Category: Web Design

WordPress Multisite is a very powerful tool. It allows you to manage multiple WordPress sites from a single admin panel.

Pages and posts on each site are still managed separately, but themes, plugins, backups and security are managed centrally. This makes it much easier to manage a group of related websites.

In addition to the basic Multisite capabilities, I highly recommend a few plugins that extend the multisite paradigm:

  • Network Shared Media - allows you to share media files across your websites.
  • Multisite Plugin Manager - improves plugin management; allows you to mass activate/deactivate plugins across your network of sites.
  • Multisite User Sync - synchronizes users across your network of sites.

The downside of WordPress Multisite is that moving a multisite network from one hosting server to another can be difficult.

I recently moved a network of websites (chinatown-directory.com and 18 associated sites) from BlueHost to SiteGround. I found a pretty painless, step-but-step process for making the move, which I describe below.

  1. Go to your current Multisite dashboard. Install and activate the UpdraftPlus Premium plugin. This is a paid plugin... but believe me, it's worth it!
  2. Do a complete backup of your website, and download all the files to your desktop computer.
  3. Go to your new host. Add the domain for the root (or original) site of your multisite network.
  4. Change the DNS pointers to your root site to point to the new hosting server, and wait for the changes to propagate.
  5. Go to the control panel for your new host. Install WordPress, and be sure to check the "enable multisite" checkbox.
  6. Install and activate the UpdraftPlus Premium plugin on the new host.
  7. Upload the backup files from your desktop computer, and run a restore.
  8. Verify that the root site is working correctly on your new server.
  9. For each of the additional sites in your multisite network:
    • Add the domains on your new server; point them to the base domain directory.
    • Change the DNS pointers for each of the additional domains.
  10. Don't forget that, if you have email accounts associated with the domains in your network, you'll need to move the email accounts to your new hosting service as well.

Over the past few months, I've been approached by three clients to make modifications to their WordPress websites. In each case, I found that the sites were built using  WYSIWYG "page builders" as part of their WordPress theme.

The page builders (different on each site) allow the administrator to drag and drop a selection of page components.

The standard WordPress Visual Mode editor is a little cumbersome to use, and adding fancy user interface components often requires arcane shortcodes. On the surface, a WYSIWYG page builder is a big improvement. But there are significant disadvantages that most business owners may not understand.

(1) Site Bloat

One of the biggest issues with elaborate themes, which include page builders and UI components, is that they are very large. Displaying a page may required hundreds of files to be downloaded. Slow sites give a bad user experience, and are penalized by search engines.

(2) Incompatibility

Site builders include a built-in library of UI components. But if you prefer a different component, it can be difficult or impossible to make it work with the site builder. There are over 40,000 WordPress plugins currently available, but a site builder may prevent you from using all but a handful.

(3) Learning Curve

One of the great advantages of WordPress is the fact that it is a de facto standard. There are hundreds of thousands of designers and developers who work with WordPress. But when you base your site on a specific site builder, the typical WordPress designer will need to start from scratch to understand how the theme works - and this may add a lot to your expenses. (Of the three projects I was recently offered, I turned down one because the site builder looked too "non-standard.")

(4) Lock-in

When you build your site with a page builder, you are tying the future of your site to the developer. If the developer stops making updates, you may well be stuck when problems or incompatibilities show up. You may even need to rebuild your site from scratch!

(5) Software Bugs

In the two page builder projects that I accepted, I quickly found things that did not work as advertised. One of the developers responded quickly to me, and fixed the bugs I found. The other never responded.

Most theme developers are individuals or small companies. Their products may not be well tested, and they may have little or no budget for support and updates.

I would love to see the WordPress team up their game and include a WYGSIWYG page builder in the core WordPress code. But until that happens, I will avoid page-builder themes, and advise my clients to do so as well.

A responsive website adapts to fit the size of the viewing window. It should work equally well whether it is displayed on a large-screen desktop monitor or a smart-phone.

When you visit a responsive web page, the server sends your browser the complete content for the entire page, as well as styles, or display instructions, for all types and sizes of device. Your browser then uses the style information to determine what to display, and how to display it.

The styles may tell your browser to re-arrange elements on the page, or to discard some elements entirely. Pictures and graphics may be scaled down, type sizes may be changed, and navigation menus may be displayed differently.

On the surface, this sounds like a great idea. The webmaster need only manage one version of each page, and it will be automatically formatted to fit any device.

However, there is a cost! Responsive sites are often made up of many large files. As a result, it can take a long time for a responsive page to download, especially if the user has a slow data connection (which often happens with phones). If the connection is really bad, the page might not display at all.

Also, it's important to realize that desktop users and mobile users are looking for different things. Someone who visits a business site using a smartphone may want to know your business location, or hours of operation; he may want to see a restaurant menu. However, smartphone users are usually not interested in reading large amounts of text, or visiting lots of pages.

Rather than building a responsive website, it often makes sense to build a small number of pages specifically for small-format devices and phones. The pages should contain just the information that mobile device users are likely to want, and they should be made up of small files built to load very fast.

Your server can be configured to automatically send the simplified pages to mobile device users, resulting in a better experience for your customers.

Note that this website is built using a lightweight, responsive commercial theme from Mojo Marketplace.

A custom website, designed and constructed from scratch, can be the perfect way to create a unique image and brand for your business, with precisely the features you want to offer site visitors. Unfortunately custom websites are expensive, often costing tens of thousands of dollars or more.

To reduce costs, many companies purchase commercial themes, which can be uploaded to your content management system to create an attractive, feature-rich website. Most themes allow a degree of customization, allowing some control over the website appearance.

However, there are potential problems when using commercial themes.

Themes are often designed to offer as many options and features as possible, thus increasing sales. But at the same time, to keep costs down, the companies that build themes may skimp on development and testing, resulting in features that simply don't work, or are incompatible with other third-party plugins.

Also, in order to support a lot of features and design options, the theme may be made up of many large files, resulting in a site that is very slow to load. I've worked with commercial themes that downloaded over 100 files!

If you decide to use a commercial theme, choose one that has been downloaded many times (this information is generally shown on the developer's website), and has good ratings. Plan on downloading and trying the theme before making a commitment. If you plan on using other plugins on your site, test them with the theme before investing time in completing the entire site.

Unless you have a lot of experience building websites, you may need to hire a professional web designer even if you use a commercial theme, and the cost to install, test, and configure the theme will likely costs more than the theme itself.

You may also choose to take a hybrid approach. Some web design shops use themes as a starting point, and then create a child theme with extensive customization to meet your specific needs.

Note that this website is built using a lightweight, responsive commercial theme from Mojo Marketplace.