If you look after more than one WordPress site then you will be pleased to know there is a new free tool available to help you manage the plugins, themes, content, backups and much more on those sites, all from one central location.
If you are tired of logging into your sites, or client sites you look after, one by one to update the WordPress core, installed plugins, and themes, then MainWP is just the tool you have been looking for. While there are other WordPress site management tools and services already available, MainWP is free and feature packed.
Unlike the popular ManageWP service, MainWP is self-hosted as standard, so you will need to take responsibility for setting up the management dashboard through which you control your sites. However, this is very easy as you will soon see in our MainWP review and start-up guide.
Features of MainWP
The features of MainWP allow you to do the following for the multiple WordPress sites you manage, all from your 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 can see the free version of this plugin includes all the features you might need to manage multiple WordPress websites. There are also a number of premium extensions available which bring additional features to the service for a small fee.
Installation and Setup
As MainWP is a self-hosted service, you don’t get access to a control panel or dashboard on the developer’s site. To use this WordPress site management tool you must install the dashboard plugin on a new WordPress installation, and then install the child plugin on the sites you want to manage.
To create the management site, I created a new subdomain on one of the domains I already had and then installed WordPress on that subdomain. By using my webhost’s control panel, this only took a few mouse clicks and a couple of minutes to setup.
After setting up the new WordPress site it is simply a case of installing the free MainWP plugin, which is available from the WordPress.org plugin directory. As this plugin is hosted at WordPress.org it can be installed from inside your WordPress site by going to Plugins > Add New > Search and entering MainWP.
Once the dashboard plugin is installed, the next step is to install the child plugin on each of the sites you wish to manage. To do this, simply login to the WordPress sites you wish to manage and then install the relevant plugin, which is listed as ‘MainWP child’.
Once the child plugin has been installed, the site with the child plugin needs to be added to the management site you created in the first step. To complete this step, from the site you setup as the management MainWP dashboard, click on the MainWP menu icon in the top left-hand corner of your admin area.
Then, from the MainWP dashboard area:
- Click on ‘Add New Site’
- Enter a site name
- Enter the site URL
- Then hit ‘Add New Site’ to save the profile
Once a site has been added, it will be listed under the ‘Manage’ tabs. From here you can see some information about each of the sites such as when it was last backed up and when the last post was published.
Once you’ve installed the management plugin, and then the child theme on a site you want to manage, you can begin using MainWP.
The MainWP Dashboard
From the MainWP dashboard on your management site you can get a quick overview of the sites you are managing. This includes information such as the available updates for WordPress core, plugins, and themes on any of the sites you are managing.
This allows you to update all the plugins, for example, for the sites you manage with just one mouse click. You can also create an ignore list including any plugins or themes that you don’t want to be upgraded in this way. This is such a timesaving feature which alone makes MainWP worth installing.
From the dashboard you can also see the details of the most recent posts published to the sites you are managing, any scheduled backups, and any security issues MainWP has spotted.
The dashboard is well designed and easy to understand in order to get an overview of the status of your sites.
Working with Posts and Pages
From your MainWP dashboard on the management site, it is possible to publish posts or pages to any of the sites you are managing. The process for doing so is again very easy and can be done using the existing WordPress ‘Add New Post’ screen on the management site, without having to ever login to the child site.
The only real difference is that this page now has an options box which allows you to choose which site that post is published to. You can even choose to publish the post to multiple sites you manage. This would be great if you manage a number of sites in the same subject area and need to post an announcement that is relevant to each site, such as a new version of WordPress being released.
As this can also apply to pages, you could use this feature to quickly add a page to all your sites, such as a ‘contact us’ page which includes a shortcode to display the relevant contact form for that particular site based on the WordPress contact form plugin you are using on your network.
You can also make use of the premium boilerplate extension for creating content for multiple sites using placeholder tokens to help keep the content unique and relevant to the site it is posted on.
