Multisite Platforms – the Day a WordPress Guru Got it Wrong

Multisites Make Short Work of Offering and Managing Multiple Websites

So read on to discover why one network should rule them all.


Every time I use WordPress Multisite, I die a little inside.

So wrote Rob Howard, the editor of MasterWP, the revered independent source for WordPress industry insights. Well, with friends like those…

The Prosecution Case…

Howard’s position, published on MasterWP itself, is that generally the benefits WordPress Multisite offer are easily available via a regular WordPress installation. As examples he cites single-sign-on across multiple domains and the sharing of themes and plugins between sites.

And For the Defence…

The editor’s comments provoked a glut of responses from developers like Jonathan Bossenger – just one voice quick to ride to the rescue of the wronged innovation.

In the response piece, Bossenger firstly made the case that for enterprises managing multiple sites, WordPress Multisite remains the correct and necessary solution.

Going further, Bossenger theorised that Howard’s experience perhaps lay largely with single-site builds. Then he went on to cheerlead for the multisite solution’s agility in terms of design and layout, management and administration.

We’re With Jonathan

Here at Hookson, we sit firmly on the defence side too. And in this blog we’ll take a closer look at the multisite solution.

We’ll concentrate on WordPress, and later on will share a few words about that other multisite monster, Drupal – a solution we’re also well-versed in. In addition, we’ll share too some rock-solid reasons why businesses need to be considering the multisite solution.

Then we’ll reveal how we’ve helped transform organisations using our expertise in the multisite arena, via both WordPress and Drupal.

But let’s begin with an inconvenient truth…

Keeping on Top of Multiple Websites is Stressful and Time-Consuming. And Necessary

If your business or organisation is managing multiple websites, it’s likely you’ve encountered equally multiple admin and maintenance tasks.

Staying ahead of updates and installations, themes and plugins is tiresome and time-hungry. These chores are also essential though. Every change is contributing to a terrific customer experience by ensuring websites and subsites are running at full peak.

The trick then is to keep management and maintenance ticking – but without trading off so much of your valuable time.

And that’s one area where multisites come in to play.

But before we go on any further…

Multisites: a Quick Definition

A multisite is an installation enabling the creation and managing of a network of websites from just one dashboard in say WordPress or Drupal.

The big advantage of a multisite setup is the easy way changes are made across the network from just one single point. Networks can be accessed and controlled by one person in an organisation. And, crucially, other users can engage with the dashboard too.

Permission granted

Admin tasks can be assigned to different users thanks to easy permission controls

Variation on a theme

Shared themes across the network make for fast and efficient customisation

WordPress. It Used to be For Bloggers

The world’s most popular content management system (CMS), WordPress has come a long way since its founding, as a blogging platform, in 2003. Today it’s behind the likes of Usain Bolt and the White House, The Walt Disney Company and – hold the front page – the New York Times.

Streamline Tasks. And Share Content in a Snap

What a roster of global clients we’ve just encountered – and these are a fraction of the growing roll call. It’s no surprise therefore that WordPress has invested heavily in multisite functionality. So for those running multiple sites its multisite features will save you and your business time.

Multisites: Five Reasons Why Your Business Should be Paying Attention

At Hookson, we’ve become experts at matching this market-leading solution with our clients’ needs. These include multisite builds that:

  • Present from one brand stable – but offer a personality of their own
  • Are easy to update and manage
  • Reduce overheads and deliver bottom-line-pleasing ROI

We build our bespoke multisite solutions to meet these demands, enabling our clients to:

1. Create Distinctly Different Websites – Quickly and Easily

It’s the number-one reason for a multisite build.

With a multisite build, scaling up is a winner. It’s a breeze to add subsites beneath one URL. Building out networks that share plugins and theme files also reduces server strain – and associated costs.

2. Save Money

 It’s also the number-one reason for a multisite build.

Time and efficiency savings can be significant. And time saved is money saved as admin tasks are kicked into touch and shown who’s boss. These could be:

  • Changing or modifying themes
  • Installing plugins
  • Performing software updates
  • Updating user permissions

Across a bundle of websites completing this list would undoubtedly take an age. But with a multisite setup, entire networks can be updated and changed from one location.

A multisite setup quickly takes on those time-crushing admin tasks sites demand. From installing plugins and performing updates, to changing and modifying themes.

3. Stay on Top of Brand Consistency

Sites on a network might be speaking differently to different audiences.

Content, for example, might vary by language and currency, by offers and recommendations, and even by layout. But alongside these differentiators – all applied via a multisite dashboard – broad website design can remain consistent and speak with one brand voice.

Degrees of Control

An example? How about an organisation whose subsites need to share a strong branding or theme across numerous departments or projects – but still retain and showcase their own identity. A university, with its assorted disciplines and offerings, for instance.

Here, a multisite network would allow different departments and so on to shine and convey their own personalities. But they’d always remain connected with the wider university.

4. Publish and Edit – Fast and Simple

If your business is offering several sites, editing and publishing content site-by-site is a waste of effort.

Instead, throughout your multisite network, shared connections exist at the backend. The benefit here is that changes, improvements and updates are a cinch to apply via user-friendly dashboards from both WordPress and Drupal.

5. Assign Admins For Every Site. That’s Super

WordPress allows the Super Admin – the administrator at the top of the tree – to assign fellow administrators to each site or subsite on a network.

