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The Ultimate Guide on Setting up WordPress Multisite

September 13, 2021

17 Min Read
wordpress multisite

Whenever you want to create a network of local businesses with subsites for different owners, the only choice is WordPress Multisite. The restriction here is that all the subsites will host on the same WordPress Multisite hosting provider. However, several tools such as MainWP can help you to manage multiple WordPress sites regardless of the hosting provider.

Common perception says, since one WordPress website is good, two or more should be far better. This perception is not necessarily accurate!

Interestingly, as the number of WordPress websites increases, the management gets difficult. Just logging into multiple dashboards becomes a hassle regularly. Fortunately, WordPress has features that are a great solution to manage multiple WordPress sites.

Today, I will discuss what a Multisite Network is, its use cases, and how one can easily set up along with the WordPress domain mapping.

What is WordPress Multisite?

Surprisingly, Multisite is not a new feature. It rolled out with WordPress 3.0. Initially, the functionality doesn’t receive a warm response because the user base of WordPress was not large enough. However, as WordPress gained popularity, the Multisite feature became a popular feature used by WordPress users.

It is perhaps the first WordPress feature that created its niche, and many WordPress developers found Multisite a versatile function that formed the basis of many WordPress projects.

The WordPress Multisite also refers to as WPMU, a more suitable feature for websites with multiple subdomains or entirely different sites but with a single WP dashboard. Administrators can easily give limited access to user accounts without worrying about the interference with the main website.

How Does It Work?

With Multisite, you can manage hundreds of websites from a single location. The distribution implements as a network under a single domain. You can map different domains, subdomains or subdirectories by adding code to wp-config.php and WordPress .htaccess file.

Advantages

  • It’s easy to manage WordPress websites having different domains/subdomains or client sites.
  • It is ideal for local businesses with multiple subsites managed by different teams.
  • Useful for businesses like banks with multiple branches, schools with distributed campuses, etc.
  • Teams can work on their specific sites independently while the overall control remains with the administrator.

Disadvantages

  • Subsite administrators cannot install plugins and themes. Only Network administrators have the right to add/remove plugins and themes on the subsites.
  • Removing or migrating a site within the Multisite network is a real challenge.
  • Custom changes in the network theme apply across the websites.
  • Security issues on one site can jeopardize the entire Multisite network.
  • The cost of the overall hosting of the Multisite setup could be high.

Multisite vs. Multiple WordPress Sites

One can easily create a single WordPress website that will be owned and controlled by an individual owner; however, they can create multiple WordPress users with limited or full access to maintain a single WordPress account.

In contrast, Multisite allows creating a network of several WordPress sites called as subsites that will be fully controlled by the network administrator only. However, each subsite can have an owner, but again, he will only be able to do what the network administrator allows.

When to Use WPMU?

What if an individual (or an organization) has multiple sites or blogs? Management quickly becomes an issue because of the individual requirements of these websites. A developer or a web agency can install and manage the network of client-sites from a central panel. An administrator can give access to Clients to their site (if they wish or there is a real need for that).

The good thing is that WPMU has several practical uses that add significant value to businesses and organizations. Here is a short description of a few business cases.

1. EducationEducation

Imagine a university that facilitates its teaching faculty, administrative staff, and students by providing department-level local websites within the main network. For example, the university can have a local portal for teachers where they could mark attendance, enter class schedules, and other information.

Similarly, the university could provide a student portal that offers the academic calendar, results, syllabus, resources (including ebooks), and related information. These two portals are independent of each other, with some intercepting points in places where students can interact with the respective teacher.

Moreover, the marketing department of universities can create hundreds of blogs and academic microsites without installing multiple copies of WordPress CMS. This another independent portal that interacts with external audiences, along with students and teachers through the portal.

2. MediaMultisite for media

Media houses, especially electronic media, can utilize WordPress Multisite for their news channels, e-papers for regional languages/audiences. A single WordPress dashboard can manage those local sites.

BBC America is an excellent example of Multisite in action. The website has a Multisite WordPress service, and each of its programs has its website. Besides, media houses using Multisite can provide local sites for in-house departments, such as editorial, marketing, and archive departments.

