How To Build a Membership Website: Master Guide

A membership website is required to create an online coaching or course.

You can set up a Facebook Group for free, but this lacks professionalism. It’s similar to using AOL for your company email address.

The popular learning platform Teachable, which is available for a fee, is the best option for anyone just starting out.

Teachable is easy to set up, and allows you to concentrate on what’s most important: creating great content for your subscribers.

However, you will soon discover that all these online membership sites have limitations. There is no single option that offers all of the functionality you require.

Teachable is a limited tool that limits what you can do.

Teachable doesn’t allow you to send an email to students who haven’t been logged in in a while. You can’t contact inactive users before they unsubscribe or leave a negative review.

You can also use WordPress to create a membership website. WordPress is a great content management system. WordPress is great for creating blogs. However, you can expand it to do more.

WordPress can be used for a membership site, but you will need to add some things first.

WordPress: Why use it?

Let’s start with the why, before we get to the how. Why use WordPress to create a membership site?

WordPress offers more functionality than any other membership platform. Here are some reasons WordPress is the best choice for your membership website:

  • Flexibility – You can use thousands of WordPress themes and plugins to create almost any functionality that you need.
  • Control – You can have greater control over your customers, and better monitor their usage.
  • Integration – You can link your email list, affiliate program, and forum all from one login.
  • A Better User Experience – Instead of redirecting to another site, WordPress can make your membership area look exactly the same as your main blog.

The Best WordPress Hosting

I spent many weeks testing all the most popular plugins and services and have found which ones work well together. This article will show you how I set up my membership area.

You are responsible for any deviations from the recommended plugins.

What is required for a WordPress membership website?

Some key functions are required for membership sites:

  • Shopping Cart — Place orders and process credit cards.
  • Membership Area — Protect the area’s password from public access.
  • Learning Management System — Create lessons and break them down into individual lessons.
  • Affiliate Program — Help with an affiliate program. This is, in my opinion, the key to growing your membership quickly.
  • Customer Administration — Add or remove customers quickly. You can change users.
  • Email Automations – Retain customers, automate communication via email
  • Email Notifications – Make sure that emails sent by WordPress are delivered.
  • Auditing – Allow only paid members to access private content, and prohibit the sharing of accounts.
  • Video Hosting – Allow non-members to view the videos but not pay.
  • Third Party Integration — Expand your membership area with other services that are not included in a membership plugin.

Do you need help?

It can be difficult and time-consuming to set up WordPress membership sites. The effort, cost and time involved can be worthwhile. If you need help, I offer WordPress consulting.

Let’s talk about each functionality and my recommendations.

Shopping Cart – ThriveCart

Sezmi’s Take

ThriveCart, a shopping cart service that sells digital products, is a great choice. ThriveCart offers many ways to increase sales, including bump offers, upsells and downsells. You don’t need additional software to join the powerful affiliate program. Their one-time fee is the biggest advantage over other products.

ThriveCart Review

9.5 Out Of 10

Affiliate ProgramYes
Price$495 – $690 one-time fee
PromotionUnlimited License for Life Only $495

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ThriveCart is a powerful tool that allows you to accept online payments. Although LearnDash does have a shopping cart built in, these platforms are nothing compared to the capabilities of ThriveCart.

My first e-book was created at my blog Investor Junkie. I didn’t believe I needed a shopping cart system. Although I did roll my own shopping cart using Gravity Forms it failed to work every time. A system that is reliable and takes orders 24 hours a day is what you want. Lost sales equal lost revenues.

When I was creating my personal brand, I knew that I needed a shopping cart system. My top choices were SamCart or ThriveCart. Both are excellent for selling digital products. ThriveCart had more functionality than the other service and was overall better. ThriveCart costs only one-time fees!

ThriveCart works as a service and not a plugin for WordPress. ThriveCart does not store credit card information, which is a big advantage, unlike LearnDash. It processes any new order via Stripe or PayPal and then tells your membership system how to create a new login. It creates a firewall between the customer order information and your membership system. This is important to me.

I highly recommend ThriveCart PRO as it has all the features you need to create a professional shopping basket.

  • An affiliate center that is powerful
  • JV contract & revenue sharing
  • Projections for business
  • Multi-user and client-use permission
  • Built-in sales tax calculation & reporting
  • Built-in dunning & subscription-saver functionality
  • Domain name custom

For more information, please read my ThriveCart review.

