Top 5 Best Membership Site Platforms [2021] - Online Course How
Top 5 Best Membership Site Platforms

Top 5 Best Membership Site Platforms [2021]

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Offering a membership is a great way to get recurring payments from your followers. But what platform should you use to host your membership site?

What are the top 5 best membership site platforms? MemberPress is the best option if you’re looking for a WordPress plugin that enables memberships on an existing site that you already run. My top hosted platforms for selling memberships are Kajabi, Thinkific, Podia, and Teachable.

In this article, I’ll give you a rundown of my top 5 favorite platforms for creating a membership site. I’ll go over the features of each that makes it one of my top picks.

Why Run A Membership Site?

Selling online courses is great. But the problem is that you usually make one sale per customer, and then you may never deal with them again.

Membership sites allow you to earn a more reliable and constant source of income since your members are paying you monthly or annually, instead of as a one-time fee.

They are also awesome for fostering a sense of community and loyalty.

Having an online course is one thing, but having a membership site where people can come to interact will create loyal fans that are more likely to buy every new product that you release.

Of course, one downside of running a membership site is that it takes more work. You’ll have to spend time interacting and engaging with your members.

And people will expect you to be constantly releasing fresh new content to give them a reason to stick around and keep paying you.

But along with that, the value of your membership site will also increase over time, so you’ll be able to justify charging new members higher prices.

So if you’re ready to get started on creating your own membership site, here are the top 5 platforms that I would recommend.

1. MemberPress

MemberPress

The other four items on this list are hosted platforms. But before I get to those, I wanted to talk about MemberPress. It’s a membership plugin for WordPress.

So if you already have your own website and want to host your own membership site there, it’s a fantastic option. It also happens to integrate perfectly with LearnDash, my favorite LMS.

It’s easy to install, and will let you start charging for access to a membership site right away. But it’s also powerful, so it’s no surprise that it’s one of the most popular membership plugins for WordPress.

With MemberPress, you can create an unlimited number of membership levels and product pages. And it has a reports feature that will give you insights to how your business is performing, and potential ways to improve it.

You can restrict access to basically any kind of content. Including posts and pages, and even tags, categories, or individual files.

You can drip content to your members over time, which is especially nice if you’re wanting to have online courses in your membership area.

The plugin integrates with the big third-party apps you’ll want to use. Obviously there’s PayPal and Stripe for taking payments. It also integrates with most of the major email providers like MailChimp and Aweber.

Plus popular podcasting plugin Blubrry, forum software bbPress, and a whole bunch of others. And if there’s an integration you’d like that’s missing, you may be able to still make use of it through Zapier.

MemberPress has three price options. The Basic plan costs $149 for 1 year of support and updates. You can use it on one site and it will give you access to most features.

Although there are a few things it lacks, such as some integrations, and the ability to have your own affiliate program.

For those features you may need to upgrade to either the $249 Plus plan or the $349 Pro plan, depending on what specific features you’re looking for, or how many sites you need to put your membership plugin on.

2. Kajabi

Kajabi — The All-In-One Online Business Platform

When it comes to hosted platforms, Kajabi would probably be my top pick when it comes to creating membership sites.

It offers some of the most flexible pricing options for your site. You can charge members weekly, monthly, quarterly, or annually. If you want, you can even charge an initial setup fee, or offer a free trial.

Kajabi makes it easy to set up different tiers of memberships and assign different content to each of them.

Its built-in community option makes it easy to have a private area for your members to chat with you, and with each other.

If you’ve worked hard to build connections with your members, you don’t want to give your hard work away to other platforms.

So it’s great that there’s a built-in option, whereas some other platforms may lack community functions and cause you to use other platforms like Facebook Groups instead.

Kajabi offers some great analytics to track how your membership is performing. You can see your churn rate of how long it takes members to cancel their membership on average.

Plus your average revenue per user, and your monthly recurring revenue.

The best part is that Kajabi isn’t just focused on membership either. You get a ton of other features for your website and brand. Including the ability to host online courses, and make quizzes and surveys.

It has a built-in email management tool that replaces your need for MailChimp, Aweber, or other platforms.

And its visual builder lets you easily make great-looking emails containing countdown timers, integrated video, and more.

It even has its own sales pipeline builder. So you can make landing pages and sales pages, run webinars, manage affiliates, and basically handle all of your marketing in one place.

Kajabi is definitely more expensive than using a WordPress plugin like MemberPress, at $119 per month for the Basic plan if you pay annually.

But considering that once you make the switch, you can eliminate many other services you’re probably currently paying for like WordPress, Clickfunnels, MailChimp, Zapier, and others, you’ll see that it’s actually a pretty economical choice.

3. Thinkific

Thinkific online courses

If you’re already selling online courses, then Thinkific may be a platform that you’re already familiar with.

They’re one of the most popular online course platforms available, thanks to zero transaction fees on all their plans, unlimited students, and plenty of other great features.

