When choosing the best membership site software, some key things you need to consider are:
- Using membership site platform vs a custom build?
- What do you need your membership software to do?
- Membership site software options
- Forum software
- Social network software
- Online assessment software
- Learning Management Systems
The correct membership site software is the most important technical decision you can make when developing your site. You can do it yourself if you're technically able but it's easier to get a membership site that is done for you by hiring a membership site developer. However, the first thing to consider is...
Using membership site platform vs a custom build?
I bring this up as some developers will try to sell you on a custom coded solution that they'll build from scratch. My advice is that you DO NOT need a custom built membership site unless your site has very specific functionality that isn’t offered by existing membership website builder or software.
It works in the developers favour because it means more work for them and you're now locked in to them as it's their own code base. However, it's a much slower process, costlier and often gets abandoned once the inexperienced developer realizes the work involved. Membership site platforms are developed by multi-million dollar companies over several months or years - do you have a similar team, budget and timeline to compete with this?
Instead, if you get your developer to work with an existing platform, then they can build on top of what is already offered with these solutions. This saves time, means you're not at the mercy of a programmer and often existing membership platforms already provide all of the functionality that you'll need.
What do you need your membership software to do?
If you look back at the previous article we've already made some major decisions on the site structure and course layout when planning a website. Each membership website builder and piece of software on the market has its strengths and weaknesses. So before committing and investing in a particular platform, go through this checklist:
- Membership level functionality: Does the software offer multiple membership levels? How easy is it to upgrade/downgrade members across levels? Can a member be on more than 1 level at once?
- Content protection and scheduling: Can you drip feed or stagger the content release over a period of time? How is the content protected? Does it allow you to show snippets of the protected content or is it just a paywall?
- Payment processor integration: Will the software integrate with your favourite payment processor (PayPal, Stripe, Clickbank, 1ShoppingCart, Authorize.net etc.)? Will it work with your desired affiliate software?
- Payment options: Will the software work with one time payments? Recurring payments? Free trials? $1 time limited trials? Will discount coupons and vouchers codes work? Is pay per post an option?
- Community forums/message boards: Does the platform integrate well with the forum software you intend to use?
- Examinations, tests and user reporting: Can the users take tests or exams using the software? If not, does the membership software integrate with examination software you intend to use? Can you see user reports of how the customers are learning and where they're dropping off?
- Social network functionality: Will the membership software integrate with a social network plugin like BuddyPress?
- Cost: Do you have the budget for the software? How is the software charged? One-time fee, monthly or annual?
- Support and plugins: Is there helpful online documentation for the software? Have people developed many plugins to work with the desired membership platform?
Which is the best membership site software?
Many of the membership platforms available run on top of WordPress. WordPress is a free and open source platform that powers a large portion of websites on the internet. WordPress comes with many advantages as there is a large ecosystem of plugins, themes and community support around the platform. This allows you to very rapidly change the look of your site or add extra functionality. When using a WordPress based membership plugin, in a sense you are building on top of a membership plugin that is built on top of WordPress.
Below are a list of some of the most popular membership site platforms available:
Paid membership site software:
Wishlist Member: WordPress only, a Wishlist membership site comes with a very comprehensive platform that has features which will be able to fulfill most of your requirements. It has a large ecosystem of plugins that add extra functionality to the platform. The software is priced at the higher end and payment is via a single upfront payment.
aMember: Compatible with WordPress, Drupal, Joomla and Moodle. Works well with a number of forum software as well. A premium piece of membership website software that comes with a premium price tag and gets charged as a single upfront payment.
OptimizeMember (part of OptimizePress): OptimizePress is a popular "point and click" landing page creation software that's built for WordPress. Its little known brother OptimizeMember comes bundled with its purchase. It doesn't have all of the features of other membership software, but if you want something that is straightforward and simple to set up then OptimizeMember is actually pretty powerful piece of software. Very affordable price tag as well as you're getting 2 pieces of software for the price of one.
Woocommerce Subscriptions + Woocommerce Memberships: Requires you to have both WordPress and Woocommerce installed. Woocommerce Subscriptions allows you to set up recurring payments into your site whereas Woocommerce Memberships allows you to turn your site into a membership portal. A Woocommerce Membership Site works well with physical products as well as digital. Comes with a high price tag.
Memberpress: WordPress only, has a broad range of functionality and also comes with a bunch of addons as well. Simple and straight forward to use. More affordable price tag, single upfront payment.
Membermouse: WordPress only, popular membership plugin that is used on a number of high profile websites. Comes with a fairly pricey monthly fee that may put some people off.
Digital Access Pass (DAP): WordPress only, has similar features to the other plugins listed but what's different is you can either pay for the software as a one-time fee or use a recurring monthly billing.
Memberium: Ideal for people that want to combine a membership website of WordPress & Infusionsoft. If Infusionsoft is a key part of your marketing and sales process then choose this option. High monthly fee.
Kajabi: Good if you're looking for a non-WordPress based membership platform. Expensive but an effective all in one membership solution for those with the budget.
Free membership site software:
s2member: WordPress based, comes with a basic free version so this might be interesting for people that are on a very tight budget and only need very limited functionality. Paid version is low priced too and a single upfront payment.
Membership 2: WordPress based and free as well for the simple version. Paid version can be signed up to as a 14 day trial, so good for trying out before you make the commitment.
Forum software for membership sites
Community forums and message boards help to retain members and provide longevity to your site. They also help you to interact and understand your customers' needs better. They can either be restricted behind a paywall or you can add them to the public section of your website.
If you're using a WordPress based membership plugin and you want to restrict your forum to the public then I'd recommend using bbPress. The advantage of bbPress is that it is WordPress based so it can easily integrate with any WordPress membership plugins that you use.
If you don't care about being WordPress based then aMember membership plugin integrates particularly well with a range of forum software available on the market. Non-WordPress based forum software includes phpBB or vBulletin. You can add them to your site if you already have WordPress installed but you'll need to place them in a separate section of the site.
If you want to pay for a premium piece of forum software then consider Invision Power Board.
Social network software for membership sites
An upgrade from the forum, a social network allows users to send and receive messages to one another, make their own blog posts, create & join their own groups etc. However social networks are more difficult to set up than forums. They work well with places such as a university/school or a niche social community.
Buddypress is one of the most popular pieces of social network software and is based upon WordPress. Joomla and Drupal can also be adapted to form a social network when you set them up with additional extensions and plugins.
Online Assessment Software For Quizzes, Tests and Exams
If you want a simple way to assess your members as they make their way through your course then consider this membership tracking software:
- Wp-Pro-Quiz: One of the most popular WordPress quiz plugins, it has all of the features that will be able to fulfill the needs of most membership sites.
- Watu: Comes with both a free and premium version. Mobile responsive and more stylish looking than others.
However, if you want more advanced user tracking systems consider a learning managements system (see below).
Learning Management Systems (LMS)
A learning management system (LMS) is more geared towards testing and tracking the user's progress whereas a membership site which tends to focus more on teaching and community. A typical LMS customer would be a school, university or corporate training program.
Take Action Now
- Choose a piece of membership site software using the above list.
- If needed, also choose:
- If you're not a technical person then consider using our membership site development services to help you.