How To Build Your Membership Site

In this mini-course you’ll learn how to make your membership site idea become reality, and start to actually build your site!

You’ll learn about the tech that’s required, best practices, and pitfalls to avoid.

The Completion Level of Your Training.


Picking your membership site tech

Form follows function.

And in the case of your membership site, you want to make sure that you pick apps and tech that will have the functionality to support your vision.

Switching apps is time consuming and frustrating (and sometimes impossible), so it’s vital that you go with the best tech for your particular situation from the very beginning.

WordPress vs 3rd Party hosted solutions

Most of the membership sites my team and I work with are built on WordPress.

The reason for this is simply because nothing gives you more flexibility and control than WordPress does.

There are 3rd party membership site solutions like Kajabi, Wild Apricot, Thinkific, Teachable (formerly Fedora), and others.

I generally don’t prefer these 3rd party solutions because while they make everything relatively easy for you by providing wizards, templates and a pre-arranged way of organizing your content and offers, the trade-off is a huge lack of flexibility.

You might think that’s actually a pretty reasonable trade-off. Sure you give up a little flexibility but it’s worth it if it make things much easier, right?

The problem is that this works until it doesn’t.

When you use a 3rd party, hosted solution, you’re at the mercy of their dev team to implement anything that isn’t already available in their app. You can’t customize it, you can’t download plugins to extend it, you can’t ask a developer to code an add-on, etc.

You’re STUCK until and unless THEIR devs roll out the feature(s) you need.

While I’ve had a few customers move from WordPress to 3rd party solutions, the great majority of moves are TO WordPress. The frustrating lack of flexibility inherent to 3rd party solutions often forces customers to migrate to a platform that can support their visions.

For these reasons and more I recommend you use WordPress to build your site.


Let’s talk hosting

In order to start creating your WordPress membership website you need to do two things:

  1. You have to register your domain name using a service like Namecheap
  2. You have to host your site somewhere using a service like CloudWays

Please start by reading our authority article on this topic:

What is the best hosting for a WordPress membership site?

What is the best hosting for a WordPress membership site - How To Build Your Membership Site


Choosing a WordPress Theme

There are so many different themes for WordPress that it boggles the mind.

Luckily, our team has worked with the majority of the most popular themes out there and we know which ones work well for membership sites and which ones don’t.

Our top 2 picks are:

1. Divi

We use Divi for all of our “serious” projects that need a great design on both desktop and mobile devices. The flexibility and extensibility of this theme are unparalleled, especially considering the extremely-reasonable price tag!

==> Please see our “Why Divi?” page for a complete breakdown. 🙂

2. OptimizePress

OptimizePress is especially useful if you prefer visual builders. It works great out of the box and is intuitive so you don’t have to spend all of your time figuring out how it works; you can start using it pretty much right away.

Another major benefit of OptimizePress is that it comes in both a theme and plugin version. So if you have a primary theme you can still use OptimizePress for quick landing pages, sales pages and membership pages, which all come as templates inside of their visual editor.

(On our site we use Divi as our primary theme and OptimizePress 2 in the plugins version to create various landing pages.)

For more details on why OptimizePress 2 works extremely well for membership sites, please see this post:

what is the best wordpress theme for my membership site - How To Build Your Membership Site



Choosing a WordPress membership plugin

You can split membership plugins into roughly two categories:

1. Tag based plugins
2. Non-tag based plugins

Tag Based Membership Plugins

The tag based membership plugins interface directly with your email marketing program (e.g. Drip, ConvertKit, Infusionsoft, ActiveCampaign) and read the tags that your members have inside of their contact records to determine their access on the membership site.

This is extremely convenient and is part of what I call the Deep Integration Movement.
The Deep Integration movement for WordPress membership plugins - How To Build Your Membership Site

You can think of these tag based membership plugins as the next generation of membership plugins. This includes:

  • AccessAlly
  • WPFusion
  • ActiveMember360
  • iMember360

If you’re using one of the email marketing apps or CRMs that support tag based membership plugins (Drip, ActiveCampaign, InfusionSoft, ConvertKit) then this, in my opinion, the best way to go.

Non-Tag Based Membership Plugins

These plugins don’t grant / deny access to your protected content on the basis of tags inside of your email marketing tool. Rather, they keep content access information about your members directly in WordPress.

There are several excellent plugins in this category including:

  • MemberMouse
  • MemberPress
  • Digital Access Pass (DAP)

…and others.

Of these three my preference is generally MemberMouse (although it really depends on the situation). This video explains my reasoning:

My OVERALL preference for membership plugins is to use ActiveMember360. But this also requires you to use ActiveCampaign for your email marketing. So it’s a package deal.


Choosing the best forum software

The best entry-level forum option is BBPress.

It’s free, it works well out of the box, and does the job. It’s perfect if you just need a simple forum for your membership site.

However, if your membership site depends heavily on your community, then you’ll definitely want something more sophisticated.

Here I can recommend two options:

Option #1 – Discourse

Option #2 – Invision Community

Both of these are “next generation” forums that have all the bells and whistles you could want including:

  • In-app notifications
  • Email notifications
  • Private messaging
  • Integration with WordPress
  • Granular permissions levels
  • “Trust” levels (Discourse)
  • Highly customizable

My favorite online membership site community, the Member Site Academy, uses Invision Community to run it’s forum component and it provides an incredible user experience.


Get professional help to build and market your site

What is the MSA?

The difference between launching a successful membership site and bombing is often how intelligent your approach is, combined with how much support and accountability you can corral. This is where the Member Site Academy comes in…


Don’t feel like building your site yourself…?

If you need help building your membership site, my team and I can help!

Through our MemberFix service, we help membership site owners and aspiring membership site owners just like you every day. We help choose, configure and maintain all of your tech, and you get free strategy sessions with our founder Vic each month!

mermberfix logo x200 - How To Build Your Membership Site

Check out the information page for our MemberFix service.

Complete Course