Typically, every brand needs just one website. But what happens when there are multiple brands within a company or business objectives that require the need to have multiple websites? A multi-site platform is used when a company needs a single, centralized platform to manage many websites. Multi-site promotes flexibility by enabling sites to retain autonomous, yet allows for efficiency by making content, functionality and design templates re-usable across any site on the platform.
FASTSIGNS, for example, is a huge international franchise corporation, yet in the past customers could only place orders through their local branch. They needed a web solution that would allow a central FASTSIGNS website, along with over 600 individual local franchise websites, plus international sites.
With a multi-site platform, there are potential benefits with using it for just 2 websites or, in the case of FASTSIGNS, 600+ websites, with a centralized back end platform driving it all.
Technical benefits to Multi-site
There are many technical benefits to incorporating a multi-site platform for your business. Here are just a few of the benefits FASTSIGNS saw:
When a single website is built, it is usually comprised of a single CMS instance, with the features and functionality built on top. When a multi-site platform is used, instead of 670 instances of the CMS platform, only one is required, but each website can still be managed individually, if desired.
When a website is built on a multi-site platform, it is ideal to first create a “core website” which acts as a single repository of templates, features and functionality, so that other sites can be easily created from this; this is known as spawning. Spawning allows additional sites to easily be created using any elements from the existing repository, (you can literally check or uncheck boxes to decide which functions you would like to copy over) and then modify your new, spawned site, to add any unique elements which are necessary.
Style as you choose
Using a multi-site platform doesn’t mean that all spawned websites must look the same – they can be as similar or different in design as you chose. As mentioned above, boxes are checked or left unchecked depending on which features are desired for the new spawned site. For example, by checking all the boxes, you can make an identical copy of the original site, or by checking very few, you can make just a shell of the original and customize it to suit your needs for a micro-site, international brand and more.
Reduce maintenance costs
While a multi-site platform allows for complete flexibility in features, styling, content and functionality, the websites do share an underlying core architecture. Specifically, the architecture typically contains a single instance of the CMS application source code, load balanced web servers (application) and database server(s). Much like any website, the hosting environment can be easily scaled to support the growth and traffic to the websites within the multi-site platform, but a consolidated server environment can be used, and thus managed, with ease. In the case of FASTSIGN, from an architecture perspective, there is a single CMS application, not 650+ instances of a CMS’s…which make ongoing management of the server environment significantly more manageable and efficient.
It is also much quicker and easier for developers to deploy changes, investigate issues, apply upgrades and introduce new functionality across all the sites, as application and code changes can be deployed to the single instanced, instead of applying to each CMS individually. Can you imagine discovering a change which is needed across 650+ websites, and then having to deploy that change to each site individually? …That is the case if a multi-site platform is NOT used. Given the simplified management of server environments and global nature of applying changes across all websites through a single process, the long-term maintenance costs of using a multi-site platform are significantly reduced when compared to building each website individually.
Business & user benefits
The initial cost of a platform that supports multi-site functionality might be higher, surrounding the CMS license, planning and development, but these additional costs are quickly recouped as each additional website is launched on the platform. The accelerated approach to development also unlocks an accelerated ROI, due to the reduced man hours, reduced need for expertise, and greater efficiency provided by such a platform, and the benefit of only having to train existing and future employees on a single CMS platform. As previously mentioned, choosing to have multi-site functionality also reduces maintenance, hosting and support costs.
A multi-site platform gives you the tools to create additional sites, often times without a need for much developer involvement. This means that your marketing team will be empowered to do what, historically, only tech personnel could do.
Share your content
The multi-site model supports any type of business organizational model, although businesses with a hierarchal structure of companies or brands typically find multi-site as a solution for their greatest web challenges. Think of a pyramid: at the top of the pyramid is the parent company, below that, brands, state level associations or, like FASTSIGNS, individual local franchises. With a multi-site platform, it is possible to syndicate and share content across specific or all sites. For example, the corporate team could write a press release and incorporate it across all sites or just a chosen few based on websites which target a geographic region relevant to the press release, vastly increasing efficiency in either respect. That same notion could apply to any content, such as disseminating product catalog changes, job postings, events and much more. Simply, multi-site is built to employ the ideal structure for achieving website effectiveness and efficiency for your organization, often times bypassing the red tape or political boundaries which multi business-unit organizations have to deal with.
Easy back-end use
Managing a multi-site platform is easier for admin privilege users across all websites, as they only have to log in once and can easily switch from managing one site to another, all on one familiar CMS. Conversely, marketers and business users could only have access to a single site or even limited sections across many, with the power of permissions and roles as key to efficient multi-site management.
Tailor to your audience
A multi-site platform enables you to tailor individual sites to your user’s specific needs. In the case of FASTSIGNS, they wanted one core site to represent their brand as a whole, but because they have hundreds of franchise locations, they needed websites for all the local centers as well. A typical local center might not have resources to manage its own site, but with the multi-site platform, corporate can fuel the web presence for all local centers, as well as giving the local representatives the ability to add new pages as required.
FASTSIGNS uses the multi-site platform to create websites with the same structure internationally, for example FASTSIGNS UK, Australia (SIGNWAVE) and UAE. The sites for these international Master Franchises are also spawned from the original. The public in the UK see a URL ending in the familiar UK format, .co.uk, but on the back end the website is still built on the same platform.
You might think of a multi-site platform as an ecosystem where all your sites can talk to each other, be controlled centrally or independently, and leverage a single suite of technology that minimizes the need for ongoing development, maintenance and training efforts.
FASTSIGNS is an example of an organization that uses the multi-site platform effectively. This same type of solution can be applied to any organization that wants to be able to manage multiple sites under one core CMS.