WordPress Multisite – It’s one of the best features of our beloved CMS. However, this is not something that you can set up and organize with a few plugins and forget about it. It’s a powerful feature that is hardwired within the WordPress CMS that is not necessarily recognizable when you open your Dashboard.
Multisite can be remarkably useful if you want to have a unified location for multiple websites, update your settings from one place, have a multilingual versions of your business blog, target different audiences, and track your business growth globally, but at the same time, keeping the same infrastructure, look, and feel of your build.
As a super admin (network admin), working with a multisite system is pretty much the same as working on standard WordPress admin dashboard. You have the control and flexibility to add more options and features to specific sub-sites.
Without further ado, here are three significant WordPress Multisite tips that you need to know before you develop your Multisite Network.
1. Understand Multisite and Its Requirements
WordPress codex defines Multisite as:
A feature of WordPress 3.0 and later versions that allows multiple virtual sites to share a single WordPress installation. When the multisite feature is activated, the original WordPress site can be converted to support a network of sites.
Basically, the feature makes installing WordPress and managing different sites separately obsolete. For instance, you want to build a publishing platform and scale it, but you also want a separate project where you’ll bring in additional users to convert. Instead of installing WordPress one more time, you can use the same username and dashboard to manage them both.
The sites, also known as subsites (sub-sites) on Multisite networks can share the same plugins, themes, and database, however, they don’t have their own server directory. Though they do have individual media directories and tables in the database, which guarantee you unique content for each site from the network. You can either use the same plugins or you can have specific plugins that work on a subsite X and subsite Y or have activated plugins that are available across the whole network.
Key Differences from Autonomous Websites
There are a few crucial contrasts between a standalone WordPress site and Multisite network:
- The Super Admin: In a regular WordPress installation, the top level of permissions is “Admin”. However, with a Multisite installation, the top level is “Super Admin” which has the authorization to access each of the sites in the network.
- Plugins/Themes: The plugins and themes in a Multisite might be available to each site of the network. As a super admin, you can enable a plugin or a theme across the entire network, or activate them on separate sites, in the same manner, like on an individual WordPress website.
- Files/Folders: Your wp-config.php file contains a bit more code when you enable Multisite on your WordPress installation. The wp-uploads folder will also hold multiple sub-folders for each of the sites.
- Database: The normal WordPress installation has 12 database tables for your settings and content. In Multisite mode, several of those tables are duplicated for each individual site. You can even have more tables if you have plugins/themes which generate new tables themselves.
WordPress Multisite Considerations
Lots of enterprises may consider WordPress Multisite as the ideal solution for growing their web presence, however, that’s not always the case. It would be best to use a standard WordPress installation, especially if you want the following:
Managing Small Number of Sites
Take a look at the WordPress.com website. It is the perfect example of the Multisite feature because each of the sites acts as a department of the original one. So if you don’t want to build a similar-sized network, Multisite is not the right option for you.
Yes, you may have different niches and you may want to categorize your content. But, that’s the main feature of WordPress websites, to develop, organize, and categorize your content. So why would you have a separate website for each of your content categories?
Prevent Admins from Making Adjustments
With Multisite, each of the sites can have its own admin that can make changes, activate/deactivate plugins. So consequently, there’s no way to prevent them from having access, and because of this you shouldn’t activate Multisite if you don’t trust your other admins.
Who Should Consider WordPress Multisite
Multisite can do wonders especially if you have a need for more than hundreds or thousands of WordPress websites that are interconnected. However, it does come with its pros and cons, and before you take the first steps towards it, let’s look at some of the advantages and drawbacks of using this powerful feature on your favorite CMS.
- Quicker Updates: In Multisite, you’ll have a single upgrading and updating panel for the entire system. This makes updating across each site easier with just one click of a button.
- One Install: With only one install, the entire network of site can use a plugin if the plugin itself is activated for the whole network. Installing plugins and themes in Multisite is a one- time thing.
