We often receive inquiries from nonprofit organizations and associations who wonder if a WordPress multisite is the right choice for their organizations’ website needs. They want to manage chapter sites, have several departments that want their “own” websites without managing a complete build, or need a branded website presence for events held annually. Here are some examples of popular sites using WordPress multisite structure:
- WordPress.com (millions of blogs with subdomains)
- BBC America (different sites for different shows)
- The New York Times (blogs on different topics)
- Harvard Blogs (teacher-student generated blogs)
WordPress offers robust multisite functionality, which can be a good option for some organizations – but not for all. Read on for our thoughts on determining if a multisite setup is a suitable choice for your nonprofit or organization!
At a high level:
- Does your organization have a hierarchical setup such as government/agencies, universities/departments, or a network of related blogs sharing resources?
- Do all subsites use the same branding and elements of the theme? Building a parent theme and multiple child themes for each site is more efficient.
Yes! Consider a multisite
- Are you considering a multisite merely for the ease of management of multiple WordPress sites from a single screen?
- Do your subsites have radically different branding elements?
No! Consider other options
If you still want to consider multisite development, here are some pros and cons of the approach.
- Centralized Dashboard: You can manage all sites from the same dashboard through a single Super Admin user. Only a superuser (not an admin) can install themes and plugins.
- Efficiencies in Development and Upgrades: You need to install themes and plugins only once, and then you can activate them across the entire network. Also, you execute the upgrade process only once.
- Save Server Space: Installing plugins only once across all sites saves server space.
- Hosting: combine all your sites onto one hosting plan.
- Quicker Backups: Instead of making backups of several databases, there is only one database with various sub-databases and subdirectories.
- Single Account: A user can access all the subsites with a single account, meaning that site managers don’t have to maintain separate accounts for each site.
That’s the good news. But there are also some potential drawbacks to consider.
- Centralized Platform: Site admins can’t manage plugins and themes, only super admins. This means site admins might not have the autonomy they’re used to. You could technically get around this problem with a plugin or code by tweaking user role permissions, but that’s more work.
- Security Problems: A hacker attack or just downtime on your server affects all your sites. A data breach will involve all the data of all the sites. A malfunctioning plugin will affect the whole network.
- Theme and Plugins Compatibility: Not all plugins and themes work on WordPress’s multisite structure. If they do, premium plugins usually charge a bit more.
- Problem Sharing: If one site in the network gets more traffic and consumes more resources, it will also affect the other sites. (This is easy to solve by opting for more robust WordPress hosting but may be a factor for budgeting.)
- Shared Users: All sites share the same user profiles. For example, you cannot create the same user two times for two different sites on the network. Logged-in users are logged in for all sites.
- Future Considerations: If one site becomes too big, or if the number of sites increases too much, the whole network will slow. At that point (or for any other reason), switching from your multisite installation back to a single-site structure is hard to achieve.
If you are considering multisite merely for the convenience of managing multiple WordPress sites from a single dashboard, consider managed services with a service provider like ManageWP. This is a paid service that includes other benefits like security, backups, and cloning.
As we often say when asked what the best path is for technology, “it depends,” – but there are definitely use cases where a WordPress multisite could offer efficiencies for your organization.
If you are considering a new website for your nonprofit or association and would like to discuss it, contact Fíonta! We’d be happy to talk through the specific options for your organization.