Automatic Plugin Updates with Smart Plugin Manager (SPM)

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WP Engine smart plugin manager review
WP Engine smart plugin manager review
Lesson 7 of 10
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WordPress continues to be a popular choice in the world of website design with its ability to customise anything using its plugins.

While these plugins offer an unparalleled avenue for customization and feature expansion, their integration poses critical concerns regarding WordPress security, especially when they are poorly maintained and updated on sites.

Therefore, there is a need for efficient plugin management to ensure these tools are always updated, hence hardening your site security.

WP Engine offers the Smart Plugin Manager to address such concerns. This add-on can update plugins and themes on your site automatically.

This guide delves into the features of the Smart Plugin Manager and how it works. We also look at some of its benefits and share our review on the overall performance over the past 3 years we have used at MRK WP.

Review of the Smart Plugin Manager

Watch our review of the Smart Plugin Manager.

Features of the WP Emgine’s Smart Plugin Manager

Here are some of the key features of the Smart Plugin Manager.

  1. Automated Updates: The main feature of Smart Plugin Manager is its automated update system. This eliminates the need for manual intervention when updating plugins hence saving time. The tool allows you to schedule updates during low-traffic periods to minimize potential disruptions to website visitors.
  2. Visual Regression Testing: Smart Plugin Manager uses a visual regression testing feature that allows users to preview their website before and after plugin updates. This helps identify any visual anomalies or issues arising from the update. If the update has broken a site, the tool returns the website to a previous version.
  3. Single Dashboard Control: Smart Plugin Manager simplifies the management process by providing a centralized dashboard where users can view the status of all their plugins. This single interface makes it easy to identify outdated or problematic plugins that may need attention.

How to use the Smart Plugin Manager

WP Engine’s Smart Plugin Manager can only be activated on only one environment per site. This means that if you have installed the Smart Plugin Manager on Production. You can neither have it on staging nor development. If it is on staging, neither production nor development can have it.


A site in WP Engine is a group of related environments. That is, production, staging and development.

Having the SPM installed and activated on production is not always recommended. Some automatic plugin updates and theme updates may break your site.

If you have a simple 4-5 page website that only displays information about your business. You can have this plugin installed and activated on production.

Suppose you have a woo-commerce site or a website that constantly changes its data, such as new orders or customers. We recommend having this plugin active in the staging environment. This allows site updates to be rolled out and tested via staging before manually rolling them out to production.

Smart Plugin Manager uses Visual Regression Testing (VRT), which scans the website after each update to determine if the site is broken or has not run into any issues. If any errors have been flagged, the SPM rolls the site back to its previous state (before the update).

To use the Smart Plugin Manager, follow the steps described below.

1. Activate the Smart Plugin Manager

  • Log into your WP-Admin User Portal
  • Go to the Tools menu via the left-hand sidebar
  • Select the Smart Plugin Manager via the submenu.
WP Engine Smart Plugin Manager
How to access the Smart Plugin Manager
  • Click the ‘Add Environment
Adding the SPM to site environments
Click “Add Environments”
  • Select the environment you would like to add the plugin
  • Click ‘Add to SPM
Install SPM to a selected environments
Click “Add To SPM”
  • The plugin will be automatically installed on the selected environment(s).

2. General Plugin Status

The Smart Plugin Manager reports on the status of plugin updates for all sites on the site’s page.

SPM Status across websites
Smart Plugin status column

The following statuses are shown, and here is their associated meaning.

  • Green check – Plugins are up to date
  • Red x – Plugins not updated
  • Orange exclamation point – There was an issue updating the plugin.
  • Black clock icon – Next run soon
  • Purple plus sign – Activate an SPM license on this environment

3. Single Site Smart Plugin Manager Status

Follow the steps below to see a detailed report on an individual plugin’s Smart Plugin Manager status.

  • Log into the WP User Portal.
  • Go to the Tools menu via the right-hand sidebar of the screen.
  • Click “Smart Plugin Manager”
WP Engine Smart Plugin Manager
How to access the Smart Plugin Single site status
  • Click the more options icon on the right, as shown below.
  • Select Open latest update to see the most recent process details.
Accessing SPM Latest update for single site
Select “Open Latest Update”
  • A status page will show all the information about successful and failed site updates.
SPM"s latest updates status for a site
Single site Latest Update Status
  • You can click on any section to expand it for more information.

It would also help if you looked into SPM settings to make the following further configurations to the plugin. For example, you could make adjustments to the schedule of the plugin, notification email, auto rollback settings, etc.

Smart Plugin Manger Edit settings button
Click “Edit Settings” to make configurations.

Benefits of the Smart Plugin Manager

  1. Time-Saving: The automated update system significantly reduces the time spent on manual plugin management tasks. Website owners can focus on creating content and enhancing their online presence, knowing that the Smart Plugin Manager handles updates seamlessly in the background.
  2. Risk Mitigation: By incorporating visual regression testing and staging environment compatibility, WP Engine’s Smart Plugin Manager minimizes the risk associated with plugin updates. Users can confidently implement changes without fear of negatively impacting their live websites.
  3. Enhanced Security: Continuous plugin and theme updates protect websites from potential vulnerabilities. The proactive approach to security helps prevent your website from being hacked.


Should you use the Smart Plugin Manager
Should you use the Smart Plugin Manager

You need to consider two things regarding whether you should use the Smart Plugin Manager. These are;

  1. Number of websites you manage
  2. The complexity of your websites

Number of websites you manage

If you look after several websites, you can use the Smart Plugin Manager to handle your automatic WordPress websites. This saves you a lot of time in the long run.

At MRK WP, we manage over 50 websites and use this tool to schedule and run updates across most sites.

The complexity of your websites

Small websites with few simple plugins work well with the Smart Plugin Manager tool. These sites rarely break due to the automatic updates.

Similarly, if your websites have a similar blueprint, that is to say, they use the same theme and the same plugin for forms, SEO and site security, then using this tool will come in handy since the automated updates will all be similar across your sites.

On the other hand, if your website uses several complex plugins, we would recommend you manually run its updates manually. This will save you from website downtime in cases where the automatic updates leave your site broken.


WP Engine’s Smart Plugin Manager is a valuable tool for WordPress website owners looking to automate their plugin and theme updates with visual regression testing.

However, it’s important to note that the Smart Plugin Manager’s suitability depends on the scale and complexity of the websites being managed.

While it proves highly effective for numerous websites with straightforward structures, complex websites with complex plugins may benefit from manual updates to prevent potential downtime.


Here are links to resources on automatic updates by WP Engine’s Smart Plugin Manager.