To sell memberships on Thinkific, you’ll need to sign up for at least their Pro plan, which costs $99 per month.

But if you’re planning on selling online courses alongside your membership anyway, the platform may be a cost-effective way to go for all of the features that you’ll need.

While Thinkific does lack the email marketing and funnel building tools that Kajabi has, it still has most of the core features that you’ll need to take payments and deliver your membership content.

That’s not to say it doesn’t have some of the functionality you’ll need to build sales pages and do affiliate marketing.

The platform gives you the ability to make custom pages and restrict access to people who are on your membership plan. Which is nice if you want to make single pieces of content available to members at a time.

Like Kajabi, Thinkific also allows you to create a standalone community right on the platform.

Its membership pricing is a bit more restrictive since you can only create monthly or annual subscriptions. But you can still charge a setup fee or offer a free trial like with Kajabi.

4. Podia

Podia - Sell Online Courses, Memberships, and Down

With some of these platforms, you almost have to be a detective to figure out which pricing plans and add-ons you may need to get the features that you’re looking for.

What I love about Podia is that they make their pricing plans very clear. There are only two to choose from, and it’s clear what you get from each.

To have memberships with Podia, you’ll need to pay for their more expensive Shaker plan at $79 per month.

This enables you to either use paid memberships to earn recurring revenue with a monthly or annual membership. Or alternatively, you can offer a free membership to help generate leads for your business.

This plan includes a few extras that their lower plan doesn’t as well. Including the ability to make a blog, create offset buy buttons, build your own affiliate marketing program, and add third-party code to your pages.

Like all of the platforms on this list, Podia includes a powerful course builder that will allow you to make lessons containing videos, PDFs, and basic quizzes.

You can also drip-feed your content to students if you wish, or make it all available at once. I’m personally a fan of their course player, which looks very polished and well-designed for end users.

One neat feature of Podia is that you can make individual posts for your members, and restrict access to specific posts based on membership.

This makes the platform great as an alternative to other crowdfunding platforms like Patreon.

You can offer specific tiers of content or rewards for members who pay a certain amount per month, and only make that content available for them.

One thing that Podia is lacking is the ability to create a dedicated community area for your members.

So while your members can make basic comments on your posts, there won’t be a whole social network there for them to interact with each other through.

The conversation will be more one-way with you delivering content and information to them, without too much feedback coming from the other direction.

Since Podia is less expensive than both Thinkific and Kajabi, I think it can be a great budget option if you’re willing to overlook the few features that it’s missing though.

If you’re looking to make a pretty basic and straightforward membership site, then I think Podia will have all of the core features and functionality that you’re looking for.

5. Teachable

Teachable screenshoot

Teachable is another platform that’s mostly designed for creating online courses. But it can be used as a membership website in a pinch too.

Plus you can get started with their Basic plan for just $29 per month, which is hard to beat.

Although on this plan you will end up paying 5% transaction fees, so it may be worth your while to upgrade to their Professional plan for $99 per month anyway.

This higher plan removes all transaction fees. And it also gives you the ability to create graded quizzes and course completion certificates. Plus you can make use of integrated affiliate marketing and advanced reports too.

What I love best about Teachable is how easy it is to get everything set up. It doesn’t require any kind of technical skills at all, and you can use a drag and drop builder to create all of your pages and membership content.

It’s easy to add videos, PDFs, text, or other elements to any page.

Like most platforms, they have an ability to drip content to your members, so you can roll it out gradually over time if you wish.

While Teachable doesn’t have a community area that you can create on the platform, they do have a lot of built-in engagement features to keep your members hooked.

You can create discussion forums, and make use of contact forms and other features to keep in touch with your members.

But if you do want more of a network, you may have to resort to creating a private Facebook group or something similar.

One area where Teachable is less user-friendly is when it comes to creating membership tiers. It’s less intuitive than what other platforms offer.

And you’ll basically have to create different bundles of courses as a workaround for making different membership levels.

Your pricing options are also more restrictive than other platforms. While you can make monthly or annual memberships, you can’t offer a free trial or charge any kind of setup fee upfront.

If you’re on a tight budget, or your membership is essentially just several of your courses bundled together, then Teachable can be a good option that covers all of your core needs at an affordable monthly rate.

What Should You Look For In A Membership Site Platform?

While these 5 options that I’ve discussed are a great start, there are lots of alternatives out there that you may also want to consider when looking for a membership site platform.

I always recommend doing your own research and seeing what will work for you. But there are some basic features that I think a good platform should have, which I’ll discuss below.

Many online course platforms will also double as a membership site platform. So if you’re already selling online courses, you may want to look into whether you could already offer memberships.

But if you’re starting from scratch, there are some specific features that I recommend looking for.

Processing Payments

Thinkific Payment Processing

Obviously you’re not doing this as a charity, so you need a platform that will process online payments!

Ideally you want a platform that will support both PayPal and Stripe at a minimum. If the platform doesn’t charge a donation fee, that’s always a bonus.

