If you are in pursuit of recurring revenue for your online business, the question you should ask isn’t why, but how you can build a successful WordPress membership site.

As a platform, WordPress is both flexible and user-friendly. If you can imagine it, it can probably be built on WordPress – this includes membership websites. But that flexibility comes with its own issues and you have to decide exactly which tools and methods you want to use.

If you’re not super familiar with the process, you may end up with a broken membership site, a big headache, and no recurring revenue.

Our team at AccessAlly not only works behind the scenes creating membership site software, but we have also ran profitable members’ areas for our own clients.

After chatting with our WordPress plugin developers and marketing experts, I found that there are major pitfalls that many entrepreneurs fall into when building their own sites.

I pulled fifteen of the most common mistakes that people make when they’re building a WordPress membership site. If you are just starting out, you can utilize the lessons learned from other creators to help your new project go more smoothly.

1. Choosing the Wrong Hosting Company

As a self-hosted platform, figuring out how to build a membership site on WordPress means that you first have to choose your hosting company.

Be mindful that hosting a membership site is a bit different than hosting a static site, or even a blog. In fact, in our early years of running a membership site, we really struggled with finding a good LMS hosting solution.

Take your time to find the right solution for you. Do your due research and pick the best WordPress hosting company that fits your unique needs. You can also validate your potential hosting companies against the seven criteria we walk through in our post, How to Pick the Best LMS Hosting Service.

2. Selecting an Inflexible WordPress Theme for your WordPress Membership Site

WordPress themes are a dime a dozen. Some are free, others are premium. Some are pretty to look at, others just aren’t that pretty or functional.

Aside from the general appearance, choose a theme that offers flexibility in page layout and menu placement.

For example, in our Heartquarters membership site, we used two separate menu areas:

  1. The header menu (site-wide)
  2. The sidebar menu (page-specific)

Dual Menu Example in Sample Membership Website

Menu #1 takes your users to different areas within your membership site. The secondary menu allows you to navigate within a course.

Since each course within the membership site should have its own menu, your theme will have to allow you to add multiple menus to be designated on any given page.

3. Not Building the Membership Site on a Subdomain

This is a big question that we get a lot: should you build your WordPress membership management site on your existing website or on a subdomain?

The answer is simple: build it on a sub-domain.

Here’s why:

If your membership site is built on the same domain as your main site, you risk confusion with the permission settings and redirects that come with building a membership site. (As your sites grow, so does the need to be absolutely precise with who gets sent where.)

As an added bonus, keeping them separate means that you can focus on good SEO practices on your main site to draw in organic traffic.

Click to get these 28 membership site examples

4. Omitting the SSL Certificate on your WordPress Membership Site

Chances are high that your actual sales pages and order forms are not built inside your membership site. So you may assume that you don’t need to add an SSL certificate.

Wrong.

Inside a well-built membership site, subscribers can update their personal and billing information – including credit cards. Since this information is passed back and forth from your CRM, you want the added security of an SSL certificate.

Membership Website Billing Address Entry Screen With Highlight on HTTPS Verbiage

Also, some WordPress membership plugins include their own order forms that you can use to up-sell and cross-sell your products. For these to work, you’ll need that SSL.

5. Skipping the Automation

The beauty of recurring revenue is that you earn more money while working fewer hours. For your WordPress membership site to fit into this model, you’ve got to automate processes to the nth degree.

Got a new subscriber? Automate the welcome email.

Lost (or forgotten) password? Automate the recovery.

Want to give students rewards for completing their courses? Yes, you can definitely automate that, too.

AccessAlly Demo Screenshot Showing Credit Award

6. Compiling the Wrong Suite of Software Tools

The functionality of your membership site depends a little bit on your strategy and a lot on the software tools you decide to use.

Do your plugins play well with each other? WordPress plugins are often at odds with each other and conflicts can occur between plugins and themes.

Can your membership site plugin integrate with your CRM to automate everything properly?

If you’re not familiar with the membership site plugin options on the market, enlist the help of a skilled developer or programmer to help you pick the right software for the job.

You can also review these LMS comparisons as a starting point.

7. Missing the Pricing Mark for Your Membership

Your membership site is built to make money… or should be.

But it’s challenging to price your digital products. On the one hand, you know that you can re-sell the same item repeatedly to increase your income. But on the other hand, the more sales you need, the more dialed in your marketing has to be.

In the end, it can be as tough to sell a membership site subscription for a dollar as it is to sell it for a premium $1000.

This is more about knowing your clients and how to market to them, rather than setting an actual dollar amount.

Choosing the wrong pricing model for your clientele (recurring subscription vs. a one-time signup cost, for example) could be the stumbling block keeping your membership site from being successful.

8. Not Investing Resources into Course Design

There’s a science to building an online course or membership site.

If you don’t care whether or not your students experience success, then go ahead and build it any old way.

If you do care about nurturing your students and collecting “success” stories, then your next task is a lot different.

Kelly Edmonds, an instructional designer, recommends asking yourself this question: “What is it I want them to do? What do I want them to experience?”

The answer to that question will dictate how your course is ultimately designed.

Example Course Structure

9. No Upsell (Or Cross-sell) Strategy

Acquiring a new customer for your online membership site can be 5 – 25 times more expensive (source) than simply keeping the subscribers you already have.

In other words: weave a solid up-sell strategy into the fiber of your WordPress membership site.

The good news about this is that it can all be automated so that you don’t have to lift a finger. (Learn how in our post of list building ideas.)

10. Choosing a “Cheap” Instead of an “Investment” Mindset

The bottom line is this: a good WordPress membership site requires an investment, whether it’s time to do it right, or money to have someone else do it for you.

You can choose to favor the cheap software tools to put your course together – WordPress offers plenty of free plugins.

But you also have to consider the time it takes to create the course materials, build and design the site, and set up the automation processes.

Thinking of your membership site as an investment will help you make the right decisions about choosing systems that are built to last over ones that are meant to be a quick-fix solution.

11. Insufficient Testing of Your Membership Site Functionality

Whether you’re learning how to build a WordPress membership site by yourself or you’re relying on someone else’s expertise, it’s important to create a test user and fully test out the customer journey for your membership site.

User Profit Screen Within the WordPress Admin Dashboard

Create a “test user” for the site allows you to experience everything as a new subscriber or member would experience it. This will help you iron out any kinks in the experience from signup to completion.

12. Skipping Gamification

You can just throw some content together and call it a day, but when you go the extra mile to keep your online students engaged and motivated, your retention and member success rates will soar.

Example of WordPress LMS Gamification

Need some inspiration? Start with our LMS gamification features and then view some gamification examples to get your brain working.

13. DIY-ing Without the Proper Skillset or Knowledge

Ok this a total buzz kill… but it’s also a huge pet peeve of mine.

I get it: being an entrepreneur often means that you have to DIY your way to personal and professional success.

But sometimes DIY-ing is just an excuse to cut corners.

Nathalie Lussier Quote: Investing at a higher level will motivate you to take more action.

If you’re not willing (or able) to put the time into learning your tech systems and discovering the best strategies for making it succeed, you might as well shelf the idea for later when you have the resources to invest in the idea to give it the best chance at success.

In short: take the time to educate yourself. WordPress is an ecosystem with many moving parts and can be difficult for someone who is unfamiliar with its inner workings to navigate.

Note: Enlisting the help of a professional when setting up your WordPress membership management site IS an investment. But it can also mean the difference between a working membership site and one that falters and fails entirely.

14. Not Budgeting Enough Time

This is a biggie!

I’ve watched (and cringed) as ambitious entrepreneurs become completely frustrated and panicked because of unrealistic time constraints.

Membership sites can take months to build out properly, from planning to execution, to testing and revising.

Give yourself plenty of wiggle room – there’s always something that comes up during the build, and be sure to budget time for testing.

15. Forgetting to Personalize the Experience

No one wants to be seen as a dollar sign or just another number.

Don’t make your membership site students feel like they are.

AmbitionAlly Vault Screenshot of User Profile

Build in personalization throughout the customer journey – it could mean the difference between a membership cancellation and a renewal.

Membership Site Success Means Treating It Like a Real Part of Your Business

Last but not least, just learning how to build a WordPress membership site is less about the software tools and more about marketing it so it’s a viable part of your business.

If you invest in the right software tools, training, and expertise to get it off the ground, the chances are much higher that it will produce a viable recurring revenue stream for you to enjoy for years to come.

Click here to see a free demo of AccessAlly

6 Comments

  1. PJ (web.ninja) on September 11, 2017 at 7:45 pm

    This is a fantastic list — very well thought out. I think ‘Time’ is the thing people leave out the most of. Everyone talks about how awesome WordPress is, but they don’t mention there is an ongoing learning curve. There is always something new to learn or update or improve. Anyone choosing WordPress is making a great choice, just remember to dedicate time to making it happen.

    Thanks again for a great article :)



    • ambitionally on September 26, 2017 at 9:13 am

      Thanks for mentioning that PJ, that’s a big one for sure!



  2. Fiona on October 18, 2017 at 10:26 am

    What a brilliant list! When you say to build the membership site on a subdomain, do you recommend creating a totally separate WordPress install, or would a multi-site install have any benefits?



    • ambitionally on October 25, 2017 at 10:27 am

      Great question! A multi-site it totally fine, and we’ve run our sites that way for a few years. I prefer to have a different WordPress install these days though, since it gives your sites that “separation”… so if your membership site or main website get a ton of traffic, the other one won’t be affected. :)



  3. Llyane @FrenchOnSkype on October 18, 2017 at 1:14 pm

    oh, this helps so much, Nathalie!
    Merci beaucoup xo



    • ambitionally on October 25, 2017 at 10:22 am

      So glad to hear it – bienvenue!