• Development

WordPress Multisite for SEO: Is It Worth It?

Written by Fransisca Smith

WordPress Multisite is a powerful tool that can streamline your digital strategy, making it easier and faster to manage multiple websites under a single WordPress installation and centralised CMS. However, if you’re running a network of sites there are important SEO considerations to take into account, such as content duplication and canonical issues. In this article, we’ll break down the benefits and pitfalls of WordPress multisite for SEO and detail how to properly set up and manage WordPress multisite with best practices, for maximum SEO impact.

Multisite content management

What is WordPress Multisite?

WordPress Multisite is a type of WordPress installation that allows you to create and manage multiple websites from a single WordPress installation. Each site can have its content, themes, and plugins, but they all share the same core files and database. This means you’ll use much less server space than you would if you had a separate WordPress installation for each additional site. While there are many benefits of Multisite WordPress, namely a more centralised management system and potential cost savings, it’s important to be aware of the SEO implications when opting for WordPress Multisite.

 

WordPress Multisite for SEO: The Benefits

 

Streamlined SEO Strategy

With Multisite WordPress, you can implement one centralised SEO strategy. This means that you can optimise your pages for search including on-page optimisation, content creation and management much easier. With helpful plugins such as Yoast, you’ll be able to easily manage on-page SEO across all of your sites. 

Cost Efficiency

Managing multiple websites separately can be resource-intensive. If you opt for WordPress Multisite, there is the potential to save on hosting and maintenance costs. It can be more cost-effective to run multiple websites under one installation, as opposed to maintaining separate hosting plans and licenses for each site. However, this will differ across organisations depending on their goals and resources.  

Time and Security 

Updating plugins, themes, and WordPress itself can be easier with WordPress Multisite. You can install, activate, and update your website features for all your websites at once, saving time and ensuring that your websites are always up-to-date and secure. 

Centralised User Management

Multisite allows you to manage user roles and permissions in one central location. This is especially useful for digital project managers and heads of marketing who need to grant or restrict access to different teams working on the various child websites. You can assign specific roles to users across multiple sites, ensuring better control and security.

Future-proof your website

WordPress Multisite is scalable and if your organisation is looking to grow or expand to new services or territories, then it can be the optimal choice. The benefits of Multisite are the ability to easily create and manage new sites easily and quickly, and benefit from the infrastructure already in place. This is an attractive feature for many organisations that have multiple sub-brands and want to keep management of all sites in a centralised platform. 

 

Things To Watch Out For

 

Potential for Duplicate Content

One of the major concerns with WordPress Multisite is duplicate content. Duplicate content can negatively impact SEO, as Google finds it difficult to differentiate pages with identical content. This risks Google not ranking your duplicate content at all, or your pages competing for the same keywords. It’s essential to differentiate all of your content and ensure that each page is showing unique content. In many cases, if your organisation is creating additional sites, it’s likely that these will have their own specific brand identities and content, therefore limiting the risk of duplicated content. 

Over-Optimization

With centralised SEO management, there’s a risk of over-optimizing your content across multiple sites. While it’s essential to maintain a consistent SEO strategy, it’s equally important to adapt it to each site’s specific needs. It’s important to avoid using duplicate keywords in general but especially between parent sites and child sites or you risk competing against any child sites. To ensure this doesn’t happen, it’s essential to tailor your content and SEO strategy to each site’s target audience and niche.

Performance and Loading Speed

Multisite WordPress can have a performance impact, especially as you add more websites to the network. Slow-loading websites can negatively affect SEO rankings. To mitigate this, invest in reliable hosting with sufficient resources, optimise your websites for speed, and regularly monitor their performance. Additionally, to keep on top of SEO performance, we recommend you run regular audits that include investigating the internal linking structure of your sites, fixing any broken links and updating any missing anchor text. 

Complex SEO Management

Managing SEO across multiple websites can be more complex than managing a single site. It’s crucial to have a clear SEO strategy in place that is tailored to each page and its goals. Consider using SEO tools such as Ahrefs or Semrush, and plugins such as Yoast, which support Multisite WordPress for more streamlined management.

People

Having all of the tools to manage multiple users and permission types across multiple territories is not usually enough to predict how your teams will behave. Individual country marketing managers, website managers for sub-brands and child sites, and other team members operating your website CMSes are likely to each gradually form their own habits which are likely to impact your SEO negatively. Having a centralised set of strict SOPs and training resources and meeting with your website editors on a regular basis is a good way to correct the human factor. The most sophisticated website management structures will incorporate content peer review, where pages which are uploaded are typically given a ‘four eyes’ approval policy, and periodic audits of writing practices will take place between junior and senior colleagues.

 

How this looks in practice

The Crucible team recommended WordPress Multisite for some of our clients. As a digital agency, we are keen to ensure our client’s digital strategy is aligned as best as possible. Organisations that have multiple additional sites or sub-brands can benefit from a Multisite approach and we work closely with our clients to ensure that there is no risk of duplicate content or performance issues. 

WordPress Multisite for Higher Education Websites

 

Churchill College, University of Cambridge

We recommended WordPress Multisite for the website redesign for Churchill College, University of Cambridge. The college had various departments with multiple admin users who required different levels of access. Installing WordPress Multisite ensures that the Churchill team and its various departments, societies and stakeholders can quickly and easily create new child sites in the future. It also means that for website managers and content editors, content is simple to manage. 

Churchill College had built a substantial digital presence and their SEO needed to be protected during the Multisite build. The Crucible team approached the task delicately, installing Yoast SEO within the core site as well as each child site to ensure that there was no duplicate or competing content across the sites. 

Additionally, it was important to consider the hierarchy and structure of the site. It was crucial to set up the account’s database according to the hierarchy of the main site and its child sites. There are two ways to do this: 

  1. Create child sites using a subdomain (eg. blog.yousite.com) 
  2. Create child sites using a subfolder (eg. yoursite.com/blog)

There is much debate on whether using subdomains or subfolders may impact SEO rankings. However, Google’s John Muller says “Google web search is fine with using either subdomains or subdirectories”, suggesting that there is no difference between the two options. It is important, though, to remember that if your organisation does opt for subdomains, to ensure your sites are internally linked strategically to benefit from SEO rankings across your various sites. 

 

Is WordPress Multisite for SEO good or bad? 

WordPress Multisite offers several advantages for organisations that have various departments, sub-brands, independent territories or products. However, it’s important to consider both the SEO benefits and pitfalls when using Multisite, and how to avoid negatively impacting your SEO efforts. By implementing a centralised CMS, teams will be able to quickly and efficiently manage all content with ease and with the right setup, there can be additional SEO benefits.