When and When Not to Use WordPress Multisite

WordPress Multsite

Before you go enabling multisite on your WordPress site be sure you’re certain you want to go down that road.

wordpress-tug-o-warWordPress Multisite is a powerful feature of WordPress Core. It allows you to create a network of separate sites that share a single WordPress installation. There are many tutorials on the Internet instructing you how to setup multisite. But should you be using it?

A Little Background

Today I was on WP Watercooler Episode #63 and the topic was WordPress Multisite. Much of our talk was focused on whether or not you should actually be using multisite. Mika Epstein – a well known WordPress developer and contributor – spoke about several reasons for and against using WP multisite (Mika presented at WCSF13 this year discussing Don’t Use WordPress Multisite). During the show several good reasons were highlighted for and against using multisite and I thought it worth while to delve into further.

There are many uses for multisite. It has a place in WordPress. As well, there are many reasons to not use multisite. Let’s first examine several typical use cases where multisite works well. Then we can look into the cases against it.

Why Use WordPress Multisite?

WordPress Multsite

On this site we use WordPress Multisite. It powers our demo sites so that when we release a new theme or plugin we can quickly spin up a new site and keep it in our network. It’s easy for me to query content, such as documentation, from one site to another as well as the added bonus of shared themes and plugins. This is just one use case, and most likely a very non-typical use.

What’s your Multisite scenario?

Perhaps you have an idea to build the next Wix or Restaurant Engine and you’ve selected WordPress Multisite to power it. Maybe you’re going to start your own content network and want to manage them all within a central location. There are many reasons to use WordPress multisite, here are a few more good use cases:

  • Schools – Separate departments, separate sites
  • Franchises – parent company and separate locations setup as separate sites
  • Blog network – a content network of blogs (most common use case)
  • Organizational – team or division based information site or blogs
  • Optimization and separation – see Offloading BuddyPress
  • Development – Showing client sites “work in progress”

Don’t worry if you reason is not listed above. It’s not meant to be all-inclusive, but it is indended to get you to rethink your multisite usage scenario. Do you know WordPress well? Are you comfortable with managing hosting, domains, and upgrading entire networks? Multisite is not for beginners. There’s no one click install and it can get complicated.

Reasons Against Using WordSite Multsite

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you have to. Before you start the enabling your network let’s review some potential red flags:

  • Convenience factor – “It’s just more convenient using Multisite for updates” – check out ManageWP or InfiniteWP
  • All sites should look the same –
  • Different profiles per site
  • Separate eCommerce sites sharing the same store database
  • Shared content – same posts on every site in the network
  • User privacy – users on one site can’t know about the other sites
  • Multisite is not hosting
  • You’re on a shared host
  • Not familiar with WordPress
  • No understanding of  the difference between a subdirectory vs subdomain multisite

As you can see there are more obvious reasons against using WordPress multisite than for it.

Credit goes to Mika’s slides for several of the reasons mentioned above.

Off to Build a Multisite (or not)

Hopefully this post has been informative in helping your make your decision on whether to use multisite or not. If you currently have a multisite and are looking to break off your individual sites the process can be a bit involved.  Tools like BuddyPress and the WordPress Importer/Exporter can help you migrate from a multiple install to single, but it’s certainly not foolproof.

Who else uses multisite?

Some big time companies use WordPress multsite. WordPress.com is the obvious one, but did you know that companies like Adobe and The Wall Street Journal run multisite? Yep, it’s true. As well, BestBuy Powersites.net and New York Times run multisite. Oh, and I’m pretty sure Mashable is also…

Don’t be afraid to try it…

Give multisite a try, just not on your live site. Tools like DesktopServer are making it easier than ever to quickly spin up a new multisite locally.

Additional Resources

Here are a few links to help you on your decision whether to use WordPress multsite. If you have any additional comments, questions or feedback let you voice be heard in the comments.

EP63 – What are the best ways to work with WordPress Multisite? – WPwatercooler – Nov 25 2013


WordPress Multsite 101

Should I Use WordPress Multisite? Why Not?