A few years ago managing multiple WordPress websites was a big headache. Thankfully a number of plugins and services have come along that make the task very easy. So as a start, I definitely have to say that if you own or are responsible for more than one WordPress website and are doing things manually, you’re probably doing wrong.
There are a number of alternatives when it comes to solutions for managing multiple sites, and we’ve featured InfiniteWP and ManageWP here on WP Mayor earlier, today it’s the turn of MainWP. It’s one of the latest players to enter the market, so I was interested to check out how they plan to compete with the other well-established businesses in this niche.
So what can you do with MainWP. For each of the multiple WordPress sites you manage you can perform all the following things, all from one MainWP dashboard:
- Update WordPress core
- Install and manage plugins and themes
- Access each site with one click
- Post content and change post statuses
- Create schedule backups
- Monitor downtime
- Manage user accounts
- Get email notifications of backups, upgrades, and downtime
- Bulk import site details to quickly add multiple sites to be managed
- SEO analysis
- View Google Analytics ($19.99)
- Click Heatmap analytics ($19.99)
- Manage comments ($19.99)
- Site cloning ($19.99)
- Remote destination backups ($19.99)
As you might have deduced, the core MainWP plugin is free, the developer makes money from the premium add-ons mentioned above. If you don’t need any of those add-ons, you can use the service for free for as long as you want.
It is important to note that MainWP is only available for single site installations, it is not designed to work on multisite installations of WordPress. This is understandable since multisite introduces several complexities that are not easy for a plugin like this to work around. For example multisite installations tend to have much larger databases and file structures that therefore can create problems when backing up, especially if you don’t have a powerful server.
MainWP is a free self-hosted WordPress management system that allows you to manage virtually all aspects of multiple WordPress sites including scheduling backups, up time monitoring of your sites, managing content for posts/pages and much more.
MainWP requires two (2) plugins. You have the MainWP Dashboard plugin that you install on your own separate WordPress install and the MainWP child plugin that you install on the sites you want to control (child sites). Both plugins are available from the WordPress.org plugin repository, and are therefore super easy to install.
These are the requirements for MainWP:
- WordPress 3.8 or greater
- PHP version 5.2.4 or greater
- MySQL version 5.0 or greater
- Curl lib enabled
More importantly, you need to make sure you select the right hosting plan for the WordPress install that will be hosting the MainWP Dashboard plugin. MainWP proves to be problematic with some hosts due to their disabling certain required PHP features outright or due to other reasons, as detailed in the host compatibility page. I must say that I was quite disappointed to see some of my favorite hosts such as WP Engine, InMotionHosting and BlueHost in this list. Perhaps this is the biggest disadvantage of having the complex functionality of this plugin provided as a plugin rather than on a SAAS basis. There is also a quick guide to the resources needed according to your planned usage of MainWP. Basically as you add more sites to your account you will need to increase the power of your server, moving from a shared hosting environment towards a VPS.
Lets move on to my experience with installing and setting up the MainWP plugin.
As indicated, installing the two plugins is a cinch as they are available from the WordPress.org repository, no problems at all there.
Once you have the child plugin activated on the site you want to manage, you can go back to your main dashboard and click Add New.
You only need to enter the URL of the site and the username of your administrator user. MainWP will do the rest and establish a secure connection between the two sites. You’re now ready to start having fun.
In general I found the MainWP plugin straightforward to use. Lets go through the overall usage of the free version of MainWP before taking a look at some of the add-ons.
One of the key benefits of MainWP is that you can access the dashboard of all your websites from one website. You can thus add or edit posts on any of your sites from one central location, for example. This also avoids the cumbersome process of logging in to each of your sites.
Not only can you access each site’s dashboard, but you can also do things in bulk, something which you cannot otherwise do by default in WordPress. For example, you can search for users across sites and bulk change password, role or even delete users. You can even add new users across sites. Cool stuff.
I find this perfect for writers who have a number of blogs, for example. For developers who manage client sites, this can also be useful if they also take care of their content, however nowadays we tend to leave content editing in the hands of the clients themselves, so the next few features are what would be more interesting for developers.
Theme and Plugin Management
Discovered a new super useful plugin? Now you can easily install it on all your sites at one go. How’s that for time saving? Updating themes and plugins is now much easier when you only have to login to one site and perform all upgrades from their. This is the power of MainWP.
An interesting feature is the ability to add certain plugins and themes to what is called the ‘Auto Update Trust’ section in MainWP. Basically plugins in this section will be automatically update. Useful for those plugins which you really trust and want to keep always updated.
This is one of the most useful features of MainWP in my opinion.
As an administrator of several client websites, one of my regular tasks is that of making sure that each site is updated. Obviously it is too time consuming to do this manually, some degree of automation is necessary. That is why tools like MainWP are so essential for someone like me.
With MainWP you can schedule backups for all your websites and also choose the destination for your backups (destinations being a premium add-on).
One other very important aspect of multiple site management is making sure that each and every site is online. If you’re managing sites for a client, you want to be the first one to know if there is any problem with the site loading, rather than receiving an angry call from the client when the site has already been down for a few hours, and possibly a substantial amount of money lost if its an e-commerce site.
That’s where the offline checks offered by MainWP turn out to be a lifesaver.
The checks can be automated, which is where the real value lies, with checks being done either hourly, twice daily, daily or weekly. Of course when it comes to site monitoring, the more regularly the check is done the better. So I would always use the Hourly option. It is worth keeping in mind that if the site housing MainWP itself is experiencing problems, the monitoring won’t work. It’s therefore a good idea to keep that site on a separate server from your client client websites to mitigate this problem to a certain degree.
