WordPress Multisite allows you to install WordPress just once and to add as many WordPress sites as you want. Manage your network from a single WordPress dashboard with the same username and password. Others can sign up and create their own blogs on your multisite.
A multisite network requires a higher level of administrative control. In a multisite environment, the site administrator of the individual sites cannot make too many changes. For example, he cannot change the theme of a site or add plugins. He also cannot change the profiles of the users. Only the administrator for the whole network, called network administrator or super admin, can make these changes.
Multisite installation is of two types: domain-based and directory-based. By default, the installation is domain-based. This is to avoid conflict between pages and sites. You can change it to directory-based if you are confident that there will be no conflict.
Carefully manage the directory and permalinks in a multisite environment. The super admin is allowed to manage the site settings page. Further, the PHP files and .htaccess should be managed only at the network level. Otherwise, there is every possibility that you may mess up the directories, and the files and folders may become inaccessible.
All users who are added to your network have subscriber-level access. This is the default setting in WordPress. To assign different access levels to different users and to manage many other functions in multisites, you will need to install plugins. Plugins will help you in the creation of multiple sites. You can also use plugins to manage your network of sites and to enhance the performance and security of each.
All plugins are installed in the dashboard of the Super Admin and then activated or deactivated for individual sites. After you activate a particular site, that site administrator can manage it. You will need some plugins to operate across all the sites. They will not appear on the plugin list of individual sites on the super admin dashboard. You can opt to store the plugins in individual files or folders, and you do not need to activate or deactivate them. If present, you can simply use them.
It will help us to understand these plugins better if we view them under three categories.
I. Plugins that help to build a multisite:
- Pro Sites
- Multisite Content Copier
- Multisite Cloner
- Anti Splog
- WordPress MU Mapping Domain
II. Plugins that help to manage a multisite:
- User Role Editor
- User Switching
- Disable Comments
- Multisite Plugin Manager
- Multisite Language Switcher
- Network Shared Media
- Recent Global Posts
- Multisite Enhancements
- Multisite Store Viewer
III. Plugins that are generally important to all websites:
- WP Security Audit Log
- Yoast SEO
- W3 Total Cache
The following are plugins that help to build a multisite.
Pro Sites is a premium plugin from WPMU. You can set up a network with any number of sites using this plugin. A good example of this is Edublog. It is easy to monetize a blog with this plugin by offering hosting services and paid premium upgrades. As a site administrator, you will be able to provide the same set of services offered by any hosting provider.
Create structured packages to suit every budget or need, and offer them on your multisite. Many tiered memberships can be designed to match the needs of a variety of users. Consult the Pricing and Features tables that come with the plugin to capture on a single screen all the features and their prices.
Pro Sites supports theme and plugin upgrades and enables domain mapping. Bloggers can enjoy ad-free blogging and unlimited publishing. Increased storage, expert support, and BuddyPress support all add up to make the packages attractive.
From the hub, the site admin can have an overview of all the sites and carry out any maintenance activity. You can activate and deactivate plugins and themes for all or selected sites.
Regarding the payment and checkout process, it is smooth and seamless. In case a purchaser is undecided, he can reserve a site and domain name for 48 hours. This plugin also supports many payment gateways and 24 currencies. As a network administrator, you can keep tabs on user activity across all sites and gather detailed statistics. If you have installed Google Analytics, just turn on the integration to start the information flow.
Access to the plugin is through a membership with WPMU, which costs $49 per month. Check it out with a 14-day free trial.
Multisite Content Copier
If you often need to copy posts, pages, users, and plugins from one site to another within your network, Multisite Content Copier will make the task easier for you. This is another plugin from WPMU and comes free with their membership packages.
You can create blog templates and copy content into sites with a particular template. The built-in blog template integration makes site creation an automatic process.
Site creation is easy, and you can copy content into a single site, a group of sites, or all the sites in the network. With a few clicks, you can copy comments, images, categories, and tags.
A plugin with almost similar functions, but with lesser flexibility, is Multisite Cloner. With it, create a master site that is different from your main site. Use this master site as a template for any number of new sites instead of the default WordPress site. Block this master site from search engines, and use it only for site creation.
If you need a network with a number of sites with common content or if you want to give the blogs or sites on your network a starting point to build their sites, this is a plugin that must find a place on your network dashboard.
Splogs refer to spam blogs. In a free multiuser setup, it is possible that a number of users may set up blogs that are not really desirable or even harmful to your website. Anti Splog from WPMU offers three layers of protection. The first level prevents bots that reach your WordPress install. The second level uses an algorithm to identify spam blogs on your network even before they are created based on the data gathered over time.
The third step kicks in if a spammer manages to cross the first two layers. The moment a spammer initiates a spam post, you can identify and shut down the splog. The plugin allows you to create varying levels of stringency in identifying splogs, and you can customize the settings to your requirement.
WordPress MU Mapping Domain
With WordPress MU Mapping Domain, users on a WordPress multi-user site can map the site to an external domain. They can use their own preferred domains for individual sites within the network. You can configure the plugin in the Super Admin dashboard. Also, you can assign different domains to the individual sites as their primary domain, so 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 going to the Domain Mapping option under Tools.
The plugins that help to manage a multisite make managing a multisite network on a day-to-day basis much easier. All of them may not be required for all multisites. You must install them only if your network needs them.
User Role Editor
Any user in WordPress is tagged with a subscriber role by default. A few mouse clicks is all it takes for the User Role Editor to change user roles on your WordPress. You can even create new capabilities and create custom roles to assign to users. This plugin will be particularly helpful to websites that receive contributions from multiple authors, and you can assign different access levels to each of them.
