Many users run not one, but multiple sites. If you’re using WordPress, you really do not have to build each site from scratch. You can install WordPress and then run as many websites as you want off the single install. Such a setup is called a WordPress multisite. The main advantage with a mutisite is that you’ll be able to manage the entire network from a single dashboard. To make managing multisites easier, you can take help from many WordPress Plugins for Multisites, both free and premium.
A great example of a multisite is WordPress.com, a multisite that hosts millions of individual sub sites. In a network such as this, the Network Administrator or Super Admin is the all powerful manager who decides which themes and plugins the subsites can or cannot have. The Network Administrator exercises overriding powers over the subsites. This also means that the site admins of the individual subsites have limited control over their sites. To understand the setup better, turn to Harvard Blogs, a free service for the benefit of the Harvard community. Any user with an email at harvard.edu can freely create a blog on this WordPress install and manage the content on their individual blogs. At the same time, they enjoy common resources offered by the multisite – themes, widgets, multimedia material, spam protection and more.
Multisite installation is of 2 types – domain based and directory based. The default setup is domain based installation, though you can change it to a directory based installation. This is to avoid conflict between pages and sites.
Should You Use a Multisite
A multisite is not a straightforward solution that everyone who has multiple websites can resort to. While installing a multisite can be quite a breeze, migrating a multisite or separating a subsite later may need professional help. Thus a multisite network is a mixed bag of features. It can be the ideal solution for any organization that has a hierarchical setup. For instance, a Government and it’s branches, or a University and its departments. The subsites enjoy almost full independence, but share common resources. So, if you’re running a network of blogs that are related in some way, go for a multisite.
With a multisite, you’ll need to install themes and plugins just once, and activate them only for subsites that need them. This helps you to manage the sites more easily, besides resulting in more efficient use of server space. What’s more, you can monetize the network by offering hosting services to other blogs and websites, though this maybe difficult if you’re on shared hosting.
You need not opt for a multisite if all that you want to do is change the look of your website. To do that, you can simply switch between themes. Likewise, for regulating access for different users, use plugins to limit capabilities or switch user roles. Obviously, a multisite is not a good choice if you want to add themes and plugins freely, or shift your website to different hosting services. Your hosting requirements may increase substantially, and an unreliable host may result in the entire network going down. Any spurt in traffic to any one site can slow down other sites on the network. Another drawback with multisites is that you’ll need to check plugins for incompatibility before installing them, as a number of plugins are not multisite compatible.
Why You Should Use WordPress Plugins For Multisites
By default, all new users on your network have subscriber level access. To change user roles and to manage many other functions in a mutlisite, you’ll need to rely on plugins. The plugins are installed on the Network Admin dashboard, and then activated for individual sites by the Network Admin. Some plugins are required to work across all the sites, and you’ll not be able to see them on the dashboards of individual sites.
The plugins on this list serve different functions – some are useful in setting up a multisite, some are helpful in managing the multisites after setup, while a few can do both. This list also includes a few plugins that are important to all websites, and not just multisites. The reason they figure in this list is that they are multisite compatible as well.
Free WordPress Multisite Plugins
The WordPress plugin repository has a number of plugins that are multisite compatible and make things a lot easier for the Network Administrator to have an overview of the network and manage it.
Multisite Cloner is a plugin with functions similar to the Content Copier Plugin below, though it does not offer the same level of flexibility. However, it has one feature that makes it stand apart. It allows you to mark out a specific blog on your network as a master site, and this blog will be cloned each time a new blog is created. The new blog will be an identical clone of the master site and will have all the contents, theme settings and plugin options as the master site. This site is not visible to search engines and you can use it as a template to create any number of new sites, instead of the default WordPress site.
This plugin is your answer if you’re looking to start a network with a number of sites with common content. Else, you can offer the sites you create using the template as a start point for the blogs or websites on your network to build their site.More info / Download
WordPress MU Mapping Domain
WordPress MU Mapping Domain enables any user on a WordPress Multi-User site to map the site to an external domain. The plugin needs manual installation, requiring you to copy files into the wp_content folder.
Users can choose the domain for their individual sites within the network. On the Super Admin dashboard, you can assign different domains to the individual sites as their primary domain. This way visitors to the individual sites will never guess that the site is a part of a network. Setting up this plugin gets a bit technical, but installation instructions are available. The users can add or delete their domains by using the Domain Mapping option under Tools.More info / Download
User Role Editor
As and when a new user signs in, WordPress automatically assigns the role of a subscriber to the user. With just a few clicks, the User Role Editor changes user roles on your WordPress. You can instantly see how useful that function will be in a multisite network. The Network Admin can create new capabilities and custom roles. Websites and multi author blogs that want to assign different access levels to different authors will be particularly happy with this plugin.
