I’ve got a confession to make – I love WordPress Multisite. I use it to power no less than three networks, each of which is very different, and it makes my job easier on a daily basis as well as saving my bacon fairly regularly too. Multisite is a great tool for anyone running more than one WordPress site with a similar setup. In my case, I use it for three networks:
- Edupress, a network of school websites all using the same theme framework and plugins
- Compass Design, where it powers client sites and offers a simple way to host smaller websites
- This blog, where I use it to create a bunch of small demo sites to accompany the tutorials I write.
But enough of me and my passion for WordPress Multisite. In this post I’ll introduce you to five plugins which can make your Multisite network more effective and make the job of managing that network much simpler.
1. WordPress MU Domain Mapping
Do you want to use Multisite to host client sites while letting your clients use their own domain? Then the WordPress MU Domain Mapping plugin is what you need. You’ll need to be comfortable editing your wp-config file to install it, but once you’ve done that you can use the plugin’s settings screens to add as many domains as you need to each site in your network, whether you’re running on subdomains or subdirectories. You can choose one of those domains as the ‘primary’ domain, which means that when people visit the site, that’s the URL they’ll see in their browser. As far as users (and your clients) are concerned, the site is hosted on the client’s domain and not on yours. Use the Domain Mapping plugin if you want to host client sites on your Multisite installation, or if you have a few sites (and domains) of your own and want to make things simple by keeping them all in the same place.
2. Gravity Forms
Gravity Forms is always a predictable bet for any list of top plugins, as it’s by far the most popular option for creating forms. But it also has an add-on that’s great for Multisite network owners. With the Gravity Forms User Registration Add-On, you can create a form which lets people register a new site on your network. If you’re running a site with ambitions to be the next wordpress.com or edublogs, then this plugin will help you get more users by making the process of site creation very simple. The plugin comes with its own API which lets you customise the data used by the form. For example when schools sign up for an Edupress website, we ask them what level of site they want (from three options: bronze, silver and gold). This is then saved to the new user’s user record and we pass that the to the
wp-options table for their site. This means we can then use that option to trigger the activation of relevant plugins for different site levels. Combined with other add-ons for Gravity Forms, you can also take payments or set up subscriptions at the same time, meaning your billing process will work even when you’re asleep! The only downside is that you’ll need a developer license for Gravity Forms to access the plugin – but to be honest, I know very few serious WordPress developers who don’t already have one.
3. WordPress Backup to Dropbox
There are many backup plugins out there and everyone has their own favourite. Not all of them work with Multisite however, which is why I use WordPress Backup to Dropbox. This plugin is fully Multisite-compatible: activate it for your network (rather than for individual sites) and link it to your Dropbox account, and it will automatically run backups of the whole network for you whenever you need it to. It minimises the amount of storage space used in your Dropbox account by only backing up files when they’re changed, so those files (like theme files) which you don’t edit for months on end won’t be duplicated in multiple backups. It can be a little tricky finding specific files in your backup folder, especially finding backups of the database, but once you’ve located them it’s easy to download and work with them. And you’ll have to keep an eye on your data use in Dropbox if your network gets very big – but if your clients or users are paying for their hosting, that should cover any extra data allowance. If you’re hosting multiple sites for clients, users or just for yourself, installing this plugin is something you only need to do once and will give you the peace of mind that comes with knowing your sites are backed up. And it’s free!
4. Support System
When I was setting up Edupress, I spent ages putting together a spec for a support system to let users raise tickets and contact me without having to send an email. And then I came across the Support System plugin, which does everything I needed and more. Like Gravity Forms this is a premium plugin, so you will have to pay for it, but it gives you a user-friendly ticketing and FAQ system that lets you receive alerts when new tickets are raised, assign specific team members to different ticket categories, track tickets and create FAQs when clients are raising similar issues again and again. The plugin is built on custom post types, so your clients use the familiar post editing screen to add tickets, with the advantage of being able to add to each ticket’s thread and transfer tickets between different members of your team. If your clients or subscribers are managing their own sites in your WordPress network and you want to avoid long, untraceable email exchanges when they need support, then this plugin will save you a lot of hassle and make your network look more professional.
5. User Switching
The User Switching plugin is smaller and lesser known than some of the big hitters I’ve listed above, but it’s one I use at least once a week. Install it network-wide (not on individual sites) and it will let you switch to any user in your network so that you can see what they’re seeing when they log in. I use it in combination with the Support System plugin – if a user raises a ticket, I switch to their user account and try to replicate what they’ve done so I can test what happens. It’s particularly useful if you’ve customised the dashboard so that your users see different screens or dashboard widgets from Super Admins, as others you’d have to create test accounts using different user roles and repeatedly log into and out of those. With User Switching you can switch to any user and quickly switch back to your own account with one click.
I’ve said it before and I’m not ashamed of saying it again: WordPress Multisite is great. It helps you to manage multiple client sites with ease, create a network that users can add their own sites to, or simply keep all of your own sites in one place. But on its own, Multisite isn’t achieving all of its potential. With the plugins I’ve listed above you’ll find that managing a WordPress network will be easier, smoother and less time-consuming.