Could WordPress Multisite Be a Game Changer for You?

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wordpress-multisite

Are you managing multiple WordPress sites? Yes? Did you know you could manage them all from a single dashboard? No? Well you can with WordPress Multisite.

Multisite was introduced in 2010 but a surprising number of site administrators and users are still unfamiliar with it. This post will demystify WordPress Multisite to help you evaluate whether it is a good solution for your business; and show you how to install it.

Let’s begin with the basics.

What is WordPress Multisite?

Multisite is a feature that enables you to create and manage multiple websites & blogs from a single WordPress installation. That means that you can manage as many sites as you want from one Dashboard. Just one.

Important Features

  • It allows for a network of subdomains and directories
  • You can enable other users to create accounts and WordPress blogs on your Multisite Network
  • Super Admins can install themes and plugins for sites within their Multisite Network. However, site administrators on the network do not have that capability
  • Super Admins can also make changes to themes for all websites on their Multisite Network while site administrators cannot

Installing, managing and updating a Multisite Network is not as difficult as it sounds; in fact, the installation is almost similar to a standard WordPress installation. It also has the same core files, folder structure and code base as a standard WordPress site.

Another great thing about WordPress Multisite is that all the themes and plugins on your network are stored once, regardless of how many sites are using them. That means that your server space would be smaller than if each site had its own WordPress installation.

There are, however, a few differences between a Multisite and a standard installation: the admin screens and how they are used, the files, folders and the database tables. Let’s go over them.

Files and Folders

The wp-config.php file and the wp-uploads folder in a Multisite Network are a bit different from the ones in a standard WordPress installation.

The wp-config.php file contains additional lines that activate Multisite and notify WordPress on how it functions or operates.

The wp-uploads folder has a subfolder for each site on the network and the files of each site are stored in the site’s folder, as you normally would expect to see them in the wp-uploads folder of a standard WordPress installation.

At the end of the day, these are differences you don’t need to concern yourself with – WordPress takes care of it for you!

Database

A standard WordPress installation has 11 database tables to store your site’s content and settings. Nine of those 11 tables are duplicated for each site on a Multisite Network. So the more sites you have, the more tables you’ll have.

This is another difference you do not need to worry about.

Who Should Use It?

Multisite has quite a lot of benefits to it and can be extremely useful in certain cases while leading to administrative complication in others. So which cases is Multisite best for?

WordPress Multisite is ideal for building a network of sites with analogous functionality; either via plugins, server settings or custom applications. It is also ideal for networks that use a limited number of themes for the whole network vs. enabling members of the network to use custom themes.

If your network has a hugely diverse set of WordPress sites using various plugins, themes and other customizations, WordPress Multisite isn’t the solution you’re looking for.

Popular Sites Using WordPress Multisite

WordPress.com from Automattic is the ultimate example of a Multisite Network. It hosts millions of sites and is free to use (premium themes and plugins are an additional cost).

Universities are another good example of organizations that use Multisite Networks. They typically set up multiple sites on the network for various departments within the institution and for internal blogs.

One of the nation’s largest and most respected newspapers uses WordPress Multisite to host its blogs.

One of the nation’s largest and most respected newspapers uses WordPress Multisite to host its blogs.

The New York Times Blogs is another good example. It’s a network of multiple blogs (about 60) that use a single WordPress Multisite installation.

How to Install WordPress Multisite

You only need two things to set up a Multisite Network:

  • You need be an admin and have access to your server’s files; and
  • Have permissions to make changes to the files and to create a directory

No knowledge of code is required.

If you’re looking to activate it on a new installation, you can just delete your data and re-install WordPress.

Multisite can also be installed on your current WordPress installation. However, it does not use the default permalink structure as WordPress needs to be able to assign correct names to sub-directories and sub-domains.

Speaking of which, you need to decide whether you want to create files as sub-domains or sub-directories. This decision cannot be reversed in the future so choose carefully.