And you may want specific features, like the ability to accept donations.

Marketing Features

Kajabi Email Marketing

Ideally you’ll want a membership site platform that is an all-in-one package and can handle everything that you need.

Some platforms will have built-in tools for email management, sales funnel building, affiliate program management, and more.

So take these features into account when looking at the price of a marketing site platform, because it may allow you to cancel some of your current services to offset some of the costs.

If a platform doesn’t have these features, you’ll need to ask how it will integrate with your existing systems.

Community

Kajabi Community

A big part of running a membership site for me is the added engagement and interactivity. Otherwise you’re basically just charging a subscription to access your online courses.

The best platforms will have entire social networks built into them. That way, you can create a feature-rich way for your members to keep in touch with each other and you.

Similar to a Facebook Group, except that you retain full control over everything.

Some platforms don’t offer the ability to create these more elaborate communities. But at a minimum, I would try to find a platform that at least lets you create a discussion forum for your members.

Reporting and Analytics

Teachable Course Analytics: provides insights into your student’s engagement

If you can’t view and track how many members are joining or leaving every month, then it’s hard to evaluate how your business is operating.

You’ll want a membership site platform that has an analytics dashboard that presents all of the basic information you’ll need to understand how your site is running.

Ideally in a way that’s easy to search and filter.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a member platform?

A member platform is an online tool that allows a creator to sell limited access content, and set up subscriptions. Alongside this, the member platform will collect payments, potentially act as a marketing tool, and offer a space for communication with users.

Many find a member platform to be a smart way to develop an active community, and increase interest in new offerings.

When selling content online, payments can get stuck as one-off fees. By using a member platform, a course creator can encourage interested parties to subscribe long-term, rather than becoming one-time users.

This gives them access to exclusive content, and allows the creator to collect a regular subscription fee, instead of a single payment.

There are many benefits to a member platform, the biggest being the opportunity to collect a regular income. It also creates an active audience, and a loyal fan base. 

How do membership sites work?

Membership sites work by providing something of a gated community. Members gain access to content and products that are otherwise unavailable. This allows creators to build community spaces, collect frequent payments, and establish a loyal user base.

A membership site can generally be added to an existing website.

Membership sites often work as plug-ins, but some are integrated into course creating sites. Once you’ve chosen a plan, the member platform allows you to offer your own subscriptions.

Depending on the site you choose, you can potentially build up tiers for members to subscribe to.

From here, you can use the membership site to offer exclusive content to subscribers. Good member platforms allow the user to track and manage engagement levels. This helps to plan marketing, and target content.

A membership site may also have the option to create a message board, or a community space.

How much does it cost to create a membership website?

Membership websites come at a range of different prices, and they aren’t cheap. Membership websites will be priced depending on the variety of tools they give you access to.

This is an area where you get what you pay for: expensive options will grant you access to more tools and data. 

Expect to pay upwards of $200 a year for a quality membership website. Some sites offer either a monthly, or yearly, subscription. Although the yearly costs may seem high upfront, they often save you money in the long run.

If you want to create a high-quality membership website, then be prepared for a significant cost. However, the more you pay, the more opportunities there are to make money.

When deciding on a plan, balance what features you consider necessary, and how much you’re willing to pay for them.

What should a membership site include?

The most basic thing a membership site should include is the ability to offer subscriptions. Other good features are payment processing, marketing features, community growth, and reporting and analytics.

Payment processing is a must. Even a basic membership site should have the capabilities to collect and process payments. 

Marketing features are useful, as they give the user an opportunity to entice people toward new content. With good membership plans, basic marketing is often included. 

When people pay for a membership, they like to feel part of a community. This makes membership a more appealing option than a one off payment. A discussion forum is the most basic choice, but quality plans will offer a personalized space.

Finally, a membership site should include some form of reporting and analytics. With this, a business owner can track how subscribers are engaging with content, what’s working, and what isn’t.

Conclusion

If you already have a WordPress site, I recommend looking at using the MemberPress plugin to offer memberships.

It will be the most cost-effective option at $149 per year for the Basic plan, instead of paying monthly for a hosted platform.

However, it may take a bit more technical knowledge and integration on your part to keep everything running smoothly.

For hosted platforms, I think Kajabi is the best choice.

It’s a truly all-in-one solution that offers email management, sales funnel creations, communities, and other features in addition to letting you offer the most flexibly membership options.

However, it will also cost the most.

Thinkific, Podia, and Teachable are all hosted platforms that can be a good compromise if you want to make a tradeoff between cost and features.

They are all less expensive than Kajabi, but each has its own set of different features, and maybe lacking compared to others.

So you’ll need to evaluate what you features you need in a membership site platform to decide which is best for you.

About the Author Jacob M.

Jacob has a background in finance and engineering. Outside of his day job, he is a lifelong learner, who enjoys reading, taking online courses, and writing about what he's learned.

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