What is WordPress Multisite?

3 years ago  •  By

The Problem:

A common request we receive goes something like this:

We need a group of websites that share a common look and feel.  We need to share content across these sites, and want an easy way to manage all the websites.

The Solution: Enter WordPress Multisite

Multisite is a little known, but amazing feature of WordPress. It allows the creation of a network of sites, all running on a single installation of WordPress. This means that each website shares the same database, and can share information such as:

  • Content
  • Plugins
  • Themes
  • Users (users can have different roles on different sites)

Multisite is particularly useful when you need many similar sites.  A perfect example would be a franchise business.  The parent company sets up a multisite.  Every franchisee could have their own sub-site for their geographical area.

computer network representing WordPress multisite

Share Content Across Sites

WordPress Stores stores all content in the same database.  This makes it it is easy for each site to contain a mix of unique content and ‘global content’ .  WordPress multisite can publish articles to all the sites on the networks.  Or, you might have a promotion area that is global across all sites.

Consistent Look & Feel

The same theme may be shared across many websites.  This includes configurable options for colour scheme, logos etc. Each site will inherit a consistent look, feel and layout. This provides brand consistency across the network.

Single Code Base = Cheaper Maintenance

If you had 10 regular websites that were all similar, and you wanted your web development company to make updates that take 1 hour per site – to all 10, this would equal 10 hours of work. With multisite, the change likley only needs to be applied once, saving 9 hours of cost.  Similarly, when plugin security patches or updates need to be performed, they can be applied to all sites at the same time.

Super Admins & Site Admins.

In a multisite you can have super-admin users that can change global settings across the entire network of sites (eg your web developer). You can also have site-level admin users that can control each sub site.

Saving Money

  1. Once initial setup work is done, rolling out more sites on the network will be much cheaper to produce than building traditional sites.
  2. A big ongoing saving is that you only need one web hosting account for the entire network – rather than one for each site.
  3. Ongoing maintenance, patches and security updates are much cheaper to apply to a multisite than to each site individually.

Saving Time

  1. Rolling out new websites to the network becomes cheap, fast and efficient. Normally, building a website is a labour intensive process of sourcing quotes, engaging a web company, going through the entire strategy/wireframe/design/develop process.  Whereas once a multisite is setup you can skip most of this work, moving into configuration of colours, logos and other customisations, then site specific content entered.
  2. Publishing global content across the network can be a huge time saver – both for parent company/organisation that has the ability to push content to all sites in one easy step, and also to the owners of the individual sites.  For the owners the shared content helps keep their sites looking fresh, they don’t need to worry about publishing content as frequently.

Limitations and Alternatives

A multisite is perfect if all sites will have a similar look and feel, and consistent functionality.  Yet, if each site is required to be quite different, then multisite may not be the best choice.  It is certainly possible to code unique functionality for each site, but if it was widespread across the network, then multisite is likely not be the best choice.

WordPress REST APIThe alternative is sister sites.  A sister site is a website that is duplicated and then modified for another purpose. This is similar to a multisite, in that much of the design/development process is shortcut by copying an existing site, but they do not share the same code base.  This makes it easy to add unique functionality to each site.  The downside is that you lose the ability to apply coding changes to all sites at once.  This would be more expensive than multisite, but allows more flexibility per site.   In this scenario sharing of data is still possible through a another method (the WordPress API).

Summing Up

If you have 2 or more websites that need to share content, users or design, then WordPress multisite is a great solution to consider.  Having related websites living under the same installation, with an easy way to roll out updates across them, and a guaranteed look-and-feel consistency between them can be a huge advantage.

If you have questions about how multisite can work for your business, please contact us.

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