WordPress Multisite Guide for Beginners: Unlock the Power of Networks

Even the average user can see that WordPress is a powerful and flexible platform. But there’s more to WordPress than meets the eye.

Just below the surface, and somewhat hidden away, there is an even more powerful mode that WordPress possesses – a mode called Multisite.

Enabling this mode allows you to turn a single WordPress installation into a network of sites. Thousands of sites, if you like. Hundreds of thousands. Even millions.

While that may sound like an exaggeration, it’s not. As an example, you can simply look at WordPress.com or Edublogs.org. They both contain in the millions of sites. And they both run on Multisite.

An Introduction to Multisite

While not for the average user and not something everyone will need, Multisite may be just what you’re looking for if you have a situation that requires a more robust approach than a single WordPress install allows for.

Our hope here is to give you an overview of what Multisite is and to help you decide if it might be right for you.

We’ll cover the following:

  • Why Run a Multisite Network
  • Is Multisite for You?
  • Examples of Multisites in the Wild
  • When Not to Use Multisite
  • Advantages and Disadvantages
  • WPMU DEV Multisite Plugins
  • Differences from Regular WordPress
  • BuddyPress
  • Resources
  • How to Activate Multisite

What Exactly Is Multisite?

Different sites in the network.

Multisite is a feature (or a mode) within WordPress that allows you to run a number of different sites from one WordPress installation.

All the sites in the “network,” as it’s known, will share all the same plugins and all the same themes.

(Note – with special plugins like Pro Sites from WPMU DEV, you can control access to plugins and themes – for example, allowing User A access to all plugins and themes but allowing User B access to only a few of the installed plugins and themes. You can also do this in a more limited way with the out of the box version of Multisite.)

All the sites also share one database; however, they do have separate tables within the database, and they also each have their own directories for media uploads.

Why Run a Multisite Network

There are different reasons why you may choose to run Multisite. Below are a few of the most common.

1. Host Sites Open to the Public

Open to the education-based public.

One of the most common reasons for running a Multisite Network is to allow users to sign up for their own blogs/sites, as sites such as wordpress.com and edublogs.org do.

Multisite can be set up to allow users to create a new site automatically with no extra work needed from the administrator.  Typically new blogs will reside at a URL that looks like one of the following:

  • site1.mysite.com
  • mysite.com/site1/

The difference here is the difference between setting up sites as subdomains or subdirectories. (More on this later.)

Using Multisite in this way could work in many niches — for example, giving users their own sites so they can blog about  gardening, surfing, dieting, traveling, music, education, etc., etc. The list really is nearly limitless.

2. Host an In-House Network of Sites

Another common reason for using Multisite is when one person or one organization would like to run a number of different sites from one installation, thereby making it easier to update plugins, themes, and WordPress itself. When all your sites are on one installation, it also makes it easier to access the Admin areas of different sites from one main control panel.

Here are a few examples of when this type of Multisite network might be ideal:

  • Different schools in a school district
  • Different departments in a company/university/newspaper/etc.
  • Different teams in a league
  • Different stores/branches in a chain
  • Different cities in a state/country … Different countries in the world
  • Different events in a location (e.g. festivals, concerts, etc.)
  • Different shows on a radio station

Is Multisite for You?

With all those “differents” above, however, you should ask yourself an important question: Do I really want these sections/sites to be different?

In other words, can I just use “categories” on a regular WordPress install and achieve the same thing?

If you can say YES to any of the following below, then you Multisite may be the way for you to go:

  • Do I need a different themes on the same site?
  • Do I need different plugins/functionality for different sections?
  • Do I need to give access to different administrators/editors for the different sections?
  • Do I need different top level addresses (e.g. mapping colors.com/red/ so that resolves to red.com)?

Examples of Multisites in the Wild

Below are a few Multisite we’ve found out in the wild. You can browse some more for yourself at the WordPress.org Multisite Showcase section.

WordPress.com – Open to the public. It is the largest Multisite-based site on the web.


Edublogs.org– Open to the public, but limited to educational purposes. This site, run by the same company that runs wpmu.org and wpmudev.org, is the second largest Multisite example on the web.


Harvard Law School Blogs –  Open only to students associated with Harvard.


Reuters Blogs – Contains a different site for each writer. While it looks like each writer simply has a different “section” from the frontend, in the backend they would actually have their own blogs. In this way, one writer cannot access another writer’s Admin area.


Tradr — A site that provides commercial platforms with integrated marketing tools.


BBC America – Presumably, each show is a different sub-site. While this can be done with categories, it probably makes more internal sense for the BBC to silo off each show into its own backend. This way those with permissions on one site don’t necessarily have permission on another site.


Teatra – A “social marketplace“ for people to buy and sell tea.


Yacht Blogs – Open to the public. For all those interested in yachts.


Mission’s Place – Run by our own Aaron Edwards, this site is open to missionaries.