From the post manager area you can also choose to bulk change posts. This allows you to view posts already on your network of sites and then change their status either individually or in bulk. The options for changing their status are:
- Move to Trash
- Delete Permanently
If you are managing multi-author sites and want an easy way to approve content published to your network of sites by your contributors, from one central location this is a really hand feature. When selecting which posts to bulk change, you can filter by date, keywords, or current status.
Managing Themes and Plugins
If you’ve found a new WordPress plugin you really like the look of and would like to use it on all or a selection of the sites you manage, then MainWP makes it very easy to do this.
From the MainWP dashboard simply search for the plugin as you would normally and then select which sites to install and activate it on. It really is as simple as that.
If you want to install a premium plugin or one not hosted on the WordPress.org directory, then you can still make use of this feature. In this case just upload the plugin file as usual and then select which sites to install it to.
From either the themes or plugins page of MainWP on the management site, you can view all the installed plugins or themes on the sites you manage. From the manage tab you can choose to activate, deactivate, or delete plugins or themes depending on their current status. As this can be done for multiple sites at a time, you can deactivate a plugin from any site using it with just a couple of mouse clicks – another great timesaver.
With MainWP you can also choose which plugins and themes are auto-updated as new releases become available. As you might not want to be applied to all plugins or themes, you can enable this feature on an individual basis.
From the MainWP dashboard you can also backup the sites you are managing. You can create scheduled backups or perform them manually on an ad hoc basic. The scheduler allows you to create a daily, weekly, or monthly backup plan which runs in the background, backing up either your full site or just the database.
You can also include multiple sites in the scheduled backup so all your sites are covered.
With MainWP you can also check the status of your sites to determine whether they are online or not. However, an even more valuable feature is the ability to setup scheduled offline checks and then received email notifications should an offline site be detected.
This is another really useful feature of MainWP and again gives you a shortcut for managing an important aspect of a number of WordPress sites, such as whether they are available or not.
As well as the above, MainWP has a few other tricks up its sleeve, these include:
- Manage user accounts across all the sites you manage
- Change the admin passwords on all the sites you manage
- Group the sites you are working with for easier management
- Get email notifications when new updates are available for your sites
While the main features of MainWP covered above are free, there are some additional free and premium extensions available for increasing the scope and functionality of the service.
Some highlights amongst the MainWP extensions include:
- Remote Backups: store your backups in the cloud or on another server
- Google Analytics: view the analytics data for your manage sites from the MainWP dashboard
- Clone Tool: clone a site, including plugins and settings for quick setup of new sites
- Click Heatmaps: view where users are clicking on your sites from one central location
- Spinner: spin content to be posted to multiple sites you manage (free)
To view the full list of add-ons visit the MainWP extensions page.
MainWP is a really great tool. If you have more than one WordPress site that you manage, whether your own sites or client sites, then MainWP will be able to save you lots of time.
The standout feature that all users will be able to benefit from is the ability to update WordPress plugins from one central location. Being able to not only see which sites have plugins that need updating, but also being able to update those plugins across all sites in just a couple of mouse clicks is a real timesaver.
Being able to create scheduled backups of your sites is also an important feature of MainWP and something all users should be able to benefit from unless they are using a dedicated WordPress backup solution.
How much you use the other features, such as bulk posting content and managing users will depend on the type of sites you run. There are also some interesting extensions that can make your life even easier and help save you more time.
My only slight concern is that by default there is no authentication or login process for adding a new site to your management dashboard. The child plugin must be installed on the site you wish to manage, and you must know the admin account username, but apart from that, there aren’t any other checks in place when adding a new site to your management dashboard.
As a child site can only be managed by one MainWP management dashboard, it is very important to ensure that as soon as you install the child plugin, you add that site to your MainWP management dashboard; otherwise there is a small chance someone else could take control of your site; however they would need to know that the child plugin was installed as well as the admin account username, so the chances are slim.
Overall I was really impressed with MainWP and would definitely recommend it to anyone with more than one WordPress site that they look after.