  • The sub-domain structure is as follows: site1.mydomain.com, site2.mydomain.com, site3.mydomain.com, etc.
  • The sub-folder structure is as follows: mydomain.com/site1, mydomain.com/site2, mydomain.com/site3 etc.

Keep in mind that sub-directories cannot be created on an established site as it could interfere with active or already created URLs.

You can also use domains like mydomain1.com, mydomain2.com, mydomain3.com, etc., but you need to utilize plugins and have some technical knowledge in order to do so.

Let’s walk step-by-step through the installation.

  1. Install WordPress the usual way: download the ZIP file and install it on your server
  2. Locate the wp-config file (in the folder you installed WordPress)
  3. Find the phrase “/* That’s all, stop editing! Happy blogging. */” towards the bottom of the file
  4. Add a new line right above the phrase. Copy and paste the following code on the new line:

/* Multisite */

define( ‘WP_ALLOW_MULTISITE’, true );

You can activate WordPress Multisite within a few clicks and adding one single line of code to your wp-config.php file.

You can activate WordPress Multisite within a few clicks and adding a single line of code to your wp-config.php file.

  1. Save your wp-config.php file and reload the website
  2. Head to the WordPress admin dashboard and go to Tools > Network Setup. You will be asked to choose between sub-domains or sub-directories. (Note: If you choose to use sub-domains, you need to confirm that your web hosting service provider allows sub-domains. They will need to create wild card DNS for your network)
  3. Update the title of your Multisite Network and the email address of the Network admin. You can leave everything as is if no changes need to be made
  4. Click the Install button. WordPress will generate a code to copy into your wp-config.php and .htaccess files
  5. You will be automatically directed to the Network Install screen. Paste the code as instructed
  6. Save the files
  7. Multisite will be successfully installed. You will need to log in again to access your Network Admin Dashboard

Et voila! Your Multisite installation should now function like any standard WordPress site. You can start adding new sites, plugins, themes and other functionality onto the Network.

You can follow the same steps above to convert your existing site into a Multisite Network. The only difference will be that you’ll be forced to use sub-domains if your site has been active for more than one month.

How to Add Sites on Your Multisite Network

Adding a site to your Multisite Network is a two-step process:

  1. Head to My Sites > Network Admin > Sites > Add New
  2. Add a site address, the site title, the email address of the site administrator and click Add New

The new site will be created. You can add as many sites as you want and see the list of sites by clicking on Sites > All Sites.

How to Install and Activate Themes on Your Multisite Network

There are two ways to install and activate themes on your Multisite Network:

  1. You can install themes in the Network Admin to activate for the entire Network; or
  2. You can install them in Network Admin and activate it within a particular site

To activate for the entire Network:

  1. Head to Themes > Add New
  2. Install the theme and click Network Enable

The theme will now be available to all sites in the Network.

To activate for a specific site:

  1. Go to Sites and select the site that you want to enable the theme on
  2. Click Edit > Themes and find the theme you want to activate
  3. Click Enable

When you go to the Themes tab in the site admin screen, you will see the new theme you enabled. The site can now choose to activate that theme.

How to Install and Activate Plugins on Your Multisite Network

To install and activate plugins on your Multisite Network:

  1. Download and install the plugin in the standard way: Plugins > Add New (in the network admin screen)
  2. To activate the plugin for the entire Network, click Network Activate and the plugin will be activated on all sites on the Network

To install and activate plugins on a specific site:

  1. Download and install the plugin in the standard way: Plugins > Add New (in the network admin screen)
  2. Click on Return to Plugin Installer
  3. Then go to the site admin screen for the site you want to activate the plugin on. Head over to Plugins
  4. Locate the plugin you want to activate and click on Activate

Note that you cannot delete or update plugins from the site admin screen.

That’s really all there is to installing WordPress Multisite, enabling features and adding functionality.

