Chat with us, powered by LiveChat

This website uses cookies

Our website, platform and/or any sub domains use cookies to understand how you use our services, and to improve both your experience and our marketing relevance.

Faster WordPress Hosting: An Experiment for the Best Load Time (79ms). SEE HOW

The Ultimate Guide on Setting up WordPress Multisite

Updated on March 19, 2019

17 Min Read
WordPress Multisite
Reading Time: 17 minutes

Whenever you want to create a network of local business with subsites for different owners, the only choice is WordPress Multisite. The restriction here is that all the subsites will be hosted 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 is not necessarily true!

Interestingly, as the number of WordPress websites increases the management gets difficult. In fact, just logging into multiple dashboards become a hassle on a regular basis. Fortunately, WordPress has features that are a great solution to manage multiple WordPress sites from a single dashboard – WordPress Multisite.

Today, I will discuss what is WordPress Multisite, it’s use cases and how one can easily setup WordPress Multisite along with the domain mapping.

What is WordPress Multisite?

Surprisingly, WordPress Multisite is not a new feature. It actually rolled out with WordPress 3.0. Initially, the feature 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 own niche and many WordPress developers found Multisite a versatile feature that formed the basis of many WordPress projects.

The WordPress Multisite is also referred to as WPMU; a more suitable feature for websites with multiple subdomains and/or entirely different websites 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 WordPress Multisite Work?

With Multisite, you can manage hundreds of websites from a single location. The distribution is implemented 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.

Pros of WordPress Multisite

  • It’s easy to manage WordPress websites having different domains/subdomains and/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.

Cons of WordPress Multisite

  • Subsite administrators cannot install plugins and themes in a WordPress Multisite setup. Only Network administrator has the rights to add/remove plugins and themes on the subsites.
  • Custom changes in the network theme are applied across the websites. This can be prevented through a Multisite Custom CSS plugin which allows subsites to use their custom CSS.
  • Removing or migrating a site within the Multisite network is a real challenge.
  • The cost of overall hosting of the Multisite setup could be significant.
  • Security issues on one site can jeopardize the entire Multisite network.

WordPress Multisite vs Multiple WordPress Sites

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

In contrast, Multisite allows creating a network of a number of 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 able to do what the network administrator allows.

When to Use WordPress Multisite?

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. Clients can be given administrator access to their own site (if they wish or there is a real need for that).

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

1. WordPress Multisite for Education

WordPress Multisite for Education

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 schedule 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.

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

2. WordPress Multisite for Media

WordPress Multisite for Media

Media houses, especially electronic media, can utilize WordPress Multisite network for their news channels, e-papers for regional languages/audiences. Those regional sites can be managed from a single WordPress dashboard.

BBC America is a great example of Multisite in action. The website has a Multisite WordPress service, and each of its programs has its own website. In addition, media houses using Multisite can provide local websites for in-house departments, such as editorial, marketing, and archive departments.

3. WordPress Multisite for Development Agencies

WordPress Multisite for Development Agencies

When using the WordPress Multisite service, development agencies can run all their subsites from a central location. In most cases, this is handled through different domains/subdomains, such as example.com, abc.com, marketing.xxxxx.com or support.xxxxx.com. Each microsite is independently updated without affecting the other websites on the network.

4. WordPress Multisite for Ecommerce

WordPress Multisite for Ecommerce

If you have multiple WooCommerce-powered ecommerce stores, It should be controlled under a single administratorship. WordPress Multisite 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. WordPress Multisite for 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 Multisite 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, after reading the benefits and uses of WordPress Multisite, is it an appropriate solution for all multi site business scenarios? Like most solutions, there’s always a flip side of the coin. Multisite is not recommended for the following scenarios:

  • If you are not a network or an organization, you wouldn’t get the full benefit of the Multisite.
  • If one of the subsites is vulnerable, there are chances that the entire Multisite network may be compromised.
  • If your main website is hosted on shared hosting.

WordPress Multisite Examples

As discussed earlier, Multisite can be used in a number of 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 WordPress Multisite network:

WordPress Multisite Setup

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

WordPress Multisite Hosting

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

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.

WordPress Multisite Setup on Cloudways

Wait for a few minutes while your server is launched with WordPress Multisite.

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

WordPress Multisite Application on Cloudways

Enable WordPress Multisite

Now go to the WordPress Dashboard → Tools → Network Setup.

WordPress Multisite Network Setup

Now you have to choose between subdomains and sub-directories to set up a WordPress Multisite network.

What is WordPress Multisite Subdomains?

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

What is WordPress Multisite Subdirectory?

