Building a membership site is a great way for creators to build a stable, recurring revenue stream for their online business.
There are many factors that contribute to the success of a membership site and the tech platform that you use plays a significant role as well.
But here’s the thing. There are many different membership website builders and they all have something unique to offer. So a lot of creators find it frustrating and confusing to find the right platform.
In this guide, I will share some of the best membership site platforms that exist in 2021, the key features they offer, their strengths and weaknesses and I’ll also share some tips to help you pick the right one for your business.
In fact, let’s start with the latter one and discuss some of the key things you should look for in your membership platform before we explore each of the platforms individually.
(If you would like to go straight to the platforms’ section, you can use this table of content.)
Tips to Select the Best Membership Website Builder
In order to find the best membership website builder for your business, you need to first understand what to look for in membership software.
So you need to take stock of things that are considered essential for building a membership site and then you should also consider your specific requirements.
Another thing you need to realize is that membership site vs online course models are very different and so are the feature requirements.
With that in mind, let’s discuss some of the most important things to take into account while choosing the right membership platform:
Hosted Solution vs WordPress Plugin
Hosted platforms are generally much easier to use plus you don’t need to worry about any of the technical things like hosting, site speed, maintenance or security.
Building a membership on WordPress, on the other hand, requires you to be much more tech-savvy. However, you also get much more flexibility and customization options.
So hosted membership website builders work better for an average, non-techie creator and I recommend that you go the WordPress route only when you’ve custom requirements that can’t be met by any of the hosted platforms.
Types of Content
Depending on what you’re trying to do with your membership, you might want to include a variety of content types and delivery formats, and your platform should be able to support them.
For example, you may want to just offer a single piece of content every month (or week) or include some online courses as part of your membership as well.
Similarly, you can use a lot of different content delivery formats like videos, audio files, live coaching calls, newsletters, blog posts, downloadable checklists, etc.
Learning and Engagement Tools
There are a variety of learning and engagement tools that creators use in their memberships and what tools you require will depend on your membership model, the content types you use, your niche, etc.
For example, if you’re building an evergreen membership site, you might want to drip feed your content rather giving access to all content immediately.
Similarly, if you have a membership in, say the cybersecurity niche, you may require tools like quizzes, assignments, and certificates for your online courses.
Finally, you may want to use some of the more advanced membership tools like gamification and badges to take engagement to another level.
Creating a community is a great way to boost member engagement and in many cases, it is a major selling point for memberships.
While some creators use something like a Facebook Group for their community, a lot of them prefer to have a community area on their own website.
However, some memberships include nothing but only a private community area as their offering in which case you should select a specialized online community platform.
S, you need to take a call on which way you want to go and choose a membership platform accordingly.
Membership Pricing Options
Since you are opting for a subscription model, you need to decide how frequently you want to charge your members.
While popular payment options include monthly and annual payments, there are creators who also offer quarterly or semi-annual options as well. Moreover, you may also want to provide a free trial or charge a setup fee upfront.
So decide how you want to price your membership and then make sure that the platform you choose gives you the options you need.
Tiered Membership Levels
Most of the successful membership sites offer multiple access tiers in order to maximize their earning potential.
It’s important that your platform allows you to easily create multiple membership tiers and allocate different content to them. Moreover, it should allow you to move users between different tiers easily.
Depending on your requirements, you may want your membership software to integrate with a variety of third-party solutions — email marketing services (e.g. ConvertKit), payment processors (Stripe), analytics solutions (Google Analytics).
So take your time to assess and prioritize the features you want. Moreover, you should take into account your budget and the level of customer support you need.
Now, let’s dive into the 7 best membership site platforms and how they can help you start or grow an online membership.
Kajabi is an all-in-one membership site platform that doesn’t just allow you to build a membership site and deliver your content but you can also build a fully-fledged website for your brand and handle entire sales and marketing on the platform itself.
When it comes to membership site creation, Kajabi has the most to offer for a hosted platform. It allows you to host your videos, create quizzes and surveys, drip feed your content as well as set pre-requisite lessons.
Moreover, it has 10+ beautifully designed Product themes that work well irrespective of whether you want to deliver an online course or just some standalone training.
