Managing Multiple WordPress Sites: The Ultimate Guide
Managing several WordPress sites can be very time consuming – especially when it comes to updating all of your plugins and themes.
It’s a problem many developers or owners of multiple sites face. Employing a tool to manage your various WordPress sites can save you a lot of time, and there’s a wide range of features to exploit in addition to updates and login details management.
This article will take a look at the most popular products on offer, and explore how suitable they are for varying needs. As there are a number of products with very similar features, we’ll also compare how each performs in a number of important areas.
Before we get started, a quick clarification ahead of time: the following products are for managing lots of separate WordPress installations – not to be confused with WordPress Multisite, which allows lots of different sites on the same installation.
Now, on with the show!
TL;DR: Scroll down to the bottom to see how we rated ManageWP, InfiniteWP, CMS Commander, WPRemote, iControlWP, Jetpack Manage, and iThemes Sync.
What to Expect: Common Features
Many the products available for managing multiple WordPress sites have almost identical features. In fact, some products have even been so “inspired” that the features use exactly the same code in entirely different commercial products.
To this end, you can expect some form of the following from most products:
- Login detail management: either enabling you to access the dashboard from one centralized location, or just storing them in a handy place.
- Update management: either automated or one-click across multiple sites.
- Backup and security features.
- Deployment options: enabling you to install, enable and disable plugins and themes across multiple sites with only a couple of clicks.
- Uptime monitoring.
- User management across multiple sites.
- SEO tracking and insights.
Who Needs Tools to Manage Multiple Sites?
The most obvious candidates for using services to manage multiple WordPress sites are developers, many of whom will be responsible for updating their clients’ sites lest they have to perform disaster recovery due to outdated versions.
For those who aren’t developers but have multiple sites, such tools could also be useful if there are lots of similar plugins to update – although, again, the distinction should be drawn between these tools and Multisite, the latter potentially being suitable for those not developing for multiple clients.
Of course, with a number of products on the market, there are certain products more suited to different scenarios. Some may be more geared towards teams of developers rather than individuals, while price range is also worth consideration.
If you’re not using such a service but wondering if it has something you’re going to need, consider services like these as technically inessential, but very much time-saving and something that might become essential for your workflow in time.
A Run Down of the Best Options
Imitated by many, surpassed by none!
ManageWP is the original product of this kind, having been launched way back in the hazy days of 2011. That’s not to say that the product looks or feels old, although their upcoming modernizations won’t go amiss and seem very exciting.
Nevertheless, the time that has gone into developing this product is something you can feel when using it; ManageWP is easy to use and packed with features.
To highlight a few:
- Update everything on every site in one click (or be more selective about it).
- Ignore some updates (eg. if you know you’re going to face compatibility issues) and block regular site users from actioning them.
- Access every installation’s dashboard from the one, central ManageWP dashboard.
- Group websites (eg. by owner, type, etc.) and color code them.
- Set up alerts for traffic and tasks like backups.
- Google Analytics integration.
- Clone websites.
- Post to multiple installations.
- Manage users and permissions across all installations.
ManageWP also pioneered a “Worker” plugin, linking installations quickly to the central dashboard through a plugin, rather than being obliged to store login details on the system.
Pricing for ManageWP is on four tiers, one of which is free. Additional features become available at each new level. You can have up to five sites on a Free account while paid packages enable you to pay for the number of sites you use. There aren’t any contracts, so plans can be increased and decreased in size, upgrading and downgrading packages, as needs be – although there are discounts available if you pay for annual or biennial subscription.
- Update everything on every site in one click (or be more selective about it).
InfiniteWP is a free tool to manage multiple sites, making its money through the sale of add-ons that increase the functionality of the product. These include integration with Google Developer and Google Webmaster tools, and also a number of other features in the cores of some other products, such as backup scheduling, user management, uptime monitoring, bulk publishing and comment monitoring.
Included in its free features:
- Updates for plugins and themes.
- The ability manually create and restore backups.
- Install and manage plugins and themes.
InfiniteWP is self-hosted, meaning that the control panel for each site must be downloaded and installed in a database, just like WordPress installations. Cron jobs must also be configured. A plugin then needs to be downloaded onto the WordPress installation and activation details copied across to link to the IWP dashboard. IWP points out that security is in the user’s hands when the solution is self-hosted although it does make installing a bit more of a faff, especially when linking to the sites doesn’t work.
If going with a self-hosted solution like InfiniteWP, check that the server you’ll be using to run it is up to the task; some shared hosting solutions may find it overbearing.
However, once the sites are up and running, the dashboard is pleasant enough to use. The add-ons are quite expensive on their own, but the bundle of extra features represents good value for money.
CMS Commander is a great hosted solution with some additional features that make it stand out from the crowd; its per-site pricing plans also represent excellent value for money. “Subusers” to share access with colleagues are also available, some included in larger packages and possible to purchase too.
CMS Commander is another platform without contracts, allowing for package upgrades and downgrades per user needs, also offering discounts for annual payment rather than monthly.
