With more and more creative individuals choosing to earn their living from the comfort of their homes due to convenience, security, or a better work-life balance, membership sites have been gaining quite a momentum. They’re one of the most popular ways to make money online for bloggers, course creators, and niche experts.
In addition, people are choosing to join membership programs in place of traditional full-payment online products since a membership allows them access to unlimited sources of knowledge for a small monthly charge.
As membership sites come in all shapes and sizes, so do the website builders used to make them. For instance, some builders come with built-in forum features, while others integrate with third-party tools or feature forum themes and templates. Some builders allow their users to create unlimited levels of membership, while others don’t. Some builders are surprisingly budget-friendly (or even cost-free), while others won’t shy away from busting your budget, and so on.
Even if you’ve figured out exactly what you want in a membership site builder, with so many options around, picking out the right one might be trickier than you think. To get you through this we’ve put together a list of five important features of any successful membership site builder. So, if you can see all of these in a site builder, it could be a keeper.
1. It’s intuitive and user-friendly
With an easy-to-use membership site builder paired with an intuitive, user-friendly interface and all essential membership-creation tools at your fingertips, the process of setting up a membership site should be simple and hassle-free. So, to make everything a bit easier for yourself, make sure that your site builder of choice possesses all of the capabilities needed to make your site fully functional as well as to shape its overall look and feel.
One feature that’ll make the site-creation process simpler and swifter is a well-designed, intuitive, user-friendly interface. Although the whole purpose of a site builder is to facilitate an otherwise formidable task of building a site, too many builders seem to get it wrong. This is why you’ll want to try out any site builder before committing (look for a free trial or a money-back guarantee) and make sure that the user interface (UI) isn’t overly complex and confusing, and that the builder itself doesn’t come with a steep learning curve.
Drag-and-drop functionality is another useful feature you should look for since with it you’ll be able to move around all components of the page with a mouse. Also, the editing tool should be designed in ways that’ll enable you to change colors, add new elements, and upload any media to the page without making you waste time on acquiring new skills. So, if you’re at the beginning of your membership journey, possess no coding skills to write home about, and the site builder you’re considering doesn’t meet any of these criteria, it might be smarter to skip it.
While with some site builders you’ll need to utilize third-party plugins in order to integrate membership features into your site, others will offer built-in membership features. For instance, if you choose a closed, proprietary site builder or a platform made from scratch with membership in mind (such as WildApricot, Kajabi, or Mighty Networks) you should expect to find all membership-specific features (like gated content, membership levels, and payment provider integrations) in one place.
However, if you’re using open source software such as WordPress, to get a hold of membership features you’ll have to get a proper plugin (like MemberPress, LearnDash, and S2Member). Also, although most of these WordPress plugins are sort of user-friendly, if you are not at least somewhat tech-savvy (or have a lust for learning), sticking to a close-sourced membership site builder might be a smarter path.
2. If offers plenty of ready-made highly-customizable templates
If you’ve picked up an intuitive, user-friendly membership site builder (as advised above) and flattened the learning curve, it’s time to visit the template library and choose a ready-made template that’ll match the idea of your site. Since you probably don’t want your passion project to get lost in the crowd of similar-looking membership sites, make sure to choose a site builder that comes with a comprehensive collection of ready-made themes and templates. So, if a builder you’re taking into consideration offers less than ten templates (even if it’s completely free), you better keep on looking.
While it’s important to have lots of templates, it’s as important to have the ability to transform any template into something out of this world. With a good site builder, you’ll be able to add new pages, switch between color schemes, add new visual elements, and repeat the procedure all over until you’re satisfied with the results.
Also, since the living and beating heart of the majority of membership sites is their colorful community, while you’re looking at templates don’t forget to check whether there are enough forum templates and additional features to enhance its outer appearance and mood.
If you’re somewhat tech-savvy and wish to customize templates from the ground up, ensure that the site builder offers access to the HTML and CSS code since most proprietary site builders have locked up the code for the sake of stability. And if you crave complete control over your site’s appearance and functionality (as well as customization options), your best bet is open source software such as the ever-popular WordPress. With over 9,000 free themes in its library combined with complete access to the code, you’ll surely find something to tickle your fancy.
The last thing you want to check is if these templates are mobile-responsive, meaning they’ll look good on devices beyond desktops and laptops. With a mobile-responsive template, you won’t have to worry about whether your site is aesthetically pleasing for smartphone users, or about the page’s performance.
3. It provides powerful membership features and management tools
While the previous two points can be applied to pretty much any successful site builder, this one is specific to membership sites. So, although membership businesses come in all shapes and sizes, there are a couple of core features you’ll want to include.
