An In-Depth Look at the New Liquid Web / Nexcess WordPress Hosting Control Panel

Liquid Web & Nexcess logos, side by side

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In September of 2019, two Michigan-based web hosting firms, Liquid Web & Nexcess, joined forces. Liquid Web has put a huge focus on the WordPress hosting space in recent years, specifically with their managed WooCommerce hosting product.

Liquid Web & Nexcess logos, side by side

Nexcess is known more for its managed Magento platform, but more broadly, all of its cloud-based ecommerce hosting solutions.

Carrie Wheeler, EVP & General Manage of Managed Applications for Liquid Web, had this to say about the merger:

“We sought Nexcess, recognizing that the combination of their leading Managed Magento platform with Liquid Web’s WooCommerce and WordPress focus allows us to combine products, services, capabilities and team to deliver the best hosting experience to SMBs and the designers, developers and agencies who create for them.”


With this merger comes a completely revamped control panel for Liquid Web & Nexcess users. It sounds like they’ll be gradually rolling this out, and allowing existing customers to opt-in, but all new customers will default to the new interface.

This post will be a comprehensive exploration & review of the updated control panel, as we walk through each screen and discuss the pros and cons. Let’s get started.

Creating a New Managed WordPress Site

Create an account

When you sign up for a new Managed WordPress plan at Liquid Web, you’ll be presented with a new sign up form. The form clearly illustrates that Liquid Web & Nexcess have joined forces, which will help users get accustomed to both brands 👍.

Liquid Web managed WordPress hosting signup form

Choose a domain name

After creating an account, you’ll be asked to enter the domain name that you’ll be using for the hosting account. You can change this later, and Liquid Web is not actually purchasing the domain for you. They just need one to set up your account.

Nexcess choose a domain name screen

Billing & confirmation

Next, you’ll enter your billing information for the account. This is pretty straightforward.

Finally, confirm your plan details and click the “Create Plan” button.

Liquid Web signup, confirm details page

You’ll be redirected to your “My Plans” page, and presented with a message that says, “Your plan is being set up.” This process took about 5 minutes for me.

My Plans

"My Plans" page listing managed WordPress sites

Once your new plan has been set up, you’ll see the following details on your “My Plans” page:

  • Name of plan
  • Sites used, and sites remaining
  • The app environment, which will be WordPress
  • Plan type
  • Renewal price
  • Renewal date

If you have multiple plans, each plan will be listed here. It’s also worth noting that each plan has its own dashboard (“Plan Dashboard”), and if you have a plan that allows multiple sites, each site has its own dashboard as well (“Site Dashboard”), with its own unique options.

Plan Dashboard

Nexcess Plan Dashboard animation of features

There isn’t a ton you can do on the Plan Dashboard screen, but it does provide an overview of all the sites on that plan, and a quick way to access each site’s settings. You can do the following:

  • Upgrade your plan, great for adding additional sites or expanding server resources
  • Access each site’s dashboard
  • Quickly see if SSL is enabled on each site (lock icons)
  • Grab the IP address for each site, which you’ll need to update DNS information
  • The three dots menu lets you access the Site Dashboard, contact support & set up a staging or development environment

Now let’s click through to one of our sites…

Site Dashboard

The site dashboard provides a lot more information about your site, and includes quite a few settings which you can adjust. Before we take a look at each page, I’d like to mention the order of these settings seems a bit strange to me.

Things like LogsScheduled Tasks, and MySQL are rarely accessed by most users. If they are, their use is likely infrequent. And yet they are all listed above some things that I would think get much more use, like BackupsVisual Comparison (related to backups), and Staging / Dev.

Perhaps Nexcess has internal analytics that say otherwise, but I wanted to point this out.

Performance

Nexcess Site Dashboard, performance screen

The performance page has a few options, along with some site statistics.

