One of the most important decisions when creating a membership site is which software to use. This article will explore WordPress as a membership site solution.
For our purposes, we will define a membership site as a website on which a person must create an account in order to access some or all of the content. Most of these sites also charge fees to join.
Before choosing membership site software, it’s best to decide which features and functions the site is to have, then look for software which meets those needs. There is no one software solution which is the best for all sites. In some cases, a custom-programmed solution may be necessary, but most site owners will be able to find existing software which meets their needs.
Benefits of WordPress
Although WordPress was originally created as a blogging platform, it has grown well past that. It has become a full-featured content management system (CMS) that is suitable for developing many types of websites, without losing its edge as a leading solution for blogging.
Let’s examine some of the key reasons why WordPress can be a good choice for membership sites.
First, WordPress already has a robust, built-in user account system. Accounts can be created which grant almost any imaginable range of privileges to a specific user. The site owner can be an administrator, which includes all powers within the system. Employees can be contributors or authors, which lets them create and edit content on the site without being able to remove users and perform other sensitive operations. Site members can be subscribers, which allows them to view the content without being able to edit or remove it.
WordPress includes robust content creation tools, such as its editor, which offers both a Microsoft Word style visual editing mode and a mode which allows direct entry of code such as HTML. It also has integrated image management and a comment system, which allows users to interact with content.
The popularity and huge market share of WordPress has led to a huge selection of themes and plug-ins, which can do almost anything a site owner might want. A theme controls the look and feel of a site, such as fonts, colors, and page layout, without altering the site’s content, which is stored separately. A plug-in adds functionality to a WordPress site.
For the same reason, there are many talented software developers with WordPress experience in case a site owner needs custom programming. Some hosting companies even offer WordPress-specific hosting. There is plenty of support available for WordPress.
The inclusion of all of the above features in WordPress means that the membership software has much less work to do and can be much simpler than non-WordPress membership solutions.
Important Features of Membership Software
WordPress membership software is typically implemented as a plug-in. Let’s discuss some of the key features to look for in this type of plug-in.
Although WordPress has a built-in user account system, it does not have a way to charge users for access to the site. One key feature of any membership software is the billing functionality. It must ensure that users have access to the content they are entitled to, and nothing more. People should not be able to access content they have not paid for and should lose access when their membership is canceled.
Nearly all membership software will handle that basic payment need. Another factor to check is which payment solution providers the software can handle. If it only works with PayPal, what about customers who can’t or don’t use PayPal? The best membership software will work with PayPal, third-party merchant providers like Stripe and authorize.net, shopping carts like Infusionsoft, and affiliate networks such as JVZoo and ClickBank.
It’s a good idea to put members of a site on an email list, so you can keep them updated. Another software feature to look for is which autoresponder services, such as aweber, GetResponse, or MailChimp, can be integrated with the membership software.
Membership software should be flexible in which payment terms it allows the site owner to offer to members. Most software will offer monthly billing; better software will also allow weekly, quarterly, or whatever frequency the owner chooses. Check to see whether the software allows free or paid trials, which give new users access at a lower price for a short period of time before charging them the regular price. Does the software allow discounts or coupons?
Good membership software allows a site to have multiple levels of membership, such as silver, gold, and platinum, each of which offer different content or features to members. Each level should be able to have its own price (including free) and billing schedule, independent of other levels.
Another popular feature to look for is drip-feed (also called sequential or incremental content). This means a member will get access to a specific piece of content based on when he or she joined the site. For example, a particular page might appear to the user ten days or thirty days after the date of joining, rather than all users getting access to it at the same time. Use of a drip-feed system can dramatically reduce the total amount of content needed for a site, since there only needs to be enough for the longest-remaining member, assuming the content is still relevant and useful.
Although there are some free membership plug-ins, it makes sense to go with a paid plug-in, which is more likely to be maintained than free plug-ins, since the developer has a financial incentive to keep improving the software. Paid plug-ins also tend to have more features.
WordPress releases frequent updates, some of which require plug-ins to be updated to remain compatible. If a developer abandons their membership plug-in, a future WordPress update might make it virtually unusable. It could be difficult to switch a site to other software at that point.
Look for stability when choosing membership software. If the software has been on the market for several years and has a large user base, those are very good signs that it is solid and that the developer is likely to be around for the long term.
Some popular paid WordPress membership plug-ins are WishList Member, Digital Access Pass, MemberPress, and WooCommerce Memberships. It’s beyond the scope of this article to get into the details of specific software, but I can say that I have used WishList Member on several sites and can recommend it. Besides having all the features discussed above, it also offers a multi-site license for those who wish to build more than one membership site. The license is currently priced at less than twice the price of a single-site license, making it very attractive, especially considering that some software requires you to purchase another single-site license at full price for every site you want to build.
For much more on membership sites, see my video course, Membership Site MasterClass.