- One Admin, Many Sites: With Multisite, you can create as many sites as you want under one single URL. Each of these sites can use the same theme, plugins and be accessed from a single hosting account. The domain names for the subsites will be predicated on the original URL.
- Centralized Access: The Super Admin doesn’t have to log on to each site to have access to the dashboard. You can have a unique dashboard for each of your network sites.
- Scarce Plugin Incompatibility: In rare cases, there might be a third-party plugin that may not work well on Multisite Networks.
- Complexity: It’s definitely more complex compared to managing a regular WordPress build of a single site. It requires more work in terms of maintenance and security, and this is why if you’re not experienced, it’s best to hire an agency with WordPress professionals that will build the network for you and guide you through each stage of its development.
With that being said, not every circumstance requires you to use the Multisite feature. The multisite feature of WordPress is feasible in the following cases:
- A magazine or publishing platform with multiple content areas.
- An enterprise system with various locations and branches.
- Government sites with subsites for each of their divisions.
- Universities and educational systems that need a different website for each department.
- Membership or a SaaS system where each user can sign up, log in and use the features individually.
- A business website that needs to be available in different languages depending on the location of access.
2. Don’t Skip the Good Old Preparation Stage
First thing first, start with a quality host! A smaller multisite network can work on shared hosting, but, to ensure that everything will go smoothly, to our clients, we always recommend a managed hosting provider such as Pagely.
This is why the only WordPress hosting provider that we recommend is Pagely’s Managed Hosting service.
Their hosting platform offers you a scalable solution with multi-region redundancy and enterprise grade-security. The amount of websites that turned to managed hosting has grown rapidly over the last 8-9 years, and along with WordPress websites, it has become the dominant way for businesses to manage their content on multisite systems. The four key benefits of using a managed hosting provider are:
- Better Security: Managed hosting services offer unparalleled security compared to other types of web hosting. A managed provider applies the highest level of security, daily backups, malware scanning, and updates that prevent hackers from attacking your site.
- Monitoring Uptime: Speed and performance have a direct impact on search rankings. Most of the managed hosting providers offer 24/7 website monitoring, which means that you don’t have to dwell on your website’s performance.
- 24/7 Support: Managed hosting providers have trained experts that understand the technical details of the platform, and know how to solve common and complex problems.
- Customizable Solutions: Most managed hosts can support almost every niche, from Multisite to educational blogs, eCommerce websites, and everything in between. The solution is adapted to your business needs, instead of the other way around.
For example, you can develop your Multisite network for selling and managing advertising space as a publisher on the subsites, offering an affiliate program, a community, or setting up a network of stores.
With a separate WordPress install for each website, you’d be charged for multiple hosting plans, which results in a more complex management of the sites and their security, as well as bigger expenses overall.
Admin & Server Requirements
If you want to create a multisite network you need to be the admin of a WordPress installation, and you usually need to have access to the server’s file system so that you can edit files and develop the directory.
As the admin, you don’t need any programming knowledge of WordPress development, PHP, HTML, CSS, server administration or system administration, even though this type of technical knowledge would be useful for troubleshooting or for customizing your multisite network after the installation takes place. If you want to have a professional Multisite experience that does require expert programming skills, you need to hire an agency.
When you want to build a multisite network, it can be extremely beneficial for everyone involved to know exactly what the expectations are, and with what technology will everyone work with to meet the following requirements:
- Making sure to have a proper hosting.
- Syncing with the host about your expectations on weekly/monthly visitors.
- Checking that the hosts have impeccable SSD and that they support different location/bandwidth with a powerful CDN system.
Additionally, some server demands depend upon the type of multisite network that you want to develop:
The domain-based networks are also known as “Subdomain” networks, and they use URLs such as https://subdomainname.example.com.
A domain-based network arranges various domain names in the same directory in the server’s file system where your WordPress installation is. This can be executed in different ways:
- by setting up wildcard subdomains.
- by configuring virtual hosts, predetermining the same document root for each.