  • Auto Scaling: Turn this on or off (ON recommended). This allows your server to automatic scale its resources based on current traffic levels.
  • Cloud Accelerator: Here you can turn NGINX caching on or off (ON recommended), as well as click a button to Purge the NGINX cache from the server.
  • New Relic Monitoring: New Relic can help diagnose performance issues on your site. You need a separate New Relic account to use it, but if you have one, simply enter your license key here, and you’ll have access to these stats.
  • Bandwidth & PHP-FPM: These are the final two items on the performance page. They each provide a graph of your site’s bandwidth and how many processes its running.

Access

Nexcess Site Dashboard Access screen

The access page is where you go to access or change your SFTP & SSH settings.

  • You can add new SFTP accounts
  • You can change the password on existing SFTP accounts, as well as delete them
  • You’ll find your SSH command

Domain Options

Nexcess domain options

Domain options let you select a “Pointer Domain,” which is essentially just another domain that redirects to your main site.

With this tool, you can also create 301 and 302 redirects.

Environment

The environment page includes some nice features of the Liquid Web / Nexcess WordPress hosting plan.

However, I’m not sure “Environment” is the best name for this page. It does technically include some information about your site’s server environment, but if a user is looking to change their PHP version, or turn automatic WordPress plugin updates off, are they going to know to look here?

Nexcess page to switch PHP and turn on automatic WordPress updates

WordPress Core & Plugin Updates

You can flip a switch to turn this on or off. It is on by default, and we recommend you keep it this way.

You can also manage automatic plugin updates on this page. This is also turned on by default, but whether you keep it on or not, that will vary from site to site. Use your best judgement. But it’s certainly a nice feature to have.

And if I’m being honest, I would list core updates first, followed by plugin updates. And I’d call them both “updates” instead of calling them “core updates” and “plugin upgrades.” We should stick with the terminology used in the WordPress admin area.

Switch PHP Version

This is another nice feature that more and more managed WordPress hosts are making easy for clients to do. You can update your PHP version to any of the following:

  • 7.3 (recommended)
  • 7.2
  • 7.1
  • 7.0
  • 5.6

Redis Information

While you can’t update your Redis version, it is listed on this page for your information.

SSL

SSL options in Nexcess control panel

The SSL options in the Nexcess control panel are pretty straightforward. You can turn on or off the free Let’s Encrypt certificate that comes with your plan (ON is recommended, and enabled by default), and you’ll see the status of the installation.

You do need to point your domain’s DNS to the Nexcess server before your SSL will be completely set up.

Logs

Nexcess Logs screen

Another pretty simple page, the logs are consolidated into a single file each day. You can download them with one click, which gives you a .zip file. Once expanded, you’ll have a .log file that you can view.

Scheduled Tasks

Scheduled tasks screen in Nexcess dashboard

With scheduled tasks, you can run cron jobs at the following increments:

  • 5 minutes
  • 15 minutes
  • 30 minutes
  • Hourly
  • Daily
  • Monthly

You can add as many scheduled tasks as you’d like, and easily switch them on or off with a toggle.

You also have the option to enter an email address. I’m assuming this will send you an email either each time the task is run, or each time it fails. I’m not 100% sure.

MySQL

For developers, or those who just like to get their hands dirty in the database, you can access your site’s DB with one click via phpMyAdmin. I love how it opens right up without requiring a password 👌.

You can also add additional databases & users, although most of you will have no need to use this feature.

And you can regenerate user’s passwords from this screen as well.

Email

Nexcess is one of the few managed WordPress hosts who provide webmail. They use a third-party service called RoundCube.

NOTE
We highly recommend you do not use your web host as your email provider. You should be using a third-party platform that specializes in hosting email. Our top recommendation is G Suite by Google.

Stencils

Nexcess Stencils page

Stencils are essentially templates. You can use them to quickly spin up a new site with all of your preferred settings & plugins already installed and ready to go.

When you’re ready to add a new site to your plan, go to the “Stencils” page and choose the “Create from Stencil” option.

Backups

Nexcess Dashboard Backups screen

Backups are pretty standard with any good WordPress host. With the updated Liquid Web / Nexcess control panel, there are pros & cons.

