Membership websites can be complex to build on WordPress, but by using the right tools and methods, you can bring them to life without too much trouble. This post is a detailed guide to walk you through everything you’ll need to know to get your membership website up and running.
In a hurry? Here are three quick tips on building a membership site from Chris Badgett of LifterLMS, one of the most popular LMS plugins for WordPress:
- “Don’t fall into the build trap, spending too much time planning and going down tech and marketing rabbit holes before launching.”
- “Make sure you have a clear customer in mind.”
- “Don’t focus too much on content or membership features, rather than getting results for customers.
Now let’s start by covering the fundamentals!
What Do You Need to Build a Membership Website?
Membership websites have a few requirements that make them different from other types of websites. Let’s look a few:
All websites need reliable hosting, but this is an even bigger need for sites that will have a large database and lots of traffic. Membership websites, for example.
So what features should you look for in a hosting service?
- The first thing you’ll need is sufficient storage space to accommodate a large database.
- You’ll also need enough capacity and bandwidth, a server location near your audience (or a CDN setup), and server-side optimization. This last point is especially helpful for membership sites, as it will directly affect things like user registrations, log-ins, and other user actions.
- As the foundation for your website, you’ll need web hosting that offers enough storage and bandwidth. But that’s not all. You should also pick a web hosting service that is scalable.
As your website grows, you will likely outgrow your initial server resources. If you’re using an outdated, shared hosting plan, this will be a problem. Scalable hosting, on the other hand, is hosting that allows your website to benefit from increased server resources as it grows.
One of the ways modern hosting services do this is by implementing horizontal scaling, which means that extra servers can be called up to support your primary server when traffic demands surge.
A Stable Content Management System
Not too long ago, building a membership website was a complex project requiring dozens of hours of raw coding. These days, all you need to get started is the right content management system, or CMS.
There are quite a few CMSes to choose from, including WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal, just to name a few.
While most of these are reasonably stable and reliable, WordPress is the overwhelming favorite for most web developers. In the next section, we’ll explore a few reasons why this is so.
WordPress vs. Other Content Management Systems: Which is Best For Building a Membership Website?
As we mentioned above, WordPress is the most popular platform for building websites today. Why? Here are just a few reasons:
The best WordPress themes are built to be lightweight and extremely fast. The utilization of technologies like lazy loading and the elimination of render-blocking CSS, WordPress websites provide an excellent platform for content-heavy websites such as membership sites.
The internet abounds with threats to your website’s security. Given WordPress’s popularity, many of those threats are targeted at the platform. On the other hand, there is a huge community of WordPress experts that test, investigate and offer solutions to WordPress threats. There are also a variety of useful security plugins, including WordFence and Sucuri, for example.
In general if you choose only the most secure hosting service and keep up with WordPress security best practices, your site should be perfectly safe.
Self-hosted WordPress is an open-source endeavor with no official customer support. However, there is an extensive knowledge base, along with a huge community of experts readily available to answer WordPress queries and provide support. Whatever problems you may face, someone will almost certainly have the answers to them.
Additionally, some hosts (like Convesio) have teams of experienced support techs that can solve just about any issue.
With the right hosting service–as discussed previously, WordPress is highly scalable, and can easily accommodate spikes of heavy traffic. Additionally, the platform supports the use of caching plugins as well as content delivery networks which help implement effective scaling.
Is a Membership Theme Better Than Using a Membership Plugin?
To build your membership website on WordPress, there are two directions you can take: theme or plugin.
You can choose to use a dedicated WordPress membership theme, supported by some helpful WordPress plugins…or you may choose to use a multi-purpose WordPress theme with the membership functionality coming from a dedicated membership plugin.
There’s no right or wrong answer, but there are pros and cons to each. A WordPress membership theme will typically come with most of the functionality required to set up and run a membership site. It will also come with its own default membership site layout.
If you are fine with this or would rather have an all-in-one solution, a membership theme is a good choice.
On the other hand, you might simply want to integrate some membership functionality into a multi-functional website – for example, an online learning website. In this case, using a membership plugin will allow you a greater degree of flexibility in creating a unique design for your website, as well as in integrating a wide range of features.
Overall, we recommend using a dedicated membership plugin for the greater degree of flexibility it allows.
Read on to see which three plugins are our top picks!