Conclusion

WordPress Multisite is a powerful and game changing tool for many businesses. That being said, it may not be the perfect solution for every business that thinks they need it. You need to carefully evaluate your needs to determine whether it’s the right fit for your business.

If you do go ahead with installing it, keep in mind that management (beyond adding sites, activating themes and plugins) can get quite complex. Reversing a decision to separate sites and migrating a Multisite can cause major headaches. So again, carefully evaluate your need for it before activating it.

Are you using WordPress Multisite? Or considering it? Share your experiences with us in the comments section.

Arnaud, a foodie from Bruges, Belgium, is the editor for the Semper Plugins blog. He also manages the translation teams for All in One SEO Pack (over 58 languages!).

11 comments on “Could WordPress Multisite Be a Game Changer for You?
  1. > < a n n o says:

    Hi there

    it sounds really easy, thanks for the clear steps.

    Is a WP multisite installation possible afterwards, if the existing base installation is already on a sub.domain.xy?

    • Arnaud Broes says:

      I believe this is possible.

    • Do yourself a favor and make sure that you make a full backup of your site and your databases before you start changing things on your site, especially if your site is already indexed on the search engines you have to make sure that you don’t change any URLs because that would generate a lot of 404 errors and that’s killing for your rankings.

      404 errors of URLs you aren’t using anymore should be properly redirected to another related blog post or page permanently with a 301 redirect.

      WordPress makes it super easy to manage all your redirections by installing a plugin which you can download for free from the wordpress repository here:

      https://wordpress.org/plugins/redirection/

  2. Ron Charest says:

    Thank you for this excellent article. One question: once this multi-site is activated, and other sites are added, is it possible to continue managing a site “locally” from the local site admin screen?

    • Arnaud Broes says:

      I believe you can only manage your multi-site domain from within one global admin screen.

      • rodinux says:

        I have already two multisite in production. You can manage each site from his own admin dashboard. You have a interface which is dedicated to another role, superadmin from where you can load the extensions, plugins, themes (the admins of each site can not). If you want the users of the others sites to use the themes, you may activate them from this superadmin dashboard. For the plugins, the admins of each site can activate or deactivate them, except if they are activated from the superadmin dashboard… A link with explanations: https://premium.wpmudev.org/blog/ultimate-guide-multisite/
        I use an extension call WordPress MU Domain Mapping to to map the blog/site to another domain…

  3. ATRYNA says:

    This article very nice and can help us to manage some of my sites. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Arturo says:

    How do Multisite affect SEO ranking and what’s the best subdomain or subfolder?

    • Search engines such as Google consider sites in subdirectories to be all part of the same site, so mydomain.com/blog is part of mydomain.com and counts towards its SEO. However, sites in subdomains are considered as different sites and do not count towards the SEO of the main site, so blog.mydomain.com is a different site to mydomain.com.

  5. sounds all great but I didn’t found the answer to my question. in my case I’ve my website already online for years but a couple weeks ago I found 2 new domains that I want to use but those are not the typical domain names you normally see.

    my main domain is soharddbwarez.com and my new domains are soharddbwarez.host and soharddbwarez.download, I only bought them to make sure those are reserved for me because it looks nice and branded but I don’t know what to do with the new domains and I don’t even know if these domains can be used just as any other domain.

    My problem will be resolved if I knew that I could just point those domains to my main website to a specific page within the wordpress installation or for safety reasons use those domains to point to a folder on the server outside of wordpress.

    Do you have any answers?

  6. rodinux says:

    Yes you may create a multisite, you then create 2 others sites as subdomains like anythingyouwant.soharddbwarez.com and foo.soharddbwarez.com,
    then using an extension call WordPress MU Domain Mapping to to map the blog/site to another domain. You can redirect each site to another adress with their ID. you need to redirect each site with two redirection on primary for http://www.soharddbwarez.host and one secondary for soharddbwarez.host.

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