When Not to Use Multisite

If you don’t need to use Multisite, then it’s probably better not to activate it. While it might not make much of a difference one way or another, there is a chance that you might run into some issues that you don’t really need to deal with.

Don’t use Multisite if  …

  • categories will do
  • you need different user databases (for special security reasons, for example)
  • users need to install their own themes or plugins

Some argue that you shouldn’t use multisite if you’re running small client sites. When asked why, most will end up saying that it’s just “cleaner.” And by that they mean that because you have totally separate databases with single installations, it’s easier to transfer the site somewhere else if needed.

Importing/Exporting Sites

That said, you CAN “peel off” a site from a Multisite network by using the Import/Export functions native to WordPress. If you would like to take a site from your Multisite network and turn it into a single installation, then do the following:

  1. Set up a new install as you normally would
  2. Export the networked site’s content with the Export function
  3. Import the site’s content to the new single installation

You can find a detailed explanation of importing/exporting with Multisite here.

WordPress also has a page on migrating several Multisite blogs.

(On a somewhat related note — you can import/export single categories in WordPress.)

Advantages and Disadvantages

OK, so we’ve somewhat hit on the advantages and disadvantages of using Multisite in different ways already, but let’s go ahead and list some out here in a more direct way and maybe touch on a few we haven’t gotten to yet.

Advantages

  • Automatic site/blog creation for any user
  • Automatic blog creation for a limited set of users – e.g. restrict by email or with a special code (need a plugin for the special code – see below)
  • Unlimited site-creation for one user
  • Limited site-creation for one user (with a plugin – see below)
  • Limit the amount of uploads (or make it unlimited)
  • Different themes on different parts of your site
  • Changes to a theme will apply to that theme on all the sites that use it
  • Users still have the ability to place things such as widgets, menus, headers, and backgrounds onto their sites, regardless of their theme (to restrict this, see plugins below)
  • Users can create and manage multiple sites (or restrict them to one with a plugin – see below)
  • Sites can be completely separate from each other, or they can be integrated in a number of ways
  • Activate themes on a site-by-site basis

Disadvantages

  • While not “difficult,” it does require the admin to learn how to manage the network, which is a little more involved than a regular WordPress install
  • You need access to your server – must be able to edit core WordPress files
  • Some themes don’t always work so well with Multisite (most do, but I’ve run into some that don’t)
  • Some plugins might not always work so well (again, as above, most do)
  • If you have problems with the core installation, or the main site gets hacked, then all sites in your network may be affected
  • While it’s possible to tie sites together, it is a little more difficult to display content from various sites onto the main homepage, for example. But it’s not impossible. WPMU DEV plugins will help you do that.

WPMU DEV Multisite Plugins

As with regular WordPress, a lot of the limitations you find with an out-of-box install can be overcome with plugins.

As most everyone who’s bothered to look into it knows, WPMU DEV is THE site on the web for Multisite plugins. There are literally too many to go over here. But will give you a quick rundown of a few things you can do with DEV Multisite plugins.

Pro Sites — Offer upgrades and charge users, like WordPress.com or Edublogs.org, offering your users premium themes, premium plugins, extra storage, advertising, domain mapping and more.

Anti-Splog – Stop spam blogs (splogs) from registering on your network and taking the whole thing down the toilet.

New Blog Templates – Create a template blog (or many!) and then duplicate every single setting (content, theme, categories etc.) for every new blog.

Domain Mapping – Let users use their own domain names for their sites. For example, turn site1.mysite.com into simply site1.com.

Multisite Analytics – Offer users individual stats for their sites through Google Analytics. At the same time, get site-wide stats for yourself.

Site Categories – Create site categories for your whole network.

Ad Sharing  - Split ad revenue with your users.

Recent Global Posts Feed – Get a feed of all the recent posts across your entire network.

Blog Activity — Collect info on how many blogs across your network have been updated.

And many, many more. See the full list here.

Differences from Regular WordPress

Super Admin

One of the main differences you’ll come across is the role of Super Admin. As the Super Admin, you control the whole network. That means you decide things such as which plugins are available, which themes are available, whether just anyone from the web can sign up and get a site, or whether you’re going to restrict your network.

As the Super Admin, you have access to the whole network.

The Super Admin will have access to a backend for the entire network, a backend for the main blog on the site, as well as the backend of any other blog created for the site.

Navigating between these different backends may get a little confusing at times, and it may be a little difficult to figure out where you need to go in order to control something that you want to control, but other than some slight frustration, this is not really such a problem for someone determined to run Multisite.

(Check out how to create multiple levels of Super Admins here.)

Set Up Choices

Of course you will also have different choices to make when you set your site up. For example, will you allow public registration? If so, you’ll likely need to look into plugins like Anti-Splog, which will help you control spam blogs (splogs).

You will need to think deeply about what you want to give your users access to. Some things may be easy to cut off. Others will require finding the right plugin.