It even offers a mobile app for iOS/ Android devices, so if your members are often consuming content on mobile, they’ll have a much better learning experience.
Another handy membership feature that Kajabi offers is Community which allows you to create a private community area for your members.
When it comes to pricing your membership, Kajabi offers you a lot of flexibility. Your members can pay weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annually. Plus you have the ability to provide a free trial or charge an upfront setup fee.
And if you’re wondering how easy it is to set up tiered memberships, you’d be happy to know that creating membership levels and allocating content to them is pretty straightforward as well.
When it comes to analytics, Kajabi has a dedicated subscription metrics report, so you can track your membership site’s monthly recurring revenue (MRR), average revenue per user (ARPU), and churn rate.
Now, Kajabi takes everything to the next level with its inbuilt sales and marketing features. They offer a sales pipeline builder, allowing you to map out your customer journey and build end-to-end marketing funnels.
You can also create landing pages, launch email marketing campaigns, run webinars, manage your affiliate program and automate your entire marketing workflow.
Finally, you can create your front-end website as well as your blog on Kajabi which makes it possible for you to run your entire business on the platform.
When it comes to pricing, Kajabi is one of the more expensive options out there. Kajabi pricing starts from $149/month and its most popular plan costs $199/month. They, however, don’t charge a transaction fee on any of the pricing plans.
Having said that, Kajabi is an extremely feature-rich platform that can help you with all aspects of running a membership site business. Even though the starting price is steep, it’s definitely worth the investment.
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Thinkific is another popular hosted membership website builder in the market. However, unlike Kajabi, they’re focused on offering mainly the core features which include the ability to host and deliver your content and process payments.
So it doesn’t offer an inbuilt blogging feature or a funnel builder or email marketing tools and you’ll need to use third-party tools for these capabilities.
Having said that, Thinkific is a great option for creating membership sites and online courses.
They allow you to create engaging courses with multiple content types including videos, PDFs, quizzes and assignments, release your content based on a drip schedule or create learning paths.
When it comes to the course player, there is just one theme but it is very well designed from a user experience point of view and it will work well for all types of online courses.
In addition, you have the ability to create custom pages and restrict access to them based on a user’s membership plan, which is really handy if you want to deliver one-off content on an ongoing basis.
As far as mobile learning experience is concerned, the course player is mobile responsive and your users can watch your content in any mobile browser. Thinkific, at this point, doesn’t have a mobile app.
Another useful feature that Thinkific offers for building memberships, is the ability to create a standalone community area on the platform.
When it comes to pricing your membership, you can create monthly or annual subscriptions and include a free trial or charge a setup fee as well. Plus creating tiered levels for your membership is quite simple in Thinkific.
Finally, Thinkific offers some other handy selling tools like ability to build sales pages, process payments, 1-click upsells, coupons, affiliate marketing, etc.
However, there are a couple of not-so-great things about the sales & marketing tools in Thinkific.
The first one is their checkout process where users are first required to create an account before they can make a payment, which isn’t good for conversions.
Secondly, Thinkfic doesn’t support PayPal for recurring subscriptions which means your users can pay only using credit cards (Stripe).
Finally, you can’t track important subscription metrics like Monthly Recurring Revenue (MRR) and churn rate.
As far as Thinkific pricing is concerned, you can get started for free. However, a lot of the essential features for memberships (e.g. bundles, subscription pricing, Communities, etc.) require the PRO plan, which costs $99/month.
Overall, Thinkific is quite reasonably priced and if you’re looking for a standalone platform to build your membership site, Thinkific will work well for you.
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Podia is another online platform that lets you quickly build a membership site. To start with, you can create online course with videos, PDFs, basic quizzes, etc. and you can also drip-feed your content.
When it comes to course delivery, the course player looks elegant and is very well-designed from an end user point of view.
Even though Podia doesn’t offer a mobile app, the course player is mobile responsive and your users can watch your content on any device.
Another thing that I like about membership site creation in Podia is the ability to create individual Posts for your members.
You can restrict access to these Posts based on a membership plan and it works very well for delivering one-off content from time to time.
