WordPress Multisite: What it is and Why Should You Care

WordPress MultisiteOriginally dubbed WordPress MU, WordPress multisite is simply a way of networking a collection of websites under the same WordPress installation. The individual websites in the network are like children websites of the main installation. All share the same hosting account, WordPress themes, and plugin options.  They can have unique URLs or have different subdomain addresses based on the main URL.

Why does any of this matter and why should you care?  WordPress multisite can rock the web when used properly and in the right situation.

Why Use WordPress Multisite?

  • You can easily set up and manage multiple websites within one single hosting account and WordPress installation.
  • Based on access levels, users can manage only one website or every website using the same account.
  • If needed, access to one website can be completely separate and segregated from others.
  • If desired, WordPress themes and plugins can be shared across multiple websites.
  • Updates and upgrades can be rolled out across multiple websites in less time, which significantly reduces overhead and maintenance costs.
  • Customizations are made once and not per installation.

Why You Should be Cautious About Using Multisite?

  • Multisite is not as easy as the standard one-click installation process on a shared hosting accounts.  As much as I love the one-click installation option, you need someone with experience to set up a multisite installation and teach you how to deploy the children websites. Our resident WordPress guru Chris not only helped me see the benefits of multisite, he also taught me about the set up.  I would have struggled figuring it out on my own.
  • You need more robust hosting than the general shared hosting can manage.  While you don’t need a dedicated server, you do need more than a regular shared hosting account.
  • Loading themes and plugins is easy, but not nearly as easy as in a regular WordPress installation.  You load plugins at the root directory and then activate them at the child website level.
  • Not all plugins will work with multisite WordPress installations.  Some of my favorite plugins just don’t work in this environment and I’ve been forced to find alternates.
  • You need to be careful who you give super admin status to and allow to make updates across websites.  On more then one occasion I have found myself modifying the wrong website, because they are all housed on the same server and dashboard.

Would I Recommend Multisite to Clients?

Absolutely.  In the right situation, multisite is a dream come true.  It works great, it is efficient, and it saves money.   That being said, it isn’t right for every client or every WordPress installation.  It is a niche usage that is perfect in the right situation.

What Are Some Real World Applications of Multisite?

Very well know companies are already using multisite and have been for quite a while.  Examples include Adobe, The Wall Street Journal, BGSU, and Best Buy.  With the exception of Best Buy, many of those are blogs.  But they don’t have to be simple blogs, as multisite is more than capable of supporting full blown websites.

A recent example of one of our multisite website design clients is a franchise.  We started with one website for the main parent company and as new locations were created, we used multisite to deploy websites for each location.  We were able to quickly update the header, content, images, and SEO for each new website.  Instead of paying thousands per location website, our savvy client was able to do it for a fraction of the cost.  Each location owner has access to their unique website, while the overall maintenance and updates are easily managed by the parent company – aka our client.

Another design client we have had us create two unique WordPress themes and set them up in a multisite environment for her.  She and her company are going to create websites and host them for their clients.  No this company isn’t a website design firm, but once our client realized how easy this would be, they quickly warmed up to the idea.  This client originally came to me to redesign their own website, but when our conversation took the multisite route; she quickly changed gears and decided to jump on multisite for her clientele.

If you’re considering a redesign and you want to consider multisite as an option for your project, give us a call.  We’ll be happy to discuss the project with you and see if multisite is a good solution.


  1. says

    Rebecca, this is a great write up and high level overview of the benefits (and caveats) of utilizing the Multisite features of WordPress. Very nice.

    Multisite can also be used by freelance developers and designers to build out client sites, and show them the “work in progress”. Then, when finished a tool like Backupbuddy can be used to migrate a single site over to it’s own domain and hosting. I could go on and on, but I’ll keep this short. 😉

    If your readers are just getting started with Multisite, they might be interested in our Multisite Manual + Video Tutorials. It’s a foundational guide on installing and activating the Multisite features of WordPress.

    • says

      Thanks for the comment and for adding some extra love to the post. I love multisite, but it can be a little bit overwhelming to the newbie WordPress user. Your tutorials and videos can certainly help alleviate some of that confusion.

  2. arroway says

    I’ve been using WP multisite for a couple of years for site development/testing.- easy to ramp up a mockup site for design before going live.

    However, I’ve recently been approached to do exactly what you described – the client is national company with 70 locations – they want each location to have their own “site” and be able to manage them accordingly. However, they want each location to have their own unique domain name – for example “dallasbluewidgets.com” and “shreveportbluewidgets.com” and “chicagobluewidgets.com”……I know that this can be done – my question is SHOULD it be done? Will it hurt SEO? The idea would be that each site will have unique location type content, promotions, etc., but will share the same design/template. However, there WILL be some content (say, product descriptions) that would be duplicated across the sites. That’s bad, isn’t it?

    Trying to wrap my head on best practice here. Was thinking of multi-site with unique domain names for each, but putting all the “shared” type content on the “master” site – and just having the sub sites link up to the main when shared content needs to be displayed (maybe even iframe that content). Would that be good SEO practice?

    • says

      I don’t see SEO issues with sharing the server or templates, however, sharing all the same content will be an issue. The key is to make each website unique and provide value to the user, otherwise the search engines will see them as duplicate and degrade the ranking of the secondary websites.

      I would also discourage cross linking between the sites for what many refer to as “juice”. Since all the sites share the same server, it won’t provide value.

  3. says

    I would also add that instead of Multisite, you could also consider separate individual WP installs and then use a service like http://managewp.com to manage them all from one unified Dashboard.

    …and I am a proponent of Multisite for many uses, but there are valid reasons to consider single installs.

    • says

      If you have a multisite environment, SEO should be done on all sites if you want them to score in search. Or, at least, that is my opinion.

  4. says


    Thanks so much for this valuable info!

    I was doing some research as I am thinking about setting up smaller client sites on a multisite and was researching if I could use different frameworks like iThemes Builder or StudioPress Genesis on one multisite.

    I appreciate your “Real World Applications.”