Finding the right plugins, whether they’re security plugins or plugins that help you display content more flexibly, will allow you to truly make your Multisite install work the way you envision.

Managing Plugins and Themes

As mentioned, you will have need to control which plugins and themes are available to your users. Maybe you would like everyone to use the same theme. Maybe you’d like to give users a choice. It’s up to you.

You can also manage theme choice on a site-by-site basis, giving certain sites more choices, or picking and choosing one theme for one site and another theme for another site.

As a Super Admin, you can go into sites on a case-by-case basis as above and set the themes for that site.

While none of the above is particularly difficult once you get the hang of it, it should be noted that being a Super Admin for a Multisite install is different from being an Admin for a regular WordPress install. And there is a learning curve. If you struggle with a single WordPress install, then you may want to become more comfortable with the basics before moving onto Multisite.

BuddyPress

BuddyPress is essentially a giant plugin that lets you create a fully-formed social network for users of your site.

While you don’t need to run Multisite to use BuddyPress, and you don’t need to run BuddyPress if you’re running Multisites, many sites using Multisite do use BuddyPress.

Of course it all depends on what you want your Multisite to do for you. If you’re looking to tie all the different users in your network together, then BuddyPress is a good option for you.

For some Multisite installations, however, tying everyone together is the exact opposite of what you want.

All that said, BuddyPress is really a whole ‘nother ball of wax. But we thought we’d at least mention it here as something worth considering if you’re thinking about starting a Multisite Network. (See our BuddyPress section.)

Resources

Below are a few resources that you will absolutely want to consult if you plan on running a Multisite Network.

How to Activate Multisite

And finally, we’ll get into actually activating Multisite.

Although Multisite is a feature of all WordPress installations, you will still need to activate it before it is visible. As mentioned in the very beginning, it is hidden away from the casual user.

Before moving onto any instructions, you should know that you are most likely going to need to choose between setting up new sites as subfolders or subdomains. And so let’s go over that quickly.

Subfolders and Subdomains

Little works as well as an example, so let’s start with a few examples.

You’ll need to think about how you want your network set up.

Subfolders look like this:

  • mysite.com/site1
  • mysite.com/site2

Subdomains look like this:

  • site1.mysite.com
  • site2.mysite.com

Depending on exactly how you’re setting things up, some of you may not have a choice. For example, if you try to activate Multisite on a site that is ALREADY in a subfolder, you will only have the choice of setting up more subfolders.

For example, let’s say your site titled “mysite” is located here:

  • example.com/mysite/

You’re new sites will then be added on as additional subfolders:

  • example.com/mysite/site1/
  • example.com/mysite/site2/

Some people may run into problems with their server when trying to set up sites as subdomains (e.g. site1.mysite.com). If you have an upgraded hosting account (such as a virtual private server account, for example), you may be able to call your webhost and get them to help you out with it. If not, you’ll just have to go with subfolders.

Which is Better?

This is a personal preference. If you’re trying to set up a public blogging site like wordpress.com, for example, some believe that it’s more attractive to users to have the name of their site first – e.g. site1.mysite.com.

At least in the old days of SEO (I’m not sure anymore), it was said that having subfolders (e.g. mysite.com/site1/) was slightly more attractive to the search engines.

Once you choose, there’s really no turning back, however. So just pick one and don’t worry about it anymore.

Domain Mapping

With a domain mapping plugin, you can make it seem as if your Site1 site or your Site2 site is just a single install of WordPress.

For example, mysite.com/site1/ or site1.mysite.com can be made to resolve to the domain site1.com.  No one will ever know the difference.

Even users in the admin area will not know they are on a multisite network if you don’t want them to. Their admin dashboard will appear at site1.com/wp-admin/ just like any regular WordPress site.

Turning on Multisite

Activating Multisite is not difficult, but it requires more than simply clicking a button or two. You should know that you will need access to the core WordPress files on your server.

You can find instructions on creating a Multisite network at wordpress.org.

We have also made you a video of the process.

Photo: Hand Cursor – Thumb Up and world map from BigStock. Photo credit: key.

Comments (60)

  1. Hi Joe, great article! Do you think it could be advisable to build and run a multisite installation for the following kind of application:
    1. main website (a magazine)
    2. foreign language version (instead of using a multilang plugin such as qtranslate)
    3. staff website: private/only for the editorial staff guys, to collect and manage contents

    • Paolo – I’m not familiar with how qtranslate works, and so I can’t really say anything about using it or not using it. But it seems that Multisite could work for your purposes, especially if you have a number of people logging into all three. They could have one login and have easier access to where they need to go.

      And of course Multisite makes it a little easier to update all three sites (themes, plugins, and wp core).

  2. Hi Joe,

    thanks for the useful write-up, spelling out the pros and cons in details was very helpful.

    But (!), you glossed over the bit I was most interested in, namely buddypress.

