Tools and Tricks to Manage Multisite and Control Your Network

Tools and Tricks to Manage Multisite and Control Your Network - Plesk at WCUS 2019

Matthew Rodela started out in IT consulting and has been building WP websites for about 10 years now. He acquired a theme called Website Builder for IT businesses. It came with tutorials on how to configure the theme and so on. He decided to turn it into more of a platform. Hence, after lots of trial and error, techsitebuilder.com was born. Turns out an automated Multisite was a better model for both his customers and his business.

“WordPress is a powerful platform that can really help organize and streamline website development.” 

However, Multisite can prove tricky to manage without the right tools and processes. That’s why Matthew chose to talk about plugins that can better help you manage your network. Plus the effective processes that can keep everything up-to-date, secure and backed up. Matthew’s lightning talk was not for developers specifically, but anyone who offers WordPress services to customers.

Providing your customers with the best WordPress solution

You may be used to the WordPress dashboard and how well it works. But oftentimes our clients are intimidated by it or don’t understand how to use it. So this is how you can develop a simpler, more controlled platform for your clients to use and become more successful.

 

Matthew explained that WordPress Multisite is built into the WordPress core and allows you to create subsites. These act as their own standalone WordPress install but they’re all sharing resources with one WordPress installation. Therefore, you only need to install the plugins, themes, and so on, once. It’s easier for you to manage and use your resources efficiently. For example, you update a plugin once and it’s basically updated on all sites.

 

Matthew uses WaaS – Websites as a service (like Wix, for example) to explain this model. Applying the Saas model to website delivery. These are Turnkey websites delivered automatically via WP multisite.

The focus of the business model is on scale and MRR (monthly recurring revenue). It’s low-cost for customers but also encourages a lot of DIY. Customers have a platform to build the way they want, while using the best tools. But above all, it’s niche-specific. You can be the best website platform for whichever industry you’re targeting.

Top Multisite Plugins according to Matthew Rodela #WCUS

WP Ultimo

WP Ultimo sells subsites on a subscription basis. It allows you to provision subsites to customers on a subscription. With pricing plans, you can limit how many posts you want customers to create per month, for example. Or by how much media they can upload – hosting costs. Certain themes can be available to certain plans. You can create starter content or the ideal site which customers can follow for their own.

KeyPress UI Manager

Rearrange, rename, hide and further modify all backend menus – Admin, Toolbar and Customizer. You can customize or style the dashboard. And soon, users of this plugin will also be able to edit other areas of the admin, like the Dashboard, Gutenberg  and branding.

UpdraftPlus

With multisite you have hundreds using a website from one WP installation which is a bit scary. With this UpdraftPlus plugin, you can backup the entire multisite network, but also individual subsites, which not all plugins can do.

White label CMS

This tool lets you brand your dashboard so you can customize the login page, and add your branding and logo, for example.

Multisite Enhancements and Beyond Multisite

Both sprinkle elements of accessibility which ease Multisite wrangling, but they also:

  • Shows on which sites a plugin is active
  • Display blog and user IDs
  • Various time-saving enhancements

Hosts like WP Engine and Closte

Both are great with subtle differences. WP Engine is one of the more popular hosts. It works with WP Ultimo domain mapping, scales well and has in-built security and caching. It has one-click staging for testing. And with WP Engine, you can convert to multisite in one click. It only counts as one install.

Closte also works with WP Ultimo domain mapping and you get Auto-SSL with WP Ultimo too. However it;s more flexible and the pricing scales according to your usage.

Final tips for running a multisite platform

Many users opt for premium plugins instead of free ones mostly so that they can get premium support. So be picky about plugins offered. Use a managed WP host ideally. Remember image optimization is key to manage disk space bandwidth – WP Smush works well with multisite in this respect. This way you don’t end up killing load time by uploading too many images and so on.

For more info on this topic, check out our take on multisite, or you can follow Matthew’s work here.