- by developing addon domains or subdomains.
On-demand domain-based sites need the wildcard subdomains method. Additional sites can be created manually by utilizing other methods.
Path-based multisite installs are also familiar as ‘Subfolder’ installations and use URLs such as https://exampledomainname.com/subsite.
If you use good permalinks on your WordPress site, then a path-based network will work perfectly. However, you need to be aware that your main site will use the following URL structure for posts:
3. Initiate Multisite Properly
If you plan to run a Multisite network, you need to have everything that you need to initiate multisite properly, more specifically:
Make Sure that You Have a Business Plan
With a multisite network, your business will have a huge potential for success because you or your clients can add as many sites as you like in the network on only one WordPress installation. If you want to launch a Multisite-powered business, you must know every step and option from the start.
Make sure that the reasons why you’ll use the network are thoroughly explained in your business plan, and what is the exact role of the network during each stage of your growth. Be realistic about your target market. If you’ve discovered a niche that you can cover with a Multisite network, go for it.
How Are You Going to Structure Your Multisite Network
Another important thing that you need to consider before starting with Multisite is whether you want to create a network from scratch or develop an existing WordPress installation:
- Subdomains: Each subsite in your network will have an URL like subsite.yourmultisitenetwork.com, where “subsite” is the specific site and “yourmultisitenetwork” is the network.
- Subdirectories: Each subsite in your network will have an URL like yourmultisitenetwork.com/subsite. It’s not recommended to apply this option if on an existing WordPress installation as it may cause clashes with existing URLs.
Are You Satisfied with Your Host?
A Multisite environment comes with lots of challenges that not every hosting provider can handle. Without an adequate hosting infrastructure your network will be faced with constant limitations from limited storage and bandwidth, to the task of managing the network itself that can be turned into a real failure for you without the support of your host.
One of our publisher clients Obsev (OBSessed With Everything) were doing significant traffic (30MM+ pageviews per month, but they were also facing with serious scaling challenges. They came to Pagely for help and they paired them up with us as one of their trusted agency partners, to sort the scaling challenges out.
Together with Pagely, we managed to quadruple their traffic levels! To learn more about how we overcame every challenge, you can read the transcript of the video case study here or watch the video below where you can hear all about it from Obsev CEO, Raymond Attipa, DevriX CEO, Mario Peshev, Pagely Director of Sales Sean Tierney, and Pagely Director of Hosting Ops, Arman Zakaryan.
Additional Bonus Tips to Keep in Mind
There are several useful strategies that are applicable both on a standard and a Multisite Network WordPress installation.
Conduct Local SEO for Each of Your Network Sites
If you need to develop a WordPress multisite system of subsites for your business, one of the crucial moves that you need to make is to conduct and configure Local SEO for each of them. Here’s a list of what you need to do to execute this successfully:
Enhance Title Tags
Title tags are the components of your site’s HTML code that show search engines and web crawlers what the page is about. For example:
The title tags here are – “Drive or Ride with Uber in Krakow” and “Request Uber at Krakow International Airport (KRK).”
They tell the audience what to expect when they click on the SERP result link. It’s like the title of a book, it needs to be inviting in order for you to open the book and read it.
A perfect page title tag for your locally-optimized subsite is:
- Relevant to the content that the page contains.
- Sounds inviting to the target audience that enters the keywords in the search engine.
- Straightforward enough in order for search crawlers to comprehend it more easily.
The practices above should be perfectly incorporated in the following template:
[product / service / business category] [city name] [state abbreviation]
Tidy up Your Subdomains
The URLs of your multisite network subsites need to be configured in such manner that they frame each site properly, and be user and SEO-friendly. They have to clear, simple and focused on search rankings.
You need to make sure that each of your network’s URLs is easy to comprehend and that they make sense. It will help the users and search engines as well. One excellent tip for improving URLs for local SEO is adding language markers. For example:
Another vital aspect is the usage of keywords in your URLs. This is why before you optimize your URLs, you need to perform proper keyword research.
