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working with the web

Managing multiple WordPress installs

Once you move beyond one or two WordPress-powered web sites, the issue of keeping them up to date becomes – well, it becomes an issue. Sure, it only takes 5-10 minutes per week to do a quick database backup and apply the latest core and plugin updates – but 5-10 minutes each on 5 sites is 25-50 minutes and that’s already starting to become a pain in the derri√®re and time better spent elsewhere.

I am in the process of getting all of my sites re-hosted, updated and standing tall in nice neat orderly lines. I need to find a smarter, less time-consuming way to manage them all into the future. There’s two approaches I have been considering.

Option One: WordPress Multi-Site

As of WordPress version 3, the multi-site ability is baked into the standard core install (previously the multi-site version was a separate download). It takes only a few setting changes to turn one install into a network of WordPress sites. Each site shares the same core and plugins so updates can be done from one location.

At Clever Starfish, I’ve used this successfully for a client with a network of sites (in this case it was four related tourism properties) running on the same server. The multi-site install made it easy for the client’s admin users to manage the various sites in one place, while allowing each site to have it’s own individual setup and the ability to restrict content editors to one site only if required.

Option Two: Third Party Management dashboard: ManageWP

ManageWP is a new service (still in beta at the present time) which, by means of a plugin on each site, allows you to manage multiple sites from one dashboard. I’m not sure if there are other similar services but ManageWP is the only one I’ve come across.

ManageWP allows you to do core and plugin upgrades, view aggregated or individual stats, and even do things like bulk posting right from a single interface  Рand

Which to choose?

At first, WordPress in a multi-site configuration seems like the free, easy and obvious way to go. The more I think about it however, the more attractive the ManageWP option gets.

The weakness with the multi-site approach is that each site needs to be on the same server, and they will all run the same version of WordPress and plugins. For now, all my sites will be on the same server – but I can’t guarantee that will always be the case. Furthermore, there have been times in the past where due to a particular bug or feature I’ve kept using an old version of a plugin on a particular site. While that scenario won’t apply to any of my sites in the immediate future, there is the possibility that this could crop up again in future.

Up until a few days ago – that is, when I was writing the draft version of this article – no pricing information was available for ManageWP. Being beta, I have been testing a free account, but the lack of concrete plan details made me reluctant to commit to the service. I’m happy to pay for services that I think are providing value, but I didn’t want to set my heart on one option only to find that it was too expensive to be viable.

Fortunately, the pricing page has just been updated, and ManageWP have said the system will be free for up to five sites, $5 per month for 10 sites and $50 per month for 500 sites, with more tiers in between. That suits me fine – I will probably start off with five sites and if I do end up with a few extra, $5 per month seems cheap considering the time I would save and the flexibility that it will give me.

So for now, ManageWP will be the way I will go for managing multiple WordPress installs. No doubt I’ll be posting about it again, for better or for worse!