    Buddypress works fine on either a single site or multi-site, so is there anything specific to say about whether when starting out to make a buddypress-enabled community site it would be advantageous to do so with one rather than the other?

    Or should you simply discount buddypress when making the decision because it has no particular bearing either way?

    Thanks…

    • Thanks, terraling.

      As you say, BuddyPress works on either a single install or Multisite, and so you really need to look at your needs apart from BuddyPress.

      You’ll need to think about what your community needs in terms of blogs/sites. If you start everyone out on a single installation, and then you want to go to a Multisite install (where each person has the their own blog possibly), then that’s going to be messy. In fact, people would maybe need to sign up again (unless you wanted to do everything manually).

  3. Great post.. and this one solves some doubts of mine also :)

    Our City Portal Website also uses wordpress multisite feature. :) We got many section in our website and wp’s multisite feature makes it damn easy.. Love you wordpress <3.

  4. Joe Foley is my new hero!

    Finally, someone with the time and the knowledge spells it out for the majority of us to understand (unlike that Otto guy) Multisite setup (unlike that Otto guy) .

  5. Great article and it’s certainly given me further insight to WP Multisite however I’m still a bit unsure if this is what I need for a current project that I’m working on for a client, so I’d really appreciate any advice.

    Basically the client serves 5 different industries and they wanted a ‘sub-site’ on 5 different ‘seo-friendly’ domains. As an example:

    toms-shoes.com
    toms-socks.com
    toms-jumpers.com
    toms-pants.com
    toms-hats.com

    There’s then the ‘main’ site at:

    tom.com
    (This site contains things like About us, Contact us, etc).

    The sub-sites can be seen as ‘categories, I suppose.

    All sites will use the same theme that we’ve created, but with one difference – the main site will use black as the primary colour and the sub-sites will each have a different primary colour – blue, red, etc.

    What we’re having to do is create 6 separate installs, which means 6 sets of logins.. and 6 sets of plugins to update on an ongoing basis.

    Could WP Multisite be used instead of 6 installs, so that we have only a single WP install, sharing the same database/ plugins? (Baring in mind that they’re each on separate domains)?

    Many thanks!
    Tom

    • Tom,

      Yes, you could use Multisite for that. You just need to use domain mapping to make the different sites have different domains. Each site could also use a different child theme for the different colors.

      But you can also use a service/plugin that allows you to update multiple installs from one interface — something like managewp.

      It really depends on how many people are accessing the different sites. If you have a number of people who need to access different sites, it might be easier to go with Multisite. Also, even though you could manage multiple updates with a plugin/service, it seems to me that it’s putting an extra step in the process. While it may be perfectly fine, in your case, where each site is owned by the same company, that extra step might not really be necessary, IMO.

  6. Great Article Joe

    I installed multisite less than 2 weeks ago and whilst there have been some weird things pop up I reckon we are now only a week or so from going live. I have been very impressed with the speed at which I have been able to do this having been in the web CMS game since 1995. I predict a LOT more commercial sites now offering this kind of thing with specialist functionality as it is now very affordable.

    Andrew

  7. Joe, I’m trying to create separate sites for sales people that is essentially a clone of our wp site. I gave my designer your info to see if it will work. Does multi-site work to create a subdomain of the site with some individual customized properties for each sales person? I have a MLM site for the main site and products and need the sales person to have the same products. Will this work for us do you think?

    Thanks, Patricia

    • Patricia – Multisite will create either a subdomain (site2.example.com) or a subfolder (example.com/site2), depending on how you set it up.

      Once you have a new site, out of the box it will simply be a new WP installation. What themes and plugins the site has access to is up to you.

      If you want essentially a clone of the site, you could look into copying/cloning tools that would allow you to clone your site and import the clone to the new site.

      Another good option may be a WPMU DEV plugin called New Blog Templates: http://premium.wpmudev.org/project/new-blog-template/

      This plugin will let you mark a site to be copied as a template, and then you can assign that template to any new site on your Multisite install. You should keep in mind, however, that if you change the original site, then any NEW sites that take that template will also change but NOT the sites that were already assigned that template.

      If you went with this solution, I would recommend making a SEPARATE site to act as a template (not your main site).

      I’m sure there are also other solutions out there that would allow you to automatically update products, etc., but I’m not sure exactly what you’d need.

      Good luck with ti.

  8. Hello Sarah

    I’m searching for a plugin to unify blogs login pages and users management.

    I have one main site with 2 sub-sites.
    The access to each site is private and only registered users should view them – registered users can view both sites.

    I would like to use the main site to manage users and for displaying a unique login page (then give the choice to go to sub-site1 or sub-site2).

    Each sub-sites login pages should redirect to the main one.

    Is there any plugin you would recommend?

    Thank you

  9. Joe,

    Great article! It was very informative and answered most of my questions. However, I do have a concern you may be able to help resolve, or perhaps you could provide guidance on how to proceed.

