How to Plan a WordPress Multisite Network Redesign

There is a lot to love about WordPress multisite. It allows you to host multiple websites on a single content management system (CMS) installation. And it provides a great way to share themes, plugins, and even content among a group of related sites.

For example, large organizations such as universities, governments and retail franchises often use multisite. There is a level of flexibility and convenience that makes it easy to spin up new sites and perform maintenance tasks. Furthermore, each site may have a completely different group of users.

Be that as it may, WordPress multisite also adds a layer of complexity. This is especially so when launching a redesign. The more and more the network changes, the more difficult the process becomes.

Putting it together requires attention to detail – and there is a full with few details to consider. Here are some tips to ensure your WordPress multisite redesign goes as smoothly as possible.

Decide What Will Change

On some levels, a multi-site network redesign is not the same as a single WordPress site. Some of the same potential pitfalls are involved.

It’s just that they are now multiplied across several websites. And there are a few ripple effects that are unique to this environment.

One of the first steps is to decide exactly what will change. This will help you develop a plan to tackle the project.

When it comes to themes, they are activated on a site-by-site basis. Therefore, any necessary tasks associated with a new one may need to be implemented repeatedly. Theme options panels and WordPress Customizer settings are two common examples.

But what about content changes? For older sites, you may be converting pages and posts to use the Block Editor. This will allow you to restructure content layout, but it can also add a few extra steps to the launch prep process.

Page builder plugins can make matters more complicated – especially if custom styles have been added. If there is no centralized style sheet shared by all sites, they may need to be changed individually.

And what if only share redesigning your network sites? Be sure to consider how this might affect any content or functionality that will be shared across the network.

Establish a Workplace

Choosing where to work on your multisite redesign is an important decision. That’s because it can have a big impact on how you launch the renewed network of sites.

Perhaps the easiest way is to duplicate your replication site to another location on your server. Even better if your web host provides a staging environment. The entire process may be automated.

From there, you can work on it in the background. This helps to avoid inconvenience to users on your production sites.

The other benefit of using a duplicate network is that, when you’re ready, you can repoint your domain(s) to the new installation. This reduces downtime and ensures that the design and material are perfect.

However, that is not always possible. If your network is content-heavy and constantly updated, it can be difficult to synchronize two WordPress installations.

In that case, it might be worth creating duplicate sites on your already there network. From there, a plugin like Broadcast can be used to share content across the old and new versions of each site. Content will remain current, even as you work on that shiny new look.

A stage environment will allow you to work behind the scenes.

View the WordPress Installation Database

This is where things start to get tricky. Depending on how you plan to launch the redesign, you may need to make changes to the installation database.

Pushing your WordPress multisite network from staging to production can take on all the heavy lifting. Some hosts will automatically search and change URLs for you. But other methods are not so simple.

For example, if you are moving your main network location to another location on the network, that means remapping your domain name. You will also need to edit your installation wp-config.php file. There are a number of database tables that you may need to access, including:

  • wp_blogs
  • wp_options
  • wp_site

Additionally, there may be site-specific tables where URLs need to be exchanged. You need to know the site ID to do this correctly, as it will be the name of the tables. Each site can be identified by listing it on its domain list My Sites > Network Administration > Sites.

The ID will be displayed at the end of the URL:

Whenever possible, a search and replace tool like the one included with WP-CLI or a separate plugin is recommended. That’s much easier than making changes manually through a database tool like phpMyAdmin or MySQL Workbench.

But be careful! Even a simple mistake – a misspelling, for example – could cause some serious problems. Be sure to create a backup of your database before asking for any changes.

A WordPress multisite database can have a complex structure.

Test Everything (Over and Over)

Redesign impacts can extend to your multi-site network – even to sites that are not part of the project. Therefore, testing is critical in catching issues before shipping.

To get started, click on each site in the network. Verify that all pages are displaying as expected. Ensure that any custom functionality is in working order.

It may also help to mimic your normal workflow. Perform tasks such as adding new posts, editing existing content, and uploading media files. In short: try to replicate everything you normally do across several sites.

In addition, there is always the possibility that any new themes or plugins may conflict with existing software. Make sure plugin settings screens are accessible and will allow you to make changes. Open your browser’s developer tools and watch for any console errors.

Be as thorough as possible to avoid any surprises at delivery.

A thorough test before shipping can help you find problems.

Redesigning is Complicated, but Planning Helps

The thought of redesigning a multi-site WordPress network can be intimidating. In fact, no one could blame a web designer for being a little nervous. After all, there are many details that can be fixed.

Fortunately, planning serves two purposes. First, it helps us determine the best way forward. Second, the knowledge we gain from experience can help calm those nerves.

That’s not to say you won’t find a few bugs after launch. Honestly, it’s part of the job. So, you might be better off anticipating some minor issues. But thorough testing can eliminate the most affecting problems.

Even better is that it is a learning opportunity. Once you’ve successfully launched a network redesign, subsequent projects will be easier.

We hope this guide helps you streamline the process and achieve your project goals!

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