Having said that, Podia lacks some very important learning features like graded quizzes, assignments, learning paths, etc. Plus you can’t build a separate community area for your members.
When it comes to pricing your membership, you can create a monthly/annual subscription and you can also offer a free trial. Moreover, creating multiple tiers and assigning different courses and Posts to them is pretty straightforward.
Finally, Podia allows you to create a sales page, process payments through a well-optimized checkout process, charge EU VAT and run your affiliate program.
What you can’t do is build a fully-fledged website for your brand, offer PayPal as a payment option to your customers and you can’t charge a setup fee as well.
As far as Podia pricing is concerned, it offers two plans but you need to be on the Shaker Plan ($79/month) to get the key features needed to set up a membership site.
So Podia is less expensive than both Kajabi and Thinkific but then it isn’t as feature-rich as these platforms.
But, if you just require the basic features for your membership site and are looking for a simple and straightforward solution, then Podia should work well for you.
Teachable is an extremely popular online course platform that allows you to create online courses and memberships under your own brand.
What I like about Teachable is how easy it is to create an engaging online course. You can create an online course with videos, audio files, PDFs, quizzes, etc. and you can deliver it professionally through the inbuilt course player.
Moreover, it supports features for graded quizzes, dripping your content, creating certificates, and course compliance, 1:1 coaching, etc.
However, all your content will need to be delivered as online courses as you don’t have the ability to create individual posts or pages. Plus Teachable doesn’t have the option of creating a community area on the platform.
When it comes to creating multiple membership tiers, it isn’t very straightforward. You’ll need to create multiple course bundles and do a lot of workarounds to create different levels for your membership.
Moreover, membership pricing options aren’t very flexible. While you can create annual and monthly subscriptions, it’s not possible to create a free trial or charge a custom upfront payment in the form of setup fee.
Having said that, Teachable offers some useful selling tools for your membership which include a sales page builder, well-optimized checkout pages, EU VAT support, affiliate marketing tools, etc.
As far as Teachable pricing is concerned, their basic plan costs $39/month (+5% transaction fee) and it includes all the essential features you need to get started.
So Teachable is a great platform to start if you’re on a tight budget. Though their Professional Plan, the most popular one, sits at $119/month (0% transaction fee).
So if your membership is basically a bunch of courses bundled together and you want a more affordable solution, Teachable will work well for you.
5. Mighty Networks
Mighty Networks is pretty different from all the hosted platforms that we have discussed till now, in the sense that the main focus of the platform is on community design and engagement.
It offers best-in-class features for building an engaged online community which include the ability to create posts, full articles and polls & questions, organize your content using topics, create free/paid groups within your community, and other features like member directory, direct messaging between members, live chat events, etc.
What I like the most about Mighty Networks, though, is that your members can access the community area using their free iOS and Android apps.
Moreover, you can also create online courses, and it supports essential features like content structuring and progress tracking.
Having said that, it lacks some very important features like inbuilt video/audio hosting, support for quizzes and assignments, etc.
Plus your courses will always have to live within the larger community which can be a bit restrictive for a lot of regular course creators.
When it comes to pricing your membership and selling it, Mighty Networks allows you to charge a one-time, monthly or annual subscription, with or without a free-trial. Plus there are different ways in which you can charge for your Mighty Network.
For example, you can keep the larger community free but charge for courses and mastermind groups within it. Or, you can keep the community paid and charge for courses and groups separately as well.
As far as Mighty Networks pricing is concerned, it has a free pricing tier (5% transaction fee) where you get the most basic community features.
The second tier is the Community Plan which costs $28/month (3% transaction fee) and the most popular tier is the Business Plan which costs $98/month (+2% transaction fee).
So if you’re planning to create a mastermind group or any sort of a community-focused membership, Mighty Networks will work well for you.
MORE ON MIGHTY NETWORKS:
While the hosted platforms work great for a majority of creators, they aren’t the best option for you if you want more flexibility in terms of functionality and customization options.
In this case, you should use a self-hosted platform like WordPress along with a membership plugin like AccessAlly to build your membership site.
