Making the Right Multisite Decision

White Paper

Long gone are the days when organizations could get by with a single online presence. The availability of omnichannel opportunities, and so much demand has paved the way for companies to build their digital strategy on a multitude of websites.

This explosion in sites has overwhelmed many large organizations, leaving them with a hodgepodge of many different platforms, incompatible technologies and support teams. The result? Slower time to market, increased cost and a disjointed online experience for the public.

Download this whitepaper to find out the benefits of a multisite platform and how you can use it effectively.

Get the download

Below is an excerpt of "Making the Right Multisite Decision". To get your free download, and unlimited access to the whole of, simply log in or join free.


Key industries that require multiple websites include (but aren’t limited to):

  • Higher education
  • Media, entertainment and publishing (MEP)
  • Public sector / government
  • Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG)
  • Non-governmental organizations (NGO)

The challenge for all of these organizations is how best to govern their growing web footprint on a platform that is highly secure, reduces cost, and improves time to launch. In order to determine if a multisite solution is right for all, or a portion of, your many sites, you have to assess a number of factors.

The process starts with understanding the benefits of a multisite platform; followed by determining which of your sites can reside successfully on a multisite platform.

Benefits of a Multisite Platform

The key benefit of a multisite platform is the economics of governing and operating many sites that share a common range of technical functionality. Some sites will require rapidly evolving functions and constant technical development, and as such would not be able to leverage the economies and simplicity of a common site architecture. However, if the majority of your sites could work within templates and utilize a common site architecture and set of functions, then a multisite platform would be a great asset to your digital strategy

Some of the key benefits of using a multisite platform include:


For any organization with multiple sites, governance can be a challenge and a major pain point. Governance refers to how an organization will manage its individual sites. With multisite, establishing governance needs to occur before you start building and deploying sites or it can very quickly become an organizational nightmare. This is where utilizing a multisite platform becomes extremely helpful. Platforms provide a single dashboard to manage the creation and deployment of websites, including setting code standards to maintain consistency across sites and aid in overall code management. Because of the central codebase, any new modules that are deployed to the sites are also centrally governed.

In addition, platforms allow roles and permissions to be defined for better workflow and risk management.

For example, the marketing team may have a major campaign coming up and want to build a site for it. By using a multisite platform, marketing would be able easily spin up a new campaign site, gain access to all available templates or starter sites, and clone them without worrying about infrastructure or interfering with another department’s sites. On the flipside, this frees up IT from handling every website change; requiring technical talent for each change, across many many sites, can add up to a lot of requests–and many delays.

Faster Time to Market

The more platforms and WCMs you have to manage your digital properties, the more resources you need to maintain them. Because not all WCM systems are created equal, this can also mean that some of those resources are spending time supporting outdated technology rather than building and deploying new sites. By using a multisite platform, you can consolidate your websites into one system that allows you build reusable themes and templates, thus improving deployment time.

Lower Cost

Running multiple platforms is costly; there’s no two ways about it. By using a multisite platform, you lower your costs by reducing duplication and complexity. This also saves on incurring cost from the resources dedicated to each platform as well as license fees and maintenance retainers associated with those platforms.

Improved Security

Different technologies have different levels of security and different security features. When you’re using multiple platforms, this lack of consistency opens you up to risk. Each content management system will require different bug fixes, security scans or updates, making it challenging for your organization to minimize risk across the board and thus leaving you vulnerable.

Brand Consistency

The challenge of maintaining brand consistency becomes even harder when your digital properties are all running on different systems with potentially different features and capabilities. By using a single multisite platform, you can create templates that can be as flexible or as locked down as you want. With a single dashboard to manage all of your websites, you also can control permissions, ensuring that the only the proper stakeholders have access to their templates and sites, thus preventing any accidental or unwanted changes.

How to Use a Multisite Platform Effectively

There is one key component to a multisite platform that must be in place before you can start building and deploying sites: your codebase. This is how you will leverage a common site architecture across your sites. Each of the sites hosted on the multisite platform will utilize the available functionality appropriate to that site. By defining and maintaining that superset of functionality, the platform can provide great efficiencies.

A common site architecture allows new modules to be added, or existing modules to be updated or any changes you want to make across your sites to take place. This not only saves time during the build process but also when launching new sites.

The next step is to build your theme library. Themes help the site builder change the look and feel of a website without changing the underlying code. After your themes have been created, you can then start building your templates. These template sites are what you will use to spin out sites quickly.

Clones vs. Snowflakes: What Type of Sites Do You Need?

They key to effectively using a multisite platform is creating a template that will meet the needs of all of the sites you intend to use it for. It’s crucial to add the features and functionality you need before the sites are deployed; anything you do to the template or starter site will affect all of your sites. Adding new functionality to accommodate one site on the multisite platform after deployment creates the need for extensive testing to ensure the new functionality will not conflict with any of the existing technology.

Typically, businesses taking a platform approach to multisite will run into these four scenarios:


Clones refer to sites that have the same look and feel with only minor changes to branding and content. These work particularly well for regional or product sites, where a template can be set and then deployed many times over without additional tooling.

What they lack in customization — there is no theming or layout changes for individual sites — they make up for in cost savings and time to market

Want more like this?

Want more like this?

Insight delivered to your inbox

Keep up to date with our free email. Hand picked whitepapers and posts from our blog, as well as exclusive videos and webinar invitations keep our Users one step ahead.

