Are you running multiple business enterprises with an extensive network of 50 (or more) similar websites on WordPress?
If so, Multisite WordPress could be a great solution for your business. Basically, a multisite WordPress network enables you to manage all your websites with a single WordPress installation.
However, is it recommended for every business enterprise?
No. It is only for organizations running multiple websites- either for different business domains or for different locations. For example, a global business could have a website for each country that it operates in. WordPress.com (with over 37 million websites) and Edublogs with 4.3 million websites are some corporations that are currently using a multisite WordPress network.
Before we dive into how you can install and set up a WordPress multisite network, let’s take a quick look at its advantages and disadvantages.
Advantages of a WordPress Multisite Network
As mentioned earlier, a multisite network uses a single WordPress installation base, thus making it easier for admin (or super-admin) users to manage access to multiple websites, or share a WordPress plugin or theme across all the websites. Here are some of the major advantages of using a WordPress multisite network:
- Install/ Update Plugins/Themes for multiple websites
If you are handling hundreds of WordPress websites, adding functionality through a plugin/theme for each website can be inconvenient and time-consuming. With a multisite network, you only need to download a plugin once and then share it across all your websites. Additionally, you can update a plugin to its latest version (for all your websites) from the centralized WordPress dashboard.
For example, if you want to provide online website security using a WordPress security plugin, you can download and install MalCare to be executed on every website included in the multisite network.
- Use common WordPress users across the multisite network
Among the main point of frustration for WordPress admins is the need to create users and assign them with the necessary rights for each WordPress website. The multisite network makes your task easier by allowing you to create a common set of users (from a single login profile) with the required permission/rights for each website that they need to access.
- Manage admin privileges
While users with “super-admin” privileges can control operations (like installing or updating plugins/themes for all websites in the network) from a “master” centralized dashboard, multisite networks also support users with “admin” privileges for managing individual websites.
- Manage WordPress upgrades (or updates) for all websites
Want to upgrade or update your WordPress website to the latest released version 5.2 across all websites? With a multisite network, this is easily done as you only need to do this once (as it is a single WordPress installation).
Disadvantages of a WordPress Multisite Network
Well, everything is not so hunky-dory about multisite networks! It does have its share of cons. Here are a few of the common ones:
- Sharing of the same server resources
With the multisite network, you share all your websites on the same web host or web server. This means you need to select the right web host provider that does not limit your website speed or performance. Additionally, if even one of your website crashes or is hacked, all the other websites could also be at high-risk.
- Plugin-related issues
You could face several plugin-related issues on a multisite network. For instance, all plugins are not built for or compatible with multisite networks. Additionally, you cannot install and configure a plugin for only a particular website in the network. Once the plugin is installed, it is available to all the websites in the network. Similarly, if you (as a super-admin) remove a plugin, it gets removed from all the websites.
- Does not support website migration
Migrating any particular website from a multisite network to a different web domain or host is very difficult as all websites share the same server resources and databases
Now that you know the pros and cons of a WordPress multisite network let’s go ahead with its installation and configuration steps.
How to Install & Configure a WordPress Multisite Network
Let’s start with a few prerequisites that must be fulfilled for you to set up a WordPress multisite network:
- Your web host platform is equipped to host a multisite network.
- You have the necessary knowledge and permissions to edit WordPress files.
- You have access to your WordPress website directory through an FTP client or cPanel.
How to Install a WordPress Multisite Network:
- Choose the right website domain structure.
- Enable the WordPress multisite feature.
- Set up or configure your multisite network.
- Add new websites to your network.
- Add new plugins/themes to your network.
- Customize your multisite network settings.
Let’s now look at each step in detail.
Step 1 – Choose the Right Website Domain Structure
You can choose to structure your website domain using either:
- Subdomains (example, http://mysite1.example.com or http://mysite2.example.com)
Where every website (“mysite1” and “mysite2”) included in your main website domain (www.example.com) would have a URL such as the above.
