The Basics of the WP Engine Dashboard

Today in the wild world of the Internet’s webs we’ll take a look at my personal pick for #1 hosting provider WP Engine’s dashboard.

This is where a lot of the more nitty gritty server stuff can be taken care of, where you can find support from WP Engine’s truly stellar team, and setup things like SFTP. If none of that interests you, have no fear! If you’re a client of mine, I typically take care of this stuff for you when your site goes live, but this may be a useful read anyway. It never hurts to know a little more about what’s going on behind the scenes with your website, right? And as always, I promise to keep it straightforward. We’ll skip the fluff and only shoot from the hip when it comes to the rest, okay? 🙂

Getting Started: Your Login

First thing’s first, you need to be able to login at my.wpengine.com.

To do this, you’ll need to either reference the initial email that WP Engine sent you, or ask me and I’ll get one over to you (again, talking to my clients here).

The email has a Subject of “You have been invited to the WP Engine Portal” and looks something like this:

screenshot of the email WP Engine will send you
Check your archived emails or ask me to send you your WP Engine login info if it’s never been sent.

Following the link you’ll come to a page where you can set your password. Strong passwords are a must, a requirement in fact, and the page gives you hints on exactly how to create a strong password.

screenshot of the password set page when first logging in to WP Engine
Strong passwords are required.

Once you enter a password, you’ll be taken to the Dashboard, which lists the latest WordPress and WP Engine news, and info on traffic coming into your site. Look near the top of the page for the Installs tab and click that, as everything below is accessed via that section.

Diving In: The “Overview” Page

Everyone loves a good set of stats. These aren’t necessarily going to line up with your Google Analytics’ information, because they count “bots”, which is a word for computer programs that go out and crawl sites. Google and Facebook, for example, use bots to get information about your site so that they can rank you in their search engines or show pictures and links back to your site.

stats on traffic and other information from WP Engine
Nothing like a couple of charts and some IP addresses to spice things up in your relationship. 🙂

Defer the Next Update

This is probably the most interesting feature of this page. WP Engine updates WordPress sites automatically, to keep you up to date and eliminate the risk of hackers getting into your site. You may find though that something is wrong with your site and when you update via Staging, things are breaking. So you need a little more time to ask me to look things over but are concerned that you’re going to run into trouble when an auto-update comes out.

Just check the Defer the next update button and you’re good to go. For now anyway, be sure to get in touch with me ASAP so we can resolve whatever’s happening.

SFTP Logins

SFTP is the same as FTP. It’s a username and login that gets you into your site’s files, if you ever need to do so. Note that you typically don’t need to, though. If you don’t know what FTP or SFTP is, anyway, you can probably skip this.

screenshot of sftp setup within WP Engine
These options are crucial to keeping your site secure, read the following carefully!

Username This can be whatever you like, and will be prefixed by your site’s install name. You can see the install name at the top of any page, just beneath the WP Engine logo. So if your install name is pittsburghwebsite then what you type in this username field will be pittsburghwebsite-whateveryoutyped

Password Once again, passwords are so important, and so WP Engine’s hosting platform forces you to choose a strong password. They’re not always easy to remember, but fortunately you can typically paste these into your FTP client once and forget about it. And you can always come back in here and reset them.

Path Leave this blank if you want the SFTP login to give access to the entire site’s files. In the image example above I have /wp-content, which would only give a person using this login access to the folder that contains your site’s plugins, themes and the files you’ve uploaded.

Environment Choose “Live” if you want this login to access the files on your Live site, or “Staging” if you want it to be for your testing / development site. Not sure what “Staging” is? Read my post on how to use your WP Engine Staging site.

Click Add SFTP Login and you’re golden. While you can create multiple logins, it’s best to keep them as limited as possible. The more you have, the more “doors” you’re creating to your website, and the more points of vulnerability.

Domain Names

WP Engine Domains tab
This is where you tell WP Engine about your domain name.

I will have set this up for you initially, and you really shouldn’t change anything here as you run the risk of setting your site up for something called a “redirect loop”, in which browsers go crazy trying to figure out whether a site is at www. or not.

However, say you have a website like pittsburgh-websites-are-rad.com and that’s your main site. Then you bought another domain name, rad-websites-in-pittsburgh.com, and you want the latter to forward to the former.

This is where you’ll do it. Note that you’ll already need to have your new domain name setup with your domain name registrar (ie, GoDaddy or whoever you bought the domain name from). You can grab your site’s IP address from the Overview page and setup an A record with your registrar. Give them a ring if you’re not sure how to do this, as it varies a bit depending on who you bought your domain name from.

Firstly, under your main domain name, click Add Domain Name Redirect to this Domain. A box will pop up with a single field, Redirect Name.

In our example, we’d enter rad-websites-in-pittsburgh.com there, and click Add domain redirect.

Bam, our new domain now sends people to our actual website (and the actual domain name, too).

What’s a CDN?

CDN
Content Delivery Network. A way to serve images and other files from a separate domain and server, allowing for faster web page downloads and rendering.