Unlike subdomains, the subdirectories are written as example.com/sub. The search engines see subdirectories as part of your main domain (example.com). This is useful if you want to create a network of connected subsites, i.e.; a network where each employee has his own website and is part of the main 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 be asked to deactivate all the plugins to proceed further. In my example, I will use Multisite subdomains.

WordPress Multisite Setup Subdomain

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 that you get after installing WordPress Multisite.

WordPress Multisite Htaccess and wp-config Settings

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

Add Sites to WordPress Multisite Network

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

WordPress Multisite Subsites

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

Add New Site in WordPress Multisite

Fill all the fields (Site address is the subdomain of your main domain).

Add Subsite in WordPress Multisite

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.

WordPress Multisite Subsites

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

WordPress Multisite Subsite URL

WordPress Multisite Domain Mapping

Even if everything is configured properly and for some reason you are still unable to access your website, it’s because the subdomain of your Multisite network is not recognized by the WordPress application installed on Cloudways.

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

Navigate to Domain Management of your WordPress Multisite application.

Add Domain to WordPress Multisite

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

WordPress Multisite Domain Mapping Namecheap

Note: If you are not sure, how 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 domain names.

WPMU Domain Mapping

WordPress Multisite Subdomain

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

WordPress Multisite Subdomain Point

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 properly.

Add WordPress Multisite Different Domains

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

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

WordPress Multisite Subsites List

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.

WordPress Multisite Site Address

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

WordPress Multisite Domain Mapping Subsites-Subdomains

WordPress Multisite SSL

Popularity has its own 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, provides 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 Multisite network is installed and configured properly, go to the WordPress Multisite Application and map your primary domain under the Domain Management section if you have not pointed the domain yet.

Domain Mapping in WordPress Multisite

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 WordPress Multisite 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 are propagated.

WordPress Multisite Domain Mapping

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 the Cloudways. This feature lets users add SSL certificates to subdomains easily.

This is ideal for WordPress Multisite Network comprising 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 Wildcard in front of the domain name field.

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

WordPress Multisite Wildcard SSL Certificate

Now add a new CNAME record to your domain registrar. For the purpose of this guide, I have added an entry with the hostname as _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 dropdown and run the test.

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

WordPress Multisite SSL Certificate for Different Domains

In order to assign separate domain names to each subsite of WordPress Multisite network, add all domains to the SSL Certificate tab.

WordPress Multisite SSL Certificate

Please note that the Wildcard SSL certificate and SSL certificate on different domains will not work together. You can either choose Wildcard or different domains. However, if your WordPress Multisite network is a mix of subdomains and multiple mapped domains, 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

In order to change internal URLs, go to the WordPress Multisite 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.

WordPress Multisite General Settings

Identify Mix Content

It is important 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 URL 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. This is also needed in case your site is using backlinks from other sites which still uses 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. It is recommended 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 crawl 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.

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

HTTPS in Google Analytics

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

Add HTTPS to Google Search Console

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

SSL in Google Search Console

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

HTTPS in Google Search Console

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

Add SSL Certificate to WordPress Multisite Subdirectory

It should be noted here that the above guide was for subdomains only. If your WordPress Multisite Network is based on subdirectories, 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.

Congratulations! You are done with WordPress Multisite SSL setup.

Must-Have WordPress Multisite Plugins

WaaS Pro plugins comprise of a collection of WordPress plugins that help developers in designing better WordPress Multisite 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 own WordPress Multisite 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 9 plugins and how they can help improve your WaaS:

  1. Admin UI Pro – Reinvent your WordPress admin theme with a completely unique and custom look. You can modify everything from the main 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 also use this plugin on non multisites too!
  1. 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.
  1. Content Editor/ACF Add-ons for Elementor – This plugin provides 8 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.
  1. Rebrand/Control Pro for Elementor – Rebrand Elementor with your own 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. WP Ultimo: CartFlows Integration – This plugin fuses together 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.
  1. 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 Multisite allows creating a scalable and extensive network that could be easily managed from a central dashboard.

As your network grows, you would need to scale up your web hosting resources. It is always recommended to opt for a scalable solution. If you are a Cloudways customer, you can easily scale-up the server resources in a just a click.

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

Share your opinion in the comment section. COMMENT NOW

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 mustaasam.saleem@cloudways.com

Start Growing with Cloudways Today!

We never compromise on performance, security, and support.

Get Our Newsletter
Be the first to get the latest updates and tutorials.

Do you like what you read?

Get the Latest Updates

Share Your Feedback

Please insert Content

Thank you for your feedback!

THERE’S MORE TO READ.