Digging into WordPress Multisite: why and when to use it

If you’re a small business owner or in a role that’s responsible for managing your company’s website, chances are you have probably heard of, or are using, WordPress (If you’re not, you should call us!). On the market 11+ years with over 70 MILLION sites currently running on the platform, WordPress one of the most ubiquitous content management systems for sites of all sizes and types. What you probably haven’t heard of is a special set up mode of the platform called WordPress MultiSite. This little known feature that allows multiple sites to be run off of one install is usually kept on the down-low because the average user with the typical site will never really have reason to use it.

In the right circumstances, however, it can be incredibly powerful and solve problems that would otherwise require multiple, completely separate WordPress sites.

Let’s dig a little into what WordPress Multisite is and talk through some of the ideal use cases.

So… what exactly is WordPress Multisite?

Flip a switch and your single WordPress website can be converted to a network of multiple sites running off of the same core install – much like wordpress.org. These network sites can have their own subdomains, or even their own domain names, can share users or have their own unique ones, can share one theme, or can use different ones and have entirely their own collection of pages and posts. Because the sites are all linked, you can also share global data (like corporate contact information) so you only have to maintain it in one spot.

Wordpress MultiSite DropdownWhen you convert to Multisite, an initial super admin is designated. This super admin (and any users you create in the future with that permission level) get access to a new dashboard called the “Network Admin” that is layered in on top of all the individual sites’ /wp-admin dashboard.

The Network Admin dashboard allows you to manage and maintain all the sites within your network.

From there, you can do things like:

  • Create new sites within the network
  • Create users and give them access to one or many sites within the network
  • Add plugins to individual sites, or across all of them
  • Run plugin updates across all of the network sites
  • Update WordPress core for all the network sites
  • Assign themes to particular sites

Running just underneath the new Network Admin, each site still has a standard WordPress dashboard, so users who are just assigned to a single site would have the same experience they’re used to.

When does it make sense to use MultiSite?

Using the WordPress MultiSite feature is always the exception, never the rule, but there are a few real world instances where it’s ideal:

Franchise Websites

We do a ton of lead generation website work with franchises, but every once and while we also work with them to help deploy websites for their franchisees. MultiSite makes perfect sense in this situation because each franchise location’s website can be created and locked in with a pre-defined theme and can even have corporate news shared from a parent site. Active, web-savvy franchise owners can have access to make updates and changes to their own sites, but even less active locations can remain easily maintained by a home office.

Having the sites on one network also makes things like maintaining an updated location list easier and more cost-effective because you can pull them dynamically based on what sites exist within the network.

Besides franchises, businesses with multiple locations can take advantage of this set up in the same way to provide customized information to the city or region they serve.

Church Websites

Many mega-churches have grown over time to serve multiple communities with separate locations. While still operating under one cohesive brand, each location has it’s own programs, community groups and VBS schedules. With Multisite, the overall brand remains consistent while allowing each location to customize pages and blog posts to provide resources for their community.

Corporate Microsites

In some industries, particularly health care, insurance and finance, we occasionally run across providers who have service offerings targeted towards specific sectors. In many instances, these are different enough from their core offering to warrant a series of pages that are isolated from the main site and have a slightly different look and feel.

While this could be accomplished a couple of different ways without  Wordpress MultiSite, in some cases it’s the ideal solution because with MultiSite each microsite can have it’s own unique URL. This keeps the entire company website under one roof, while giving space to individual programs.

Multiple sites made simple

Each of the case studies above have one thing in common: a brand that has need for multiple websites for locations or distinct product offerings.

While you could install multiple copies of WordPress for each usage, you’d then have to manage each site from a completely separate admin dashboard. With MultiSite, management for every site is combined into one location with all the same benefits of separate installs, none of the downsides, and quite a few potential upsides.

Want to talk more about creating your own flock of sites with WordPress MultiSite? Shoot us an email to see if it’s the right for your next project.