MemberPress – Membership Area

Sezmi’s Take

MemberPress is a WordPress membership plugin that is easy to use. It is easy to set up private areas and courses. It allows integrations with many third party services. They are constantly improving functionality.

9.0 Out Of 10

Price$249 to $549 per annum
PromotionGet $200 off

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There are many WordPress membership plugins. Some are better than others.

My setup uses MemberPress for password protection and creation of users.

Zapier is a better choice than the built-in option for integrating. It allows you to create accounts and send welcome emails. Although you could use ThriveCart’s built-in membership and course system, it doesn’t have many of the functionality and features that a WordPress membership site does.

BuddyBoss WordPress Theme

Sezmi’s Take

This theme is perfect for creating a membership area. It has all the features you need to create a private membership area. Uses the LMS LearnDash to access courses and training. You can create a native app that you brand to your blog and then deploy it for mobile users.

9.0Out Of 10

Pre-Made Templates5
WooCommerce SupportYes
Free VersionNo
Price$228 – $388 Per Year

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BuddyBoss is a WordPress theme that lets you manage your members’ area. You can use StudioPress or BeaverBuilder themes, but they’re not specifically designed for a membership site.

BuddyBoss reviews all the features that you would like in a membership program:

  • Zoom Integration — Excellent for coaching calls or live presentations
  • Forums — A built-in private forum. No need to use Facebook groups. You have more control over your members.
  • Notifications – Email and push notifications
  • Mobile Application — A mobile app that you can brand to your blog and which you can use in Apple Store or Google Play.

Affiliate Program – ThriveCart

Sezmi’s Take

ThriveCart, a shopping cart service that sells digital products, is a great choice. ThriveCart offers many ways to increase sales, including bump offers, upsells and downsells. You don’t need additional software to join the powerful affiliate program. Their one-time fee is the biggest advantage over other products.

ThriveCart Review

9.5 Out Of 10

Affiliate ProgramYes
Price$495 – $690 one-time fee
PromotionUnlimited License for Life Only $495

Find out More

I have tested many affiliate systems, some of which are WordPress plugins and others that offer services. ThriveCart PRO offers some unique features, including conversion tracking for affiliates. This is an advantage if your affiliate program wants to succeed.

Automatic PayPal payments are another great feature that makes it easy to pay your affiliates. You can choose which affiliates are automatically paid and enable or disable them. SamCart’s affiliate program was much less robust than ThriveCart.

ThriveCart also allows affiliates to offer bonus offers. This is an important part of selling digital products.

LMS – LearnDash

Sezmi’s Take

Turn your WordPress blog into an LMS (learning management system). Drag and drop course creator that supports quizzes as well as drip-feed lessons. It is easy to create an internet course.

9.5 Out Of 10

Price$199 to $369 per annum
PromotionSave $40 Off

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LearnDash turns your MemberPress membership into a fully-featured learning management system (LMS). MemberPress comes with the ability to protect your content, but it doesn’t offer the functionality necessary to allow you to take online courses and training.

LearnDash excels in this area. It was the most user-friendly and effective LMS I’ve found.

These functionalities are available in LearnDash:

  • Quizzes — Test the knowledge of your customers.
  • Gradebook — Give grades.
  • Badges and Certificates — Empower your members with pride and achievement by giving them certificates and badges.
  • Course Points — Earn points for completing courses or unlocking new ones.
  • Complete — Members may mark lessons as complete.
  • Drip Content – You can display all content or drip it on a weekly basis.

Yes, LearnDash is able to handle shopping carts like ThriveCart, and protect content such as MemberPress. However, those WordPress plugins can do these functions better.

Email Automations – ActiveCampaign

Sezmi’s Take

ActiveCampaign is my preferred mailing list provider. It offers everything you need, from basic email marketing to advanced automation. The only way to get more features is to upgrade to a higher-tier plan. This is my biggest problem with this service. The email editor could have been more like a newsletter format. ConvertKit has this feature. ActiveCampaign is a great tool for automating any task.

ActiveCampaign Review

9.5 Out Of 10

PlatformCloud and WordPress
Price$9 – $599+ per month
Annual DiscountYes
PromotionGet Started Free

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Email is an important part of creating your course. Customers and buyers should be happy to take your course and use the knowledge they have gained.

