Managing Multiple WordPress Sites

tl;dr:  ManageWP lets you update WordPress, plugins and themes on any number of sites in one interface. You can also do a whole bunch of other stuff, and the first five sites are FREE at the Standard level. Go sign up for it now.

Last week, the WordPress 3.4.2 update was released. My normal routine is to set aside the better portion of a day to back up, then update the WordPress (and plugins), of  the ridiculous number of WordPress sites I maintain for myself, some friends and family, and a selection of clients. Oh and a few sites in various stages of development and yet more sites created just to test stuff.  All told, we’re talking a lot of sites.

WordPress Updates x Number of Sites = PITA

ManageWP

As you can imagine, keeping all these sites updated, backed up, and functional is a pain.  And of course, you have to do it. You do keep your sites up to date, right?

Even though I’d heard of tools for managing multiple WordPress sites, I never really considered putting my sites into one. Mostly because I was under the (mistaken)  impression that in order to use them, I would need to change my hosting. I don’t want to change my hosting. After horrific WordPress hosting experiences on FIVE substandard hosts, I am more than happy with Tiger Tech; they have better-than-extreme customer service, are optimized for WordPress, and can deal calmly with my weird and drastic seasonal traffic spikes (not to mention my emotional spikes). 98% of my sites and my client sites are in Tiger Tech, and I would prefer they stay there.

This year, we’ve grown so much and been so busy, it was clear that something had to change. My kick ass developer partner put his foot down, and said we really needed to streamline this operation or we’d fall behind. So at his suggestion, I told him I’d check out ManageWP, but that if it required changing hosting, it wasn’t gonna happen.

I was on the site about five minutes before I thought “Where has THIS been all my life?”

Dashboard of ManageWP Console

ManageWP is a single dashboard that controls all your WordPress sites. It’s  extremely easy to implement (you just install a plugin on each site and then add the site to your ManageWP console), you don’t have to change your hosting, and with one click you can update all your sites, including themes, plugins, and WordPress itself.

Now, I could stop right there and just having that functionality is worth it for me.  I put eight sites into ManageWP to test, and it took two minutes to update them when the new WP update came out. Let me say that again – two minutes. Doing all that manually is not exactly the best use of my (limited) time.

But Wait – There’s More!

(You knew I was going to say that)

Dashboard Toolbar of ManageWP ConsoleNot only can you bulk-update all of your sites in ManageWP, but you can also perform the following tasks from the Dashboard:

  • Log in to any site from the Dashboard.
  • Perform manual updates on sites (in case you have a tetchy install and don’t trust an automated update)
  • Install new plugins and themes on a single site or across multiple sites
  • Clear out piled up post and page revisions and spam comments
  • Administer comments on across all your sites (if you are using native WP comments – I haven’t tested 3rd party comments plugins yet)
  • Manually back up your sites (full backup or database only)
  • Instant restore of said backup for each of your sites if you need to
  • Get email notifications anytime updates are available
  • Test your sites for malware, broken links and performance issues

And that’s just at the Standard starter level. When I signed up, I opted for Pro which also lets me one-click new WordPress installs, clone existing sites, and do scheduled automated backups for each of my sites, and send them offsite (Dropbox, Amazon S3, FTP, Email). I can also add users and sub users (plus restrict access to my ManageWP by IP number) and there are some extra reports and traffic alerts.  (There’s something in here about Google Analytics integration, but I’m quite happy with the Yoast Google Analytics for WordPress plugin, so I don’t expect I’ll need that.)

There’s a Business level that I may end up purchasing for clients; it includes some uptime monitoring and white label capability for the plugin that gets installed in each site. There are also some SEO tools, but since I haven’t purchased the Business level yet, I can’t speak to what happens with that. Plus I already have a subscription for the best SEO Tools on the planet.

If you’re dealing with a lot of WordPress sites (even if they’re hosted all over the place) ManageWP is a no-brainer. It’s already shaved tons of time over almost every maintenance task I have to perform. Plus I can get rid of the slightly buggy backup plugin I actually have to purchase a new license for every year.  In fact, I’m considering buying a Standard plan too, because the dev and test sites don’t need the features of the upper level plans, but I’d like to have them all in one place nevertheless.

Other features that are really useful – you can create groups in which to organize your sites, so if, for example, you want to install a plugin or theme on a group of sites (oh, let’s say, fireworks sites – ork ork) you can easily do that. Plus you can bulk upload your sites into the Dashboard, either by dragging and dropping files, or uploading a CSV file. I only added eight to begin with, so I did them manually, and it took me less than ten minutes total. But if I were adding 50 or a hundred, I’d definitely go CSV.

(By the way, I took some screen shots of the initial setup to show you how easy it is – check it out.)

And in case you’re wondering – even after it’s all set up, you (or the people who write for you) don’t have to work from within ManageWP. The normal admin still works just fine.  While I detected no performance degradation on my sites after they were hooked into ManageWP, I did find that there was a bit of a lag on the admin side when I was trying to perform writing or editing tasks (or adding events, in my case)  Plus I tend to work on laptops, and I have less screen space working on my admin which is then embedded within the ManageWP admin. So what works best for me is to do all the maintenance tasks in ManageWP and all the creative and editing in the normal WP admin. YMMV. If you right click on something in your site and Open in New Window or New Tab, you break out of ManageWP anyway, so that’s pretty painless.