All its features are included in every package except its free option, with all the common features listed above implemented as well. In addition, CMS Commander has some less usual features, including:
- Google Developer PageSpeed Insights.
- Backlink monitoring.
- Maintenance modes with customizable offline message.
- “Automated content” for easy content creation from a number of providers.
- “Management medals” that are awarded for completing small tasks to learn about the features provided. They don’t equate to anything in the long run, but it’s a fun way to do tutorials.
- Advanced WordPress settings.
Site grouping and mass comment moderation is also possible with CMS Commander.
The dashboard is built around a normal WordPress dashboard, meaning it takes no time at all to settle into using it and there’s a feel of continuity between the dashboard and individual sites. Set up is easy and quick, utilizing a plugin that links very quickly to the central dashboard.
The scale of support for the platform doesn’t amount to the same as some of the other products with larger workforces (rather than a single developer) but it’s adequate and for the very reasonable price you don’t necessarily expect 24/7 support.
CMS Commander is also the way to go if you speak German, Spanish or Russian as the platform is currently available in these languages (in addition to English).
WPRemote used to be a paid-for service, but now all its features are available to any user free of charge. Those features aren’t especially numerous, but they are the essentials and probably most time-saving available. And WPRemote makes up for a scarcity of features not least because it’s very beautiful to use. Its dashboard is slick and fast, and the simplicity of the product makes it easy to use.
Using WPRemote, users can:
- Securely link sites using a plugin and API key (so no login details are stored).
- Have core, plugins and themes automatically updated (unless they choose to “lock” them so it’s manual).
- Add notes to sites.
- Search sites.
- Generate site backups.
- View basic data about each site.
Support is provided through a knowledgebase and email system, although the potential for anything to actually go wrong is minimal given the simple, well-executed nature of the features on the service.
iControlWP is one of the most full-featured and reasonably priced offerings on the market. Using their exclusive WorpDrive software, the developers set out to create an easy way to back up WordPress installations, and the full iControlWP multiple site management software has been the result.
- Clear cross-site summaries.
- Bulk and individual updates and controls.
- WordPress site installation from the dashboard.
- Sucuri site security options.
- Database optimization.
- Plugin and theme management, including automatic updates.
- Login as any user.
- Comprehensive, built-in support.
- Multiple security options for the iControlWP dashboard.
- Comment management.
- Bulk content distribution.
Although at times a little slow (even on a Superfast connections), the iControlWP dashboard looks good and is easy to navigate, despite the large number of features to navigate through.
At only $0.95 per website per month and so many features iControlWP is an excellent offering.
One of the WordPress.org plugin repository’s most popular plugins, free Jetpack offers to supercharge self-hosted blogs with the features of WordPress.com.
A module of the plugin, Manage, enables all sites on which it is installed to be managed from a single control panel on WordPress.com. From here, users can:
- Manage plugins including updates and activation.
- Post to self-hosted blogs from WordPress.com.
- If enabled, view site statistics.
Obviously not the greatest number of features, although they are free, well-implemented and chances are you may well be using Jetpack and visiting WordPress.com regularly anyway. Naturally, Automattic’s WordPress.com control panel is nice to use too.
With a few more features, this would become a real contender in the multiple site management market, which would be very interesting to see given Automattic’s dominance pretty much anywhere it wants.
By all accounts, iThemes Sync is a solid choice for managing multiple WordPress sites, with all the normal features presented in a very aesthetically pleasing way. There’s also, conveniently enough, a feature to install iThemes’ own products alongside normal plugin and theme deployment options.
Operating a labels system to group sites, updating is easy and shown in a clear way. Sync also has an iPhone app.
Up to ten sites can be added to the free package and subsequent subscriptions are on the less expensive end of the spectrum, which is nice with such a good-looking product.
Adding new sites is hypothetically easy, simply entering the URL and login credentials – and when that doesn’t work, there’s a plugin to download and install to the installation. Once they’re linked, managing plugins and themes is a joy, with a particularly good search, installation and activation layout.
Overall, this is a very good option, particularly for someone with ten or fewer sites to manage (as with most, packages can be upgraded any time).
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Ease of Setup
Especially if you’re planning on adding a lot of sites, making it easy to link sites to the product is important.
Simply, how much can each product do?
Value for Money
Price, but also what you’re getting for your money.
Ease of Use
Ideally, products should be as intuitive as possible, with features easy to find.
Look and feel
Is the product aesthetically pleasing and enjoyable to use? After all, you could be spending quite a lot of time using it!
How much time can each product actually save you?
If you do ever run into problems, is there always someone on hand to help you, or are you stuck trying to figure it out on your own?
Combine all those scores and you get…
So, if you’re a developer and you don’t use one of these tools, you can probably see that they have the potential to save you a lot of time.
Many of them have very similar features and there’s not really a clear winner, but what suits individuals best varies. In my humble opinion, ManageWP offers the best overall service, and I’m seriously excited about their upcoming “Orion” release, but it’s up to you to go out and explore your options.
If you have any experience of these – or other similar – products, what do you find to be the most time-saving feature? Let us know in the comments.