Changing WP Multisite Structure from subdomains to subdirectories and vice versa

WordPress Multisite Structure Change

If you’ve ever installed WordPress Multisite, you know the first thing it asks you to do is “Please, choose if you want the sites of your WordPress network to use subdomains or subdirectories. You will not be able to change this later.” From hereon, you’d need to follow different steps, depending on your choice, with no reversal. But life takes many turns and you may find yourself needing to change the model down the road, which WordPress doesn’t permit natively. What to do?

Here’s the verdict: you can change WordPress multisite from subdomains to subfolders and vice versa. But it requires some delicate actions, therefore we strongly suggest you backup your database, wp-config.php and .htaccess files, in case of any issues. Warning: Never do this in production.

Change WordPress Multisite from subdomains to subfolders

That is, going from http://site1.mydomain.com/ to http://mydomain.com/site1/.

Step 1

In our wp-config.php configuration file,  look for the line:

define( 'SUBDOMAIN_INSTALL', true );

and replace it with the following:

define( 'SUBDOMAIN_INSTALL', false );

Save changes.

Step 2

Go to the .htaccess file and look for the rules that are between #BEGIN WordPress and #END WordPress. You’ll have this:

# BEGIN WordPress

RewriteEngine On

RewriteBase /

RewriteRule ^index\.php$ - [L]

# add a trailing slash to /wp-admin

RewriteRule ^wp-admin$ wp-admin/ [R=301,L]

RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} -f [OR]

RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} -d

RewriteRule ^ - [L]

RewriteRule ^(wp-(content|admin|includes).*) $1 [L]

RewriteRule ^(.*\.php)$ $1 [L]

RewriteRule . index.php [L]

# END WordPress

and we will replace it with:

# BEGIN WordPress

RewriteEngine On

RewriteBase /

RewriteRule ^index\.php$ - [L]

# add a trailing slash to /wp-admin

RewriteRule ^([_0-9a-zA-Z-]+/)?wp-admin$ $1wp-admin/ [R=301,L]

RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} -f [OR]

RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} -d

RewriteRule ^ - [L]

RewriteRule ^([_0-9a-zA-Z-]+/)?(wp-(content|admin|includes).*) $2 [L]

RewriteRule ^([_0-9a-zA-Z-]+/)?(.*\.php)$ $2 [L]

RewriteRule . index.php [L]

# END WordPress

Keep the changes.

Step 3

Access the database and look for the table wp_blogs, you’ll find something similar to this:

WordPress Multisite - wp_blogs table

As our intention is to move to subfolders, we must manually set all the sites of our multisite with the main domain in the domain field of the table wp_blogs. And in the path field we’ll put the name of what used to be our subdomain. This table would look like this:

WP Multisite Structure change - wp_blogs table changes
WordPress Multisite - wp_blogs table check

If you have just a few sites, you can easily do this task manually. But if you have hundreds or thousands of sites, you may want to write a small script to automate this task.

Step 4

As you know, WordPress stores all your links and so it’s necessary to have a replacement of all the URLs of all our sites. For this, you’ll need to use WP-CLI or the Search & Replace script. However, never do this manually or by making updates directly to the database, because there’s likely to be serialized information that we may lose.

Fifth step

Check that everything is working correctly.

Change WordPress Multisite from subfolders to subdomains

In case you want to pass a multisite of subfolders to subdomains, the process is exactly the same, but in reverse:

  1. For security copies of the database and the wp-config.php and .htaccess files
  2. Set the >SUBDOMAIN_INSTALL to true in wp-config.php
  3. Change the rules in the htaccess by the subdomains (more info here)
  4. Change the domain column of the wp_blogs table in all sites, establishing the subdomains of each site. Simply leave the pathfield with the bar /
  5. Through the Search & Replace or WP-CLI script, replace all URLs of the type mydomain.com/site1 with site1.mydomain.com
  6. Check that everything is working correctly.