- Subdirectories (example, http://example.com/mysite1 or http://example.com/mysite2)
Where every website included in your multisite domain would have a URL such as the above. Remember that you can’t use this option if you already have an existing WordPress website as it may cause problems with the current URLs for individual pages.
If you choose the “subdomains” option, you need to complete the following steps to configure wildcard subdomains on your network:
- Log into your WordPress cPanel dashboard using your admin credentials.
- Navigate to the “Domains > Subdomains” page (example as shown below)
1. The cPanel tool automatically detects your main domain address. Click “Create” to create a subdomain.
Step 2 – Enable WordPress Multisite Network
What’s good to know is that all the recent WordPress versions support multisite networks. If you already have a WordPress installation, you can easily enable the multisite network feature. However, before you do that, remember to take a complete backup of your website data using a WordPress backup plugin.
Here’s how you can enable the WordPress multisite network in your existing WordPress installation:
- Open the wp-config.php file for editing through an FTP tool or cPanel.
- Add the following code above the comment stating, “/* That’s all, stop editing! Happy Blogging. */
- Save and upload the wp-config.php file.
Step 3 – Set up Your WordPress Multisite Network
The next step is to set up (or configure) your WordPress multisite network.
Before doing that, you need to deactivate all the installed plugins/themes on your existing WordPress installation. To do this, log in to your WordPress account and from the “Installed Plugins” page, deactivate all your plugins. Here’s a sample screen:
To configure your multisite network:
- From “Tools > Network Setup” page, choose either of the available options, “Sub-domains” or “Sub-directories” (as described in Step 1).
- Specify your network title and your admin email address.
- Click “Install” to continue to the next page.
- To create a network of multiple websites, you need to add some code to the wp-config.php and the .htaccess file of your WordPress installation. This code is shown in the screen (as below).
- Copy-paste this code in the respective WordPress files using an FTP client or through cPanel.
- Save both of these WordPress files.
- Login again to your WordPress account and you can now view the dashboard configured for multisite networks.
Step 4 – Add New Websites to Your Multisite Network
Here’s how you can add new websites to your WordPress multisite network:
- Log in to your WordPress dashboard and navigate to “My Sites > Network Admin > Sites.”
- Add a new website (sample screen shown below) with details such as site address, site title, language, and a valid admin email address.
- Click “Add Site” to add your site to the multisite network.
You can now view all your added websites in the “All Sites” page.
Step 5 – Add Plugins/Themes to Your Multisite Network
Next, you need to add the plugins/themes that are available for all the added websites in your multisite network.
To install a theme to your WordPress multisite network:
- Log in to your WordPress dashboard and navigate to “My Sites > Network Admin > Themes.”
- You can view the list of all the current themes available on your WordPress installation. You can choose to enable any theme for your multisite network by clicking the respective “Network Enable” option (as shown in the sample screen below).
- To install a new theme, click “Add New” to add the theme and then click on “Network Enable.”
As an alternative, you can choose to enable a theme for a particular website in your network. To do this, edit the selected website (from the “Sites” page) and enable the added theme for the website. This option is only available for themes and not for plugins.
Similarly, you can install and activate a plugin for all websites in your network from the “My Sites > Network Admin > Plugins” page.
Step 6 – Customize Your WordPress Multisite Settings
Finally, you can customize your multisite network settings (according to your preferences) from the “My Sites > Network Admin > Settings” page. These settings include:
- Operational settings, using which you can modify your network name or admin email address.
- Registration settings, using which you can choose to allow or disable new user registrations.
- New Site settings, using which you can modify the default content for newly added websites, including welcome email sent to new users and the user’s first post.
- Upload settings, using which you can configure file upload limits for each added website, including maximum file size and allowed file types.
Before opting for a multisite network for your business website, make sure that you need one in the first place! Just because WordPress versions support it does not mean that you should go for one. Evaluate every advantage and disadvantage listed in this article before making your final decision. Also, remember to take a complete backup of your existing WordPress website before switching your website to a multisite network.