Launched almost two decades ago, WordPress now powers more than 37% of all websites across the world and at a strong 62%, it holds the title of the world’s most popular content management system (CMS). Originally created as a personal blog-publishing system by Mike Little and Matt Mullenweg, WordPress has since evolved to a full-fledged CMS built on PHP and MySQL with an aGPLv2 license, and it can cover any kind of site you can think of.
Being a free and open-source CMS, WordPress is supported by its contributing community of dedicated developers, web designers, and all sorts of content creators which makes it one of the most colorful, most customizable, and most creative site building tools out there. Whether you’re a newcomer or veteran webmaster, with WordPress you’ll have an equal opportunity to create something you care about and share it with the whole world. This is because it manages to stay novice-friendly while promising powerful performance, high flexibility, and piles of professional plugins for pretty much anything.
Although these are only a couple of things that make WordPress unique, perhaps some of them are the reasons you’re currently contemplating using WordPress to start your membership site business. If you are, you came to the right place, because we’re just about to uncover the five main reasons why WordPress and your membership site are a perfect power couple.
1. Cheap and cheerful
Being an open-source CMS, WordPress itself is completely free-of-charge for everyone. All you need are a domain name and a web hosting solution (for which you’ll need to pay a few dollars, at least), so you can download WordPress and set it up for yourself. With a low barrier to entry in comparison with closed or proprietary ecommerce platforms (membership platforms included), it’s no surprise WordPress is one of the most popular choices for online businesses of all sorts and sizes.
If you wish to save yourself the trouble of tackling the technical stuff, you can go with a managed WordPress hosting solution and get the technical team to do everything for you, but don’t expect to pay anything less than a pretty penny.
In terms of value for money, the major benefit of using WordPress is that you can pay only what you wish to use. More often than not, when you pay for a site-building platform it will come with plenty of features that you for one reason or another never get to use. By giving you complete control over what you choose to use for your site, you won’t only be making your life a lot simpler but also making the most of your money.
Another thing you can’t go without when starting a membership site with WordPress is a membership plugin (although you can combine a couple of plugins as well) for taking payments and restricting content to paying members only. With a plugin library that (as we write) comprises 59,525 free plugins, you can “extend your WordPress experience” without paying a single penny. Of course, there are plenty of paid plugins as well, but thanks to WordPress’ inherent flexibility you won’t have to pay through the nose for installing a few integrations, adding a plugin or two, or getting the perfect WordPress theme for your membership site.
In addition to all this, WordPress doesn’t “suffocate” successful membership sites with an additional “tax” many proprietary solutions suffer from. For instance, many of the leading WordPress membership plugins (such as WP-Members, Simple Membership, and Paid Memberships Pro) are free to use and won’t charge you any percentage of sales for getting new members nor raise the cost as your site begins to grow.
2. Your membership site will be yours and yours alone
The beauty of having a WordPress membership site is that you (and you alone) will be the true owner of your digital business. If you use a closed proprietary platform where you pay a monthly fee for using their software (perhaps even hardware) you’ll never completely own your online business including all your data, which is never good news.
Since you’ll be renting out your membership site from a supplier which is free to change everything about its product like a shot (such as features, performance, functionality, and pricing) you might easily find yourself in a tricky situation. Even if you do something as innocent as unintentionally missing a regular monthly payment, your site could be taken down without any notice and all of your cherished content could be lost and gone forever.
With WordPress you’ll be the one making the calls, you’ll have complete control over every section of your site, and you’ll be shaping the way it looks, feels, and works. Most membership platforms aren’t too customizable at their core, although they should provide more than enough options connected to the site's visual appeal such as color schemes, templates, and themes. However, if you want to go beyond this and really turn your dream membership site into reality, WordPress is a clear-cut winner.
On the downside, since in-depth customization of your WordPress membership site calls for some HTML and CSS skills, users lacking technical know-how might feel at loss now and then, at least. Nevertheless, after weighing all the pros and cons of using WordPress you’ll most likely conclude that creating a membership site that represents your business and stands out in the competing crowd of similar-looking sites is more crucial to your success than avoiding a few bumps in the road that you can straighten out with a few step-by-step guides.
Ultimately, as you would think twice before building your house on someone else's land (even if it’s rented) you could have second thoughts about building your membership site on someone else's platform.
3. Extensibility par excellence, fabulous level of flexibility, and complete customizability
We can’t stress the sheer level of flexibility you’ll get with WordPress, more so in comparison to proprietary membership platforms. There are over 59,000 free plugins currently available on WordPress’ official site and more than 9,000 free themes, which tells a lot about how huge the phenomenon WordPress still is.
Of course, there are amazing paid WordPress plugins as well (for a membership the top ones are MemberPress, Restrict Content Pro, and LearnDash), but you can usually get away with paying close to nothing. No matter which features you want to attach, what functionality you wish to add, or to what degree you want to customize the site’s appearance - you can rest assured there is a solution that can make it real, whether free or for a fee.
