When it comes to picking membership site software, you have a lot of options. In fact, so much so, it can start to become a bit confusing. Should I use a hosted solution or a standalone script? What about WordPress plugins? Who's reliable, who's not?
So, in this post, we'll take you through the different options. The pros and cons of each. And, how to figure out which option is right for you. Let's start with the hosted solutions for membership software.
Quick side note: We have a full, free tutorial on how to build your membership site in WordPress from scratch. If you're just getting started, it walks you right through every step to get your membership up and accepting payments in just a coupe hours. It's here, if you're interested.
Hosted Membership Site Software
Hosted solutions include options like Kajabi, Zippy Courses, Podia and Thinkific. You might even throw in online marketplaces like Udemy, Skillshare and Lynda. The pros of these kinds of sites and software are:
- All the technology is done for you. So, you don't have to mess with website hosting, video hosting, design, etc. It's already done.
- In particular with the marketplace sites, they have their own communities and do their own marketing which will bring you some residual members.
- Referral and affiliate programs are often included and handled for you
Some of the cons include:
- You have little to no control over the look and feel of your site. Especially on sites like Udemy and Skillshare, you have zero control of the layout, styling etc. Kajabi and the others give you a few more options, but they're limited.
- Cookie-cutter memberships. You probably know a Kajabi site when you see one. They tend to all look very similar and if you want your site and brand to stand out, it's difficult to do that on these kinds of sites.
- Strict guidelines. Again, especially, with the marketplace type sites, they usually control what you can charge, what kind of courses you allowed to create, the format your content must be in and every aspect of the site.
- Often expensive. Kajabi, for example, starts at $149/month.
That said, this option still works well for some people. A hosted solution might be the right fit for you if:
- You just don't want to mess with the technology at all.
- You're willing to give up the majority of control over how your membership site is run.
- You don't mind that your site will look a lot like many others that are out there.
- You don't mind the fees.
Next up is…
Standalone Scripts and Services
Standalone scripts include things like aMember, Digital Access Pass, Memberful and MemberGate, among others. These are scripts and/or services that you install on or integrate with your existing website.
Now, a lot of these solutions do claim “tight integration” with WordPress, because they know it's such a popular content management system. But, of course, they're not actually WordPress plugins at their core.
Which is something to keep in mind with these. But, looking at the pros:
- They are standalone. So, if you decide to change publishing software, at some point, they likely can move with you and you can keep your membership management as-is.
- You have complete control. No restrictions or guidelines imposed by a third-party on your membership site.
- You can design your site how you want.
- They're generally pretty feature-rich with lots of options.
Some of the cons include:
- These are usually the most technical of the membership site software out there. Often, you have to install the script on your own site and there's several steps to do that. And, if your hosting is unique somehow, there can be integration issues.
- They don't generally include any kind of publishing software, so you're left to create the pages yourself or “bolt on” the software to an existing platform like WordPress.
- It's an entirely new system to learn, often a complex and technical system.
- They can be expensive. MemberGate, for example, is a one-time payment of $4995.
But, again, this can be the right option for you if:
- You're technical and don't mind working through the nuance of the software.
- You want an extreme level of control.
- You're able to afford the cost.
Finally, then, we have…
WordPress Membership Site Plugins
These include software like Restrict Content Pro, S2Member and, of course, our very own WishList Member plugin. We're biased for sure, but we think these are the best of both worlds. So, the pros include:
- It's a WordPress plugin, so it's an environment and technology you're probably used to and comfortable with.
- It actually does integrate tightly into WordPress because it's built solely for WordPress, so you don't have to jump between your site and the software. It's all right there and works like any other WordPress plugin or functionality.
- It's the publishing platform you're used to. No need to learn a new system or figure out how to create pages on your own.
- You have full control over the look and feel of your site with WordPress themes and/or page-building plugins like Elementor or Visual Composer.
- Protecting content is dead simple. Check a couple boxes as your create your post or page and you're done.
- The pricing is generally more affordable and often doesn't include monthly fees or, if it does, that's one of several payment options.
So, again, it's really the best of both worlds… a highly functional piece of software with full control over your site without being over complex and technical and costing you three arms and a leg.
Still, there are cons:
- It requires WordPress. If you don't want to use WordPress, you can't use this software.
- Slightly less extreme control. You're within the WordPress environment, which is pretty darn flexible, so you get more control over how your site looks, feels and operates than most people could ever want; however, there is a theoretical limit.
- Slightly more technical. You don't have everything done for you like you do with a hosted solution. You still have to decide on a theme and create your pages and so forth. So, it's a bit more work than a hosted solution. Although, it's all inside WordPress, so none of it is overly complex or technical to get done.
A WordPress plugin is a good fit for you if:
- You want a reasonable balance between power and control… and technical complexity.
- You want your site to be unique and stand out from others.
- You already use WordPress and don't want to learn a new system.
- You're new to publishing and membership site-building. WordPress is the easiest software to use to get publishing on your own site, so you'll want to learn it anyway. And then, it's an easy transition to build your membership site after that.
So, there you go. A comprehensive list of the pros and cons of all the different types of memberships site software and how to figure out which is right for you. Of course, if you'd like to learn more about our very own WordPress membership site plugin, WishList Member, just head on over to: https://wishlistmember.com