In this post, we’re going to look at the Multisite feature of WordPress. We’ll learn what it is, when to use it, and when not to use it. We’ll also cover a few important best practices to keep in mind when running WordPress Multisite.
When you enable Multisite in WordPress, you have the ability to create a network of individual WordPress sites on a single installation of the software. Enabling, configuring, managing, and growing a WordPress Multisite-powered website is not for novice users, but depending on the goals of your business, it just might be the perfect solution.
How Does it Work?
WordPress Multisite works by allowing a single installation of WordPress to create multiple “subsites” on a single hosting account. It does this by sharing the core WordPress database and creating additional tables in the database for each site on the network.
In a Multisite network, the Super Admin controls everything, including the installation and usage of plugins, themes, the additions of users, and all software updates. Users can be added as Admins for individual sites or shared across the entire network of sites.
How Do You Enable the Multisite Feature of WordPress?
Whether you have an existing single WordPress installation, or you’re creating a brand new install, enabling the Multisite feature is the same. At a high level, this process involves making a decision on the structure of your URLs, editing the wp-config.php and .htaccess files, and then running through the Network Setup process inside the WordPress Dashboard.
To read about each of these steps in-depth, we recommend reviewing the official documentation on the WordPress.org “Create a Network” page.
When Should You Use Multisite?
Utilizing the Multisite features of WordPress can be the perfect fit for several different business needs. It’s ideal for companies who need to create dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of micro sites or niche sites, such as franchise or multi-departmental businesses or institutions.
- Universities – Schools of any size often have different websites for individual departments and allow both faculty and students to create their own sites.
- Restaurants – Coffee shops, bars and other food service establishments often have several locations within a city, the country, or across the globe. Each location might have similar content and branding, but need to communicate for the differences in certain areas, such as menu items, location, a local language, contact phone numbers and more.
- Realtors – Real estate agencies typically have many agents. Offering these individuals their own websites while making sure that the agency branding remains consistent is easily achievable with Multisite. This is not only a great value-add to agents but also gives them an opportunity to outpace their competitors by being better (or worse) with their own content and social marketing strategies.
- Your Own Blog Network – This was the original intention of the Multisite feature, and you can certainly still do this. However, it can be difficult to break into this space unless you’re serving a specific niche and have a team in place to help you scale. Services offering free blogs and websites, like WordPress.com, have a strong foothold in this market. If you’re bold, do it. Otherwise, consider a different use.
When Not to Use Multisite
At first sight, you might think Multisite is the perfect solution for managing your websites. It might also cross your mind when you need to quickly add or create a new website when you have that next big idea or an eager client who needs their website built ASAP. But it’s important to note that there are many valid reasons not to use Multisite.
When Managing a Small Number of Sites
If you have less than 50 sites and you don’t anticipate adding more, Multisite is probably overkill. If you’re still thinking, “But it would be so easy to have one Dashboard and be able to update WordPress core, plugins and themes in one convenient place,”, I would urge you to look at services like Perfect Dashboard and ManageWP. These tools specialize in connecting multiple single WordPress installations into one unified Dashboard, allowing bulk updates and more useful tricks.
Increased Hosting Costs
Technically, you can run Multisite on an inexpensive shared hosting account, but if you’ve chosen Multisite as your solution, it’s likely you’ll need a more robust hosting plan to support its usage. Additionally, not all web hosts support Multisite officially and if they do, you might run into a limited level of Multisite knowledge from the company’s support team.
Not all plugins are Multisite compatible. Plugins can only be installed by a Super Admin. Each site can have an Admin user separate from the Super Admin. This allows individual site Admins to activate and deactivate plugins and themes. Great right? Not so fast…
What happens if you discover a plugin that hasn’t received any updates from its author and the code becomes outdated and incompatible with the latest version of WordPress? Either you have to hire someone to update the plugin or remove it from your network. If you do the latter, now every site on your network no longer has access to whatever feature that plugin provided. It’s a slippery slope to be sure.
Just like plugins, new themes can only be installed on a Multisite installation by a Super Admin. This can pose issues when you have users who want to purchase and install a premium theme. Limiting what features and designs your Multisite users have access to is both a pro and a con.
Inevitably you’ll have the request or need to migrate a network site out of your Multisite install or import a single WordPress site into your network. Although this is possible with the use of some specific plugins and tools, at best it’s difficult for novice users.
WordPress Multisite Best Practices
Now that you know what the Multisite feature of WordPress is and what it’s capable of, it’s up to you to decide if it’s right for you and your online business. Here are a few WordPress Multisite best practices to consider.
- Have a good reason to run Multisite.
- Find a qualified Multisite consultant or agency to help.
- Find a hosting provider experienced in Multisite.
- Use plugins specifically designed for Multisite, or ones that advertise Multisite compatibility.
- Have a defined development workflow and always work on a staging site first. This is best practice for both Multisite and single site WordPress websites.
- Be prepared to say no to your users if they request to have a feature or plugin installed that you don’t offer.
Whether you’re running a single WordPress installation or a Multisite network of thousands of sites, making sure your websites are secure is always the best practice. Mitigate risks by using a malware scanner and a web application firewall (WAF).