Why You Should Avoid WordPress Multisite

There are thousands of articles about why you should use WordPress Multisite but I’m edgy. So let’s talk about why you should not use WordPress Multisite.

I have a complicated relationship with WordPress Multisite. I love the concept and I love being with it; sometimes. However, then I remember how much stress it puts my life. Long term, we just don’t work well together.

Much like my relationship with WordPress Multisite, I see a lot of people use it incorrectly. When you use WordPress Multisite incorrectly, it causes a lot of unnecessary complications.

What Is Multisite?

WordPress Multisite allows you to create a network of related WordPress websites with a single WordPress install. You can login to one admin panel and manage all the websites at once. It is a pretty cool concept.

Multisite is best in very niche use cases. Getting the setup wrong can cause you to waste a lot of time trying to accomplish simple tasks.

Well What’s Good About Multisite?

WordPress Multisite has some really cool technological advantages to it.

  • It shares one install so you can easily login to all websites on the network.
  • Since there is only one admin panel all plugins/themes/core updates can be handled from one location.
  • You can pushout changes to a lot of websites easily through network activated plugins.
  • It’s got a cool name (okay maybe not).

WordPress Multisite is great in some situations. For example, say a university wants each department to have their own sub-site to update and manage; but it’s integrated into the main domain. Or let’s say you have a game website where people can log in to play HTML 5 games, and you have several domains for each niche, you can use WordPress Multisite to easily manage these networks and unify your player’s logins across all websites.

What’s Bad About WordPress Multisite

It’s not that WordPress Multisite is bad, but it makes otherwise simple tasks incredibly difficult.

  • Migrations are a pain in the ass. Think about it. Each sub-site shares the same database with one another. Sure, some tables are generated uniquely for each site, but many are not. The wp_options is an example of one table. So migrating any website off the network can be a major challenge.
  • Every user created has access to the entire network. Because users are shared, they exist for each and every website in some way. This can be an annoyance depending on your setup.
  • Plugin management (let’s go into this below).

WordPress Multisite is a pain when it comes to plugin management. Let’s say you want to activate a plugin, network wide, for the 50 sites on your network. Now, let’s say you want to disable it for only one website. Well, you can’t without another plugin because network activation applies to every website and there is no default override for sub-sites.

Now, let’s say you need to add a plugin for only one website on the network. It still exists on the entire network and will show as disabled, even if you don’t network activate it. For example, let’s say you install Yoast SEO, but you don’t network activate it. This means it is still going to show up in every sub-sites plugin list.

WordPress shares plugins site wide because not every plugin supports WordPress Multisite. This is not dependent on whether the plugin is activated or not.

So a network of different types of sites can end up with hundreds of different plugins. Which is a pain in the ass to manage.

When Should You Not Use Multisite

WordPress Multisite is a complex solution; with a really niche use case. It is not meant to be used in every situation.

  • Don’t use Multisite to do development work. I run into this issue all the time. WordPress Multisite is not a staging server. Just spin up a staging sub-domain with its own separate WordPress install and migrate when done.
  • Don’t use Multisite to manage your client websites. This locks your clients into your ecosystem. Give them their own separate install. Otherwise you’re exposing them to security and likely performance issues that they wouldn’t have otherwise. Not to mention when the client wants their own website moved to their own hosting plan… Good luck moving it.
  • Don’t use Multisite to manage a small number of unrelated websites. Using Multisite is fine if you have only a couple of websites, but only if they are similar. If they are all different, give them their own install and suck it up.

Closing Thoughts

WordPress Multisite is not ill equipped. It isn’t always the right tool for the job. WordPress Multisite is supposed to be used for applications like WordPress.com or Edublogs. It is not a discount client management software. You risk exposing all your clients to the same security issues. The same performance issues. And you run the risk of possibly knocking all your client’s website offline if something goes wrong.

What are your thoughts on WordPress Multisite?

scott hartley

About the author

Scott is a web performance geek, lover of all things coffee, and avid video game player. His WordPress work delves into web performance, web security, and SEO.

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