3. Development AgenciesMultisite for Development-agency

Development agencies can run all their subsites from a central location. In most cases, different domains/subdomains, such as example.com, abc.com, marketing.xxxxx.com, or support.xxxxx.com, can handle this. Each microsite updates independently without affecting the other websites on the network.

4. EcommerceMultisite for Ecommerce

If you have multiple WooCommerce-powered ecommerce stores, It should be controlled under a single administration. WPMU can manage the entire ecommerce network. The subsite owners have access to manage their particular store leaving all the administrative stuff to the network admin.

5. Hotels

WordPress Multisite for Hotels

Using the feature, multinational hotels can make regional websites that offer local information while the main site provides hospitality ethics code, corporate news, and their portfolio.

Hotel owners can use WordPress for separating the internal and external management of the business processes.

For internal management purposes, the website administrator can keep records of housekeeping, staff roster, training, and working shift, etc. Similarly, for external management, the admin can keep a record of guests and customers and the services they use.

One wonders, is it an appropriate solution for all multisite business scenarios? Like most solutions, there’s always a flip side of the coin. Multisite is not useful for the following situations:

  • If you are not a network or an organization, you won’t get the full benefit.
  • If one of the subsites is vulnerable, there are chances that the entire Multisite network may be compromised.
  • And if you are using shared hosting for the main website.

Examples

As discussed earlier, Multisite can comes handy in several ways. Here are some of the examples of what Multisite looks like in a Real World. These should give you an idea of what kinds of businesses would benefit from it:

Juggle with WordPress Mutltisite without hassle

Our Cloudways Experts can help you manage your sites with WordPress Multisite

WordPress Multisite Setup

The setup saves a lot of time for everyone (particularly the admins) and eases the overall operations in website management.

Multisite Hosting

If you already have a large and growing network, you may need more resources to set up a network. In case of insufficient server resources, the number of user requests could result in crashing your hosting server. Therefore, we suggest to install WordPress Multisite on a specialized Multisite hosting provider that can scale-up the resources of your server whenever required.

Install WordPress Multisite on Cloudways

To install WordPress Multisite on Cloudways, sign up for a 3-day free trial or log in to your Cloudways account. Select WordPress Multisite from the drop-down menu. Name your app, server, and project. Select a cloud infrastructure provider, server size, and data center location nearest to your targeted audience. Finally, click the Launch Now button.multisite Application-and-Server-Details

Wait for a few minutes while your server launches with WPMU installed.

Once it launches, navigate to the Applications tab from the top menu bar, and then get into your Application → Access Details → Admin Panel for login credentials.Multisite Application-Access-Details

Enable WordPress Multisite

Now go to the WordPress Dashboard → Tools → Network Setup.Application-Access-Details

Now you have to choose between subdomains and sub-directories.

Install WordPress on Subdomains?

In general, sub.example.com considers as a subdomain. The search engines see subdomains as an entirely different website and not part of your main domain (example.com). Subdomains are useful if you want to create a network having different subsites that do not connect in one way or the other.

Install WordPress on Subdirectory?

Unlike subdomains, example.com/sub considers as a subdirectory. The search engines see subdirectories as part of your main domain (example.com). Subdirectories are useful if you want to create a network of connected subsites, i.e., a system where each employee has his website and is part of the company.

You will also need to set the network title and network admin email. Be very sure about this step because you cannot change it later on.

Note: During the setup, you may need to deactivate all the plugins to proceed further. In my example, I will use Multisite subdomains.Create-a-Network-of-WordPress-Sites

You may have to use any FTP solution such as FileZilla to backup and edit the wp-config.php and .htaccess files. Soon, you will get the directions from the WordPress backend about the placement of code.

Enabling-network

After adding the code to the files, you are done with the setup on the blazing fast cloud hosting at Cloudways. Now, again login to your WordPress admin panel.

Add Sites to The Network

From the top menu bar of the WordPress admin panel, navigate to My Sites → Network Admin → Sites.

Access-Network-Admin-site

Here you will find the default/main site of the network that we have launched previously. To add a new website to the network, click on the Add New button.

Add-new-site

Fill all the fields (Site address is the subdomain of your main domain).add-new-site-details

By using the above add new button, you can add as many sites you want. Once again, get back to all sites by navigating from My Sites → Network Admin → Sites.Access-Network-Admin-site

You can see that the list includes the domain(s)/subdomain(s) you added earlier.

new-added-site

WordPress Multisite Domain Mapping

Even if everything correct, but for some reason, you are still unable to access your website, it’s because your Multisite network didn’t recognize by the WordPress application installed on Cloudways.

