Managing a WordPress blog these days is fairly straightforward. Even having 10 of them around is fairly easy to take of by yourself. When your portfolio grows, you may even start thinking of having a virtual assistant (VA) to manage all of them for you. Updates need to be run for plugins, themes, and posts/pages need to be added or updated over time. When your portfolio grows to a sizable amount that or your VA can’t handle alone, it’s time to start thinking about WordPress tools that can manage hundreds or even thousands of sites at a time.
Managing WordPress Sites From One Dashboard
With a big portfolio, managing sites from a central console makes sense. With one area for login, you can administer sites from a high level without ever having to touch the sites themselves. There are quite a few tools/services that do this now, with the majority of them being either hosted services (installed on someone else’s servers) or self-hosted (installed on a site that you own).
Basically, you end up adding your sites to a central dashboard. You do this and usually a custom plugin from the software will be installed on each of your Wordpress sites that you add. After some authentication/handshaking, the tool will allow you to do things such as:
- Mass update all plugins and themes with one-click.
- Mass install/deactivate plugins and themes.
- Mass add new posts/pages.
- Mass WordPress user management.
- Mass create new WordPress sites from a CSV spreadsheet.
- Analytics traffic statistics (not necessarily Google Analytics) on your domains/sites.
- Multi-user support with different access levels (great for giving access to VAs without giving administrator access).
- Site cloning.
- Site administration such as cleaning up all post revisions/emptying trash.
- Uptime, traffic statistics, and email notifications based on defined triggers.
- Rank checking (built-in or external).
- Automated backups onsite or to external places like Amazon S3, Dropbox, FTP, etc.
- Enhanced security with AV/Malware scanners and two-factor authentication.
Essentially anything that you could do on a grand scale can be done from within these central dashboards. Please be aware that not all of the tools can do the above.
Now, what the tools generally cannot do is:
- Mass update individual plugin settings.
- Manage individual plugin settings from the dashboard.
Through my trials and tribulations in niche marketing I have come across the four following tools or services (non-affiliate links):
At this point in time I am actually using all four of these in my production networks, so I have experience with a lot of their advantages and disadvantages. I would say that all are relative newcomers onto the scene, with perhaps less then a few years of service combined on the mass market. At the time of this writing, Worpit for example, is a really new service that is still working on its core features.
Do I Need Any Of These?
If you manage less than 5 sites on a whole, then no, you don’t. If you like doing a lot of manual, tedious, boring, and repetitive work, then I suppose the answer is also no.
On the flip side, it depends.
It all comes down to how much you want to manage by yourself, and how much you feel comfortable doing so. I started with about 40+ sites myself, so it was important for me to have some kind of management tool from the beginning. For you, your situation might be different.
The good thing is that all of these tools either have some kind of trial, or a limited version where you can add 1-3 sites free of charge just to see how the tool works. After using the tools for awhile, you’ll be comfortable judging for yourself whether you need them or not. Although I can imagine that you’ll come liking the feature set so much that you just have to have something, and then it comes down to a matter of which one to choose.
- Type: Hosted
- Pricing: Subscription-based.
- Site: www.managewp.com
I would consider ManageWP to be the granddaddy of all WordPress management tools in the sense that they are likely the most prominent and recognized name in the Internet Marketing (IM) field. I myself am currently a ManageWP subscriber, having come from the beta period last year into a full subscription.
Hands down, this is the probably the best tool on the market right now for what it does. It has pretty much every feature available that you can think of right now that’s possible to add.
It’s also the most expensive when comparing month-to-month or year-over-year fees. Still, it is probably the easiest to use and most user-friendly out of the four solutions listed in this posted, and definitely a great starting point as it is free to use for the first three sites you add to it.
Other than cost, I have few gripes with ManageWP to complain about. It seamlessly integrates all my sites into its central dashboard, which others have found to be a little cluttered. I have found though that it gives me the information that I need at a glance (that I actually care about). If you don’t like things in the interface, you can turn them off as it is widget-based.
My favourite features are:
- The scheduled backups to my Dropbox account, which can integrate with the tool.
- Backup and site cloning, which is great when I need to roll out new sites.
One little caveat is that lately it seems that certain plugin/theme updates are going undetected by the central dashboard. You can tell by digging into each individual site, which is possible from the dashboard itself, and looking at the update manager within WordPress. Sometimes it will require updates and ManageWP doesn’t pick it up. This is usually due to certain plugins interfering with the detection mechanism that it uses, and I’ve found that it mostly happens on old plugins that haven’t been updated in awhile by the author.
Depending on what subscription you have, you are limited in the amount of features and sites that you add. I have a Pro subscription that allows me to add up to 50 sites. Since the site cloning is so useful I often add and remove sites as I clone them so that I don’t hit my subscription limit.
It is a service, which means that your information is hosted on ManageWP’s servers. This can make some people feel uncomfortable having somebody else essentially in control of the dashboard. I am bringing up this point just so that you’re aware that it’s not something you host on your own servers.