Super Admins retain a granular view of activity, but it’s those sites’ respective Admins who take care of tasks across multiple sites.

This is a terrific network management benefit. It not only keeps networks in tip-top shape, but also displays trust among colleagues charged with admin responsibilities.

And when it comes to actually adding sites to networks, as we’ve stated, it’s easy to grant permissions to colleagues. So it’s goodbye to unnecessary waiting and admin.

Which Businesses Benefit Most From a Multisite?

Generally, any organisation whose online presence relies on subsites will benefit from a multisite setup.

And if multiple sites share common hosting, plugins and themes, time and efficiency savings can be significant. Good to know is that if you expect your network of sites to attract considerably more traffic than a single site, hosting needs to be robust enough to handle those hits.

To show rather than tell, let’s look at a real-life use case.

Our WordPress Multisite Activities For a Leading Technology Company

Hookson has significant experience of working with international enterprises that have emphatically grabbed the borders-busting opportunities of e-commerce. So, constrained by nothing, and energised by ambition, once-off-limits territories have become plausible targets.

To reach these prospects though requires a sophisticated online presence. Needed are site builds that are:

  • Robust enough to handle large, evolving inventories
  • Capable of keeping pace with regular, fast-moving sales events
  • Providing an e-commerce functionality built for the entire world

Responding to these needs, our work with a world-leading technology company has changed the game for this client’s customers. Our WordPress multisite builds provided the tools for these sites to embrace highly adaptable and responsive Hookson-designed WordPress themes – and make them their own.


Servers rejoice

Less code = less server space needed = cost and efficiency savings

Stay on brand

Speak to different visitor needs - in one united voice

Building Out Unique Features For Every Website

We began each multisite build by carefully creating a WordPress parent theme. That’s the theme containing the core functionality powering each separate website.

Next, we created a suite of specially designed child themes on top of this parent. These added unique styles, layouts and other distinctive functions.

One Network. Many Sites

And just like an actual kid, these child themes developed unique features: UI elements like navigation, image size and, customising even further, colours and fonts.

All of these high-functioning and easy-to-manage sites emanated from just one network. That saved our client server space and, ultimately, associated costs. Banished too was unnecessary and time-demanding coding. Instead, we delivered distinctly different sites for the huge number of customers connected with our client.

A Word About Drupal

WordPress isn’t the only show in town, of course. Drupal – kind of the Pepsi to WordPress’ Coke – began life in 2000. And, similarly to WordPress, Drupal wasn’t at all envisaged as a CMS straight from the off. Instead, it started out as a messaging board.

Today, its technology is powering huge and diverse names including Nasa, Tesla, Oxford University and – celebrity alert – Lady Gaga.

At Hookson, we’re on intimate terms with Drupal multisite builds too…

Hookson’s Drupal Multisite Project For American Ancestors

We’ve been proud to work alongside New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) for several years. A world-leading genealogical research society and resource, NEHGS administers several signature projects. Each one is accessible from American Ancestors – the Society’s Hookson-designed principal website

All of these signature projects required their own online presence. Connected with the society’s top-line branding of course, but offering aesthetics and functionality often unique to each project site.

Hookson has worked across such signature projects, including:

Ancestor Strong

GU272 Memory Project

Jewish Heritage Center

A User-Friendly Solution

For American Ancestors, keen to benefit from a user-friendly multisite network, our expertise supplied an ideal solution. Key milestones included:

  • Drupal theme configuration
  • Content-sharing functionality
  • Development of an interactive booking calendar
  • Integration of powerful sites-wide search asset
  • Extensive user testing

You can read the full story of this major Drupal multisite project at our dedicated case study


Our multisite work alongside a world-leading technology company has changed the game by enabling sites to embrace highly adaptable and responsive Hookson-designed WordPress themes.

So, After all That, Did MasterWP Get it Wrong About Multisites?

We think so.

We believe the case for multisite builds – via WordPress or Drupal – has been decisively made thanks to multisites’ ability to deliver:

  • Different, high-functioning websites across one network
  • Highly personalised sites that speak with one brand voice
  • Organisation-wide efficiency via user roles
  • Time and cost savings

Sure, for those businesses running maybe two or three sites – especially if they don’t share common design elements – a single-site setup might be attractive. But for those offering anything beyond this, multisite is surely the way to go.

Convinced? You can now try…

Setting up a Multisite Yourself

Finally, whether you opt for Drupal or WordPress, it takes a bit of time and know-how to build out a multisite network.

As you’d expect, both enterprises offer step-guides. WordPress squashes its instructions down to six separate steps. Drupal presents its guide over just three.

Inevitably, across both sets of instructions, each step contains a series of sub-steps to follow though. And in truth that can make self-installation a case of trial and error. But for organisations offering several websites and/or subdomains, the effort is worth it.

But if the DIY route looks a bit daunting…

Looking For a Fast and Powerful Multisite Installation For Your Organisation?

  • Don’t fancy creating databases?
  • Got an aversion to enabling per-site modules?
  • Or maybe the wp-config.php file is something you’d really rather not explore.

Never fear. At Hookson, we can quickly build the highly customised WordPress or Drupal multisite network that’s bang on target for your business goals. One that’s created for easy management and updating. So why not give us a shout to find out more.