To make it work, you need to do WordPress domain mapping by associating the domain name with your network.

Navigate to Domain Management of your application. Fill the Primary Domain field and click Save Changes.

cloudways-domian-management

Log in to your domain registrar, and add TWO A records, one for the main domain and the other for all subdomains. The host should be @ and * respectively, and the value should be the server IP address.

WordPress Multisite Domain Mapping Namecheap

Note: To do WordPress domain mapping, you need to add an A record on your respective domain registrar, here is how to point your domain.

Once the DNS propagation is complete, get back to your Multisite admin dashboard. Navigate to My Sites → Network Admin → Sites.

All sites will be listed here with appropriate WordPress Multisite domains.

WordPress-Multisite-domains

Add Subdomains

The next step is notifying the Multisite application about subdomains. Go back to the Cloudways Platform and navigate to the Domain Management tab of the respective app and add the subdomain in Additional Domains.

Cloudways-subdomain

Et Voila! You have done WordPress Multisite domain mapping. Now, visit your newly added WordPress website (subdomain).

Note: It will take a few minutes for everything to propagate correctly.

Add Different Domains

Using a single domain for all the subsites may not always be the situation with a network. Mapping a different domain name lets the subsite use its domain rather than the extension (something like site1.domain.com).

To map a different domain, log in to your WordPress Dashboard, and navigate to Site → All Sites.

WordPress-Multisite-domains

Hover over a subsite and go to the Edit options and replace the site URL with the domain. After that, click the Save Changes button.

edit-site-address

Go back to the Cloudways Platform → Application Management. Navigate to Domain Management, add the domain under the Additional Domains section. Click the Save Changes button, and point the domain by visiting your domain registrar.

edit-subdomain

Multisite SSL Certificate

Popularity has its hazards, so is the case with WordPress. It has now become the most favorite target for hackers out to steal form submission data. Here it should be noted that this data can include user credentials and financial information such as credit card details etc.

We, at Cloudways, provide WordPress SSL certificates via Let’s Encrypt and paid SSL certificate providers to help secure the applications for our customers. Here is how you can add SSL certificates to WordPress Multisite network.

Add SSL Certificate to WPMU Sites

Once a Multisite network is installed and configured correctly, go to the application and map your primary domain under the Domain Management section if you have not pointed to the domain yet.

mysite-domain

Once the primary domain is pointed and successfully propagated from the domain registrar, go ahead and add domains or subdomains of the other WordPress subsites in Additional Domains.

Since I’m using subdomains for my network, I will add an SSL certificate to subdomains. Go to the Domain Management tab, and under Additional Domain, I have added my network subdomains and click the Save Changes button. Make sure all the domains/subdomains have propagated.

Multiple-subdomains

Now, navigate to the SSL Certificate tab, and follow the next steps to add an SSL certificate to WordPress Multisite network and the subdomains.

Use Let’s Encrypt Wildcard for Subdomains

Back in January 2018, ‘Let’s Encrypt’ introduced its wildcard feature, which was promptly adopted by Cloudways. This feature lets users add SSL certificates to subdomains easily.

The wildcard is ideal for a network consisting of multiple subdomains as it eliminates the need for adding SSL certificates individually for each subdomain.

Once subdomains are added to the Domain Management tab, navigate to the SSL Certificate tab and check the box for a wildcard in front of the domain name field.

Note: If you already have an SSL certificate, you may need to Revoke first.

SSl-management

Now add a new CNAME record to your domain registrar. For this guide, I added a CNAME record where the hostname is _acme-challenge and value similar to my WordPress staging URL, as highlighted in the screenshot above.

Note that in this example, I am using Namecheap as the domain registrar.

Wildcard CNAME Namecheap

Verify DNS before installing the SSL Wildcard certificate. You can verify if the CNAME is propagated or not by using the online tool, whatsmydns.

Wildcard Validation WhatsMyDNS

Copy the whole URL _acme-challenge.DOMAIN NAME inside the input field, select CNAME from the drop-down, and run the test.

That’s it! Once the CNAME record has propagated successfully, SSL certificates will be applied to the subdomains mentioned above automatically.