Pros

  • You can initiate a manual backup whenever you’d like
  • You can download backups to a .zip file right from the dashboard
  • They take automatic backups daily, and store them off-site

Cons

  • You can’t access the automatic backups from the dashboard. You have to reach out to support.
  • You can’t restore a backup from your dashboard. You have to reach out to support to initiate a restore.

Compared to other managed WordPress hosts (like our favorite, Kinsta), Nexcess is lagging a bit behind here.

Visual Comparison

I covered the Visual Comparison tool in-depth in my Liquid Web Managed WooCommerce review →

And since I haven’t run any backups on my test account yet, there is nothing to see in the Nexcess dashboard. But I’m confident it works in very much the same way.

Staging / Dev

Tying in with the confusing name of the “Environment” page, the “Staging / Dev” page is where you go to… add Environments. While again, technically true, you are adding staging and/or development environments here, it gets confusing with the “Environment” page above. Perhaps adding a “staging site” or “development site” would be a little more clear. Or coming up with a different name or structure for the things found on the “Environments” page.

Regardless, this is where you create staging or testing versions of your site. There are a few options:

  • Domain Name: You are forced to use a subdomain of your main domain, which will require you to update your DNS. It would be nice if they provided the domain for you so you didn’t have to mess with DNS records.
  • Copy Site Data: In most cases, you will want this enabled. This will copy all files & the database from your live site to your staging site.
  • Anonymize Database: You can choose to anonymize all personally identifiable information in the database. If you’re storing any sensitive information, and you don’t need it for testing purposes, you might want to do this.

Staging site creation options

You are then sent to a “Summary” page which seems a bit weird, unnecessary and possibly confusing to me.

  • It reiterates that it’s a WordPress environment, which is obvious. Your main site is using WordPress so of course any staging or dev site would, too.
  • It has the “Personal” plan listed, along with its icon (which I think is a flower in a pot 🤔🤷‍♂️), and the price of $0 monthly. Why is there a price listed? The staging site is included with your plan, so to display a price, even though it’s $0, is confusing here.

Nexcess staging creation screen summary

I haven’t actually used a staging site yet, so I can’t share any details about its performance or other details.


That does it for all the site-specific features of the Nexcess hosting control panel. Now let’s step back and look at the top main menu area, which helps you navigate your entire account.

Nexcess main dropdown menus

There’s quite a few options in the top main menu, which can make it seem a little overwhelming, but it’s organized pretty well. Let’s go through it.

Account Number & Pin

I love having my account & pin number right at the top, easily accessible. This is great for when I need it to open a support ticket or chat with support on the phone. 🙌

Create +

The “Create +” menu has 3 options, but I think most people will only really need to use one of them, so the other two could (and probably should) be moved elsewhere.

  • Support Ticket: This is the link I love having quick access to. It opens up a modal window for me to enter all my ticket details and submit the ticket immediately.
  • Plan: This is something most people just won’t be using. If you’re managing multiple sites, you’re likely to house them all under one plan. Even for those who do use it, they’ll use it far less frequently than the other options. I would’ve hidden it up my account settings somewhere.
  • SSL Certificate: The confusing thing here is that you’re already provided with a free SSL for each site. It’s settings are located on your site dashboard. And it was automatically enabled for me when I created my account, so it appears to be the default.When you use the “Create +” menu for an SSL Certificate, you’re brought to a page that has a bunch of premium options. Everything from $40 for a single domain up to $300 for multiple domains. I think ~99% of users will use the free Let’s Encrypt SSLs and never need this.

Main Navigation

Centered at the top of your page is the main menu. It contains links for:

  • Support
  • Services
  • Billing
  • DNS
  • SSL

Support takes you to a list of your support tickets, with the ability to create a new one.

Services gives you a quick way to return to your “Plan Dashboard.” If you have other services with Liquid Web / Nexcess, in addition to managed WordPress hosting, they might appear here as well.

Billing provides access to invoices, orders, your credit card info and a payment history.

DNS is for managing DNS records if you’re using Liquid Web / Nexcess’ name servers.