One other caveat – there’s a “refresh” option for the Dashboard that can be set to auto refresh when you log in, don’t set it. When I would log in to do something quickly, waiting for the auto refresh to check eight sites taxed my patience; I bet it slows incrementally as you add more sites. It’s just plain faster if you leave it unchecked and refresh manually when you want an update.

Pricing

You can get the Standard package for up to five sites for FREE.  Yea I said it.  FREE.  More than five sites, pricing starts from $6.30/month for up to 10 sites, to $49.50 per month (for up to 250 sites) billed annually; slightly more if you want to go month to month. This is the one I’ll probably use for development and test sites.

The Pro level starts at $10.80/month for up to five sites, up to $148.50/month (250 sites) billed annually, and again, slightly more on month to month. This was my pick, because I like the scheduled (offsite) backups, and the clone/migration capability.

Business packages (with the uptime monitoring and SEO tools) start at $21.60/month for up to five sites, up to $297/month for up to 250 sites, billed annually. I don’t anticipate needing this for myself, but I have some clients with mission-critical sites that would probably like the monitoring.

But you don’t need to take my word, because you can do what I did and try out up to five sites on the most basic package for free. Took me about three hours to realize I wanted this for all sites under my control.  Probably won’t take you half that.  Like I said, this is a no-brainer.

The links in this post are affiliate links, which means I am compensated if you purchase after clicking on them. All of them are goods and services that I use myself, paid full price for, and feel very comfortable recommending. 

  • http://Foliage.org Jeff Libert

    Restriction by IP only works if you have a dedicated IP address. That's a rarity and usually a "premium service" – if available. (OTOH, defending ALL your sites by restricting root access to a fixed IP "might" be the cheapest form of defense . . but make it hard to support sites requiring "outside the IP" technical support. )

    I'm not a security expert but, to my knowledge, a) anyone can create 2 step authentication for WP by password protecting WP's admin/other directory; and, b) two step authentication is, at best, a partial defense to hacking. If defense against hacking was a simple as 2-step authentication hacking would be a thing of the past. It isn't.

    I suspect that a ginormous spike of traffic would affect all the other sites on a/your server – whether or not the multiple sites were tied together by WPMultisite or not. Probably the strategy to deal with that issue is based upon historical knowledge, i.e., putting the spikey sites on a service built for spikes.

    Is it possible for bots/hackers to identify sites managed by ManageWP? Does ManageWP, in any way, identify your "network of sites", say by a user ID#? Not that it matters "all that much" as hackers can just as easily gain insights based upon other common elements.

    It's an interesting product, possibly worth its cost based upon time saving, especially if WPMultisite is – or remains – that hard to configure.

    • http://netmeg.com netmeg

      I don't see any way to identify it by ID#.

    • Spwn

      It would be nice to see that more of the leading companies in their respective verticals are giving users the perfect balance between security and user experience by implementing 2FA which allows us to telesign into our accounts. I know some will claim that 2FA makes things more complicated, but the slight inconvenience each time you log in is worth the confidence of knowing your site(s) are secure. I'm hoping that more companies start to offer this awesome functionality. This should be a prerequisite to any system that wants to promote itself as being secure.

  • http://Foliage.org Jeff Libert

    One small concern: everything gets hacked once it become popular. Putting all sites under one control system exposes all those sites to mass extinction hacking.

    Of course, failing to update multiple sites exposes the masses to the same fate.

    What about using WP's multisite functionality as an alternative?

    • http://netmeg.com netmeg

      Well they do allow you to restrict access to the ManageWP Dashboard by IP number, plus there is two step authentication available at the higher (paid) levels. That's probably better than you get from most shared hosts.

      Honestly, we tried the multisite functionality and it was a bear to configure. It appears to depend on your host to support it (oddly, we only got our test install to work on HostGator – and I'm not fond of them for WordPress either)

      Plus my host pointed out that in my case, where I have some sites with mega heavy ginormous traffic spikes, and other sites that are pretty lonely, performance across the board could be a big issue. They've had to move some of my sites around to different servers at time to balance the load. That'd be hard to do in a multi-site configuration.

  • massage sai gon

    Is it possible for bots/hackers to identify sites managed by ManageWP? Does ManageWP, in any way, identify your “network of sites”, say by a user ID#? Not that it matters “all that much” as hackers can just as easily gain insights based upon other common elements.

  • John

    I love seo consulting!!!! Lufkin SEO Consulting

  • julius rosen

    Just a quick question . Stupid me why do you clone sites ? IS it better to get more PR or search visabilty or do you change content ?

    • netmeg

      I would never clone a site and then release an exact copy to Google. I have similar sites that are targeted to different areas (like for example my fireworks sites, where I have one for Michigan, one for Ohio, etc – the basic structure is the same, but the information is different. I also clone sites when I’m working on development, or trying to fix a problem, so I can install it on a dev server, block it off from any human or bot, and work on it there. I’d rather not develop new features or even try to fix problems on a live site (lest I screw it up worse – and believe me, I have)

      • julius rosen

        thanks – in my industry of promotional products there are about 11,000 distributor companies and they mostly use 2 -3 pre existing databases of products and 1 -2 existing shopping carts made for the industry. I am trying to make a specific subset to stand out with just 10 -20 products and much specific info and articles. But I was wondering as I have 20 or so great domain names how to put them into best useage.
        Cloning was one idea. Or different articles on each site etc .

        • netmeg

          I wouldn’t suggest that. As it is, you’ll probably have a real hard time in search; I happen to be familiar with that industry, and the odds of standing out as unique are *very* slim, plus there’s a lot of high brand competition there.

          • julius rosen

            I agree but that’s my industry ………