Your Guide to Building a WordPress Membership Site

As the metaphorical engine powering your recurring revenue machine, it’s only logical to research which plugin you’re going to use for membership site.

However, this is not enough and shouldn’t stop there.

You need a complete tech stack of systems in order make sure that all bases are covered.

In this post, we’re going to take a closer look at all the technical systems you may need in your membership site tech stack.

Hosted or Self-hosted Solutions

First, let’s break down what hosted and self-hosted means when it comes to membership and LMS solutions. We refer to hosted vs. self-hosted tools as the platform-as-a-service vs. software-as-a-service debate. Software, for the sake of this argument, is a WordPress membership plugin.

Your platform-as-a-service options are designed to be more of an all-in-one system that may have some tools we’ll dive into here built-in. Some popular platform-as-a-service options are Kajabi, Kartra, Podia, Teachable, and Thinkific. These are hosted solutions.

Keep in mind, most platforms have their limitations and aren’t a long-term solution for a lot of membership site owners and online course creators.

To have more flexibility and control over your membership site, building on WordPress is going to give you that peace of mind. When you build your membership site on WordPress, your membership or online course is self-hosted which comes with the added benefit of complete ownership. You’re not at the mercy of your platform’s limitations or changes.

If the all-in-one approach used by many platforms is attractive to you, make sure you add AccessAlly to your list of membership plugins to research. We’ve also broken down the AccessAlly ecosystem so you know exactly what supporting tech tools you’ll need to complete your membership site setup.

WordPress Membership Site Tech Stacks

Choosing the Right WordPress Membership Site Plugin

Without a membership site plugin, you can’t protect the content offered inside your membership site.

To help you shortcut your research, we’ve spent hundreds of hours evaluating and comparing the top membership site plugins on the marketplace.

Start by creating a wishlist of features and functionality you want to provide inside your membership site.

You can also reach out to colleagues within and outside your industry to get their input on what has and hasn’t worked well for them. This input will help you avoid those common pitfalls when choosing your membership plugin and fast-track your success.

Do you Need an LMS Plugin

Not all membership sites require an LMS (learning management system). It really comes down to the features and functionality you need within your membership site.

If you’re including online courses or looking to add quizzes, progress-tracking, and homework or assignment submissions within your online course or membership site, then you’ll want to be sure your tech stack includes an LMS plugin.

Some membership site plugins such as AccessAlly are an all-in-one membership and LMS plugin. You’ll have all of these features built into the same plugin when you’re ready to implement them. You won’t need to duct tape different plugins together, overcomplicating your tech stack.

Click here to see a free demo of AccessAlly

E-commerce Solutions & Functionality

More and more membership site plugins are including native e-commerce functionality, however, they tend to function at the most basic level. Your payment and subscription options will be limited and don’t always allow for coupons and other advanced e-commerce features.

If you plan to offer recurring membership subscriptions, coupon codes, limited time offers, payment plans, or upsells you will likely need to purchase an e-commerce plugin. This type of plugin or add-on will extend on your membership plugin’s e-commerce capabilities. Some popular e-commerce solutions that will help you satisfy these wishlist features are WooCommerce and ThriveCart.

There are also a few membership site plugins with robust e-commerce features and functionalities. The plugins with the most e-commerce features that we’ve found are our very own, AccessAlly, as well as MemberPress and LifterLMS. However, AccessAlly is the most complete in terms of its native e-commerce functionality.

When you’re evaluating e-commerce solution options, be sure that the tool you choose integrates with the payment processor you plan to use.

Click here to schedule a live demo

Choose Your Payment Gateway

e-commerce payment processors

Your payment gateway is the company you use to process your payments. Your payment gateway will integrate with your e-commerce plugin or membership site plugin, when possible.

Popular payment gateways for membership site owners and online course creators are PayPal, Stripe, and Authorize.net.

Your payment gateway is responsible for processing all the transactions and will withhold a small percentage of your sales, which is usually 3% or less per transaction. Some also charge a recurring monthly fee for their business solutions, depending on the features you require.

It’s not uncommon for membership site owners to use multiple payment gateways. This allows you to easily collect payment from customers who prefer to pay with a debit or credit card, and from those who prefer to pay via PayPal. If you serve a global market, PayPal is sometimes more convenient for international clients.

Another important consideration in choosing your payment processor is understanding how the integration with your membership site plugin works and where the payments will be managed. Some integrations will allow you to manage your customer’s payment profiles within your membership site plugin’s dashboard. Others will require them to be managed within your payment gateway’s interface.