    I’m currently using WordPress to establish a couple of different business websites (same parent company, different services being offered) on a single web hosting account. Both sites will have different domain names too. My original thought was to set the sites up as separate installations of WP and use domain/directory pointers included in the host package to navigate users to the desired site. After attempting this, I encountered some unexpected results where both websites were being directed to the same WP installation/site.

    In researching how to resolve this issue, I discovered your article about creating a multisite network and found this to be a better fit. My concern? One of the sites will be used as an informational/contact us site for website design and development inquiries, the other will be used as a site for online jewelry purchases. Will setting up a multisite network on one WP installation cause potential security concerns for the site being used for purchases? If the two sites share one database (different tables of course), will the purchase transactions be secure? I’m not even sure this kind of set up is possible.

    Maybe I am thinking too much into this, but I want to be sure I am making the best decision and all transactional data is secure. Please let me know your thoughts.

    Thanks

    • Aaron – When you set up your Multisite, as you say, you’re only setting up one database. And so as long as you take precautions to protect it, it should be secure. There are a number of people who use Multisite and MarketPress, our ecommerce plugin, for example. They allow people to set up stores on all the sites created in the network.

      I’m not sure of the exact set up you’re hoping to build, but if you have questions about the details, you might ask our support staff in the Support Community (http://premium.wpmudev.org/forums/). They will be able to help you more than I could.

  10. Joe,

    As a small business owner starting her websites, I find this information key. Whether making the site ourselves or shopping for help, knowing the power and functionality of what is possible in plain language is helping me speak to the technical people I am working with.

    Your examples sent me into creative heaven. The leveraged power of technology is moving so fast, yet you make the explanation plain and the concepts relatable.

    Please keep making videos! We are using yours.

    Grateful thank you!

  11. Hi Joe, I have read and heard MANY opinions, and work-through’s about a Multi-site Install of WP, but NONE seem to answer my question(s) correctly, or IN Detail….There have been no videos that show an Etsy Style Set up In Detail…Step by Step…I am trying to open a etsy style site that will feature….users signing up to have their own store, have their products/store featured on THE HOME PAGE like Etsy, and administer from the FRONTEND…..NEVER seeing or knowing that it’s a WP site or on that platform. I also wonder which is the best way to set this up: 1. Mysite.com/TheirStore….2. theirstore.Mysite.com (Redirected with the Domain Mapper Plug In to their own Domain Name within Mysite.com) the question is this….How do they get their OWN Domain from within Mysite.com? I would love for them to sign up at Mysite.com for their store and if they want…their own domain name. Others signing up would have just the name of their store instead of a domain name to the store. HOW Can I Do This? And what Plug ins do I need to make all of this happen? I will be using Chained-Payments thru Paypal taking a 3-5% of all sales in EACH Store. ALso, Should I use Sub Folders, Sud Directories, or Sub Domains to set this up, and HOW Do I Do It? Is there any Videos instructing HOW TO? Thanks…Blessings.

    • Hi Don,

      You might be better off asking about this in the WPMU DEV community forums (http://premium.wpmudev.org/forums/). While our support staff are there to help with any issues that arise with our plugins and not lay out step-by-step plans for a specific style of site, there are members in the community who have set up their own multisite/e-commerce sites, and you may find some guidance from them.

  12. Hi Joe, does the multisite platform are RESPONSIVE DESIGN?,I have a client and they are an University, but the need to be mobile ready all their website and subdirectories too,

    Thanks

  13. Joe –
    Going back to the SMBMedia comment & BBC reference, my question is similar, and I am asking for your “best solution” direction between:
    1. Multisite or WP Standard installs
    • Multi with a) Sub-Domains, or b) Sub-Directories
    • WP Installs a) Sub-Domains, or d) Sub-Directories
    (I am interested in SEO per “category” – i.e. sub-directories or sub-domains of WP installs or Multisite.

    Site attributes:
    One Admin (initially); categories share a membership area (using a script – Digital Access Pass, aka DAP); categories each have unique landing and sales pages (using Optimize Press – a theme, & needs it’s own WordPress installation?), Same theme (not Optimize Press) for all main & category sites, with a main page color variation like SMBMedia & BBC.

    1. MAIN WEBSITE TOPIC – main site page with basics (see BBC)
    2. WEBSITE SUB-TOPICs ONE to TEN, etc – with menus/pages, and separate landing page/sales page funnels, and linking to a WP scripted membership area (all sites can share the same area).
    3. A possible ONLINE SHOP area – not essential for quite a while.
    4. Lots of media; photos, videos, infographics, a little blogging with visuals.

    Thank you for your service and dedication. Your expertise is greatly appreciated. ~ Crawford

    • GB — There’s a lot here, and to be honest, probably the only way you’re going to come to a solution is by trying a few different things out to see if you run into any problems.

      Just off the top of my head, I would say that you’ll probably want to test Optimize Press with Multisite just to make sure nothing conflicts in any way. Most themes are fine with Multisite, but when you get into more complex things like OP, you never know — you might run into issues.

