As WordPress developer, I’ve worked with many clients who haven’t used WordPress, or for that matter, any content management system before. I can usually assess the overwhelming look of (oh God, what have we gotten ourselves into, dread) when a client logs into their WordPress backend for the first time at a training meeting. Especially when they see all the menus and options that are usually made worse if I’ve used a couple of plugins that’ve added some extra menus and cruft to the UI too.
Lets be honest, WordPress IS easy to use, but the UI can quickly become overwhelming with settings and plugin menus. Then the stock WordPress dashboard your presented with on login is pretty bare. It provides almost no value to the user or developer beyond letting you know the version and giving Automatic a spot to push their recent news front and center. If your clients have never used WordPress before then the Quick Draft, Activity, and At A Glance might as well be written in greek – because without understanding, it’s all irrelevant. Especially if the site doesn’t have or make use of a blog.
Because of this, I started a project about two years ago to somehow create a backend login experience for clients at my agency that (1) made everything so simple anyone could figure it out, (2) still had access to pro administrative settings in an uncluttered way, and finally (3) was written from the ground up as a stand alone plugin and not mashing a bunch of UI hacking plugins together.
By creating a custom dashboard for a client, I figured I could provide them with a lean WordPress interface and an improved usability experience tailored to their needs and experience level. Possibly even custom brand it too.
My overall goal was to improve client satisfaction with an ease of use UI/UX, which in-turn would lead to more repeat work. I also wanted to build in support and training to reduce that cost in the long run.
A COUPLE OF STOPS ALONG THE WAY
One of the things I discovered about WordPress is how easy it actually is to write a plugin and hook into the WordPress framework. The other thing I discovered about WordPress is that it’s filled with tons of legacy support for ancient versions and it’s really easy to write something wrong that will still work so the importance of following the codex is pretty important. Its really easy to make a plugin that breaks other plugins and isn’t compatible with most of the latest themes and page builders too. So I couldn’t just write something that only worked in my development sandbox, it had to be able to be deployed to any site we hosted or managed, and not break everything.
After my first beta try at this custom backend dashboard thing (I’ll call it year one), I stared to get a sense of what most clients were looking for when they managed their sites. First was editing content obviously, but second was their analytics. Some of these people were coming from WIX sites or some other online site builder that had their analytics front and center. The other thing that most people were asking for was some site of visual content builder like WIX and SquareSpace. The evolution began for my project.
I started doing some A/B testing by removing menus, relocating preferences, and just changing the way WordPress functioned and presented items in the interface to the end user. I wouldn’t even tell anyone what I was doing, I was just waiting and getting feedback. This proved to be pretty useful in figuring out the pain threshold for change. About this time I really started to think about the little things that clients were always calling and asking for. Support was one, but clients always seemed to be calling for their logo, or their font or a style guide, even though we’d given it to them a bunch of times before. I really wanted to find a way to mash all this together.
Two years later and the iteration in production at the moment is pretty darn cool. I pretty much hit all my goals, with one exception, that I ended up using one plugin: MonsterInsights, because keeping Googles Analytics API up to date and functioning was a bit more than I wanted to manage. The entire plugin is self contained and totally white labeled and open source licensed GPL3.
• Simplified (customizable) side and toolbar menus, showing only the items needed to edit the site’s content
• Client assets (logo, fonts, style guide, etc.) that can be attached from a settings page
• Easy access to Google Analytics
• Quick support request button
• Disables managing updates and installing plugins from admin role and moves it to server admin role
• Everything from advanced settings to training moved into tabs for less clutter
• Branded login screen and additional dashboard logo can be added above tabs (white-label)
• Custom settings page to customize support text, footer copyright info, and custom CSS
• Responsive and compatible with other plugins and themes
WordPress makes it easy to customize your dashboard, menus and login area to present something immensely more useful to your clients. This is where I landed, but there are numerous resources to learn how to do this yourself. The options you can add are endless to tailor this to your clients needs. You can easily build one for your clients too using the standard WordPress codex, some CSS and some very light scripting. My final thought is that anything that makes it easier for a client to manage their website and that makes your job easier at the same time is a plus and definitely is an up-sell when pitching a development project.
Want to give it a go? Here are some resources to get you started with building your own.
Writing a WordPress Plugin
Require plugins for your theme with TGM
Customize WordPress backend
Options Page Generator
Remove Toolbar Menu Items
Custom WordPress Variables
Creating Custom Sub Menus
WP Get Options