Integrating With Your CRM or Marketing Automation Systems

Your CRM or marketing automation system is the key to delivering a personalized user experience for your members. You’ll want to make sure that your CRM or marketing automation system and membership plugin integrates with and easily communicates with one another.

The deeper or more direct the integration is between your CRM and membership site, the easier it will be to create a personalized experience. Not all integrations are created equal and some require a third-party tool to connect the two systems.

When you have a well-integrated membership plugin and CRM, your updates in one system will be reflected back in the other. You’ll also be able to create follow-up automations in your CRM based on actions members take within your membership site.

Knowing up front how your membership site will integrate with your CRM or marketing automation system is key in the planning process for your WordPress membership site.

Webhooks, API Integrations, Zapier and WpFusion

Another important part of your tech stack is the type of technology that will be used to sync your systems with one another, and your membership site plugin.

A direct integration is usually controlled with webhooks or API keys and doesn’t require a third-party tool. However, many plugins won’t connect to your CRM or marketing automation system via API keys so you will need to leverage a tool such as Zapier or WPFusion to create this integration.

Both are popular options, however, not always necessary if you can directly integrate two tools without using a connector. The more plugins and add-ons you introduce into your tech stack, the more vulnerable you are to potential plugin conflicts or syncing issues.

Webhooks allow communication between various web applications that allow you to send data from one tool to another when specific events occur. Webhooks allow the systems to stay synchronized with each other.

WordPress Hosting

tablet displaying WpEngine hosting

We highly recommend building your membership site on a subdomain. When you use a subdomain you’re less likely to experience plugin conflicts and can create a better user experience for your members. They’ll be able to navigate through your membership site without it getting mixed in with your main site’s content.

Having two separate WordPress installs means you’ll also have separate hosting accounts for both your main site and your membership site. Your membership site hosting is just as important as your website hosting for your main site, although they will likely use the same provider.

It can be challenging to determine the best hosting plan for your online courses or membership site. Many of the comparisons you’ll find online tend to focus on bandwidth and pricing, but don’t get to the nitty-gritty of server limitations and requirements.

There will always be positive and negative reviews out there for popular WordPress hosting providers so do your due diligence when researching your options. Be sure to reach out to the company that developed your membership site plugin and ask them what hosting provider they recommend.

Some important factors in your hosting decision should include website security, server reliability, customer service, and traffic limits.

We recommend WP Engine, not only because we use them (and love them), but they are dedicated to making sure high-traffic membership sites stay up and running. The same goes for Kinsta because their hosting services also focus on membership and LMS websites.

Siteground is also another popular hosting provider for membership site owners and online course creators.

Thoroughly vet your hosting provider to ensure your hosting environment is set up to work with your membership or LMS plugin and not against it.

Video Hosting Providers

If your membership includes embedded videos or video courses, you’ll need to find a quality video hosting provider to store your video content.

If your videos are small enough you could store them in WordPress, but in general, this isn’t the best idea. Videos hosted on your WordPress site can easily slow down your site’s load time, in turn, creating a less-than-ideal user experience for your members.

The most popular video hosting solutions are Vimeo, Wistia, YouTube, and Amazons3.

Website Design: WordPress Themes & Page Builders

When choosing your membership site theme and page builder you’ll want to look at one that’s going to best support your design needs and knowledge of WordPress.

An experienced WordPress developer and graphic designer can make almost any WordPress theme look and act exactly how they want it. See what the most popular WordPress LMS themes are in this post.

However, if you’re building your site and don’t have experience using HTML and CSS, you’ll want to choose a WordPress theme that’s easy to customize using a drag-and-drop page builder.

If you’re using AccessAlly, you’ll be able to use the AccessAlly theme. This makes it even easier to get your courses up and running. You can customize it, or use it out of the box. It’s totally up to you.

If you feel stuck on design or want some fresh ideas, check out these membership sites to get an idea of what’s possible.
This will save you a lot of time and frustration as you set out to build a custom and branded membership site.

A few great page builders are Divi, Beaver Builder, and Elementor. Here at AccessAlly, we have templates you can use to fast-track your membership site design, and some other popular membership site plugins do as well.

Now that we’ve broken down the tech systems that you’ll need to build your WordPress membership site, it’s time to decide which membership model is right for you.

What Membership Model Will you Use?

Now that you’re ready to tackle the technical side of your membership site planning, it’s time to choose a membership site model that will best support your revenue goals. Your membership model will help you distribute your content in a way that creates a great user experience for your members.

Click here to see a free demo of AccessAlly