One of WordPress’ most impressive features is its built-in support for Multisite, which enables you to run a network of blogs from one installation. However, you may wonder if this feature is strong enough to hold up under pressure.
Fear not! Multisite is a robust, powerful tool that can be used in a number of ways to manage and publish content. This is particularly useful if your content management needs extending beyond a single site for one type of project. Best of all, the proof can be found in the pudding; in other words, looking at how big brands use multisite in the real world is a great way to see how many different applications it has.
In this article, we will first explain what Multisite is and why it can be so useful, and then show you eight different sites that use it to power enterprise-level networks. Let’s get cracking!
An Introduction to WordPress Multisite
WordPress Multisite enables you to run multiple WordPress sites using one set of core files. In other words, it allows ostensibly standalone sites to share themes, plugins, and other features within the same network.
The feature is particularly useful if you’re building a blog network, company intranet, or simply running a brand that calls for multiple domains. Best of all, you can get started with Multisite right now, thanks to our beginner’s guide.
The benefits that come with Multisite determine whether it is useful for your current situation. Here are the primary features Multisite will provide for your site:
- Quick access to your sites from one dashboard
- Shared plugins, themes, and users
- Advanced settings for granular control
- All-in-one upgrades
One exemplary case study we’ve previously explored was a restaurant that had locations in three different cities. Each location needed its own domain and unique site, but the client wanted to manage them all from the same login. Multisite was the perfect solution.
Of course, Multisite isn’t for every situation. You may also be wondering whether it is a scalable solution for enterprise sites. With that in mind, to illustrate how flexible and scalable Multisite really is, let’s take a look at how big brands are using it in production.
8 Notable Brands Using WordPress Multisite
Watching how others utilize Multisite may be the best way to become familiar with its capabilities, while giving you ideas for how your own projects might benefit.
Here are eight notable brands all using WordPress Multisite in their own businesses.
WordPress.com is run by Automattic as a foolproof service for WordPress hosting and support. It is the prime example of a user-driven network of blogs where people can register for their own unique WordPress blog without having to worry about the technical ins and outs involved.
The network hosts more than 409 million people viewing over 15.5 billion pages each month – and it’s all powered by Multisite. If that’s not a testament to the feature’s scalability, we’re not sure what is.
BBC America hosts a combination of original American scripted series and British entertainment. On their site, you can access shows like Doctor Who, Orphan Black, Planet Earth II, Top Gear, and more.
The ‘parent’ website is made up of many distinct sections, as each show has its own unique site. BBC America takes advantage of Multisite to manage each of these sites, without having to recreate them from scratch. This works because they are all essentially the same, but with different content. If a particular show needs unique design tweaks, all they need is a child theme.
This is a great example of how you might manage many related yet unique sites within one WordPress installation. Another adaptation of this idea might be for franchised locations all based on one brand, such as the restaurant case study we mentioned earlier.
New York Times Blogs
The New York Times is one of America’s largest newspapers. They use WordPress in a myriad of ways, which all tie back into a custom content management system the company uses to handle the news.
However, their blogs section in particular uses Multisite to manage individual columns. In this case, they don’t allow strangers to simply create new blogs, as WordPress.com does. However, it does let them give necessary access to trustworthy regular writers so they can manage their own content.
To understand exactly how they do it, you can read more about the technical details of their process here.
Reuters is another large news organization, covering a range of topics including finance, accounting, law, science, healthcare, and media.
Like the New York Times, a section of their site is dedicated to regular columns for analysis and opinions. Each writer gets their own microsite, where they can manage categories, tags, and related posts within their own network of content.
If you are managing a similar network of writers whose content organization needs are complex enough, Multisite enables you to give them complete control over their own sections without sacrificing security for the rest of your site.
This is somewhere in-between what we’ve seen in prior examples. Users can sign up free of charge to run their own column without a private invitation, but signups are restricted based on whether the user has an email that ends with harvard.edu, radcliffe.edu, or hbs.edu.
The code to restrict registrations like this is relatively simple – you can use this example to get started.
Wall Street Journal
They use WordPress Multisite to create ad hoc, industry-specific news portals as called for. We’ve included their China Real Time Report site here as an example.
If you need to be able to quickly spin off a microsite connected to the rest of your brand, Multisite can be an excellent tool. It’s particularly powerful because you’ll already be set up with all the same themes and plugins.
Cheapflights specializes in helping customers find great deals on flights, hotels, and travel. They use Multisite because they have user bases from all around the world, and it enables them to create geo-centric sites for each location.
As two examples, they own news.cheapflights.com (USA) as well as news.cheapflights.co.uk (UK). By using Multisite, they are able to keep the same look, feel, and interface while simply changing out the content to focus on each region’s needs. Every time they want to focus on a new region, it’s as simple as registering a new site to the network – rather than setting up a brand new WordPress site from scratch.
In this case, Cheapflights uses Multisite similar to the way BBC America does. If you are constantly creating sub-sites that all need to carry the same functionality and branding, Multisite enables you to do this quickly and easily.
Edublogs is an educational blogging network. They offer WordPress hosting with a focus on providing educational-specific plugins and themes.
Much like WordPress.com, Edublogs uses Multisite to enable users to create new blogs within their network. Of course, the major difference is that they offer a custom set of themes and plugins to suit a specific audience.
If you want to offer services like this to a specific target market, Multisite lets you build your own customized version of WordPress hosting. Edublogs is run by the same people at WPMU DEV, where they explain in depth how they build their services.
WordPress Multisite is a flexible tool that can be used to manage content in any number of complex situations. Seeing how big brands have used it can help inspire you to use it in your own projects.
There are many different ways big brands have used Multisite in production. Hosting sites such as WordPress.com and Edublogs use Multisite to offer custom WordPress solutions. News sites such as the New York Times and Reuters use it to manage unique columnists. Other sites such as BBC America and Cheapflights find it helpful for managing sites that need to look similar, but have very different content from each other.
What sites can you think of that might be powered by Multisite? Tell us about them in the comments section below!
Image credits: Patrick Tomasso