If you’re an online publisher, and you use WordPress, the time to get used to WordPress Multisite is now. Right now.
As you may have noticed, Google is now employing social search. It’s what you might say a “hot button issue” in the online community. Why? Too many reasons to list here. Essentially, those that trusted Google’s rules for making “great natural search content” are now stuck with the reality that a significant chunk of Google’s search audience no longer receive natural results.
I won’t judge the merits of social search versus natural search here. My personal preference is for natural search though, as I want my results to not be biased towards what my peers, friends, and frenemies like to read. Others may be better off with those enhancements and biases to their results.
Regardless, as a publisher, you are either doing really great, or really bad at this point from Google’s perpetual shuffles over the past 12 to 16 months. Few I’ve run into are doing “okay” or “same as before”.
The advantage to WordPress Multisite though is that it benefits both the people that are doing “great” and the people that have been… excuse me for a second. Christopher is searching on Google for a synonym for the word screwed… Under the weather. Eh, close enough.
If you don’t know what Multisite is, it originally began its life as WordPress MU, or Multiuser. It was a synchronized fork of WordPress. As of version 3.0, it’s a tightly-integrated part of the WordPress core.
Multisite lets you create a lot of sites at once, what would have taken hours previously can be done in 30 minutes or less per site. You no longer have to deploy plugins, themes, configuration settings, etc. A quick DNS redirection, few tweaks to your WP-Admin panel, and you have another new WordPress site. And, you can now share user-bases between sites.
If you’re a WordPress zealot, you might be saying “gee, that’s great Chris… welcome to three major versions ago.” Well, that is true. However, version 3.0 and 3.1 really were migratory versions for WMPU users. If you had a WPMU install, Multisite worked great. If you weren’t a WPMU veteran, problems ensued. Remmeber how a lot of plugins needed to be compatible with WordPress MU before installing them? Issues were everywhere.
At version 3.2 however, it started to make sense, and by WordPress 3.3, I had Multisite up and running in my labs. And, it’s now live and running on sites like PhoneNews.com. Now some of those downtime tweets and apologies make more sense… you may not see any differences, but it’s all about planning for the future.
Now that you know what Multisite is, and how Multisite evolved, I haven’t yet answered why it helps you with Social Search.
Obviously having speed in creating more sites will help with search; natural and social alike. You can branch out with more content, and not need to tackle hosting and logistical issues as often. And, Multisite’s ability to let you quickly roll out all the WordPress social-networking integrations easily helps too.
The real benefit though is in the ability to take your flock of followers from your first site, and carry them over to your next site. By creating related sites, you can now keep people logged in, and interacting across related topics. With BuddyPress and bbPress, you can now keep them blogging, discussing, and talking in a community that you own and control.
Part of social search, in my opinion, is the need to create your own community that has its own followers. You basically have to act like search engines don’t exist, and depend on your own community for traffic and viewers. In turn, your community will share that with their friends online… strengthening your position in social search, naturally.
Bottom line, if you have WordPress up and running, and you’re serious about publishing, it’s time to give Multisite a try. One suggestion though, don’t deploy Multisite on your production site. You can always enable it after you’ve tested with another WordPress install on the same server. Much of the downtime I encountered was due to a server move, which was needed to handle the traffic increase.
And that leaves one footnote to this primer. WordPress is not the most memory-friendly, CPU friendly Content Management System out there. Multisite does not really do much to help this, as your hosting account is now driving multiple sites on one account. Be prepared, especially if you are on shared hosting, to have a growth plan in place for a quick move to more-powerful hosting solutions.