Avoid needless words such as – a, an, the, and other stop words. You should also avoid involving special characters – except for hyphens and dashes – that reduce the URL readability and make the search crawling difficult.
Optimize the Images
Perhaps you have wonderful and compelling images that support the content of each of your subsites, but, have you optimized them for search engines to track them and place them before your locally-targeted customers?
The following tips are really simple to apply but can make a big difference in how search engines read them.
Consider the File Size
If the images in your network don’t load quickly when users visit one of your sites, not only does it affect the UX and your bottom line, but it also sends a negative signal to Google, where load speed is one of the crucial ranking factors.
It is always better to make the right choice or pre-optimize your images before you upload them to the database, instead of altering them after you’ve uploaded it to your multisite network. You shouldn’t upload a large image, and then place the image to be viewed in a smaller resolution such as a thumbnail.
You need dimensions that are as big as it’s required for the component, but with storage space that is as small as possible. This can be attained by compressing the image, which reduces the file size but keeps the image quality.
An explanatory, but at the same time, a straightforward file name to an image is crucial when it comes to local SEO. This is how you tell search engines that your image is associated with a given location, service or a product, such as:
Utilize the Alternative Text
Search engines are getting clever with each update, however, they aren’t notably clever at seeing an image and identifying the content if there isn’t a properly embedded alternative text or “alt text” to describe the context of the image.
If you want to rank for search queries that include a business location and a service, adding a keyword and local modifier to the alt text of your images can help the search engines to grasp its relevance.
But, just like with every SEO tactic, you shouldn’t overdo it. This will bring you SEO problems, the search engines will blacklist you, and also, it can result in a bad user experience for users that are visually impaired and use a screen reader to describe elements on the page.
Anchor text in images is a reference to the image in the link. By building links that lead to an image, and using anchor text that includes the necessary local keywords, you’ll have a better chance of ranking for those keywords.
Have a Regular Backup Process
Recurrent backups are one of the most critical parts of being behind the wheel of a WordPress multisite network.
Quality hosting providers include server-side backup solutions that can be run on daily, and even hourly basis. In accordance to how heavy your multisite update is and if your subsites have brand new and unique content, these updates should be more common, and this is why doing back ups is important.
For example, Pagely has a specifically adapted backup process that allows them to split your sites so they can be backed-up/restored independently of one another. However, this is not a standard feature that is enabled by default. If you would prefer this level of separation for your sub-site backups, you need to submit a support ticket and get further information on how to configure this.
DevriX Multisite: How We Build Profitable Multisite Solutions
We are a Technical WordPress service provider for the enterprise that is specialized in large WordPress platforms, SaaS projects, Multisites, migrating proprietary platforms and building secure and scalable WordPress-driven solutions.
Unlike the majority of freelancers and companies out there, we are a team of engineering experts with experience (both BSc degrees and programming background with other software development languages, frameworks, and platforms).
Have a massive WordPress Multisite Network project in mind? Don’t worry, we got you covered partner! So far, we’ve built and maintained WordPress networks with up to 80,000 sites and successfully scaled server infrastructures for day-to-day customer traffic or product launch campaigns.
Some of our latest Multisite solutions generated over $50,000 each less than 3 months after their launch and the profits keep coming in steadily. The platforms that we develop are sturdy and compatible with the ongoing WordPress Core updates.
We also manage the server infrastructure and monitor your WordPress multisite project in order to predict traffic spikes or track notices that are solved right away. Our team of WordPress Core contributors, PHP and plugin developers can successfully build powerful tools and integrated various APIs that bring significant value to each of your network sites.
Our team is actively involved with the WordPress community, participating with code submissions to the WordPress Core and various themes and plugins that are available to the public.
The Multisite projects that we develop are designed and integrated within the WordPress platform, including the server setup plus caching and security installment and configuration. You don’t have to worry about anything and can focus your attention on your business objectives.