Are you a website developer who manages multiple clients’ WordPress sites at once? Or do you have your own number of WordPress sites to keep track of and struggle to do so?
If so, then you’re looking for a simple solution that allows you to monitor and maintain each of these sites from one location. That’s where website management tools come into play, and nowadays we can find a number of them being offered in the WordPress world.
They offer a simplified solution to the problem of having to login to every single WordPress site you manage in order to update plugins or themes, publish posts, edit pages, back-up and more. I recently reviewed one website management service that introduced me to this type of tool, and I was more than impressed.
Therefore, I was excited when I got asked to review MainWP, a much loved website management tool that uses a different approach.
How Does MainWP Differ from Other, Similar Tools?
Well, MainWP is a self-hosted open source manager for maintaining your WordPress sites from one location. So, rather than having the management of your sites in the hands of someone else, you will have everything under your control via a fresh WordPress install on your own preferred host, given that it complies with MainWP’s system requirements. If you’re not sure which host is best, there are a few compatibility issues you’d want to take into account.
The developers behind MainWP believe in this approach, as well as everything that MainWP offers, so much so that they even created comparisons with every other major website management tool out there, comparing everything from pricing to features. To learn more about it you can also watch their presentation video.
What Features Does MainWP Offer?
The list of features within MainWP is a long one, but can be split into six main categories; Manage, Upgrades, Backup, Publish, Clones and Privacy. Each one of these categories can be further split into a number of different functions that MainWP offers, so let’s take a quick look at what these are.
Firstly, the management of all your sites is made easy through the use of one main dashboard from where you can easily review which sites require any updating. There’s even the added functionality of updating the same plugin or theme across multiple sites with just one click.
Another one click feature is the ability to login into any of your site’s dashboards. Rather than accessing each site separately and remembering every single one’s password, you can access each site from within the main dashboard and run your site from there.
There is also a Trusted Plugins and Themes option which allows you to select which plugins and themes you trust to be automatically updated without your constant approval. Opposite to this, you can also select which plugins or themes you wouldn’t like to ever be updated, either due to compatibility or customisation issues.
Without going into too much detail, there is also the backup functionality which includes auto-backups as well as multiple options to use extensions for backup services such as UpdraftPlus and BackUpWordPress. Besides this, you can also clone a particular website’s themes, plugins and settings to a new install to keep the same setup across all sites.
MainWP also includes content management options to publish new posts, edit existing ones, manage comments as well as spam, and even incorporates the option of bulk posting across multiple websites at once. It does all this while remaining as secure as can be through being self-hosted, meaning the MainWP developers never have access to any of your content, while also remaining unseen by users and search engines alike.
MainWP Free and Premium Extensions
As we’ve already mentioned, MainWP is free to use, however it does also include a number of extensions that add certain functionality to your website management. There are both free and premium extensions on offer, each adding something new to the whole experience.
Starting with the free extensions, at the moment there are eight in total, including those for an advanced uptime monitor, a spinner, as well as a number of other extensions for third party plugins and services such as BackUpWordPress, InMotion Hosting, Sucuri and WooCommerce.
The premium extensions on the other hand can be purchased separately or as a whole bundle. They range in functionality from an article uploader to a branding extension, even including others such as a broken link checker, a clone extension, a comments extension, a page speed extension, and many more.
While each one of these extensions is priced the same at $29.99, it’s important to note that each of the licenses purchased is a lifetime license. So, once you pay that initial fee, you have updates and support for each and every single extension you purchase, forever.
How Do You Use It?
Your first step in starting to make use of MainWP is to set up a fresh install of WordPress, hosted on whichever host you chose. Once that is done it’s important to keep this install clean of any additional plugins so that you can use it simply as a central hub from where you’ll control the rest of your WordPress sites.
It’s on this install that you’ll install the MainWP Dashboard plugin. The MainWP Child plugin on the other hand must be installed on each and every website that you plan on managing from within your main dashboard.
Let’s take a look at both these plugins, starting with the Child plugin.
This is the only step you need to take on the child sites that you’ll be monitoring via your main dashboard – simply install the MainWP Child plugin directly from the WordPress.org plugin repository. Once that’s done, you’ll be able to connect to it through the MainWP Dashboard plugin on your new site.
The only options and settings available in the Child plugin are whether you’d like to require a unique security ID, options to restore a backup of the site from file or to restore/clone the site from the server, and lastly a section detailing your server information, plugin conflicts, cron schedules and error logs.
The MainWP Dashboard plugin is where all the magic happens. Your first step is to add the first child site to your dashboard, which is as simple as entering the URL of the site, its name, the admin username, and any groups that you would like it to be assigned to. There are also a few optional settings for added security.
From then on you can start managing that site; publishing new posts and pages and managing existing ones, managing themes and plugins and installing new ones, as well as managing and adding users, wherever needed. Once more sites are added this could all be done in bulk too, for example adding a security plugin to all your WordPress sites to speed up the process.
As I mentioned earlier the themes and plugins options also include a trust option. When one of these is marked as “Trusted”, it will be automatically updated when a new update is available. If it’s not marked as such, it will require you to manually update it; a time-saving tool that makes things easier to manage.
Moving on to the Backups section of MainWP, from here you can schedule backup tasks for all your sites, either daily, weekly or monthly. You can choose between a full or a database only backup, as well as exclude any backup or cache locations, or any other non-WordPress folders or zip files that you wouldn’t like to include for any reason.
Of course, if you have any of the extensions on offer from MainWP, such as those for the backup plugins, you’ll be able to make use of them within their designated sections of the MainWP dashboard.
Lastly, although this would probably be one of the first things you look at, there are the general settings to be set for MainWP. These include a number of options, including but not limited to, the ability to hide the network on child sites, adding a notification email address, choosing whether to use WP-Cron, a number of upgrade, data-return and backup options, as well as a number of advanced options.
These include Cross IP Settings, IP Settings and SSL Settings. There are also a few MainWP Dashboard options and tools, together with a section dedicated to offline checks. All this is intuitive to use, and everything has its own description or tooltip to guide you through those settings that you’re not too sure about.
Documentation and Support
The documentation on offer for MainWP is extensive and a joy to behold. It covers every aspect of the plugin, the child plugin, the extensions; everything.
MainWP also has a Support Portal where you can open tickets with any questions that aren’t answered by the documentation, with a link to the forums section where you can view the threads opened by other MainWP customers.
Conclusions & Recommendations
All in all, it’s very pleasing to see such commitment from the whole of the MainWP team to not only offer a great product with a lot of features, but also a large knowledge base with the added efficient support.
Having your MainWP Dashboard hosted on the server of your choice gives you some added security and ensures that everything you’re controlling is in your own hands. Another positive is that the MainWP plugin is available on GitHub, allowing you developers out there to know exactly what you’re using and to contribute to the core plugin wherever you deem necessary.
The documentation and support provided is definitely an added bonus, providing you with everything you might need to get started managing your WordPress sites from one location, completely free of charge. The premium add-ons are also fairly priced considering the lifetime licenses and the added functionality that they will provide for multiple websites at once.
The MainWP plugins are easy to manage, pleasing to the eye, and won’t take too long to setup to your requirements. In fact, with some reference to the documentation for the more technical details you’ll be more than able to setup your MainWP dashboard and to start managing multiple sites in no time.