AccessAlly is very different from a traditional WordPress membership plugin as it doesn’t just offer powerful membership management and selling tools but it also includes inbuilt LMS capability.
So you don’t just have the ability to create regular WordPress posts and pages in your membership but you can also create online courses with quizzes, assignments, certificates, etc.
Moreover, you can grant access to your content all at once or release them based on a schedule or you can even unlock content based on a user’s progress.
As far as membership pricing is concerned, you have a lot of options. You can create one-time, monthly, or annual subscriptions, offer a free/paid trial and create multiple membership tiers.
Plus it has some very powerful membership management tools which allow your members to cancel, upgrade or downgrade their membership plans and as an admin, you can pause someone’s subscription or let them skip payments.
Moreover, AccessAlly offers you some very handy selling tools like well-designed checkout pages, coupon codes, sales taxes, order bumps and 1-click upsells, cart abandonment tracking, inbuilt affiliate tracking, etc.
When it comes to plugin cost, AccessAlly has a steep price tag. Its Essentials option is $99/month, however, if you want to gain access to the premium course creation features, you need to go for the Pro plan, which costs $129/month.
Now, AccessAlly is pretty expensive from the standards of a WordPress membership/LMS plugin.
In fact, when you add the cost of your website hosting, video storage and things like website themes and other plugins, you’ll actually end up paying much more than even the hosted platforms.
Having said that, AccessAlly is the most feature-rich yet easy to use option for building a membership site on WordPress and if pricing isn’t an issue for you, you should give it a try.
MemberPress is one of the most popular WordPress membership plugins and it is very different from an “all-in-one” plugin like AccessAlly.
To start with, it covers the basic requirements of a membership site like content protection, handling subscription payments, and creating tiered membership levels.
With MemberPress, you can protect your WordPress pages and posts, restrict access to them based on what membership plan a user has purchased as well as drip your content.
If you want to offer online courses in your membership, you can use their Courses Add-On but it lacks some essential features and you’ll be better off using a third-party WordPress LMS plugin like LearnDash.
When it comes to pricing your membership, you have a lot of flexibility which includes the ability to set custom time periods for recurring payments, create free/paid trials of any length, limit the number of payments, etc.
Finally, MemberPress offers some very handy features for reporting and membership management.
As far as the plugin pricing is concerned, MemberPress is significantly cheaper than the other options above but then it also has a lot less to offer.
Their Basic Plan costs $149/year and gives you 1 site license while their Plus Plan costs $249/year and gives you 2 site licenses.
If you’re planning to build a fully-fledged membership site, MemberPress won’t be the best option for you unless you want to patch together a lot of third-party plugins.
However, if you want to quickly turn your WordPress posts and pages into a membership site, MemberPress is all that you’ll need.
So these are the best membership site platforms available in the market. There are a few other options that some creators use but I haven’t mentioned them in this guide because I don’t recommend you use them.
For example, you can create a membership site using platforms like ClickFunnels, Squarespace, and Wix but I don’t recommend that you do this because these platforms lack a lot of the essential features you’ll need.
Another platform that has gained a lot of popularity in the past year or so is Kartra. It is primarily a sales and marketing platform but it also includes a membership website builder.
However, the membership builder isn’t easy to use at all and it again lacks some important membership features, so you’ll be better off using a platform like Kajabi than Kartra for your membership.
Best Membership Site Platforms – Final Verdict
There are many different options when it comes to membership site platforms and the vast amount of choices can make selecting the right platform challenging and overwhelming.
That’s why I recommend you keep things simple! First, explore the hosted membership software as they are much easier to use and will work better for a majority of creators.
If you’re looking for an all-in-one membership site platform to run your entire business, you should check out Kajabi.
Otherwise, if you already have your marketing funnels in place and you’re looking mainly for a platform to host and deliver your membership content, you can go with Thinkific.
However, If these platforms don’t meet your requirements, you would probably need to go the WordPress route and in this case, you can consider using a plugin like AccessAlly for your membership site.
I hope this guide helped you make a decision. Do you have any questions about any of these membership website builders? Which platform do you think will work best for you and why? Please leave a comment below and let me know.
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