By clicking 'SIGN UP', you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy

side image splash

By clicking 'SIGN UP', you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy

Another thing to be mindful of with clone sites is specific regional, regulatory or business sub-division requirements. For example, if you are a pharmaceutical company looking to deploy a number of global sites, you need to factor in that what you can show on your product’s websites will differ from country to country, depending on the regulations. In this case, you can create one for the US that use a different template than, for example, Europe. You can then spin up your US sites under one template and all your European sites from the other as long as all the sites under those themes utilize the common functionality available.

Look and Feel Changes

While the sites can draw from a shared set of functions, they often require their own look and feel. In this case, a multisite platform is still the best approach. This is where the theme library comes in. A theme library refers to a repository of set design elements including colors, graphics and styles that can be applied to different sites to change the appearance. Each site that is spun up from a template can then select its own theme from the library. The template will ensure that the features, modules and code remain consistent underneath the look and feel.

The main consideration here is the same as with any code; front end development requires regression testing, even if you’re using a theme. Regression testing refers to a type of testing used to detect bugs or breaks when new enhancements, patches or configuration changes are made to the basic template. Basic upkeep and validation are needed before launch but this type of site still leads to cost savings.

Feature Flexible

Feature flexible sites require special care and consideration. These sites, which also utilize the multisite platform, are more complex. This scenario might occur when a site owner has external creative and/or development partners such as a digital agency, making governance extremely important. Governance is required to ensure the development partners are enabled, governed and sites are then audited when returned for deployment.

Feature flexible sites require various development tools to manage, automate, test, and audit new functionality. This is a typical approach that most enterprises adopt when they have a large volume of well-funded, individual brand sites to support. Feature flexible sites require a deeper level of change management and communication for development partners who are working on the platform as well. Regression testing becomes an important step to ensure the new functionality does not impact the existing codebase. The best way to handle changes is to implement automated testing to manage regression testing at a minimum.


Some sites require a custom experience that does not fall within the above options. The theming and back-end development is entirely unique to this particular site, often leading to these sites needing their own unique site architecture that may change frequently. This type of a site with unique needs is called a snowflake. A snowflake will most likely be the main organization’s website, where the major value of the digital business such as ecommerce or customer support will be housed. While crucial to your business, snowflakes can be incredibly costly. The more powerful and complex a site, the more well-funded it needs to be.

[Download PDF to see Tables]

A multisite platform will never be able to service 100 percent of an organization’s digital properties. The best course of action is to plan and develop a platform that can satisfy up to 90 percent of your web properties with similar features, thereby leaving the other 10 percent to be built as stand-alone sites or snowflakes. This approach tends to offer the largest overall savings and benefits in managing the vast majority of an organization’s websites.

Developers vs. Non-Technical Site Builders

When an organization makes the decision to use a multisite platform, that decision will impact two primary groups on a daily basis: developers and non-technical site builders.


When choosing a multisite platform, you need to consider how sites are built on it. Are open source tools like Drush, Git, etc. compatible? How will it affect staging? How will it affect testing? How does it handle deploying sites and updating code? A platform should make these things easier for developers.

One of the biggest advantages to a multisite platform is testing. Say you have 100 sites using a code base and you need to update a module. You may only have to perform the update in the one code base but you still have a 100 individual sites to test. With a custom, do-it-yourself (DIY) solution, each site would need to be tested individually. A platform can help you update these sites simultaneously with minimal testing (depending on the update) without breaking features on the sites, or incurring downtime. Each site also has its own database so that if something goes wrong on one, the others are not impacted.

Non-technical Site Builders

Often, do-it-yourself multisite solutions may work for developers, but neglect the needs of non-technical site builders. They also need to be able to create, manage and control access to multiple sites. The right multisite platform will give non-technical site builders the ability to duplicate sites, add domains, manage the permissions, etc., without talking to a developer or someone from IT. Traditional approaches require a code deployment with every new site; however a multisite platform empowers site builders without a complex technical background by reducing their dependence on other departments, allowing them to create and launch sites rapidly on their own.

City of LA: Multisite Done Correctly

Public sector is an industry where multisite capabilities are incredibly important. Each function needs the ability to effectively manage and maintain their websites. In 2014, the City of Los Angeles was in need of a better enterprise platform that was not only user friendly, but also flexible and cost effective. While reevaluating their CMS options, they also took a look at their overall digital strategy, including their approach to multisite management.

City of LA has hundreds of field workers in LA that operate outside of their headquarters. In addition, IT was also decentralized, with more than 1,200 people across 40 different IT departments. In order to manage all of their sites effectively, they needed a central backend where they could deploy core features and create templates to be utilized across the organization.

“We need to templatize the offering so a small group of people could power and support a large number of websites from the back end, while affording complete freedom and agility for practitioners on the front end,” said Ted Ross, IT General Manager and CItywide CIO.

Since investing in a multisite platform, City of LA has been able to consolidate their website efforts without compromising the ability to spin off and control new websites as needed. This has saved the city money by improving efficiency while still maintaining flexibility needed for each city department.


Launching multiple websites doesn’t need to be a budget-draining, time consuming experience. By adopting the right platform for your business needs, you take the hassle out of multisite management while reducing costs. A multisite platform can be essential to maintaining consistency and governance across your sites. In addition, it will improve your time to market. In the end, a multisite solution will improve site governance, reduce costs, and provide a better experience for your site visitors.

Want more like this?

Want more like this?

Insight delivered to your inbox

Keep up to date with our free email. Hand picked whitepapers and posts from our blog, as well as exclusive videos and webinar invitations keep our Users one step ahead.

By clicking 'SIGN UP', you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy

side image splash

By clicking 'SIGN UP', you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy