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My copywriting business completely changed when I started to focus on community.
Sure, I was doing good work and having a nice time before, but building a name for myself and nurturing a group of loyal followers has opened so many doors. It’s boosted my industry authority, led to bigger and better projects and has helped me secure a reliable and stable income.
It all started when I quit my job and moved to Spain to freelance. All of a sudden, I was getting countless emails a week from people who wanted to do the same. I love helping other people out, but it was becoming a huge time-suck trying to respond to each and every question.
So I had a brainwave: Create a course that answered all these questions and helped people do what I did. Simple.
I began my search for a membership website builder where I could host my course. At the time (we’re talking five years ago), I received a lot of recommendations for Teachable. It served its purpose, but there are now a ton of new options available that have lots more features and are geared toward different industries, membership models, and content formats.
In this article, I’ll be reviewing some of the best membership website builders, highlighting which kind of creators they’re best for, and laying bare their pros and cons. Whether you’re looking to offer online yoga classes, writing courses, private coaching sessions, paid newsletters, or downloadables, there’s a membership builder for you.
When I started creating courses and memberships, there weren’t a lot of options. Website builders weren’t really offering membership add-ons and, if they were, they were clunky and not particularly geared toward the new wave of online businesses.
There were plenty of dedicated membership website platforms, though—Teachable, Kajabi, Thinkific, Podia, and Teachery were all options, but Teachable seemed to fit my needs and budget best at the time.
These platforms were created specifically for hosting online courses and memberships, so their interfaces have everything you might need, but they can often be limited behind the scenes. For example, the backend of Teachable looks pretty much the same for every membership website, bar the branded colors and logos you can upload yourself.
It’s the same for most of these other dedicated platforms. They have everything you need to create complex membership programs, but they fall short when it comes to making them look the way you’d like them to look.
It can also be a headache hosting your membership separately from your website and having to constantly switch between the two. At least if you have your website and membership program in the same place, you’re able to get a comprehensive view of your analytics, conversion rates, and other key metrics that would otherwise be spread out over different platforms.
If you want full control of the backend of your membership program and want to keep all your metrics in one place, a membership website builder might be a better option. Here are my top picks.
- Squarespace – Robust Website Builder for Creators
- Wix – Sell Subscriptions, Courses or Products
- Weebly – The Value Option
- WordPress – Complicated but Very Powerful
- HubSpot CMS Hub – All-in-One Marketing Suite
- Wild Apricot – Specialized Membership Website Builder
- Memberspace – The Add-On for Existing Websites
- GoDaddy website builder – Affordable but Limited
Squarespace is a popular website builder among the creator and entrepreneur crowd because you can build a beautiful, functioning site without an iota of design or development acumen.
The drag-and-drop interface and the library of pre-made templates are an attractive selling point for creators who want to get set up quickly–or for those already using Squarespace for their websites–but it comes at a price. Squarespace takes 7% of each transaction for creators on the Starter package (less if you pay more each month). It’s not cheap, but that’s the price you pay for a quick and easy setup.
I use Squarespace for one of my websites (Copy Revival) and can confirm it’s pretty robust for creators who don’t need complicated backends and who just want a site that looks good (lightyears apart from my WordPress website that I’ve had to hire a handful of designers and developers for over the years!). The Members Area combined with their new Courses platform makes it easy to sell courses, programs, classes, and paid content behind the scenes.
They sell both features as the Digital Product Add-On (requires a Business or Commerce plan):
Starter at $9/month includes unlimited member areas and courses. It includes 10 hours of video storage. Transaction fee: 7%
Core at $34/month includes up to 50 hours of video storage and reduces the transaction fee to 3%.
Professional at $119/month removes the storage limit for videos as well as the transaction fee.
Creators who are already using the platform (it’s far less hassle migrating across and you can keep members in one place) and who provide courses and programs, like virtual classes and one-time resources. Thanks to Courses you can also build complex, multi-module courses that include sequential lessons, chapters, and progress tracking.
- There’s a huge selection of pre-made templates
- The built-in analytics are comprehensive
- You just need one single login if your site is already hosted on Squarespace
- There’s a clean, tidy interface that is typical of Squarespace
- You need to purchase a separate subscription to access Squarespace Member Areas and Courses, and a large chunk of revenue goes on fees (if you don’t opt for the expensive Professional package)
Wix was voted our best website builder for 2023 for multiple reasons. There are plenty of templates that cater to a wealth of industries, there’s a super simple drag-and-drop interface, and it’s easy to grapple with the editor even if you’re not particularly internet savvy. I actually helped my mum set up a Wix website for her offline business. Calling her a tech-phobe is a massive understatement, so it’s a testament to Wix that she’s now able to manage and update the site herself without any problems.
Wix’s membership feature is fueled by the Wix Bookings app. Integrating it with your existing Wix website (or with a brand new one) lets you set up a membership website in the backend and sell either packages or ongoing membership bundles.
Creators who are selling classes or products that can be bundled together. For example, fitness instructors selling blocks of online classes, or coaches offering a set number of sessions. In fact, my mum could probably make good use of Wix’s membership add-on for her psychotherapy sessions.
- It’s easy to create different pricing plans for different levels of membership
- You can customize the member area for a slick backend experience
- The built-in progress tracker helps members track their journey
- You can easily offer free trials and discounts
- It’s easy to set recurring payments (Core plan and above)
- You can’t personalize registration emails (and no confirmation email is sent when users register if approval isn’t set to manual–eek!)
- It’s difficult to modify subscriptions once users are locked in
- There’s little flexibility to show the finer details of your membership on more than one page
I use Weebly for my main website (LizzieDavey.com) which I set up about 10 years ago when Weebly was ahead of its time. Today, it feels a little clunky, but it’s still eager to keep up with the bigger names. The good thing about Weebly is it’s cheap. I pay $10 a month for a handful of features, so there’s that.
There are also some useful features, especially for creators who want an uncomplicated and simple backend. For example, you can segment members into groups based on their loyalty levels (I would love this option in Teachable) and it’s also really easy for members to sign up (again, something I would love to have on Teachable, which adds barriers to entry by asking students to create a Teachable account first).
Creators who want cheap and easy! Weebly has a barebones membership website builder which would be a good fit for downloads, one-time resources, and hosting live classes. Despite it being super simple to use, it’s probably not the best option for larger, more complex offerings like courses and masterminds.
- It’s cheap!
- It’s easy to use with simple, basic features
- Its drag-and-drop interface is great for non-designers
- There’s a fully-stocked library of templates to choose from (although these are pretty limited compared to other options)
- The features aren’t on par with other membership websites and are, in fact, a little out of date
- It doesn’t include the ability to offer paid content to members
- The features are limited compared to other options
- While the designs and templates are nicely responsive, they could be better
WordPress is the don of website creation and I’ve created my fair share of sites there over the years (Freelance Magic is a WordPress website). It takes a little more getting used to than the drag-and-drop options out there, but it is far more robust and has much more powerful capabilities than the others. In fact, it’s my go-to website builder when I want to create an all-singing, all-dancing website that I know will get increasingly complicated over time.
My favorite part? The plugins.
Plugins are what make WordPress so flexible since they often require very little design and development acumen but can help you customize your site in any way you want.
If you want to create a membership program on WordPress, you’ll need a trusty plugin. MemberPress is the most popular. Once you’ve integrated it with your WordPress backend, you can run courses, sell subscriptions, send paid newsletters, and create a members-only portal for your website. This is fantastic if you already have a WordPress site (which many people do!) since you can just tack on the plugin and go.
Creators who are already using WordPress or who need a complex builder to suit their membership needs. But the sheer range of plugins means that pretty much anyone who wants to create a membership site of some kind can do so fairly easily with WordPress—it might just take a bit of time to play around with the options until you find something that works well for you.
- It’s very adaptable for any kind of business
- There are tons of add-ons to personalize and customize your member’s area
- It’s easy to add to existing WordPress accounts or websites
- There are lots of payment processor options
- It can end up being quite costly if you go for lots of add-ons (you often pay for each individual plugin–and sometimes each individual plugin feature)
- It can be a learning curve trying to get to grips with the interface
- You need to have a self-hosted WordPress website to create a membership area
HubSpot is inherently a CRM, but it offers a wide range of marketing automation tools, as well as its own website builder. You can customize your website by segmenting members into different sub-groups and delivering content specifically for them—kind of like account-based marketing.
