to clean up the WordPress dashboard. Just install it and all dashboard widgets will be removed. Then access the plugin settings page to add back the widgets you want to see.

An Admin You Can be Proud Of

Once you customize the WordPress admin for the first time you’ll want to build customizations into all of your future projects. The WordPress admin is fine right out of the box, but once you realize how much more efficient, useful, and beautiful it can be, you’ll won’t be satisfied with the standard look any longer.

Jon Penland
Jon Penland Jon manages operations for Kinsta, a managed WordPress hosting provider. When he isn't figuring out the ins-and-outs of supporting WordPress-powered businesses, he enjoys hiking and adventuring in northeast Georgia with his wife and kids.
What plugins have you used to customize the WordPress admin? If you do work for clients, what has been your experience offering a custom admin for your clients? Let us know in the comments below.