      You could make individual subsites for your different “categories,” but will they all be included in your membership area? (You’ll have to test if you can do this. If not, you’ll need to make all your categories on one site — maybe the main site, or maybe a subsite called “membership” or something).

      I’m also not sure how OP works in terms of making a landing page inside of another theme (if I understand you right, this is what you want to do). Of course you can put OP on separate subsites and just “pretend” that it’s part of the one category. As long as it’s built to promote that category and all the links point to it, I don’t see why it wouldn’t work. (e.g. subsite#1 is one of your “categories” and subsite#1a is your landing page for that “category” using OP). Of course you may want the different categories to be the actual landing pages for some reason. So I don’t. You’ll have to decide about that.

      All this assumes you aren’t using different domains for the different “categories,” of course.

      There is a plugin that will allow you to make networks within networks. In other words, you could turn a subsite into its own Multisite network with sub-subsites. That could get a little confusing (and maybe decrease the likelihood of different themes and software playing nicely together), but that is a possibility. … As if you needed more options. :)

      In terms of SEO, as I said above, it USED to be that Google maybe gave a slight edge to sub-directories. I’m not sure if that’s true anymore. And to be honest, I wouldn’t worry about it. Even if it’s true, the advantage is probably less now than the little bit it was before. I would just think in terms of my visitors. What will look more natural and comfortable to them? (A lot of times that sub-directories.) Unless you want to put a user’s blog name first, as mentioned, I wouldn’t worry about sub-domains. You’ll also need to see if sub-domains or sub-directories play well with your membership software.

      As I said, some of this needs to be tested to make sure it works. We can map things out in theory, but you might run into technical issues — especially with your membership software and OP.

      Anyway, good luck with it!

      • WOW! Thank you for such a quick reply. I really needed this too.

        So, just to simplify, let’s use the previous example, without the membership site or OP theme. This leaves us with a BBC example, or like the one I described for you. The BBC site is probably the best example, it appears to be exactly what I could follow, (and they just linked up to their “online store”, but it lacked a consistent theme, a return link, and it just open up in a new tab)

        So, having simplified, what do you think would be a great foundation to build upon? (please choose A, B, C, or D : )
        A) Multisite with Sub-Domains
        B) Multisite with Sub-Directories
        C) WP Install with Sub-Domains
        D) WP Install with Sub-Directories

        Now, having offered your answer to the above, how would I best add OP? A sub-domain, or sub-directory and link it up? The member site could do the same? (BTW – Sales Funnel Landing pages are part of OP.)
        Now, which of the A-D choices if plugin compatibility were a concern?

        That’s enough for now. I really appreciate the knowledge you share having spent your life investing in all of this. That is the purpose of my future site, to share teaching, training, and knowledge. Thanks!

        • GB,

          It seems to me that the simplest (and therefore the best) option would probably be B – multisite with sub-directories.

          This gives you the option of creating a new subsite whenever you need it if you want to do something radically different with a different theme. This will allow you to easily use OP when you need to and your membership software on a different site when you have to.

          For you visitors, this will also keep the URL looking logical. For example, let’s say you site is about growing vegetables — thevegetablegrower.com.

          You could have a blog and other centralized content on the main site with Theme #1: thevegetablegrower.com … and for categories thevegetablegrower.com/tomatoes, thevegetablegrower.com/carrots, etc.

          You could create landing pages on other subsites with the OP theme: thevegetablegrower.com/growing-tomatoes and thevegetablegrower.com/growing-carrots, etc. (pointing those to your membership subsite).

          And then you could have your membership site on another subsite with a different theme and your membership software: thevegetablegrower.com/members … or if you’re doing multiple membership sites, you could set up various different ones on subsites: thevegetablegrower.com/tomato-members, thevegetablegrower.com/carrot-members, etc.

          That’s my 2 cents anyway.

          • Joe,

            You Are So Excellent ! – this is where my conclusions were headed based upon your previous explanations and post responses. You ROCK ! !

            Thank you so very much, that’s a lot more than 2 cents!

            PS
            BBC America is using WordPress, Thematic theme & framework, and also Yoast SEO, Google Analytics, etc.
            BUT, I cannot discern whether or not they use WordPress Multisite?

  14. Hi Joe

    Great article!

    I am in the process of having a WP site developed for me and one area that is really confusing me is the multisite issue.

    There will be no eCommerce element so no selling from the site, just product marketing. This will be via a website, eCatalogues, WPML language plug-in and CRM (yet to be chosen), together with a variety of other plug-ins.

    The aim is to have a presence in many different countries (over 100), in the local language, utilising on and off-page SEO. The different sites will be identical in all ways, other than the language although many different locations will be in English, Spanish, French, Arabic, etc. The potential developers (still tendering for the work) have indicated that WP multisite is the best option. However, I am uncertain about the feasibility of this and also which is the best approach.

