Building a large website network with WordPress Multisite
A large Association Management firm called us with a challenge. They needed 100 or more new community association websites, and they needed them fast.
You see, Florida had passed legislation that legally mandated that each Community Development District (CDD) in the state had a functional website by October 2015. The order required a host of mandataries including specified legal content, a calendar, and convenient access to several years each CDDs meeting minutes and other documents.
That’s quite a list for just one site. Now imagine creating dozens of websites each with some shared content, but also unique content that needed to be updated on a site by site basis. And while there was a certain amount of uniformity in the content and structure, each CDD needed the ability to customize with their logo, photos and color scheme.
What they needed was a site that could be easily duplicated and then customized for each community. Then once created, they needed hosting and ongoing maintenance of this large website network.
This was a job for WordPress Multisite.
What is a WordPress Multisite network?
Multisite is not a separate product from WordPress, but a built-in feature. This little-known feature allows developers to create not just a single site, but hundreds of sites all from one WordPress website installation.
Available since version 3.0 of WordPress (June 2010), multisite allows for several features you won’t find in many other platforms:
- Run multiple websites all from a single WordPress installation (and a shared database).
- Create various subdomains, directories or unique domains for each site (like site1.yourdomain.com, yourdomain.com/site1/ or just plain site1.com).
- Allow individuals to create their account, or easily clone sites and build sites on their behalf.
- Super Admin access to all sites, with the ability to update plugins, themes, or make other global changes all with a few clicks.
- Standard Admin access for each site — allowing custom permissions so users can access one site or many sites as determined by the Super Admin.
So can Multisite handle your large website network needs? With Multisite, you can run as many sites as you want. And did we mention AS MANY as you want?
WordPress.com, WordPress’ free hosted web solution runs entirely on Multisite. In 2014, that was 37 million websites. So yes, to answer your question — Multisite can handle as many sites as you need on your network.
Uses of WordPress Multisite
There are many ways people make use of the features of Multisite.
- Multiple Blog Sites: Media companies like BBC America that have multiple blogs they want to manage all within one site. Multisite allows you to have all the advantages of separate blogs while providing the convenience of one installation.
- Web Hosting Networks: Along with WordPress.com, Edublog is a server that allows people to create their own Education websites (Over 3.3 million when we last checked).
- Association Member & Affiliate Networks: Franchisors or Associations needing to build and manage many sites depend on Multisite. Or like our CDD client that needed to provide sites for all their members.
What once may have cost tens of thousands of dollars of custom programming, now is available through this versatile and free open source web platform.
When not to use WordPress Multisite
Is Multisite perfect for every situation? Not all the time.
While managing an individual site in Multisite is no more technical than a single installation, it does take additional expertise to initially setup and host a Multisite. Setting up and mapping 300 web domains is not for the faint of heart. Plus, managing hundreds of sites all on a single installation requires more hosting resources and a sound backup and strategy to ensure the health of your network.
For smaller networks (under 20 sites for example), there are many useful plugins or services out there that will help you simplify your plugin updates and management without the need for a multisite installation.
Have any questions? Feel free to contact us discuss if WordPress Multisite is the best option for your next project.