SSL lets you manage any certificates you’ve purchased or imported from another vendor.

Account Settings

Finally, you’ve got all your account settings in a dropdown menu beneath your name. Once again, I’m questioning the order of these items (“My Settings” is the 5th one down?)

  • Knowledge Library: This opens the help docs. I wish it opened in a new window, as it’s a completely separate site with different navigation.
  • SSH Keys & API Tokens: These are exactly what you think they are.
  • 2-Factor Auth: You can enable two factor authentication for logging into the Nexcess control panel. All major authentication apps are supported.
  • My Settings: Change your name, email address or password for the account
  • Teams: This is one of the more robust and unique features of the Liquid Web / Nexcess platform. I’ll go into more detail below.
  • Addresses: You can add multiple address to your account, presumably to apply them to different billing methods
  • Announcements: This section holds scheduled maintenance notifications, as well as outages that may have occurred
  • Feedback: This is an idea board where you can submit feature requests and vote on ideas you’d like to see implemented on the platform
  • Sign Out: In case you’re using a shared device and need to manually log out

Teams & Account Permissions

Nexcess Teams page

You can create an unlimited number of teams, assign people to them, and give them specific permissions to access different areas of the control panel.

For each section of the portal (account, users, addresses, tickets, services, DNS, etc.), you can assign the following permissions:

  • View
  • Edit (will also be able to view)
  • Delete (will also be able to view & edit)

This can be powerful if you work on a multifaceted team, or juggle multiple projects, but there is one downside. These settings are applied at the account level, which means they apply to all sites. I don’t see a way to configure them on a site-by-site level.

Creating a Team

Creating a new team in the Nexcess control panel

This is what it looks like when creating a new team. You can see all the options available to you.

Overall Design & UI

If we’re being honest (and I always am), I’m not a big fan of the design. I realize design is somewhat subjective, but here are some concrete examples of what I don’t like.

Example of several design elements that I don't like
Poor color contrast & text overlapping background images and gradients
  • There appears to be a random mix of shadows, gradients, flat design, patterns, repeating background images… there’s just no congruency amongst elements.
  • The color contrast is weak in a few places. There’s really dark blue text on top of a dark blue background which is on top of yet another blue background. It’s not the easiest to read. Some of the background images also appear directly behind some of the longer page headers, which makes them hard to read as well.
  • The rounded corners used throughout the interface are of different sizes & proportions
  • Excessive use of all caps in the main menu makes it more difficult to distinguish between adjacent menu items
  • The proportions are stretched for the screenshot on the Site Dashboard. The image src is 1024×1280 but CSS is forcing it to 190×120.
  • Almost all text has a font-weight above normal. I can’t tell if there are different levels of bolding, but when almost everything is bold, you might as well just put everything at a normal/400 font-weight.
  • Hovering over the IP Address adds a green plus icon to your cursor. This is supposed to denote that when you click it, it will be copied to your clipboard. But I didn’t know that, didn’t expect that, and haven’t seen this convention used on any other site.
  • The alignment of items in the 3 top rows has my eyes wandering all the over the place. The top row has 2 pieces of info centered. The next row has 3 groups of info, one to the left, one in the center, and one to the right. The third row also has 3 groups of info, and it is neither centered, nor does it align with the row above it.
  • No max-width is applied to the main content area, so some descriptions & explainers can get really long on big screens. Too many characters on one line is difficult to read.

With that being said, I was still able to do everything I set out to do, and the design didn’t impede me much at all. I’m not sure if a complete beginner would have a harder time. When I review products, design matters. A lot. So that’s why I included it here.


Summary

I’m actually going to hold off on making any final judgements here. I still haven’t thoroughly used the Liquid Web / Nexcess managed WordPress hosting panel for a live site yet, and so it doesn’t feel right to either recommend them or not at this point.

I’ll let all the information & screenshots above tell the story, and you can decide for yourself.

And I’d love to hear from you if you have experience with the platform. What do you like, not like, and how is it working for you? Real world examples always provide the best reviews.

What Are Your Thoughts?

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