A very often overlooked - yet crucial - aspect for franchise owners database integration and management needs to be carefully studied before choosing a multi-sites software solution.
Even more importantly, you need to consider user management issues, such as existing levels of user permissions, ease of use and options available fom getting franchisees on board on your main site to registering mechanisms of new users on any affiliated website.
The original point of WordPress Multisite was to create networks of blogs connected to each other and simplify their management with shared widgets (reblog, social sharing, networked content) and shared user databases.
Keeping in mind WP MS is an extension and is not integrated into its software core, all professional custom extensions out there (from multi-location stores to franchise networks) are systems built upon an extension built upon the actual Wordpress core.
The main consequence is that user databases were not meant to be used in extensive commercial applications. By default, all registered users are registered on all the websites under the network. That means that by default, if you log in on Shopping Site A, you will automatically log in on Site B.
Theoretically, WordPress Multisite can be used to manage thousands of sites with a shared database, which makes it attractive for community sites that need separate, indenpendant blogs running on the same engine.
If you need more database power though, difficulties will start escalating when trying to make many databases in various formats interact flawlessly, especially if your site needs e-commerce deployed on the entire network.
As pointed out by WordPress guru Andi Graham at Wordcamp Miami 2013, WordPress Multisite is probably the wrong answer "if your sites need separate databases, as in the case of secure data (personal, financial, COPPA-compliance, etc)."
There isn't many e-commerce solutions strong enough to let a master database from the main franchise website feed many separated instances for local franchisees so they can choose which products and services to carry and which to leave out.
Even advanced WPMS-compatible extensions such as MarketPress or Woocommerce have limited out-of-the-box capabilities and will most likely require additional database development to accommodate for each single franchisee.
Unfortunately, as well-respected expert Mika Epstein puts it:"things which are trivial in a single install and can become a real pain in the butt when you need to grab data across an entire network and collate it".
Moreover, Curtiss Grymala insists that "needing totally separate user databases is a strong case against MultiSite". Indeed, the main grudge against WPMS is its top-down model which - as with plugins - will concatenate all users from all local databases in one main database, a specific setup that will actually work against most franchisees as they will understandably most likely refuse to share their-hard earned leads with competition.
User management can also be very tricky in a WP Multisite network, as the franchisor admin will end up with all incoming data and franchisees will rely on this super-admin to have the final say about user registration.
Worse, all users registered are by default automatically activated across the entire network, lowering affiliates' trust in the system and raising serious competitive issues between franchisees.
Andi Graham confirms this: "the built-in user registration system allows for completely hands-off scalability and site creation but doesn't really allow much control for individuality within individual sites."
As opposed to WordPress whose Multisite instance was only introduced as an add-on to an existing software, therefore following a restrictive 'top-down' model, SeoSamba's 'hub & spoke' model was intended for multi-sites network right from the start.
While the main franchise website retains the upper hand, it merely feeds separate single databases implemented for each affiliated subsite on which franchisees have control.
As a consequence there is virtually no limit in the number and types of databases franchisees use for their websites, the main database sends various data from the main dataset than can be customized to fit the specific needs of each affiliated website.
More importantly, this connection between franchisor and franchisees works out-of-the-box so there is actually no need for cumbersome database development.
In SeoSamba's framework, franchisees manage their own catalog as they see fit, choosing from the up-to-date main database which products and services they want to carry.
On the user management side, the owner of the franchise network is only required to register admins for each affiliated website, who in turn manage their own user lists so that customer database are safe in each franchisees hands.
Administrators of affiliated website retain total control of their customers and leads lists, and can decide to market their offering as they please on top of locally-branded corporate communications provided by the franchise owner.
Admin-free management of local databases - whereas users, services or products - can be accomplished straight from their own website with user-friendly and easy-to-use modules natively integrated in the SeoToaster Content Management System.
Of course, if a particular network need additional features and functions, open source databases can be customized at will. However as franchisees can deploy a functional affiliated website in minutes they'll probably rather focus on sales than extensive custom integration, saving everyone big bucks and major headaches in the process.
|Separate databases for Franchisees|
|Separate local DB policies|
|Unique user sets per website|
|Separate user permissions per website|
|Front-end CMS user management|
|Centralized multi-sites user management|
|Unique security sets for affiliate websites|
In terms of database and user management, WordPress Multisite suffers from predicaments that stem from its very nature and the fact that it was originally built to run multisite blogs, not to leverage online franchise marketing.
It is true that for many applications, WordPress's native user registration systems will scale almost without limits, providing easy growth and fast website creation for franchisees getting on board of a WPMS-powered network.
Yet, just like for themes and plug-ins, the lack of individualized control for affiliated websites regarding database management will undoubtedly be a major technical hurdle requiring extensive further development to make it all work as intended.
WP Multisite's main drawback lays in the user management tools as the default setup grant access to registered users across the entire network, meaning a lead from site A will be automatically logged at the super-admin level and shared with other sites a.k.a competitor sites B, C, D etc.
On the other hand, SeoSamba has tightened up critical aspects of database security and user permissions, while allowing for both multi-sites management and single-site customization.
By providing built-in customization and management tools to franchisees while keeping cross-websites franchise branding and content in the hands of the franchisor, SeoSamba offers a framework that requires very little extra development and mirrors the benefits of affiliate marketing while keeping upfront costs and complexity to a minimum.
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Check out our blog post: How to easily automate SEO and marketing for multiple WordPress websites