    I am having difficulty deciding who is proposing the best and most cost effective solution, as the budget is not huge for operating the site.

    I have heard about Subdomains, Subfolders and Addon domains. In addition I have seen that some of the WP site hosting companies have different packages for different numbers of sites to be hosted. However, many offer unlimited Subdomains and Subfolders.

    What I am very confused about is, whether I need a package for multiple domains for each country and what advantages that would give over having them as S.domains, S.Folders or Addon domains?

    I hope this makes sense and is not as confused as I am right now.

    • Eric,

      I would also say that Multisite is the way to go. That way when things need to be updated, it’s easy to do from one backend. Also, if you want to add a new plugin, you can do it once and apply it to all sites. Backing things up should also be easier. Moving between sites will be easier, etc., etc.

      If you are looking for different domains for individual sites, you will just need to use a domain mapping plugin. It won’t really matter whether you use sub-domains or sub-folders, in my opinion. Folders might look a little cleaner. (If you are mapping domains, then it really won’t matter as the subsites will take on the name of the domain name: e.g. site1.mysite.com >> site1.com or mysite.com/site1/ >> site1.com.)

      Hope this helps.

  15. Thanks Joe

    How effective will SEO be for different countries, if it is just seen as a subsite of another?

    The site extension will be .com and I intend to host in the US. However, my main markets will be places like Brazil, India, Indonesia, Russia, Africa, Middle East etc. It is important to have good good ranking in those markets.

    This is a key feature of the business model.

    • Eric,

      I’m not sure what the SEO “rules” are these days, but I know that Google has said in the past that it tends to give preference to sites hosted in the country where the person is searching (and maybe even a domain registered in that country). But I guess it might depend on the subject matter as well.

  16. Hi Joe,

    Thanks for your video. I set up the sub-domains with my server (hostgator, e.g. xyz.mysite1.com). I followed the instructions to a “T” but when I log back into my WP dashboard I do not see the “My Sites” button. Wondering if you have run into this problem?

    • Chris – You might ask your host to double check things for you. I know that sometimes setting up subdomains requires them to configure some things that might not automatically be configured. Hopefully that will do the trick. I’d also double check the Multisite activation process just to make sure nothing was missed.

  17. Joe,

    That was a great post. I am not a techie and do not have much programming knowledge but your post was very explanatory.

    I desire to set up a social network for a professional group and desire to use Buddypress along with Multisite. My reason is to enable the users create their individual blogs while enjoying the social network features of Buddypress.

    My questions:

    1. Is it possible to run a Multisite with Buddypress with my low level of knowledge?

    2. How do I show all the activities on all the blogs in the network on the homepage of the main site?

    3. Are there specific security precautions to take in a Multisite?

    4. You mentioned ad revenue sharing, is it possible for the super admin to place specific ads on all, or any of, the blogs automatically?

    5. You mentioned that there is a learning curve to use a Multisite installation, is information readily available and does it requires learning programming?

    These are plenty questions but I will be most grateful to get your kind responses.

    • Gabu — All those things are possible. You will just need to search for the answers. For me to try to explain everything here in the comments would be a bit of a waste as everything you want to do is explained in more detail in other places.

      Searching the WPMU DEV and wordpress.org communities will bring up some answers.

      In order to determine how comfortable you are with all this, you should just install a test site and start testing, trying to do everything you want to do.

      As everyone has different ways they want their sites to work, there’s really no one answer out there. You will probably need to search out each question one at a time. Of course there will be some common elements that many people have wanted in the past, and the things you have mentioned so far are pretty common.

      To get an idea of some things that are possible, you might want to browse through the Multipress plugins at WPMU DEV. Just looking at those descriptions will certainly give you lots of ideas and answer some of your questions: http://premium.wpmudev.org/projects/tag/wordpress-multisite/

  18. Hi Joe
    Thanks for all the advice, I am in the middle of setting up a net work based on my old site http://www.fc.com (example) which is still running.
    My new network wwwfc+p.com will feature classified ads, business listings and property.

    My first issue is a landing page which I could put on either of the sites. However I prefer a separate landing page using wwwfc+p.com and the others will be sub domains link by tabs in the top menu bar.
    The landing page will be a static welcome page with side bars with featured adverts from my directories. I would also use this site for blog posts and articles about advertisers.

    I have different themes for my sites and the landing page I have used the basic twenty thirteen but is very basic so should I add a new landing page theme just for this use and is this the best way to set up my multi sites.

    The second point is my old domain. The old site has been up since 2006 but needed upgrading. It has a good standing but poor traffic as it’s not seo friendly. It’d highest ranking is in India even though the site is based around French advertising. I feel this was because it was a free classified ads site.

    I have read that it is difficult to change the domain name of a network once set up, so I could just redirect the domain to the new one. Or have one site with the old domain name. The traffic on the old site is not brilliant but it is consistent and there are many links to it.

