A common question that we get from companies maintaining multiple sites, advanced or medium businesses with multiple publishing websites, and other forms of organizations that have to maintain several websites at once is: How do you manage and maintain a network of websites?
Most of their concerns revolve around finding the best ways to offload, outsource, or work with maintenance and development companies to ensure efficient management of these websites.
Here are several steps that you need to consider when you need to offload your websites to a third-party vendor or build the right team that will help maintain this network of websites.
1. Unify the Hosting Setup as Much as Possible
It’s a common thing for us to find that a company has five, or six, or seven websites and they are normally hosted with different hosting vendors.
This tends to make maintenance a lot more complicated because when you start to unify specific segments and specific components of the websites, it’s a lot harder to make sure that they’re running the same setup and that this setup is running efficiently and consistently across different hosting vendors.
One of the first things you can do is try to partner up with a hosting vendor, which enables you to actually run all of those websites on the same ecosystem.
The technical team of DevriX recommends certain hosting providers for different types of websites.
Below is DevriX’s checklist of the dos and don’ts that you must know about WordPress hosting.
- Do Choose Quality, but Stay Frugal
- Don’t Believe Downtime Is Normal
- Choose a Host with High-Speed Data Delivery
- Don’t Even Talk if 24/7 Support Is Not Included
- Do Opt for Robust Security Plan
- Get a Managed WordPress Partner
2. Schedule Plugin and Theme Updates on Regular Intervals
Plugin and theme updates for your website could be done in one of the following two ways:
- Work on updates simultaneously
- Schedule updates separately
The latter option is done to make sure that if something goes south, you’re not going to crush all the websites at the same time.
In any case, try to maintain this kind of schedule to enable your team, whether in-house or the outsourcing company you’re working with, to plan that ahead of time and achieve the best results possible.
3. Make Staging Setups Available for Every Single Website
This is one of the biggest mistakes I often hear. Whenever you have a production website, you don’t want to mess up with production right away.
Even if it’s a small website, 99% of the time you don’t want to crash a production website for one reason or another.
Performing security updates or other maintenance checks may jeopardize the production website itself. This can be dangerous in the sense that a malicious user may actually hack his website. At the end of the day, you’re going to end up in a tough position of a disadvantage because you haven’t maintained the staging environment when building a website.
Whenever you decide on the hosting vendor, either make sure they support staging by default or it’s just a one-click thing, or it’s simply an easy way to just click on this website and create a staging system that you can play with and use a sandbox.
4. Consider Mass Update or Bulk Update Solutions
There are certain scripts and systems like ManageWP or InfiniteWP, and a bunch of other tools that will allow you to connect multiple websites to the same dashboard and update them at the same time.
Alternatively, you can use a plugin for automatic updates of your plugins and themes at all times. You can also talk to your hosting provider to ensure that your staging installs can stay up to date at all times. What this would do is, first off, you are going to be safe from security vulnerabilities for your staging websites.
And second, you may save some time by updating staging installs, let’s say, daily or every few days or so with the click of a button and then going through each one of them and performing the QA test as required to ensure that your installation is working as expected.
So, consider that sometimes it may actually take more time than doing it yourself. Other times, updates are tough, which means that your development team has to understand what the changelog concludes, what exactly is going to be updated, and whether it is a safe update, or you need to alter some of your existing codebase.
But in any case, make sure that you research those options and figure out if it’s something that you can use.
5. Set up Uptime Monitoring Solutions
If you decide to use automatic update solutions, like, ManageWP or one of the other options, or automatic plugin updates on WordPress, odds are every now and then your websites may be down due to an unsuccessful date or an insecure update or something else that happens with your installation.
In order to avoid the downtime being a common thing or not noticing this breakdown or downtime, what you can do is set up uptime monitoring solutions, such as UptimeRobot or some other tools that let you know if a website is down—if it’s a 4XX Error or 5XX error or something else that’s crashing your website.
In that case, if something really goes south and your entire website is down, you would be able to resolve this problem and understand why this has happened and prioritize it and get back on track and get the problem solved.
Now, of course, there are more productive ways to make it happen. The best thing about working with a professional development company or a maintenance shop is that whenever updates are being performed:
- There is a monitoring team and a QA team
- There are installation backups
- You can revert to a previous backup
- You can check out the previous version of the copy.
- There is a database backup
There are lots of other things that are necessary especially for larger websites.
You can start with the basic foundations at first before you opt-in for a bigger plan that takes more time and requires more additional services from your development team.
6. Extract Code Libraries or Functions Within the Same Stack
Also, consider things like theme unification or using the same plugins across the board.
Now, it is possible that your websites are using the same features but they’re not necessarily using the same plugins across the board. This would mean that maintenance will be tedious while this is not necessarily something that you need to deal with.
For example, we bought a couple of different SaaS businesses over the past year. One of them was using WooCommerce for e-commerce and the other one was using Easy Digital Downloads. Both businesses were dealing with selling stuff. However, one of the businesses had one plugin and the other, another plugin dealing with e-commerce.
The problem is that every single solution we had to adopt and introduce on top of that, such as Affiliate connecting to affiliate marketing networks or VAT calculations for the European Union and things like that, which would generate invoices on the fly and so forth.
We’re requiring different solutions as well. So at the end of the day, you would have ended up with different groups of plugins instead of unifying all of that together. So if possible, try to unify that, try to make it common, and try to make it consistent so that ongoing updates are easier as well.
7. Use Submodules or Mu-Plugins as Needed
Again, if possible, try to unify all this so that whenever you update one site, it’s easier to update the other site at the same time.
Some of the best practices include the use of the following:
- Most-used plugins
- Plugins that are synced across the network
- Deployment processes that can be automatic
All of the mentioned practices aim to simplify the development process or save some time when development is being done to distribute that across multiple websites instead of deploying to every single site independently, and avoid wasting time on individual deployments as well.
8. Consider WordPress Multisite
WordPress Multisite is a really handy feature that allows you to run a network of sites with the same WordPress database. It allows for breaking down the information into separate updates.
This means that whenever you update a plugin, it updates across the entire network automatically. When you update a theme, more or less the same thing happens and you can also run separate themes across the different installations.
Additionally, you can use the same user to access different websites. So, it could be really handy if WordPress multisite is something that works for you.
If you have a lot of ongoing development, again, this would save a lot of time because introducing new features, new layouts, new libraries, new anything could be done for the network and then it automatically applies to the multisite.
That’s a recap of how to manage a portfolio of internal website projects. Of course, there are lots of different ways to make it professionally, but that’s a good starting ground.
If you have any questions, let me know in the comments below.