When it comes to choosing a platform for your membership website, you have two main options. One is to use a service provider that offers a hosted membership solution; the other is to host your own website and manage it yourself.
Hosted membership services can be a compelling choice for membership-site builders looking for a turnkey experience. The ability to get your website, hosting, and and membership software all from one source can make getting started seem much easier. However, before you sign up with a hosted membership solution, there are a few essential items to consider.
In this article, we’ll cover the pros and cons of WordPress membership plugins versus hosted membership solutions.
WordPress Membership Plugins versus Hosted Membership Solutions
At first glance, going down the self-hosted WordPress route may seem overly complicated, especially when compared to using a hosted membership website service.
With a WordPress-powered membership website, you’ll need to choose a web host, select a WordPress theme, and then find a suitable membership plugin. Then there are additional plugins to think about, as well as ongoing website maintenance.
The best hosted membership solutions are appealing because they take care of everything for you, in one place, in exchange for a recurring monthly or annual fee. However, while it may be easier to start up your website with a hosted membership platform, in the long run, it may not be the best option for you.
Here are some important items to consider when choosing a platform for your membership website.
Beware of Data Lock-In
Despite the ease of signing up with a hosted membership platform, when it comes to switching services or moving to your own self-hosted platform, making your exit may not be as straightforward.
It’s not uncommon for new MemberPress users to experience difficulty when trying to move their data across from a hosted solution to their own self-hosted website. Whether this is intentional or not is up to you to decide, but in one case, the process was considerably hastened by paying a substantial exit fee to the vendor.
When looking for the best hosted membership solution, be sure to find out who owns your membership data and how you can go about taking it with you should you decide to move.
Costs: Upfront versus Recurring
Hosted membership solutions tend to be more costly in the long term. Many hosted website builder services and membership site solutions have tempting introductory offers and reasonable subscription fees. However, real costs can mount up over time as monthly subscription fees are paid.
It makes sense that hosted services would seek to charge more than the cost of setting up a self-hosted solution given that they're one-stop shops who aim to take care of everything for you in exchange for a recurring fee.
Creating a self-hosted WordPress membership website certainly isn’t free. However, after the initial upfront investment in an optional premium WordPress theme and suitable membership plugin, the ongoing costs tend to be much lower.
Level of Control
Though it's appealing to have everything done for you, be aware that you will have less control over how your membership website works and looks, compared to going the self-hosted WordPress route.
With a WordPress-powered membership solution, you’re free to style your website with an almost endless library of free and commercial themes. Adding new features to your site is just as easy, thanks to the constantly expanding selection of WordPress plugins to choose from.
If you want to customize the appearance or inner workings of your self-hosted WordPress membership site, you or a hired developer can dive into the code and create a bespoke solution. How many hosted solutions will let you have that kind of control over “your” membership site?
As new requirements come into play, such as search engine optimization guidelines that mandate providing a mobile-friendly version of your website for your visitors, you're free to take instant action to ensure that your self-hosted website complies.
For whatever reason, hosted solutions aren't always as quick to act when it comes to implementing new technologies, recommendations, or best practices.
Still considering the “convenience” of a hosted solution despite the benefits of a WordPress membership plugin over a hosted membership solution? For some, the appeal of letting a hosted service take care of everything for you can be enough to sway your decision.
Then consider this: Going with a self-hosted WordPress platform doesn’t necessarily mean doing everything yourself. The WordPress community is vast, and finding a freelance developer to help you with any customization task is easy.
Furthermore, there are now many WordPress support services that will take care of ongoing website maintenance tasks, such as backups, updates, and even small website tweaks and improvements.
So you get the best of both worlds, really. You’re in full control of your membership website, but now you have someone to turn to should something go wrong or should an issue you can’t resolve arise.
Choosing a hosted, done-for-you membership solution can be a relatively quick and painless way to get your membership website online. But long term, investing the upfront time and money in setting up your own self-hosted membership solution is almost always the best option.
With a self-hosted WordPress-powered membership website, you get more control over how your site looks and works, full control of your data, and a better chance of creating the right membership platform for you and your members. So find a solid web host, get a MemberPress license, and start building your own self-managed membership site today.
Which way are you leaning? WordPress membership plugin or hosted membership solution? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.