This is best done via email automations through an email service provider such as ActiveCampaign.

ActiveCampaign is my preferred email provider (see my review on ActiveCampaign). You can create beginner courses with it, or you can go advanced. They will continue to grow and you will never have to change providers.

Email Notifications – WP MailSMTP

Sezmi’s Take

This plugin is essential if you send out emails from your blog. This plugin will prevent your WordPress emails from being sent to spam folders.

9.5Out Of 10

Price$39 – 299 per annum
PromotionSave up to $150

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WPMail SMTP is designed to ensure that emails are delivered from WordPress.

It resolved the problems I was having with my member emails. MemberPress would send a welcome email to each person who signed up. It included their username, and password. Unfortunately, the email ended up in the spam folder. Technical support was needed to fix the problem and frustrate the customer.

WP Mail SMTP provides links to your email provider. It can be used with the following email services:

  • Pepipost
  • Sendinblue
  • Mailgun
  • SendGrid
  • Amazon SES
  • Google Gmail, Google Workspace
  • Outlook and Office 365
  • Any external SMTP provider

My testing has shown that if you use WordPress’ built-in email option, your emails will be sent to the spam folder. This plugin is simple but essential.

Auditing – WP Activity log

Sezmi’s Take

Get alerts and monitor WordPress events. Keep track of user changes, plugin updates, and other changes in WordPress. This is a must-have for any membership blog in order to keep your site secure and audit changes.

8.0 Out Of 10

Price$89 – $449/year
Promotion14-Day No Cost Trial

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Any membership site must be secure. It is important to secure your content and ensure that only paying customers have access to it.

WP Activities Log is here to save the day. This plugin allows you to monitor every aspect of your WordPress installation. You can audit every aspect of your WordPress install, including adding plugins and changing WordPress settings. In my case, however, it’s only used to audit logins to my member area.

These are the features that you will care about when joining a membership website:

  • Notifications to external sources such as SMS, email, or Slack channel.
  • You can prevent multiple logins to the same account.
  • You can see who is logged in to your member area in real-time.
  • Suspected users can be manually kicked off.
  • After a specified inactive period, automatic logoff occurs.

You don’t know who is accessing your products if you don’t use Teachable. It is impossible to know if multiple accounts are being used. WP Activity Log lets you audit your membership usage.

Vimeo Video Hosting

Sezmi’s Take

Vimeo is a better video hosting platform than YouTube. There are no ads or recommended videos for other users. Vimeo is great for membership websites and has the most recent features that are great for VSLs (Videosales Letters). Their service will protect your content and prevent others from stealing it.

10.0 Out Of 10

Price$7 – $75 per month
Annual DiscountNo
PromotionFree 30-Day Test

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Vimeo, in my opinion, is the best hosting service for your membership videos.

YouTube is used by a number of membership websites. YouTube is a great tool for building an audience, but it can be dangerous to use within your own membership area. YouTube can make videos private but they can still be shared. Anyone can share the URL of a video with anyone who has access to it.

Video services that protect your videos are essential to ensure they can only be viewed by members. Vimeo can do this easily.

Integration by Third Parties

Sezmi’s Take

Your WordPress can be set up to run automatically. Zapier is similar to WordPress, but it’s installed as a WordPress plug-in. This gives you access to more services, plugins and functionality than Zapier. This plugin is essential for any WordPress membership site.

9.5 Out Of 10

PriceFree – 499

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Last but not least, integrate your WordPress membership site to other services. Zapier is the best service to integrate two services. Zapier doesn’t require programming and allows you to integrate almost everything… except WordPress.

Uncanny Automation is similar to Zapier but it is designed for integrating WordPress plug-ins. You can manage complicated, if-then situations in your private area. It can be used to do:

  • When a member fails to pass a quiz, send an email via ActiveCampaign.
  • Send an email to them after they have completed the course.
  • Send an email to users who log in to the site.

Closing Thoughts

There are many things I could say more about creating a membership section. These are just a few of the plugins and services that I recommend.

This is a list of all the WordPress plugins that you will need to create a member site.

Shopping CartThriveCart
Affiliate ProgramThriveCart
Member AreaMemberPress
WordPress ThemeBuddyBoss
Email AutomationActiveCampaign
Email NotificationsWP Mail SMTP
AuditingWP Activity Log
Video HostingVimeo
IntegrationUncanny Automator

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