Need a server to manage your WordPress site? Check out Plesk WordPress Edition: The right platform with all the tools you need to run a managed WordPress server – simple and secure.

Did this work for you? Let us know of any issues in the comments.

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How to choose between WordPress Multisite and multiple WordPress instances

WordPress MultiSite vs Multiple WordPress instances - Plesk

It’s common to be managing many different WordPress instances at once. Whether it’s for different businesses or multiple websites for the same business. That’s why, WordPress made managing lots of different sites easier via its multi-site functionality. However, which use cases are a good fit for WordPress Multisite? And when should you use a unique WordPress instance instead?

WP Multisite can save you time and frustration but comes with several restricting factors. Let’s take a closer look at what WordPress Multisite is, and which scenarios benefit from it most.

WordPress Multisite – Quick Intro

WP introduced Multisite from version 3.0 of WordPress onwards. With WP Multisite, you can run a number of virtual sites using a single WordPress instance. To external users, these sites look like discreet websites. But in fact, they run using the same code and the same database.

Each virtual site in a WP Multisite setup can have its own domain too. But the sites are all administered from a single WordPress instance.

When WordPress Multisite beats single WordPress instances

WordPress MultiSite Benefits - Plesk

Multisite will hold plenty of advantages for many admins. Because you can save time, money and stress. All by using a single WP instance to service several different websites by means of the WordPress Multisite feature. Here are the advantages.

Reduced server load

With WordPress multiple installations, each WP instance consumes a lot of resources just to stay alive. You need enough disk space and RAM to run WordPress. And this increases with the more instances you put on a server. Multisite from WP reduces this load because it uses one instance and one code base.

The same goes for the plugins and themes you use on WordPress. Because with Multisite, you can use a single plugin and theme instance. So you don’t need to keep several copies of the same code on your machine just to run discreet websites. You can effectively run them using the same code.

Reduced management tasks

It’s quicker and easier to manage updates for plugins, themes and the entire WP CMS with just one code base. You only need to update and bug-fix once. Then, you can stick to a single backup for both WP and the SQL database. Optimizing WordPress is also a pain – but with WordPress Multisite’s single codebase, you only need to optimize once.

It also helps to have just one set of credentials when you administrate WP. You can manage all content from one console. Of course, you also save time because you don’t need to set up WordPress for every new website.

Sites appear discrete

Users see the websites in WP Multisite as discrete websites, and individual sites can use their own domains. And this is true for SEO too! Search crawlers simply see each domain as a separate site. So, using WordPress Multisite won’t affect your SEO results.

Where WordPress Multisite struggles

WordPress MultiSite drawbacks - Plesk

You can’t really use WP Multisite for discrete businesses. This is because of too much sharing in the visual styling process, thanks to shared themes and shared admin access. Here are the scenarios where WordPress Multisite won’t work that well.

Security problems

Every user with access to a specific site in WordPress Multisite has access to all sites in WP Multisite. You can’t wall sites off from a user permission perspective. This goes for site plugins too. Themes and plugins have reach across all the sites in a WordPress Multisite instance. So a rogue plugin can break all your sites.

Plugin and theme sharing

Furthermore, shared plugins and themes can be a problem. Because making a change to a plugin or theme will affect all sites simultaneously. This means that the sites in a WordPress Multisite setup should really overlap.

Performance issues can surface

Every site in the WP Multisite installation uses the same database. So, you may find that multiple page requests lead to performance problems. You can manage this, but without WordPress Multisite, it wouldn’t be an issue to begin with.

Choosing between Multisite and separate installations

Does the same business or support staff run the sites? Are these sites similar enough to share themes and plugins? If you work for a business that needs multiple similar sites, such as an event manager, WordPress Multisite is a good choice. But choose multiple WordPress sites ( WordPress installations ) when different businesses own the sites, and where sites use vastly different functional layers. We also suggest to read this article on how to manage WordPress multiple sites. You’ll find a review of solutions for both approaches.