ManageWP is a great tool but expensive. When I first started, there wasn’t anything else that I felt could measure up properly against it, so I bit the bullet and paid up. I’m glad that I did, but since that time new competitors have come up on the market. Which brings me to…
- Type: Self-hosted
- Pricing: Free for the base software. Premium addons to be a one-time cost.
- Site: www.infinitewp.com
This is a new player that I recently heard about. It’s defining features are that it’s both self-hosted and also free of cost. You can install this on your own web host and you’ve got your own central dashboard software that’s completely free. The catch is that it doesn’t come with all the robust features that its competitors do, however.
Self-hosted means that you own what you put in the dashboard, and you don’t have another set of eyes (potentially) looking at your stuff. Whether you care or not is a different story but to some this matters, which is why I’m bringing up the point.
At the base level, once InfiniteWP is installed you will be able to manage WordPress updates, plugins and themes from the dashboard. You can also do on-demand backups, but they can only be hosted on the server itself that InfiniteWP is installed on. That’s it.
I know what you’re thinking, but hey it’s free isn’t it? If you want, you can pay InfiniteWP to install it on your server for $39. Their business model will bank on releasing premium addons in the future, which will be a one-time cost for life.
No idea on pricing, but they will do the following:
- Google Analytics integration. ($69)
- Manage posts and comments. ($49)
- Scheduled backups. ($69)
- Backups to Amazon S3 and Dropbox. ($49)
- WordPress installation and cloning. ($99)
- Bulk create posts/pages/links. ($49)
- Mass WordPress user management. ($49)
Front-end editor. (I assume for posts/appearance?)
- Client plugin branding for SEO shops. ($99)
- Code snippets - run custom PHP code. ($69)
UPDATE: With the pricing all added up above, you're looking at a hefty $601 ($640 installed by InfiniteWP). Still, it's a one-time cost so that has to be factored in.
I compare it a lot to ManageWP as they’re probably the most similar tools. Even the detection mechanism seems to be the same for their plugins, as sometimes InfiniteWP can’t detect sites that have updates for certain plugins properly. I do recall reading on a forum that ManageWP and InfiniteWP share some GPL-licensed code, which could explain why. One funny side effect of this is that at one point I had both ManageWP and InfiniteWP plugins installed on a site, then I removed the site from ManageWP. When you do this, you can have it deactivate the ManageWP plugin at the same time. I did this, and it also deactivated the InfiniteWP plugin. I’m not sure how it happened. Maybe ManageWP just has a big chip on its shoulder, lol.
If you don’t know where to start with WordPress network management, try InfiniteWP. It’s hard to beat free when you’re just starting out. When you hit its limitations (and you will very, very quickly), start to explore other tools.
- Type: Hosted
- Pricing: Subscription-based.
- Site: www.worpit.com
Worpit is a newcomer onto the scene and is still currently fleshing out its base features for the general public. However it’s got a larger feature set than say InfiniteWP, but less than that of ManageWP. It’s definitely somewhere in between the two, and also it costs much less per month overall.
At the moment you can manage plugins, themes, and WordPress updates much like the other tools. But you can also do things such as install WordPress directly to your Cpanel from your web host, which is a nifty feature. I have tried this and it works pretty well. You can also perform database cleanup and optimization for your sites, which involves deleting post revisions for example to keep your sites running smoothly.
Sadly what you can’t do is install from a template, which isn’t in the current release. You also can’t clone over top an existing installation, like ManageWP can. A workaround is to delete the domain from your Cpanel host and install fresh.
What it also can’t do right now is automated backups. However, I am very much looking forward to this feature as they will be doing it in a different way than what the other 3 tools are doing right now. I’ve spoken with Worpit and they will using a method involving SVN to do their backups. If there are any computer programmers reading this, they’ll know exactly what’s going to happen. For the rest of us, SVN is a version control repository system that is typically used for things like source code control. You are able to do things like have multiple users enter code into a repository and keep track of version changes, merges, etc. So the approach to WordPress backup involving SVN will be very interesting, and I can’t wait to see what happens with Worpit. I am expecting something akin to Apple’s Time Machine in the way it does backups. If it ends up that way it would be really awesome, as rollbacks are drop dead easy to do at any point in time.
One thing that I would say that I personally don’t like is the user interface. It is less cluttered than ManageWP for example, but I would say that it is not quite intuitive. I’m not sure I understand the choice to put the mass update dropdown at the very bottom of the screen for example. I think that it makes more sense to put frequently-used user interface items at the top.
Overall I’d say that it’s something to keep an eye on for now. New features look promising and the support team is fairly receptive to new ideas. We’ll see if this can take a foothold in terms of market share over existing competition though.
- Type: Self-hosted
- Pricing: One-time cost or subscription-based.
- Site: www.xmarkpro.com
Last but not least, there had to a sort of a wildcard in the bunch. xMarkPro does a little bit of everything and then some. It aims to be more of a blog network management tool rather than specifically a WordPress network management tool, although there is very little integration with non-WP blog software like Joomla or Drupal. You are still able to manage plugins, themes, WordPress core updates, pages, posts, etc. en masse like the other tools.