You can check the box next to your primary domain name on this page to get this setup.

checkboxes to setup CDNs on WP Engine
You only need to check your primary domain, as all others forward to that domain, right?

Once this is enabled, you can view the source code of your website if you’d like (in most browsers, open your website and right-click then choose “View Source” or “View Page Source” to see your site’s code). Have a look at this image from clicknathan.com.

source code showing how CDNs change the  URLs
Normally, that part highlighted in this image would just be my url, http://clicknathan.com. It’s that funky URL due to the CDN being setup.

Redirect Rules

This section is where you can make URL changes from the server level. For example, say you had a webpage at:

http://mywebsite.com/about/contact/

You made some changes to your site and now that same page is at:

http://mywebsite.com/contact/

To be absolutely certain that any existing links out there on the web, or even on your own site, will take people to this new page and not a 404 Page Not Found page, you’ll want to setup a redirect here.

WP Engine provides a link near the top of the list of redirect rules that reads “Need help with redirect rules? Examples are available in our Support Garage.” and that will give you all of the info you need!

Backup Points

Every day your site is backed up, typically early in the morning, and backups are kept for about a month. If you royally screwed something up, we have the ability to hop in here and download a ZIP file of the backup, or straight up restore our site in just a couple of clicks.

Of course, you can always feel free to just reach directly out to me if you need help with this, but say I was hiking the Andes when I encountered a giant anaconda, which swallowed me whole and thus I’m currently cutting myself out of its stomach with a toothpick, you could hop in here and do it yourself without waiting for me to clean the snake goo out of my fingernails.

Access & Logs

This is big time tech stuff. If you know what you’re doing, give it a read–it will be the most invigorating text you’ve encountered since reading a Chinese dictionary.

Otherwise, keep it moving, nothing to see here.

Git Push

This is another section more or less reserved for hardcore developers or large teams where things need to be versioned so that you can keep track of everything. Since I’m not that, and assuming you are my client, that’s not applicable.

SSL

SSL
Secure Sockets Layer. This is what puts that little green padlock in the top of the browser, but on a more technical level, adds additional security to your site, which is required if you’re taking credit card payments via your site.

You do need SSL if you are running a Woocommerce store and using a payment processor like Stripe, where the user will be entering their credit card information directly to your site.

You don’t need it if you’re using the standard PayPal, where a user clicks a button, goes over to PayPal’s site, pays there, and then is sent back to your site.

However, Google has stated that they prefer sites to use SSL now, so for $49 / year it’s a small investment for potentially a big reward in the search results. In nearly every case, if you want SSL, you’ll need to get in touch with me to set it up, as it requires access to billing, which if you host with me directly, you won’t have.

Otherwise, if you’re on your own account, you can get the process started and–unlike with most other hosts–WP Engine’s tech staff will take care of the majority of the rest.

The final big ingredient with SSL is that every image and other link to resources (ie, stylesheets, Javascript files) need to be linked via https://, so there can be some search and replace involved and additional care needs to be taken when manually writing links. Just ask, happy to help!

Utilities

This is a very useful section of the Dashboard, and it’s all fairly straightforward, too!

Password Protecting Your Site with WP Engine

password protect your wp engine hosted website
Password protecting staging is typically recommended.

Since your staging site is essentially an exact copy–ie, duplicate content–of your live site, and since Google doesn’t approve of duplicate content, it’s best to keep it on lockdown. Plus, you don’t want the public randomly finding it via search results or accidental links and getting confused over the different URLs.

Don’t password protect your live site though! Otherwise, no one but you will be able to see it.

Resetting WordPress File Permissions Made Easy

how to reset file permissions with WP Engine hosting
Sometimes files get tweaky. Fix your entire site with a click of a button!

If this ever happened before, with most hosts, it’s an absolute nightmare to get all of the files set back to the permissions, or even to know what the right permissions for certain files are. WP Engine makes it as simple as an 8-bit apple pie.

Multisite

Before you ever do this, we should have a chat. It’ll void your warranty. 😉

Caching Options with WP Engine

cache options with wp engine

Object Caching, we’ll skip this one for now, unless you really want to have a chat about minimal gains with maximum effort.

Clear page cache, this can also be done from within your WP Admin area, but you can click this button to clear the cache, which is useful if you see issues where updates you’ve made to your page’s code or content are showing to users who aren’t logged in.

Site Migration

Unless you want to bring some other site in, completely overwrite the current site that you paid me to make, and cause the sun and moon to collide, you won’t need this feature.

PHPMyAdmin

PHPMyAdmin gives you direct access to your website’s database. If you typically find yourself awake at 3:30am drinking Mountain Dew and typing on a keyboard with flashing neon bling, you probably won’t need to or want to mess around in here. One wrong move in SQL (your database) and your entire site could be reduced to a pile of digital rubble.

WordPress Admin

This is simply a link to the /wp-admin section of your site.

Let’s Put a Bow on It

There you have it, a full on, easy to handle walk through of the WP Engine dashboard. Now that you’re feeling a bit more like a server admin, go and grab yourself a fifth cup of coffee and dive into the rest of these How Tos.

Up Next: How to Use Staging with WP Engine-hosted WordPress Sites