SSL Certificate for Different Domains

To assign an SSL certificate to each subsite of the network, add all WordPress multisite domains to the SSL Certificate tab.

subdomains-ssl-management

Please note that the Wildcard SSL certificate and SSL certificate on different domains will not work together. You can either choose Wildcard or WordPress multiple domains.

However, if your network is a mix of WordPress multiple domains and subdomains, you will need to add each subdomain and the different domains separately in the list under the SSL Certificate tab.

This method will apply an SSL certificate to all the mentioned subdomains/domains in the list.

Change URLs to HTTPS

To change internal URLs, go to the network admin panel. Navigate to Settings → General. Change the WordPress Address and Site Address URL from HTTP to HTTPS. Hit the Save Changes button to save the new settings.

subdomains-ssl-management

Identify Mixed Content

It is essential to make sure that all the URLs of a page have the same protocol (preferably HTTPS). To find HTTP URLs, use an online tool by JitBit to check for non-SSL content.

Copy and paste your website URL(s) and begin the test. It will crawl your site and list all the URLs with the HTTP prefix.

SSL Mix Content Warning

Fixing them is easy with a plugin WP Migrate DB. Go to the Plugins → Add New, search for WP Migrate DB and install it. Once installed, go to plugin settings and click on the first tab, which says Migrate and select Find & Replace.

Search and Replace - Migrate DB

Paste the old URLs inside Find fields and new URLs with HTTPS in Replace fields. Hit Find & Replace button to start the process.

P.S: Before attempting to replace URLs, make sure to backup your WordPress site.

Auto Redirect from HTTP to HTTPS

It is essential to redirect your visitors automatically from HTTP to HTTPS addresses. Redirection also helps if your site is using backlinks from other sites which still use HTTP and are not updated by their website owners.

To do so, you have to make a few adjustments in your WordPress .htaccess file.

Note: Altering .htaccess file is a risk, and if things go wrong, it can damage your WordPress site. Do not forget to take a backup of your .htaccess file before making any changes.

Now that you have backed up your .htaccess file access the file from your root directory and open it in the text editor of your choice. At the beginning of the document, add the following lines.

RewriteEngine On
RewriteCond %{HTTP:X-Forwarded-Proto} !https
RewriteRule ^(.*)$ https://%{HTTP_HOST}/$1 [R=301,L]

Your final .htaccess file should look something like this.

RewriteEngine On
RewriteCond %{HTTP:X-Forwarded-Proto} !https
RewriteRule ^(.*)$ https://%{HTTP_HOST}/$1 [R=301,L]

# BEGIN WordPress
RewriteEngine On
RewriteBase /
RewriteRule ^index\.php$ - [L]
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} !-f
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} !-d
RewriteRule . /index.php [L]
# END WordPress

Add HTTPS to Google Analytics

Google crawls your WordPress site to update its records of the structure and content of your website. At this point, Google does not know yet that the website is now on HTTPS.

To track HTTPS links in Google Analytics, log in to your Google Analytics dashboard. Inside the Admin area, locate your desired property and click on Property Settings.

Google-analytics-property

From the drop-down menu, change the Default URL from HTTP to HTTPS.

Google-analytics-property-setting

Navigate back to the previous step and click on the View tab.

google-analytics-view-settings

Here, you can find the Website’s URL drop-down. Select HTTPS from the list.

google-analytics-view-settings-id

That’s it! Now Google will start tracking your new URLs with HTTPS.

Add SSL Certificate to Multisite Subdirectory

Note that the above guide was for subdomains only. If your WordPress Multisite network is subdirectory based, you just need to add an SSL certificate for the primary (main) domain only. There is no need to do any additional work to add SSL for subdirectories of Multisite.

Must-Have Plugins

WaaS Pro plugins comprise a collection of WordPress plugins that help developers in designing better WordPress networks. The company behind the plugins, Blitz Industries, manages its own WaaS network that targets the Auto Care industry niche. In this process of developing their

WaaS, they discovered areas that they felt can make improvements for both the developer’s and end user’s experience.

