What Membership Software Should I Use?

Choosing a Membership software to start a new membership site can be a daunting task. There are plenty of different options to choose from — so many that it can be confusing if not downright exhausting to decide what to use.

Before we created MemberPress, we designed and helped maintain membership sites for numerous clients. In the beginning, we had a really difficult time deciding on which membership software to use.

Eventually, we picked a fairly robust membership software solution, but because it wasn't a WordPress Membership Plugin, its integration options with WordPress were quite limited. After using this membership software for two years, we gave up and ultimately ended up creating MemberPress. Our lives (and the lives of our clients) have been much easier ever since.

Custom Development vs. “Off the Shelf” Membership Software

After selling MemberPress for some time now, we've seen the huge variety of needs people have when rolling out a membership site. If you have particularly unique needs, building custom membership software from scratch may be the best course of action. The benefit of this approach is that you can get your software dialed in to do exactly what you want it to, and you can have complete control over it.

But there are numerous problems with this approach:

  1. Custom software development (especially for a significant system like a membership platform) can take a while.
  2. Custom software development will probably cost more money than you expected. Even if you get an initial quote that seems somewhat reasonable, software projects often go over time and over budget in major ways.
  3. You may not get exactly what you want from a custom development effort. The more you communicate with the developers throughout the project, the better chance you have of getting exactly what you want. This requires a significant amount of work on your end — something a lot of people don't realize.
  4. When it's delivered, your custom membership software will not have been used in the real world. Chances are that once you and your members start using it, you'll need to have your developers make changes.
  5. You'll front the full expense of maintaining and updating your custom software.

In contrast to developing a custom membership software solution, buying an already developed membership software solution like MemberPress will probably give you 80% to 100% of what you need (even if your needs are somewhat unique).

If you go with a membership solution like MemberPress, you'll also pay much less, you'll be able to get started building your membership site immediately, and you won't need to pay thousands of dollars to developers to maintain it.

This is why we'd highly recommend you avoid developing a fully custom membership software solution, unless you have a lot of money to spare.

And if you're wondering how you'll get to 100% of your feature set if MemberPress only gets you to 80%? You can still hire a developer to extend the capabilities of MemberPress. We have an extensive WordPress API, and our code is completely open. That means a developer should be able to get you the custom features you need.

Self-Hosted vs. Hosted

Hosted membership software can be a compelling choice for membership site builders looking for a truly turn-key experience. Being able to get your hosting and your membership software all in one place can make things much easier.

But before you look into a hosted solution, make sure you consider a few things:

Beware of Data Lock In. 

Make sure you can get your data out. One of our clients years ago was using a vendor to host his membership site and had employed our development services to help him move. This vendor held his data hostage until our client paid an exorbitant fee to get access to his own data.

Hosted solutions cost more.

Hosted solutions charge a premium because they offer a one-stop-shop. This may not be a huge problem for your business if you're launching a profitable membership site that will provide a suitable ROI, but it's certainly something to be aware of.

Loss of control.

Because you're letting other people manage the hosting details and, in some cases, the configuration of your membership site, you'll inevitably lose some control over your membership site.

Some hosted solutions are out of date. 

Want to update the design of your membership site? Want to make sure your membership site is responsive? Want to take advantage of the full capabilities of HTML5 on your membership site?

Well, some hosted membership software solutions are unable to do a lot of this and more. Before committing to a membership software solution, make sure it will allow your site to keep pace with technology.

MemberPress does not offer a turn-key, hosted solution yet (we may at some point). But until then, we recommend that you find a solid webhost (WP Engine or SiteGround would be great options to look at in that department) and get a MemberPress license to start building a membership site today.

WordPress Membership Plugins vs. Other Membership Software Solutions

Before WordPress, we either built everything from scratch or used off-the-shelf software to build membership software.

But these membership software solutions were usually clunky, difficult to configure, and used encrypted code (so they were difficult if not impossible to customize). And guess what? These software solutions are still out there as an option.