The first is an ability to lock members-only content behind a gate (or several gates in case of multiple membership levels) while leaving a hint (it can be something as simple as an image) to all other visitors about it. This little sneak peek could stimulate casual visitors to turn into loyal members or current members to upgrade their membership plans.
All membership sites must have a members-only area, which is the place members can access and update their profiles, as well as access members-only content. Also, to ensure that anyone could become your member in the first place, there must be a simple-to-use membership application form (usually involving a name, an email address, and a strong password).
Since your site can’t receive any sort of online payments without it, you’ll also need a payment processing system or payment gateway, and it should be directly linked to the membership management software you’ll be using.
Speaking of membership management software, you should make sure it can communicate well with your membership site since it will save you a significant amount of time by automating processes such as adding new members, updating information, processing payments, and much more. In addition to automating manual tasks and enhancing efficiency, it will collect members’ data and give you a deeper insight into your members’ needs and desires which will help you create personalized marketing strategies for specific members or groups of like-minded members.
When it comes to member engagement, there’s a lot more to do than coming up with engaging content. For instance, instead of immediately giving all members access to all the information on your site (and overwhelming them by doing so), you can “drip-feed” your content to new members. You can also use tools like quizzes, certificates, and assignments, or go a step further and completely gamify your site by using features such as badges, points, levels, and such.
All in all, no matter what sort of membership site you want to create, before choosing your site builder check twice whether it provides powerful membership features and helpful management tools.
4. There are superb sales and marketing tools
Now that you’ve created a membership site that’s your pride and joy, you probably want to show it off to the world, right? To do so, you’ll need to think in terms of search engine optimization (SEO) and find a solution that will propel your site to the top of search engine results. If you don’t possess too much technical know-how or aren’t exactly thrilled about tackling the SEO on your own, the simplest solution is to pick out site-building software that comes with out-of-the-box SEO tools that will do the job for you.
In addition to SEO tools, we advise looking for social media integration, email marketing features, conversion optimization software, lead enrichment tools, and web analytics tools. With these you’ll catch on with your members as well as with your targeted audience, and be able to share sneak peeks into your content, extra resources, news, updates, and other types of benefits.
If the membership site builder of your choice has a third-party integration capability, you can simply integrate a customer relationship management (CRM) solution. For a pretty penny, it can give you a glimpse into your member’s minds, enable more personal communication, increase member satisfaction, turn your members into a part of your community, and make your membership business boom like never before. That is, if you know how to make the best of it.
Also, it’s important to note that while some membership site builders aggressively emphasize marketing and provide their users with built-in tools needed for marketing, selling, and delivering their content via social media and email campaigns, others don’t. So, while exploring various membership site builders, watch out for the sales and marketing tools at hand.
5. You’ll get solid customer support to pave the way for you
If you have little to no experience in the membership industry, but you’re serious about creating a membership site with an ambition to hit the big time, solid customer support should be one of the top criteria when choosing a site builder. Although most popular membership site builders are exceedingly beginner-friendly, something will inevitably go wrong at some point while you’re creating, launching, or running your site. At times like these, customer support can make or break your membership business.
Not all site builders will offer the same level of technical support, which makes it your task to choose a builder that’ll supply you with all the support you wish to receive. Some site-builder providers (free ones in particular) only go as far as offering support via email or ticketing system, meaning you’ll have to fill in a form and wait restlessly for their response. So, if you’re just starting out, this is probably not a provider you want to choose.
A less-experienced user or one that suffers from a chronic shortage of time should aim for around-the-clock customer support via telephone line, live chat, and a ticketing system, as well as several self-services. With a free plan (or by using a cost-free solution) you’ll only be offered a fragment of support paid users are getting.
That being said, most open source site-building solutions (such as WordPress) come strong in terms of self-services offering a comprehensive knowledgebase, step-by-step guides, and a detailed FAQ section. What’s more, with such a solution you can also count on superb (although unofficial) support from its committed community which is constantly coming up with new plugins, creating new extensions, making custom themes, etc. It usually is also ready and willing to lend a helping hand to a fellow WordPress user.
In short, having access to solid customer support is an important factor to keep in mind when choosing a site builder, more so if you’re new to the membership industry.
Pick out a site builder and start your membership journey straight away
While answering the question of which membership site builder is the best choice for you and your business depends on your unique needs and desires, some rules apply to all builders and we’ve tried to cover five of them in this article.
Some site-building solutions are open source and offer a superior level of customization but lack in the customer support department. Others are less customizable but created for membership from square one, making them simple to use. Then, there are equally good site builders with membership functionality that comes off as an afterthought.
Any of these types can create a successful membership site, you just need to choose the one that works for you and start your membership journey.