What You Need to Know About Your Website

“What theme do you have?” “Oh, um, I don’t know, can you tell me where to find that?”

My heart sank a little. It probably didn’t bother them, but I knew this was the beginning of a long and arduous journey for that particular client. You see, your website is a lot like most expensive things that form the foundations of our lives and yet are so consistently there for us that we only really notice them when they quit working. I mean most of us can’t rattle off the size of our furnace filter, the last time we vacuumed our fridge vents or the last time we cleaned out our dryer vent line (note: please do that ASAP, that’s a fire hazard!). But when one of those things stops working, it’s usually bad, really bad, and expensive.

That’s why it’s important to have a basic knowledge of your website and how to do basic upkeep on it. Even if you’re not the one doing it you should have an idea of what you are looking at for a lot of reasons. The most importantly, so that you feel confident in dealing with someone you are asking to work on your site (and give them the information they need to give you an accurate estimate so your website doesn’t turn into a Money Pit), and so that you have a basic understanding of your website BEFORE it breaks. And if you ignore it, it WILL break. So, let’s get to know your website shall we? Here are the 5 questions I get asked most often by clients. 

What Is All This Stuff I See When I Log In?

That’s your dashboard. It like the “homepage” of the back end of your website. From here you can go anywhere. You can customize what you see here, but that’s the subject of another post. Right now yours will probably look something like this.

If you have Google analytics or another plugin installed you will see it there too. The dashboard is designed to give you an overview of what is going on with your website.

Over on the left, you’ll see a menu, this is where the magic happens. You’re probably already a little familiar with this if you’ve created any blog posts on your site so I’ll do a quick run-through.

Home – Brings you back to the Dashboard

Updates – You probably see an orange circle with a number here, we’ll talk about that in a bit (if you don’t CONGRATULATIONS!).

Posts – This is where you go to create your blog posts.

Media – This is your media library, where all your images and downloadable files are.

Pages – These are all the pages on your website, you can create new pages here too.

Comments – there may be a notification here too if you have comments turned on for your site. It’s telling you that you have comments to moderate or spam to delete.

Appearance – This opens a new menu where you can change the look of your website a bit.

Plugins – This lists all the plugins you have on your website. Plugins are like mini-programs, they usually do one thing well and can enhance the abilities of your site in a lot of ways. You might see an orange notification here too. We’ll talk about that in a bit.

Users – If you are a solopreneur with no team you will be the only one in here. If you have a team or some kind of membership site this will show everyone that has access to your website in some way.

Tools – If your website is new there won’t be much here, but as you add plugins you’ll find more things.

Settings – I’ve got a whole section of this post dedicated to this below. For now, just know that this is where you can make fundamental changes to your site.

How Do I Find Out What Theme I Have, And Why Should I Care?

It’s important to know what theme you have because your theme controls the look and feel of your site as well as the functionality. Some themes are drag and drop (like Divi, a personal favorite of mine) and some are set out of the box and designed to be customized as is (like Genesis another popular theme base). To find your theme log in to your Dashboard, on the left side hover over Appearance, and click “Themes”. You will likely see several themes there depending on how long you have had your site. The one you are currently using will have a bar at that bottom that says “active”. Once you know which one you are using I recommend a quick Google search. Get to know what the theme was designed for, check out some reviews for some of the things that people have liked about it as well as any complaints people have had. That will help you get to know the functionalities and limitations of your theme.

What Is That Orange Circle I Keep Seeing?

Remember earlier when I said I would talk about that orange circle? It’s time! So that orange circle is telling you that something needs updating. It’s usually a plugin (or two…or three…) but sometimes it might be your theme or even your WordPress database. Now, here is the most important thing about updates. BACKUP YOUR SITE FIRST!!! Seriously. 99 out of 100 everything will be fine. But occasionally something will happen and your site will break. 

Depending on how bad the break is you may need to reset your site to the version before you updated the plugins. I recommend downloading the UpDraft Plus plugin and setting it up to back up your site regularly. That way whenever you do updates you will have a recent backup. 

To make updates you can click on the orange circle and it will show you a list of everything that needs to be updated. Go through the list one at a time and click the “update” button. Don’t get click happy and try to do them all at once. When everything is updated the orange circle will disappear. Take a quick look around your site and make sure everything is still working fine and then you are good to go.

Why Do I Have “Settings”? Is That Part Of My Theme?

You might be wondering about those “Settings” on the left side of your dashboard. They aren’t part of your theme. They are the basic settings that come with all WordPress sites. There are a lot of them and most of them you won’t ever need to touch so I’ll do a quick run-through of the basics.

When you click on Settings you will notice that a dropdown opens up underneath and you have several things to choose from. If you click on “General” you’ll see the basic settings of your site. These include the site title and tagline as well as the URLs. You can also set your date and time settings here.

Under the Writing settings you can set your blog’s default category and template.

Reading is where you can decide if you want your homepage to be a specific page on your site or if you want it to show your most recent blog posts. You can also tell your site which page you want as your homepage and which is your blog page.

The Discussion settings are all about your blog posts and the comments on your site. If you have comments turned off you won’t need to mess with these settings very often. If you do decide to allow comments you are going to need to download a plugin to handle spam and moderate comments. WordPress just isn’t great at it on its own. (Weird for a platform originally designed for blogs, I know.)

Media settings control the sizes of the images in your library and how they appear on your site. That way you can have a uniform look on your site. You will rarely need to mess with these settings.

Permalinks, now this one you may have looked at before. These control how the URLs for your pages and posts set up. Most of the time you are going to set it and forget it.

The Privacy settings are pretty simple; this is where you will tell WordPress which page your privacy policy is on. You need a privacy policy. If you don’t have one, get one. Then come here and tell your site which page it’s on.

That’s pretty much it for Settings. If you have anything else in here it is likely from a plugin you have installed. Feel free to poke around and see what is going on in there!

I Don’t Want To Break Something. Is There Anything Back Here I Absolutely Should Not Touch?

Look, I know you don’t want to break your site. It seems like it would be easier to leave it alone, cross your fingers, and hope for the best. But the truth is it is better to know the basics of your website and not get blindsided by something going awry.

For the most part, as long as you are making regular backups of your website you should be able to muck about as much as you want and not permanently break anything. Now you might see something crazy happen and if you can’t figure out what you did, restore your site to before you started playing around and tada! 

There are a couple of caveats to this. Don’t change your theme unless you actually want to change your theme. You can probably still get everything back with a restore but sometimes a theme will have something special set up and changing the theme then restoring it will make something funky happen. 

Another thing you should never do is mess with your site files. Usually, you will run into this if you are in the Cpanel or your hosting, but there is a way to get to some of them from your dashboard. If you go to Appearance, then Theme Editor you will see your site files. Unless you are familiar with code and how things are set up its best to leave these alone.

So now that you’ve gotten to know your website you may have noticed a few things that need to be addressed. Or maybe you want to make sure that you are keeping your website in tip-top shape. If so, I invite you to download my free monthly maintenance checklist. Keep it around to give you a reminder of the things you should check each month to make sure your website is working properly for you and your audience. 

Did you check out your website yet? If so I’d love for you to hop over to my Facebook page and let me know what was one thing you found that surprised you? Was all this info old news or did you learn something new? Let me know!

Want to keep your website safe and up to date?

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help you remember what needs to be done each month.

What You Need to Know About Your Website