“We have been developing and managing our network (WPMU) for the past couple of years and are excited about the technology growth available to us today. However, not everything integrates or works to our standards, so we’ve created solutions that we’ve turned into professional-grade plugins that can help perfect your WaaS network too.” – Michael Short

Let’s take a look at their nine plugins and how they can help improve your WaaS:

    1. Admin UI Pro – Reinvent your WordPress admin theme with a unique and custom look. You can modify everything from the primary logo, color scheme, header image, and so much more! The best part is, this plugin integrates with WP Ultimo so that you can display menu items based on your customer’s plan level. And that’s not all! You can use this plugin on non-multisite too!
    2. Content Editor Pro – Make it easy for customers to edit their websites. Content Editor Pro is a solution for developers who need a simple tool that allows their customers to update and edit their websites without being techy. It also adds the convenience of being able to switch between template designs without losing changes. Ultimately, it eliminates the need for your customers from needing to access the page builder. They can update their content right from within their dashboard.
    3. Content Editor/ACF Add-ons for Elementor – This plugin provides eight new widgets that make it easy for you to bring user-generated content into your template pages. Every license of Content Editor Pro includes the Add-ons for Elementor.
    4. Rebrand/Control Pro for Elementor – Rebrand Elementor with your company name and logo, plus get granular control of the features that matter most! This plugin contains a robust set of features guaranteed to help your site look 100% custom and relevant to your brand.
    5. Site Settings Pro – Make it easy for your WaaS customers to add their branding and colors to their template websites. Site Settings Pro enables your WaaS customers to add their company logo, contact info, fonts, and brand colors to their site, all from a simple form within their dashboard.
    6. Stock Library Pro – Give your customers access to stock images and icons related to their niche. Stock Library Pro gives your customers access to a curated library of stock images from a central location, so you don’t waste server resources. No stock photos? No problem. Allow your customers to gain access to over 100 million high-quality royalty-free stock images.
    7. Guided Tours Pro – Create beautiful guided tours of your site that propels users to success. Guided Tours Pro enables you to showcase your platform to increase sales & train new users to be up and running with their website quickly, all without bombarding your support desk.
    8. WP Ultimo: CartFlows Integration – This plugin fuses WP Ultimo with CartFlows. When connected, these two platforms (when combined with WooSubscriptions plugin) will allow you to add and sell unlimited plans and upsells on your WaaS with virtually no effort at all.
    9. WP Ultimo: ThriveCart Integration – Now, you can take full advantage of all the features in ThriveCart on your WP Ultimo managed network! Add an unlimited number of WP Ultimo plans to your ThriveCart account. Create an affiliate network to help launch your product using ThriveCart’s built-in affiliate features.

Final Words!

The WPMU allows creating a scalable and extensive network to managed from a central dashboard.

As your network grows, you would need to scale up your Multisite hosting resources. We suggest opting for a scalable solution. If you are a Cloudways customer, you can easily scale-up the server resources in just a click.

I hope the guide has given you great ideas about incorporating the WPMU functionality into your organization or business. If you have any questions, feel free to drop your queries in the comment section below.

Q. Can I have 2 websites on WordPress?

Yes, you need to set up a WordPress Multisite network and add as many websites as you want to be a part of your WPMU network.

 

Q. How do you create a multisite?

From your WordPress hosting, access the file manager and edit the .htaccess file. Insert this code: define(‘WP_ALLOW_MULTISITE’, true); just above the line: /* That’s all, stop editing! Happy blogging. */ Now login to your WordPress dashboard, navigate to Tools -> Network Setup and follow on-screen instructions.

 

Q. How do I use WordPress Multisite?

First thing first, you need to set up a Multisite network. Then, from the top left pane of the Multisite dashboard, go to sites and add as many sites you want.

 

Q. How to install Subdomain on WordPress Multisite?

While setting up a Multisite network, it asks you to create a subdomain network or subdirectory. Choose subdomain. Note that you can not change it later on.

 

Q. How can I tell if WordPress is Multisite?

View the source code of a webpage, and look at the links for images, etc. If the link structure is just wp-content/uploads/etc, this is not a WPMU and if links consist of a site ID in it, then the website is a part of a Multisite network.
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Mustaasam Saleem

Mustaasam is the WordPress Community Manager at Cloudways - A Managed WordPress Hosting Platform, where he actively works and loves sharing his knowledge with the WordPress Community. When he is not working, you can find him playing squash with his friends, or defending in Football, and listening to music. You can email him at [email protected]

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