The plugin adds a new menu item User Role Editor on activation. To edit an existing role, simply select the role from the drop down menu, modify the permissions and update the changes. You can also create any role and grant any permissions you want for that role. To make these roles applicable all over the network, you must enable the ‘Apply To All Sites’ option, before you update the changes. You can change the default user role, delete any existing user role and assign multiple roles to a single user.
The plugin can be downloaded for free, but if you need the ad free version, you’ll need to pay for the Pro plugin. The Pro version helps you mange the multisite better and includes one click synchronization of changes. You can import or export user roles between sites and restrict viewing of pages and posts to select users. User Role Editor is a valuable addition in a multisite, multi-user environment.More info / Download
For security purposes, the default setting in WordPress allows only the site administrator on a single site install and network administrator on a multisite install to switch user accounts. User Switching allows users who are authorized to edit other users to switch accounts within WordPress. At the click of a button the authorized user can log out of the current user status and log in again as a different user, without changing passwords.
This feature is can be specially useful to Admins who manage multiple sites. They can view your blog through the eyes of a different user, or check the access levels of a custom user. Developers who need to move between a number of test sites can also check out the network from the user’s point of view. As Admin, you can simply click on a selected user’s link on the All Users page and navigate the website in that user’s role. You’re not actually logging in as that user, but you’ll have the same access levels that the user enjoys.
An add-on allows regular site admins to switch user roles on a multisite.More info / Download
Multisite Enhancements adds a number of useful features to the network dashboard. It adds the blogs and their User IDs within the network view. It allows the Network Administrator to view the themes and plugins active on each site from the admin screens of the respective plugins and themes. You’ll not need to log into each site to check which plugins or themes are active on those sites.
The plugin adds many convenient links on the network admin screen, including a ‘Add New’ link. It changes the footer text to display currently used RAM and SQL. In the network admin bar, you’ll find a favicon which is helpful in identifying individual blogs, status to view the external URL or if the site has a no index status. The plugin needs no configuration of settings or options, simply install and activate.More info / Download
Multisite Plugin Manager
While a multisite supports a host of plugins, not all the plugins are active on all the sites. You can see that it’s huge task to activate or deactivate all these plugins for each site individually. The Multisite Plugin Manager helps you manage plugins across multiple sites in a few minutes. This plugin is for the exclusive use by WordPress multisites, and not for single stand alone sites.
Working from the backend options page, you can set the access levels for any number of sites to any plugin, besides carrying out many more tweaks. In one go, you can activate and deactivate plugins for all of the sites in your network, and select plugins for automatic activation for all the blogs. Additionally, you can restrict specific sites from accessing specific plugins, or assign special permissions to some sites to access plugins. As the Network Manager, you can also override any restrictions, hide meta links and update messages for blogs.
This plugin is compatible Pro Sites plugin. This means you get to earn revenues by charging the sites on the network for the use of some plugins. A drop down menu will allow you to pick the plugins for which a charge is to be made.More info / Download
Multisite Language Switcher
If your blog has a reach over many countries, you may need your website to appear in multiple languages. Besides, all the sites on your network may not share a single common language. Multisite Language Switcher supports content in multiple languages on your WordPress multisite. It’s a powerful plugin that helps translate posts, pages, categories and tags into multiple languages. Flag icons are available for selection of language.
The plugin is installed on the multisite and the Network Administrator can activate this plugin across the entire network or for select sites alone. You’ll need to configure the settings for each site independently.More info / Download
Disable Comments is an extremely handy addition to any multisite. Comment moderation on a multisite network can, by itself, become a full time job. This plugin makes light of this task. Once you activate this plugin, it will disable comments globally on your multisite.
If you need to allow comments on any post or page selectively, you should totally skip this plugin. Not to overlook, WordPress can natively handle comments on individual pages and posts, without help from any plugin. But if you want to disable comments on the entire network, this plugin can do so in one stroke. It can remove comment related items from any place on your network – dashboard, widgets and menu.More info / Download
Premium WordPress Multisite Plugins
When it comes to premium plugins for multisites, you’ll find a number of plugins from WPMU DEV. Many of these plugins come free with a monthly subscription to WPMU DEV at $49. There’s a 30 day free trial period to help you decide if the membership works for you.
The Pro Sites plugin from WPMU not only helps you create a multisite network such as Edublogs, it also helps you manage it. You can create a multisite, add any number of sites to it and manage them all from one screen. Network Admin can activate / deactivate themes and plugins and effect updates selectively across all sites. You’ll be able to keep tabs on user activity across all sites and gather detailed statistics.