There is also a free extension that integrates with the Uptime Monitor service, thus eliminating the previously mentioned potential pitfall, and also increasing the frequency available to up to 5 minute intervals.
Other Noteworthy Features
I liked the grouping functionality provided by MainWP. You can group themes and plugins, for example you can have a group called SEO plugins, You can also group sites and then perform operations on the whole group at once. These are extra timesavers not commonly found in other similar applications for WordPress multiple site management.
You can also group websites together for easier management. A useful way of grouping them is by client, or even by overall functionality. For example, you can set all e-commerce sites you manage to belong to one group, then set more regular backups for that particular group due to the fact that their data changes more frequently in general.
There are a number of extensions to MainWP, as listed below.
- MainWP Click Heatmaps Extension
- MainWP Content Extension
- MainWP Branding Extension
- MainWP Boilerplate Extension
- MainWP Advanced Uptime Monitor
- MainWP Clone Extension
- MainWP Code Snippets Extension
- MainWP Comments Extension
- MainWP Favorites Extension
- MainWP File Uploader Extension
- MainWP Google Analytics Extension
- MainWP Links Manager
- MainWP Piwik Extension
- MainWP Maintenance Extension
- MainWP Sucuri Extension
If you had to buy all the extensions (some of them are free), the total cost would be around $275. That is a one-time cost as there are no renewal fees.
There are a few which are useful to a wide audience (for example the Google Analytics extension), while others are more specific (for example the Piwik extension).
The Google Analytics extension is one of my favourites since it lets me take a peek at how all the sites are performing from my dashboard. It also gives me quick comparisons with last month’s performances so with a simple glance I know which sites are on the rise and which are declining in popularity.
Heatmaps is another super valuable extension. It basically tells you where the users’ mouse pointer spends the most time, the theory being that this will show you where they are looking at. Are they totally ignoring that button where you desperately want them to click? This is your chance to get that valuable insight and make the necessary corrections.
There’s also the MainWP Clone extension which makes it super easy to clone sites, to understand how easy it really is just watch the video below.
Piece of cake isn’t it? If you’ve ever had to clone a site you will surely understand how convenient this add-on is.
The whole interface was very snappy, and both my sites were using a shared host (SiteGround and HostNine), so I was very pleased with this level of responsiveness, as it was one of my concerns before installing this plugin.
I didn’t like the gratuitious use of the color green within the plugin’s interface, I’d rather prefer that things are kept in line with the rest of the default WordPress interface colors. This is a minor annoyance though and is something that can be fixed very easily.
The MainWP core plugin is free, and you can then purchase premium add-ons, which at $19.99 each are very fairly price. You also get an unlimited license with each premium add-on. That means that you pay only once, and you can continue receiving support and updates throughout the lifetime of those add-ons.
This is nice for the user, however I have my doubts about the sustainability of such a plan. If the support requests remain very low throughout the lifetime of these add-ons it can be profitable, but having to answer regular support requests can rapidly eat into the profitability of a plugin, forcing the developer to either abandon the project or change the licensing scheme further down the line. We’ve seen a number of WordPress businesses go down this route, and it’s never pretty.
There are two ways of getting support for MainWP. One is via their self-hosted forum, which is available for non-paying users, and the second is their Help Desk, which is reserved for any user who has purchased one or more add-ons.
No support is provided via e-mail, Facebook or Twitter, nor do they offer phone support. This is fair enough, as it is very hard to maintain multiple support outlets. It’s better to concentrate on one or two support methods and do things well, and the guys behind MainWP seem to be delivering the goods when it comes to support.
The general support hours are 7 days a week 08:30 to 19:00 (GMT-5). During this time, all Help Desk Tickets are usually replied to within 60 minutes. More advanced or technical queries may take longer.
All the features of the plugin are well documented, in fact this is one area where the plugin really excels. The developers have really taken care of covering all the bases, including things like a Common Errors and FAQ pages apart from the main documentation. This makes it super easy to find answers to queries as well as learning how to use the plugin. To be honest, I didn’t really need to go through all the documentation as the plugin is fairly straightforward and self-explanatory to use.
The documentation is not only available on the MainWP site but is also accessible through the plugin itself together with a quick start guide.
MainWP has certainly got off to a promising start on the WordPress.org plugin repository, with eight 5-star reviews at the date of publishing this article. The reviews commend the good level of support as well as the usefulness and practicality of this plugin.
I was pleased to note that the developers of MainWP had collaboration and developer-friendliness in their mind right from this start. That is why the codebase for the MainWP plugin is available on GitHub, where other developers can contribute to the core plugin and also raise any issues that they might find.
There is no debating the usefulness of a plugin like MainWP and the functionality it contains, both in the free version and in the premium add-ons. It is my opinion that every developer or multi site owner should be using such a service, the question is which one. This is a question you will ultimately have to answer for yourself, although the MainWP guys have conveniently drawn up comparisons between their service and the other services out there. MainWP looks like it is inspired from the pioneers of this niche, services like InfiniteWP and ManageWP, however it brings its own twist and innovation by being packaged within a convenient plugin rather that being an online service or a piece of software independent of WordPress.
From my end, what I can tell you is that using MainWP is a pleasurable experience, in a world where our free time is always diminishing, finding a tool that can free up a couple of hours a week is of tremendous value, and this is just what MainWP is.
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