Tips for running a WordPress multisite network

The concept behind WordPress Multisite is simple: it gives you the ability to run multiple websites, all from a single installation of the popular content management system (CMS). Whether your “network” is made up of two sites or two thousand, everything is managed in a centralized location.

It is a powerful tool for large and multifaceted organizations and for those looking to build communities online. Everyone from universities and governments to niche bloggers can benefit from it.

Basically, a multisite network is still WordPress. Each site features the same familiar styles and settings you are used to. A network settings area adds a way to create new sites and change specific settings that have a wider impact.

But running a stable and secure multisite WordPress network is a completely different animal. There are many unique considerations that depend on your specific needs. Things like user permissions and plugin and theme choices need to be thought out in advance. Additionally, it’s important to determine if Multisite is also the right choice for your project.

Today we’re going to share some tips to ensure your multisite network is the best it can be.

Is WordPress Multisite the best solution?

The thought of being able to run multiple websites with a single WordPress installation can get your creative juices flowing. It could lead you to conjure up all kinds of potential use cases. However, there are some situations where using Multisite is not the best option.

Freelancers, for example, might think about hosting all of their clients on a single network. Imagine being able to switch between sites and perform updates with ease. Sounds pretty tempting, right?

This is not a recommended use for WordPress Multisite. How come? If something goes wrong, it has the potential to negatively impact every single site on the network. Since all sites share a database, a crash or bad case of malware could be particularly disastrous. Not to mention the possibility of server downtime.

WordPress Multisite generally makes sense when the site network has something in common. Think of a retailer with multiple locations or a sports league where each team needs their own website.

There should be solid logic for that because these sites are combined into one installation. Failing this, it may be best to avoid using Multisite altogether.

Be judicious with themes and plugins

The common thread between websites goes beyond the organization. While each site may run its own unique theme and choose from an installed plugin pool, there may be some concern about what can or should be allowed.

Ideally, each website will have similar requirements in terms of appearance and functionality. This simplifies the installation of only those items that will be used throughout the network.

Of course, there may be times when a particular network site needs a theme or plugin that won’t be used by others. A great example is an online store that requires a shopping cart.

That’s okay, as the network’s Super Admin can limit the availability of those items to only the site that needs them. This reduces the chance of a theme or plugin being misused or taking up valuable server resources.

However, that doesn’t mean you should go crazy with plugins. However, it is important to choose carefully. Installing a plug-in with security holes or a lot of bugs can cause problems for the whole network.

By the way, WordPress Multisite includes the ability to activate plugins over the network. Any plug-in with this designation will automatically run on every website within the network. Therefore, we recommend that you reserve it for the items you know you need on each site.

As with any website, themes and plugins can affect the security and performance of your network. Determining what gets installed and who has access to it should be at the top of your to-do list.

WordPress Multisite Plugin screen

Provide back-end users with access to what they need

Just like a traditional WordPress website, multisite networks support various user roles and features. Likewise, you can also create custom roles if needed. This allows super administrators to control each site and the network as a whole.

But for large organizations with many sites, managing users can be tricky. This is especially true when a user needs to log into multiple websites.

By default, all registered users are assigned to the lowest user level (subscriber). This will not allow any meaningful access to the backend.

Therefore, it may be tempting to assign them to the Super Admin role for the sake of convenience. Which allows a user to log in Everything. However, that’s not the strongest policy in terms of security.

The safest option is to assign users only to the sites they will need to access. This can be done by first creating the user account via the Network Administrator Users screen. From there, visit My Sites> Network Administrator> Sites and assign each user to the appropriate sites via the Edit site link.

If a user only needs to log into a single site, it’s easier to visit the site dashboard and log into Users> Add new.

As always, carefully consider what user role each person should have. Think about the permissions they will need to do their job and assign them to the appropriate level.

Changing users for a site on the network

Make sure your server can handle the load

Multisite networks, especially large ones, can consume a lot of server resources. They can push storage capacity, memory, bandwidth and processing power to the limit.

That’s why web hosting is one of the most important components of a healthy WordPress multisite network. Without the right configuration, your sites can suffer tremendous success in terms of performance and reliability.

Choosing a web hosting package can be difficult. Even if your initial choice appears to have sufficient resources, future growth must also be considered. You don’t want to find that you’ve gotten past your hosting a few months down the road.

Cost is also an important factor, but you tend to get what you pay for. Sure, some managed WordPress hosts charge a premium for multi-site installations. However, you may have access to a larger resource pool.

Traditional shared hosting typically allows for multi-site WordPress installations. It might work quite well in some cases. But don’t expect great performance for large, heavily trafficked networks.

The bottom line is to know what you are running into before signing up for hosting. Make sure you have the power you need both now and in the future.

Computer hardware

One WordPress installation, many websites

There are many similarities between administering a standard WordPress website and a multisite network. But this special setup presents a number of challenges.

First, the web hosting requirements are generally higher. More sites mean a larger database and greater pressure on server resources.

Also, it can be difficult to keep track of plugins, themes, and users. Maintaining top performance and first-rate safety requires constant vigilance. Administrators need to be careful to reduce overhead and ensure that users only have the permissions they need.

That said, the potential for a multisite network is fantastic. The increased convenience and interoperability allow both developers and organizations to achieve incredible results.

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