Another point you should think about before picking out the platform for your membership site is its extensibility, that is, its capacity to follow and foster the site’s growth. As its name implies, the point of a membership site is to collect as many members as it can, which is why its success is often measured by the size of its membership. So, what happens if your site gets in a situation where it can’t accommodate an inflow of new members?
In a scenario where you’re using a powerful proprietary membership platform, in order to extend your site, you’ll probably be forced to upgrade your package to a more premium (and pricier) one. However, if this platform can’t keep up with the site’s success, you’ll have to swap it for another one, and as far as we can tell it’s never an enjoyable experience. In the scenario in which you want to create your site with WordPress, it is virtually impossible to run out of options, the ones for extension included.
Although we’ve already covered the subject of customization, we can’t emphasize enough the wide variety of customization options you'll get with a WordPress site, particularly if you’re willing to work through the plugin library to find what you’re looking for. If you value extensibility, flexibility, and customizability above everything else, WordPress is the way to go.
4. Safety, stability, and superb (albeit mostly unofficial) support
Although it’s understandable to think that a free-to-use, open-source platform lacks in the security department, WordPress was created with security in mind, and it’s considered to be one of the safest site-creation platforms, membership sites included. However, this doesn’t mean that the invulnerability spell has been cast on your WordPress site. It can still become a target of criminal cyberattacks, hard-hearted hackers, or malicious malware. Therefore, you’ll have to find ways to secure your WordPress.
Thankfully, WordPress offers pretty simple yet powerful ways to keep your site on the safe side. The most obvious one is to keep the core software up to date since a significant portion of WordPress sites that get hacked are running out-of-date software. Another (also apparent) one is to never (not even in your wildest dreams) install extensions from shady sources.
Also, you should install several WordPress security plugins where some of the finest ones are free of charge as well. For instance, Sucuri Security will keep a watchful eye over security auditing, malware scanning, and security hardening, and all of it without dealing blows to your budget. Enabling an SSL certificate for your WordPress site is fairly simple, and almost always you’ll get one from your web hosting provider. You should also remember to install a WordPress backup plugin, so you can recover your site if things go south.
Another characteristic of any successful membership site is stability, and you can be sure that WordPress is one of the most stable platforms around, particularly if you’re using its latest version.
While WordPress doesn’t offer any direct support channels (WordPress.org, at least) for its users (such as phone number, live chat, or an email address) you’ll get enough self-help options to get by. The support section of WordPress’ official site features plenty of resources including a documentation section (with some superb step-by-step guides) and a community forum filled with tips, tricks, and answers to tons of tricky questions.
Another side of WordPress’ support (and one of the major assets) is its ever-growing and exceptionally committed community which is not only creating new plugins, building new extensions, and making all kinds of custom themes, but also (and so very often) ready to extend a helping hand to fellow fans of WordPress.
5. WordPress has been around for a long time and it is here to stay
For years now WordPress has held the blue ribbon as the go-to CMS, but can we truly foresee what the future holds for it? With the tireless march of technology and continuous changes to website development, ecommerce, and membership models we can’t help but wonder if WordPress will fade away like many once-popular technologies (such as beepers - remember those?) that have become obsolete and replaced with new ones.
Just like everything else, site-building tools come and go and types of membership sites that are fashionable now will turn into old-style and perhaps share a fate with hapless phone books. The same goes for the web industry where some of the big names were killed off during the Dot-com bubble burst and never made their come-backs (remember Flooz.com, Whoopi Goldberg, and the disaster that followed?)
However, the story of WordPress isn’t likely to end this way. Its adaptability to changes, opportunities, and challenges made it easier to expand its ability to customize every aspect of itself avoiding the fate of its contemporaries. The same level of available customization and integration simply can’t be achieved with most ecommerce or membership-only platforms.
As open source software, WordPress is not in the hands of one company, or one person for that matter. Even if those who started its story happen to disappear for good, we are sure that part of its community will take up the torch. And if WordPress itself disappears, anyone with a bit of technical know-how can fork its code and launch it under a new name like there’s nothing to it. Being in the center of a rock-solid community that unites thousands of users from all parts of the world, WordPress is here to stay until further notice.
If it isn't obvious enough already, we believe that WordPress is the supreme choice for any membership site, whether you wish to kick off your start-up or refresh your business. To sum up everything we went through, WordPress is a cost-effective, extendible, flexible, and customizable solution for a membership (or any other) site that will make you feel safe, secure, and supported while whispering in your ear that it’s here to stay.
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Mirza Bahic is a freelance tech journalist and blogger from Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. For the past four years, Mirza has been ghostwriting for a number of tech start-ups from various industries, including cloud, retail and B2B technology.