Membership sites are going to be big in 2019! I can feel it!
Membership sites are websites with restricted content and features that only members can access and utilise. Members typically pay a one-off fee or an ongoing monthly subscription to get access to this restricted content.
Netflix is a good example of a membership site (and one I’ll be referring to throughout this post!). You sign up to Netflix and you pay monthly to watch films and TV shows. Another example is Skillshare where you pay monthly to get access to online courses.
You may or may not know that it’s possible to create a membership site using WordPress with a helping hand from a plugin, or two. And you don’t need to create a brand new website from scratch to do so; you can integrate a members area into your existing website.
There are lots of plugins out there to choose from, each with different features and functionality. If you are setting up a membership website for the first time then there are a few things you need to consider before choosing which plugin to use.
In this post, I am going to talk you through the things you need to consider when choosing a plugin to power your membership website on WordPress.
How are members going to pay for their memberships?
When you set up a membership site on WordPress using a plugin, you need to choose a payment gateway to provide a secure way for your customers to enter their payment details and purchase their membership.
Not all membership plugins are compatible with all payment gateways, so it’s important that you do your research beforehand.
Some of the most popular payment gateways including PayPal, Stripe and Authorize. Although most membership plugins are compatible with PayPal, it’s important to remember that PayPal actually has various different gateways (such as Standard, Express or Pro) and not all membership plugins will integrate with all of these gateways.
Check if those payment systems come with the plugin or if they are add-ons. And if they are add-ons, check if they are free or if they are going to cost you extra.
Membership level options
Do require the ability to create membership levels?
For instance, when you sign up for Netflix you have to choose from three different plans; Basic, Standard and Premium. Each plan has a different price and comes with different features. The more you pay, the more you get.
These “plans” are often referred to as membership levels, and many membership plugins will allow you to set up member levels is this is something you wish to implement.
If you do want to implement membership levels then you need to think about whether you want to have a tiered membership system or not.
So let’s say for example you create three different membership levels; Bronze, Silver and Gold. You want the Bronze members to have access to a few resources, then you want the Silver members to have access to everything the Bronze level has plus a few extras. And finally, you want Gold member to have access to the same resources as Bronze and Silver member plus other resources. This is a tiered membership system.
In some cases, you may not want a tiered membership system. You may want membership level to be completely separate from each other, and if you sign up to one level you don’t necessarily get access to the same resources as other levels do. Some membership plugins will only allow you to set up membership levels that are tiered, so make sure you aren’t caught out by this!
Do you want members to have control over their own subscriptions?
I’m talking about cancelling their membership, changing their membership level (if this is something you offer) and updating their personal details.
Giving members control over their own membership and subscriptions will mean less work for you in the future. It will prevent members from needing to contact you via email every time they want to update their details, or if they no longer want to become a member.
Drip content functionality
Do you want all of the content to be available to members immediately, or do you want to release it at a later date?
Automating the release of content at certain times is known as content dripping and can be a very useful feature for membership sites. Say for example you create a new course for your membership website every month. You could use the drip content functionality to schedule this to be released to members on a certain date, like the 1st of the month. Or maybe your membership contains a lot of content (which is amazing!) and you slowly want to introduce this content to new members over a certain period of time.
While the vast majority of membership plugins have drip content functionality (even if you need to install an addon to utilise it) the way it works can vary from plugin to plugin. So make sure you know how you want to release content to your members and carefully choose a plugin that meets your requirements.
Add-ons and integrations
Do you require additional functionality?
For example, you might want to create a forum that is only accessible by members. Therefore you would need to find a membership plugin that has built-in forum functionality, or that allowed you to integrate a forum plugin such as bbPress or BuddyPress. Or you might want to connect your membership plugin to your Mailchimp account so that members are automatically added to certain mailing lists.
Sometimes this functionality is included with the plugin, and sometimes it comes in the form of an addon, whether that be free or paid. In some cases, a particular membership plugin might not be able to support the functionality you require at all, and therefore you will need to have a rethink about the plugin you use.
Free trial functionality
Do you want to offer potential new members a free trial before they officially start paying for their membership?
So for example, Netflix offers you a one-month free trial before you have to start paying the monthly fee. Or Graze gives you your first box for free. Is this something you would like for your membership site?
If you want the ability to offer free trials for potential new clients then make sure that your membership plugin of choice allows you to do this. And if you do decide to offer free trials, just be aware that people might abuse this functionality by signing up using different emails each time. Come on, I know you’ve done this with Netflix or Graze!
What is your budget for creating and running a membership website?
The reason I ask this is because not all membership plugins are free. Some plugins will have a one-off cost to purchase them, and some have monthly or annual fees. Other plugins might be free but you may have to pay extra for additional features. They can be a real investment!
It’s worth doing some serious research into membership plugins and seeing what you actually get for your money. I don’t want you to get ripped off with a plugin that is going to cost you several hundred pound every year when there’s actually a free plugin with the exact same functionality.
If you find a premium (i.e. paid) plugin that ticks all of your boxes and you are confident that you are going to make more than enough money from your membership site to cover the costs of the plugin, then go ahead and make that investment. However, if you are just starting out and you are worried that the running costs are going to exceed your income from your membership, it might be wise to look at what free plugins are out there.
Ease of use
Is this membership plugin easy for you and your members to use?
It can be overwhelming when you install a membership plugin for the first time. Ideally, you will want a plugin that is pretty easy and self-explanatory to use, unless you are willing to put in hours reading or watching tutorials!
Not only should the plugin be easy for you to set up and use but it should also be easy for your members to use. If a member finds your site difficult to use or if they encounter problems on a regular basis because you haven’t set it up properly (because it wasn’t easy for you to set up!) then they might be tempted to cancel their membership.
Obviously, it may not be possible to try out a plugin before you make an investment (unless they are free or come with a free trial), so I recommend heading over to Youtube and looking for some walkthrough videos that show you the system in action. Also, check to see if there any tutorials or support documentation for the plugin that you can rely on should you need some extra help.
Is this plugin going to slow down your website?
As amazing as WordPress plugins are they can have a massive impact on how long your website takes to load.
Membership plugins are large plugins with lots of files, and this means they can slow down your website and upset your users. As with ease of use, if members are finding your website slow to use they might cancel their membership. It could also deter potential members from joining in the first place
Before you proceed with a particular membership plugin, do a little a bit of research to find out if other users have had issues with the plugin being slow. There are lots of “Top 10 slowest WordPress plugins” style posts out there to help you with your research!
And if you have your heart set on using a plugin that you know is going to be slow, make sure you look at other ways of optimising the speed of your website.
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