The membership feature is powerful, particularly if you’re selling B2B services and products. For example, you can provide updates to different segments and different times, like sellers, leads, and internal stakeholders, which means you can personalize the entire lead generation experience from start to finish.
B2B brands with different audiences. The segmentation capabilities are really what set this apart from the other membership site builders here and it’s great for delivering marketing materials to leads (ABM style!) and nurturing existing customers in different segments.
- There are powerful segmentation capabilities
- You can easily integrate tons of other tools and software
- It has great marketing features, including email, advanced SEO settings, and conversion-powered landing pages
- The backend can be tricky to get your head around
- The sheer amount of tools and features can be overwhelming
- It can end up being pretty pricey
Wild Apricot is the wildcard here (pun very much intended). It’s a lesser-known membership website builder but competes with the big guns thanks to its selection of powerful features.
Unlike the other subscription website builders listed here that cater to all sorts of online businesses, Wild Apricot has carved a niche for itself as a membership website builder for offline organizations–we’re talking non-profits, business associations, charities, and community organizations that run regular events and have a healthy number of members (the backend lets you welcome and manage up to 15,000 members). It also has handy localization features for promoting events in your area and it lets you easily recruit members and run online courses and classes too.
Compared to the others here, Wild Apricot is more of a traditional membership website builder, complete with a renewals feature, event reminders, and easy communication between members.
Local organizations, businesses, and charities that run events, live classes, and workshops for lots of members. Think local street parties, marathons, and local interest events that want to provide an online element to a mostly offline audience.
- It handles every part of running a traditional membership group
- There’s an in-built member forum for easy communication
- It’s quick and easy to get set up and started
- It’s limited in its customizations
- There aren’t as many features as the other website builders here
- It provides very little backend data
Get started with Wild Apricot.
Memberspace is less of a standalone membership website builder and more of an add-on to existing websites. It’s ideal for creators without a lot of design and development experience because it doesn’t need any coding—plus, you can integrate it with the CMS you’re already using without the hassle of switching over.
The best part is it was built specifically for creators, publishers, and educators, so it has lots of ideal features for these types of businesses. It also has a pretty robust ecosystem for upsells, cross-sells, and tiered offers so you can create a complex and comprehensive membership program (and make more sales while you’re at it!). I’d love a simpler way to add upsells and different levels of membership on Teachable.
Most use cases! The robust features can support a wide range of membership models, from small creators selling membership libraries, paid newsletters, and one-off live classes; to bigger brands selling complex courses with multiple levels of membership.
- It can easily add-on to an existing CMS and you can move the software with you if you decide to move CMS in the future
- It keeps members on your website at all times
- There are handy automated marketing features to engage and convert members
- There are limited payment options for members
- There aren’t as many design or customization features as other website builders for subscription services
- The analytics can be clunky
I use GoDaddy for some of my domain names, but it also has a website builder. If you do a little bit of research, you’ll see that it’s received some flack in the past for being too restrictive, but the latest version aims to quash those negative reviews with a modern interface and a totally free plan.
The membership option is only available at a basic level. So, while it does enable member accounts, you can only create private pages and give permission to certain people rather than host courses and live events. Great if you’ve got a simple idea in mind, but not so great if you have big plans for your membership program.
Creators who are already using a GoDaddy website or who only need a basic membership website for an affordable price. If you simply need a private page to direct paying customers to, this can be a great cost-effective option.
- It’s easy to use the backend interface
- The membership format is simple and easy-to-use
- It’s very affordable
- You’re limited in what you can do with it
- It’s difficult to customize and personalize the backend
- There aren’t a lot of additional features and you can’t integrate external software
There weren’t a lot of options when I was looking for a membership website builder five years ago. Today, you have a ton of choices—so it’s important to choose wisely!
Consider the type of membership program you want to run and use that to determine what features you’ll need and what platform is the best fit for you. For example, I needed a membership website where I could run multi-module courses, but you might need something a little simpler if you’re selling one-off classes or paid-for downloads.
There’s a reason Squarespace and Wix are our top picks. Both builders offer highly-customizable membership areas that make it easy to add content with drag-and-drop interfaces and beautiful templates. Look for builders that can grow with you, too. It can be a headache having to migrate everything you’ve worked so hard to build onto another platform if you suddenly feel restricted by the features available to you.
Please let me know if you have any feedback about creating a membership website!
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