Once installed, a new menu item User Role Editor can be seen in your WordPress. To edit an existing role, simply select the role from the drop-down menu, modify the permissions, and update the changes. By clicking on Add Role and granting permissions to the roles, you can create as many new roles as you need. If you wish to make these changes applicable to a multisite, you should enable “Apply to All Sites” before you update the changes.
Moreover, you can change the default user role, and you can delete old roles for which there is no longer any need. You can assign a single user multiple roles as well.
The free version supports multisites, but for advertisement-free use, you will have to purchase the Pro version. The Pro version will allow management over multisites via the network admin and a one-click synchronization of changes. You can import and export user roles between sites, as well as restrict posts and pages for viewing to specified users.
For security reasons, by default, only the site administrator on a single site install and network administrator on a multisite install can 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 will be logged out of the current user status and be logged in again as the desired user.
Administrators who manage multiple sites and developers who have to move between a number of test sites will find this plugin helpful. They can check out the network from the user’s point of view.
Disable Comments is a simple plugin that, once activated, will disable comments globally on your multisite. The super admin can disable comments on any post or page. You cannot alter this setting for individual posts or pages.
If you need to allow comments on any post or page selectively, you should totally skip this plugin. However, if you want to disable comments on the entire network, this plugin will make a good job of it. Not only that, this plugin can remove comment-related items from any place on your network: dashboard, widgets, and menu.
Multisite Plugin Manager
A multisite environment supports a host of plugins. Some will be installed and activated only on some sites and not on others. It would be a tough job to activate or deactivate all these plugins for each site individually. There is also every possibility that you make a hash of it. To prevent such botchups, install the Multisite Plugin Manager.
This plugin lets you access the backend options page to set the permissions for all the plugins across multiple sites and carry out many more adjustments to plugins. You can activate and deactivate plugins en bloc for all the sites in your network. Pick plugins that are to be automatically activated for all the blogs. Restrict the access of any site to some plugins. Or even assign special permissions to some sites to access plugins. And as the Network Manager, you can override any restrictions and allow specific sites to activate some plugins. The meta links and update messages for blogs can also be hidden.
This plugin can work in tandem with the Pro Sites plugin, so if you install Pro Sites, you can charge 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.
Multisite Language Switcher
Multisite Language Switcher is a simple plugin that allows content in multiple languages in your WordPress multisite. It is powerful and helps you translate posts, pages, categories and tags into multiple languages.
You will need to activate the plugin once in the Network Administration or in each blog, if you want translation only on some sites.
Menus is helpful in screening the menu items that are displayed to users. It limits users by hiding menu items. Many items like Delete Blog, Theme Customizer, and Permalinks need not be visible to all users and you can use Menus to toggle the Admin menus. The change will be effective for all users and all blogs.
Network Shared Media
Network Shared Media is a useful plugin that allows you to add media from other blogs. It adds a new tab to the Add Media window allowing you to access and upload image files from other blogs. This tab can be added only for a user who has the permission to upload files on the active blog. When combined with Multisite Language Switcher, it can save the editor the bother of having to upload the same files twice in a multilingual website.
Recent Global Posts
Recent Global Posts displays a list of recent posts picked from your multisite network on your main site. It is customizable, and you can determine how many posts to display and add links to them.
Multisite Enhancements will help to organize the network area for Super Admins by adding a number of topics as desired. For instance, you can insert Add New to the plugins link or Add Blog and User Id to the network and much more.
Multisite Store Viewer
Multisite Store Viewer is for viewing all the sites of a multisite on a single page. Users and administrator can navigate to their sites from this page. A search option is included on the page and you can search for a site by name. It is not yet rated and the number of active installs is less than 10, but it may be helpful to a large multisite, and so this plugin finds a place here.
The plugins that are generally important for all websites in this category are not specific to multisites and you will find them installed in standalone sites as well. But they are multisite capable and when installed in a multisite work to improve the performance of the multisite effectively.
There are a number of free plugins available for backing up WordPress sites, but when you want to back up a multisite, you will find that your options are restricted. BackWPup is one of the few free plugins that will backup your WordPress multisite. But before you install this plugin, understand that it can be activated only for the entire network. This plugin can backup everything on your multisite and store it in external storage options like Amazon S3 and DropBox. However, one click restore option is not available with this plugin.
WP Security Audit Log
In a multi-user setup, you may want to keep track of user activity on your network. WP Security Audit Log monitors user activity in real time. Potential hackers or security issues can be identified and prevented before any harm is done. Suspicious user activity is detected and alerts are issued. User level changes, password changes and many such issues will be detected by this plugin.
Yoast SEO is a plugin that will help fine tune your SEO practices. It helps take care of the technical optimization of your site so that it is search engine friendly. Yoast is fully multisite compatible. The XML Sitemaps will work just fine in all the setups. The settings from one blog can be copied to another by picking options in the Network settings. Or you can make one blog to be the default standard for all the other blogs.You do not have to configure the settings for each blog. The Import/ Export settings are fully functional in this plugin.
W3 Total Cache
W3 Total Cache will speed up the website by reducing the load times. It improves server performance and reduces download time, so the user experience is truly enhanced. This plugin is a must-install for all WordPress sites.
To sum up, multisites are a bit more complex than standalone websites, and managing a multisite requires technical knowledge. The plugins discussed in this post will make it easier to manage multisites. Depending on the unique nature of your multisite, you can install and use them.
If you have found any particularly useful plugin, do let us know and we can add it to our list.