First off: what is a WordPress installation?
For our purposes, we can define a WP installation as a collection of data (a database) plus software. The WordPress application uses the database and the added software (aka plugins) to create a website. To reiterate: WordPress is installed on a web server and configured with design elements, plugins, and content to create a website.
What is a WordPress Multisite?
A WordPress Multisite (WPMS) is a WP installation that controls a network of websites or blogs. It is often used by systems such as universities or franchised businesses.
Because each site is controlled by the same WP installation, they share themes, plugins, and styling, which means that the system admins can control the look and overall content. Editors, Authors, and Contributors have the freedom to create and edit their own content within the framework set up by the administrators. All the sites on a multisite are accessed through the same WP dashboard, and users have differing access to the tools there.
One multisite can handle an infinite number of websites. As a multisite grows, however, it will require more space and power, so make sure that your host and servers have the necessary resources before setting it up.
If you’re hosting with any of the major names, you’ll have the opportunity to choose multisite when setting up your WordPress software. Refer to their instructions for details on how they handle multisites.
Types of Multisites
The type of multisite you can use may be dictated by your server configuration, so check with your host before you choose to make sure of compatibility. There are three types of nomenclature: path, sub-domain, and individual URLs. Individual URLs are unique domain names for each site, like BeingFreed.com, BottomDwellers.org, etc.
Let’s look at Sergeant Major’s Scuba Shop to see how the sites might be built. SMSS has a primary website plus a site for each franchise. In addition, all employees and teachers may have their own blog within the multisite.
This creates URLs based on the formula of https://domain/detail/, so in our example, the sites created would include:
This creates URLs based on the formula of https://detail.domain/, so in our example, the sites created would include:
WordPress Multisite user roles
Within multisite, you’ll have users who need different types of access to the website. WordPress.org’s Roles and Capabilities article includes a Summary of Roles section which will help you decide which role to assign to whom.
Just a quick reminder of WordPress user roles:
Super Administrator – somebody with access to the site network administration features and all other features.
Administrator – somebody who has access to all the administration features within a single site. Admins and Super Admins set permissions for Editors, Authors, Contributors, and Subscribers.
Editor – somebody who can publish and manage posts including the posts of other users.
Author – somebody who can publish and manage their own posts.
Contributor – somebody who can write and manage their own posts but cannot publish them.
Subscriber – somebody who can only manage their profile.
Getting back to Sergeant Major’s Scuba Shop, let’s see a practical applications for roles. The shop has an owner, a manager at each franchise, 20 employees, and 10 freelance teachers. The shop has hired a local agency to build its multisite.
At Sergeant Major’s Scuba Shop, the site roles might break down as:
Super Administrator – the shop owner and site designer have access to all features on all sites.
Administrator – each location manager has access to all the features on their shop’s site.
Editor – shop assistant managers, or if the shop empowers one employee to oversee posts by other employees, they might have this role.
Author – a trusted employee or teacher who manages their own blog.
Contributor – a blog creator whose posts must be approved by an Editor or Admin before they’re published.
Subscriber – an employee or teacher who can update their profile but has no authority to post.
Good to know
You may need to buy multiple copies of plugins for multisites. Yoast, for example, requires multiple subscriptions for some multisites, but they offer discounts for these plans. So, as you price and design your multisite installation, pay attention to which plugins you use so you know what your final costs will be.
Was this post helpful? Check out my post on setting up a WordPress website.
Database – the files that make up your website. These are words and pictures.
Plugins – software that’s added to your WP site that adds functionality. Some common plugins facilitate anti-spam functions, or they build forms or track your search engine performance.
WordPress installation – a package of data and software that is used with WordPress software to create a website. Most WP websites are based on one installation.