    I will keep the ld site running until the new network is fully set up.

    Sorry for long post , but I want to get it right from the start.

  19. Joe,

    Not only are you a great developer, but you are also a great writer! Thanks for a well written article that explains clearly and succinctly.

    I work for a nonprofit that wants to create a family of websites, each with distinct branding but containing *some* shared pages, posts and functionality (e.g., web services). After reading your article, I believe Multisite may offer advantages for updating the core and plugins.

    Can you recommend the best, most trusted plug-ins for sharing page and post content for a Multisite install? Many plugins I found are old, incompatible or appear buggy. From what I’ve read, building our own code to accomplish this would be a beast.

    I should note that all three websites will have separate domains and one of the sites will need to be strictly 508 compliant.

    Many thanks!

    • Bridgette,

      Thanks for the kind words.

      There may be a number of WPMU DEV plugins that will suit your needs. If they don’t do what you want exactly, you can always make suggestions to the developers. If if seems like something that a lot of people would want, they will often try to incorporate user suggestions.

      As for which plugins you might want, that will depend. You might have a look at another post — http://wpmu.org/web-hosting-design-business-wordpress-multisite/ . It’s pretty long, but it may answer a number of your questions or at least point you in the right direction.

      Good luck with your project.

  20. Hi Joe. I consider this as epic content. This article answers all my questions an gave me a perfect understanding for my own multisite project in the real estate field.

    Thank you so much Joe :-)

  21. Hello Joe,

    Thank you so much for this article.

    I’m a designer with limited coding skills and I’ve been working with wordpress for a few years now, but have never tried the multisite functions. This was really helpful to better understand how it works.

    I have a question, I have to create a bilingual site (english and spanish) it will be just an informative site with text and pictures, and I was thinking on doing it with subfolders

    mysite.com/es
    mysite.com/en

    I have already created the english version for this website in a regular wordpress site which currently works from within a folder in my hosting. So i thought it would be as easy as enabling multisite in this folder, creating the spanish version of the site and then running index.php from the root.

    But I’ve read that there seem to be extra problems when running multisite from within a folder. Is this the case? and if so, what would be my options?
    Installing a new version of wordpress at the root directory?

  22. Now that Ive got my mind wrapped around this. Its time to go bace to the Business Model Canvass and assure a multi-site aligns with my customer segment & ill be on my way to developing…

  23. I’m having a hard time deciding whether or not to set up a multisite for what I am wanting to do. After reading about it on various sites, yours has been the most informative, I’m still torn. Perhaps you could share your opinion?

    I’m wanting to have a site where I can install client theme concepts I’ve designed for them I’d like them to only be able to view and approve with out it affecting my professional site.

    I don’t want to send them JPEGs of the web design concepts I have for them and I don’t want to have their site down for however long while I’m working on it.

    I need a playground to change the theme and do whatever I want and when I’m ready, share the link with them to view, approve or discuss revisions.

    Sometimes I may have multiple clients at once so it would be useful to have 2 or 3 of these sites available at one time. It would be similar to a theme demo site… I’m just adjusting it to work for me.

    Should I go for the multisite? Or is there another solution I’m not aware of.

    Thank you for taking the time to read this! I appreciate any help you can offer.

    • Brandi,

      If it were me, I would absolutely go with a Multisite install for this situation. I see no downside to it (besides getting used to a slightly different and a little more confusing backend). As you control all the sites, and nothing is left open to the public (i.e. people won’t be creating their own sites), you won’t be running into any of the potential headaches that can come with running a Multisite network.

      You might also want to take a look at plugin #7 in this post: http://premium.wpmudev.org/blog/wordpress-managing-content-plugins/

      That’s not exactly what you’re talking about, but if you’re looking for approval on a quick mock up, you might find it interesting.

      • Joe,

        Thank you very much for your reply, again, I appreciate it. I think I’m going to go for the multisite. It seems to be the best option.

        The Design Approval System plugin seems like a great one. I just watched the video of it and think it may be very helpful. I’ll be checking out the plugins homepage for more info.

        Thanks again!

  24. Wow!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Sir Joe Foley! Thanks a lot. You’re explaination is simple and easy to understand. I’ve been searching a lot of guides regarding multisite for several hours but their explaination is too complicated for me to understand. :D :D :D

  25. Hey Joe this is amazing information. I have set up a multi site network for a car dealer so that each of his sales people has their own site. But I have an issue I hope you can help with.

    I set up the multi site using sub folders rather than sub domains. The problem is that now I want to make those sites mobile using Duda mobile…can’t do it unless they are sub domains.

    So my question is…can I change the multi site from sub folders to sub domains or do I need to start over again?

    Also as a second question…

    I’m using Bluehost to host the system on and its working fine. But today I tried to set up a second ms system on the same hosting account and changing the wp-config.php isn’t making the new wordpress network friendly. Am I missing something?

    Hope you can help,
    Thanks
    Murray.

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