If you’ve got a few technical skills, you can take things further and monetize your multisite. As an Administrator, you can offer hosting services and paid premium upgrades. It’s also a good idea to offer some features as add-ons. You can create different sites for different budgets, as well as various tiers of membership. Using tables, you can display the features and price of each package in one place for users to see and compare.
Pro Sites offers features in compact modules, and you need to enable only those modules that you need. This makes managing the network easier. It enables domain mapping, supports BuddyPress and can send out emails automatically to new users and others. You can offer free trials, discounts and coupons to users. If you need additional storage, that’s available too.
Using the plugin, you can make the checkout a smooth affair for your customers. If any customer cannot make up his mind, he can reserve a site along with domain name for 48 hours. The plugin supports three payment gateways and 24 currencies.More info / Purchase
Multisite Content Copier
Often, when you run a number of blogs you may need to copy posts, pages, users and plugins from one site to another within your network. The Multisite Content Copier plugin makes it easy to copy content across your network, and comes free with a WPMU membership.
The plugin helps you create blog templates, and copy content into sites having those templates. The template integration ensures that building your site is automatic. With the plugin active on your site, you can create new sites easily and copy content into it in a flash. With a few clicks, you can copy content into just one site or across the entire network. Not just pages and posts, you can copy comments, tags, categories, users and plugins.
Setting up the plugin is easy, not needing much configuration. Using the site’s group feature, you can share content to all the groups on the network.More info / Purchase
Anti Splog from WPMU adds five layers of security around your network to cut down on spam blogs (Splogs). This is necessary in a multisite network as some users may set up blogs that can harm your network. This is specially the case in a free multi-user setup.
This first layer of protection limits the number of signups per 24 hours from any one IP. As a next step, it does not shut down signups, and shifts the signup page location every 24 hours. Thirdly, it blacklists IPs that were previously used to create a splog. Beyond these three levels, you can choose between user defined questions and reCAPTCHA to allow only human users.
The next layer relies on an algorithm to identify spam blogs on your network even before they are created. The algorithm is developed based on the data gathered from millions of blogs over time. If any spammer makes it past the initial layers, this layer identifies any spam post and shuts down the blog. The plugin allows you to choose the degree of stringency in identifying spam blogs in the plugin’s settings page. It also sorts the blogs into valid, suspicious and spam, so you can quickly manage the blogs. Spam blogs find a place in your archives, from where you can restore them at any time.More info / Purchase
A few more WordPress Plugins for Multisites
- Menus: Many menu items like Delete Blog, Theme Customizer and Permalinks need not be visible to all users. You can use Menus to toggle the Admin menus and the change will be effective for all users and all blogs.
- Network Shared Media: A useful plugin that allows you to add media from other blogs. It adds a new tab to the Add Media window for users who have permissions to upload files to the active blog. In combination with Multisite Language Switcher, editor will need to upload files just once in a multilingual website.
- Recent Global Posts: To display a list of recent posts picked from your multisite network on your main site, you can rely on this plugin from WPMU. It is customizable and you can determine how many posts to display and add links to them.
Plugins Important For All Websites, Including Multisites
Some functions like security and backup are important for all websites, not just multisites. While choosing plugins for these functions for multisites, you need to make sure that these plugins are compatible for multisites. The choice of plugins for multisites is not as wide as for single sites.
- BackWPup: BackWPup is one plugin that will backup your WordPress multisite. It can be activated on a full network only basis, and can backup everything on your multisite. Though it stores the backups in external storage options like Amazon S3 and DropBox, one click restore option is not available with this plugin.
- WP Security Audit Log: WP Security Audit Log monitors user activity and is a valuable addition in a multi-user setup. It can help detect potential hackers and identify security issues well in advance. It also keeps track of password changes and alerts you of suspicious user activity.
- Yoast SEO: Yoast SEO is fully multisite compatible. You need not configure the settings for each blog, the settings from one blog can be copied to another by choosing options in the Network settings. Or you can make one blog to be the default standard for all the other blogs.
- W3 Total Cache: This plugin will speed up the website by reducing the load times. You can install W3 Total Cache on a multisite and activate it on a per site basis as well. It improves server performance and reduces download time, thereby enhancing user experience.
To Sum Up
Multisites are not as easy to manage as standalone websites, they need you to be a little tech savvy. A multisite setup works well for Hosting websites and Education websites. The plugins in this list combine well with a WordPress multisite and can make routine management easier for the Network Administrator as well as for individual Site Admins.
If your favorite plugin is not on this list, do share it with us in the Comments Section.