What is really different about this tool, and what I like specifically, is that it is geared towards more sophisticated power users – and thus has the features and drawbacks that come with that. For instance, the user interface by far is the ugliest of the four solutions, definitely made with power users in mind with the complete barrenness and blandness of the GUI. Yet, it incorporates powerful features such as complete domain installation AND WordPress installation as an all-in-one task. This means that:
- You just need to assign the correct nameservers to your domain name at the registrar level.
- Install a new domain within xMarkPro, choosing either a fresh install of WordPress, clone from another blog, or template.
- Everything gets “automagically” done.
xMarkPro will correctly assign the domain in your Cpanel account as an addon, use the correct IP address if you’re on a shared host or one that you’ve assigned, install WordPress and plugins/themes if you desire. All in one go. Pretty awesome if you ask me. If you don’t have Cpanel, it also works with Plesk, DirectAdmin, and dedicated servers if you have Linux root access.
In addition, xMarkPro has features specifically for private blog network management. It supports spintax in posts and can interface with Thesaurus.com’s API for synonym generation. It can also hook directly into Microsite Masters if you want to check rankings, or you can feed it proxies and have it do its own rank checking.
It also has support for GeoIP rules, so you can redirect visitors from anywhere in the world wherever you want to per domain. It includes a domain management feature that tells you when your domains expire, what their nameservers are set to, and which registrar. There are also some sales and sales report features that I honestly don’t even know how they work yet.
xMarkPro has features that go above and beyond what the other three tools mentioned here can do. If you want to truly manage a portfolio that goes beyond niche sites and into private network sites then this is the tool for you.
It’s most definitely not for the faint of heart. I consider myself fairly technical and still had to email the developer back and forth about 10 times on different issues just to fully understand things and get it working to the way that I want it to.
Once it is working though… wow. Very powerful. I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of it, but I am migrating a ton of domains over as I’ve purchased a full license.
It does come with a hefty price tag, but it does include full installation from the developer. The software is a one-time cost that gets installed on a webhost of your choice. Support is included for 2 years. After that, it becomes $79.95 per year.
One thing I would warn you about is that for best results, do not use a host that has custom Cpanel, Plesk, or DirectAdmin setups. One very popular host has a custom setup that is incompatible, and won’t work if you want to do automated domain + WordPress installations. You might recognize the name: Bluehost. Also, Hostmonster won’t work either. That’s all that I know that won’t work with xMarkPro. So, just stay away from those hosts with highly customized setups.
Also, it seems to work best with small sites right now. If you’ve got a big authority site that backs up to 10GB+ you may need some help from the developer. Check in with them before you buy, or do the 15-day trial.
There are also some pretty bad reviews on WarriorForum about it from last year and even early this year. It seems that this software got off to a rough start. I’m having success with it though, so it seems that I’ve been lucky with the timing. Maybe it tries to do too much?
So which one is best for your setup? As of right now, I would probably lean towards this progression:
Beginner (1-5 sites)
Intermediate (5-25 sites)
Advanced (25-50 sites)
Pro (50+ sites)
My reasoning is as follows:
- InfiniteWP and Worpit, while promising, do not do enough beyond basic management at the moment. So their usefulness hits a cap when you go beyond a certain amount of sites. They will definitely grow bigger so keep an eye out for them.
- ManageWP is great at pretty much everything but becomes cost prohibitive once your sites start climbing higher in number. If you’ve got the budget for it, it’s great though.
- xMarkPro is totally useless at the low end of the spectrum, so it’s no good for beginners who can’t leverage its power. The high one-time cost becomes feasible when you average it over a year against another service like ManageWP. Once you hit this level, it really shines.
Also, there is nothing stopping you from running multiple tools against the same site at once. You can have a site managed by both ManageWP and InfiniteWP for example. You could also buy the smallest package from ManageWP that allows for site cloning, and clone small batches of sites using that. Then, add them to InfiniteWP once they’re ready for long-term management since you’ll not likely need to clone over top of them again.
Self-hosted vs. Hosted
I shouldn’t have to explain why self-hosted is better from a security standpoint. Although I’ve been with ManageWP for awhile, and I’m sure that they probably don’t give a damn what I’ve got in their management system. Still, this is a concern for some, and at least at this point in time there are several solutions on both sides of the fence that you can choose from.
Features That I’d Love To Have (But Can’t)
I think that the biggest one for me that none of the tools can do is mass plugin management for individual plugins. This is a pipe dream as it’s an extreme headache to manage individual settings like this for the tens of thousands of WordPress plugins on the market that are constantly changing. There is probably no API for WordPress that allows plugin setting management in a standard manner, so this is likely something that we’ll never see. /sadface
Get The Tools
You can get the management tools here or look at pricing pages (in the case of subscriptions):
Right now xMarkPro has a 1-year anniversary special going on right now, where the price is $150 off regular. Use the coupon code summer95. I have no idea how long this lasts until.
Happy Site Management!