The Top 3 WordPress Membership Plugins
There are quite a few plugins that can be used to create a WordPress membership website, so this shouldn’t be considered as an exhaustive list. We’ve chosen these three plugins, as we have direct experience hosting sites that use them – but feel free to experiment with others.
MemberPress is a multipurpose plugin that offers membership functionally, as well as an inbuilt learning management system.
For the most part, the plugin is easy to set up, though some users have reported some difficulties in migrating to MemberPress if you already have a membership site up and running.
One of the stronger features of MemberPress is its ability to create and manage rules that allow you to determine what level of access to grant to various classes of members on your membership site.
MemberPress is also easy to extend, as it integrates quite well with third party tools such as MailChimp, Activecampaign, Zapier, and so on.
The major downside to using MemberPress is a lack of design options for its form templates, but overall, the powerful functionality that it offers more than makes up for this.
MemberPress is available at $15 per month for the Basic plan, $25 per month for the Plus Plan, and $35 per month for the Pro plan.
WooCommerce Memberships is a premium WooCommerce extension that offers useful features to turn a WooCommerce website into a membership site.
As with most WooCommerce extensions, the plugin is easy to set up. Among its major attractions, the plugin will allow you create membership plans based around discounts, content restrictions, drip feeding, and so on.
It must be noted that the features of this plugin are heavily skewed towards e-commerce sites. If your membership website does not have a strong e-commerce focus, you might be better off using a more generic membership plugin like MemberPress.
You’ll also need to install a few additional plugins to get the most out of WooCommerce Memberships. For instance, the plugin does not come with an option to add members to a mailing list by default.
WooCommerce Memberships costs $199 per year.
Ultimate Member is a popular user profile and membership plugin for WordPress. If design is important to you, you will be happy to note that you can use the Ultimate Member drag-and-drop form builder to create beautiful forms for better conversions.
The plugin uniquely also devotes a lot of features to profile building and community building features which make for a better user experience.
While Ultimate Member’s drag-and-drop form designer is ideal for beginner to intermediate users, the plugin is also quite developer friendly.
The plugin can easily be extended to include custom functionality, with a range of actions and filters. Additionally, Ultimate Member integrates well with lots of external apps and plugins like MailChimp and bbPress.
How to Enhance Your Membership Website With Some Useful WordPress Plugins
Whether you’re using a WordPress theme or a plugin to create the functionality for your website, there are a few useful plugins that will provide some additional features like enhanced security, faster load times, and so on.
Here they are:
Your membership website will need to collect and store user data in order to work well. If any of this data is accessed by an authorized third party, that could cause serious legal and reputational harm to your business.
The good news is that keeping up with WordPress security best practices will be enough to mitigate most WordPress security threats.
To harden your data protection framework even further, you can install a WordPress security plugin like WordFence or Sucuri. These plugins help to protect your website by implementing firewalls, hardening your wp-config file, protecting your login pages, scanning for malware, and so on.
If you’ve chosen a hosting provider that provides secure hosting (like Convesio), installing a good security plugin is an additional step that will put your website well beyond the reach of most malicious web actors.
WP Rocket/WP Total Cache
For websites with a lot of content, like the average membership website, caching plugins can be a crucial component that help support the performance of the website. Usually when a user takes any action on your website, the browser has to communicate with the server, requesting for the relevant resources.
Caching allows your browser to store static versions of these resources, helping to minimize the frequency and load of browser-server communication. The result is a faster website!
As you know by now, the more your website grows, the more data it will accumulate, and the more attention you’ll have to devote to ensure that it loads fast and stays optimized.
One thing to do, which we’ve already discussed, is installing a caching plugin and using reliable hosting. Another thing you’ll want to do is keep your website database trim by deleting spam and other entries in your website database that are no longer useful.
The easy way to do this is by using a plugin like WP-Optimize.
Another thing you’ll want to do as your website grows is implement a better version of WordPress’s inbuilt search function.
The default search function is simplistic and works best for smaller websites. For larger websites such as membership websites, the function is generally slower and less effective. SearchWp would be our recommendation!
Get Started Building Your Membership Website!
We’ve covered all the basics. Now you know how to choose a hosting service, whether to use a theme or a plugin and which ones to pick from, as well as how to enhance your membership site with some additional plugins.
Questions? Problems? Let us know how it goes by leaving a comment below!