WordPress Membership Plugins are simply better than other membership software solutions. WordPress is now pretty much ubiquitous, and for good reason. WordPress is a serious (yet easy to use) content management system (CMS) that will allow you to structure your website however you want.

It has a sophisticated system for categorizing and tagging content and has a huge repository of free plugins (plus numerous commercial plugins like MemberPress) that can enhance its capabilities in major ways (like adding forums, social networking, custom forms, and other features).

With WordPress you can also use whatever graphics you want for your site. There are thousands of off-the-shelf WordPress themes that can be used (or customized) to get a beautiful site up-and-running in no time.

Because most membership sites are content-centric, it's a no-brainer to use WordPress. WordPress Membership Plugins like MemberPress add the ability to lock down some content in WordPress so that only paying customers can access it.

Membership Add-ons vs. Optimized Membership Software

There are many membership software solutions out there that are best suited for shopping carts, landing page builders, themes, or other types of software, but with “bolt-on” membership capabilities. This is fine and may be exactly what you need if you're planning to sell lots of single products along with your membership offerings.

But here are a few things to be aware of when it comes to these types of solutions:

How much of a priority is this membership software you're using to the company that created it?

Membership software can be intense to create and maintain effectively, not to mention to continually update with new features. Unless a software package has first priority by its creators, it may not get the attention it needs. Remember, this is the software that will be running your business.

Do you want to entrust your business to a software package that is just an afterthought to its creators? Earlier this year a major WordPress-based company completely abandoned their membership software solution (which was an add-on to a plugin that had another primary purpose).

They promised to continue updating it and providing new features (even though it was discontinued), but it left many people in the dark, wondering if their businesses were still in good hands. Many of these membership site owners have now migrated to MemberPress.

How confusing will the primary features of your membership software be to your users?

When optimizing conversions on your membership site it's best to keep your offering simple. The fewer hoops members have to jump through the better. Shouldn't the membership software you use be optimized for selling content-driven memberships?

How good is the payment integration in your membership software, and how well does it support recurring billing?

This is a biggie, and one that's often overlooked by people when choosing a membership software solution. We've seen membership platforms that don't support recurring billing at all, or require you to set up low-level technical services (like cron) on your webhost to get it working at all.

MemberPress is not an afterthought to us… it is our bread and butter. It's already an amazing product, but we're improving it every day. MemberPress is also fully optimized to sell memberships and create and sell online courses. It is not a shopping cart or landing page plugin; it is first class membership software and doesn't try to be anything else.

Other WordPress Membership Plugins vs. MemberPress

If you've made it this far, you're at least probably considering using a WordPress membership plugin for your new membership site. Great! That means you're going to get all the goodness already built into WordPress plus whatever features your membership plugin provides.

But there's still one decision to make, because not all WordPress membership plugins are created equal.

We built MemberPress specifically because no other membership software solution worked properly. Some of these solutions didn't have the features we wanted, some were too complex, and some just straight up didn't work at all.

Here are just some of the things that set MemberPress apart from other WordPress membership plugins:

MemberPress is easy to use.

Of course, easy can be a relative term, but our customers consistently tell us that MemberPress is the easiest membership software solution they've seen.

We've designed each part of the user experience of this plugin to make it as clear and easy to use as possible. But we don't stop there: we're always working to make the MemberPress experience even more refined and useful.

MemberPress is flexible and powerful.

Despite its ease of use, MemberPress packs in a ton of features. It can do many things that lesser membership software solutions would never touch, such as offer true integration with payment gateways, automated creation of pricing pages, full filesystem-level protection of downloadable files, and advanced features like Amazon Web Services integration.

MemberPress even includes a built-in add-on, MemberPress Courses, that allows you to create and sell online courses quickly and easily.

We push out regular, automatic updates to MemberPress.

MemberPress is actively maintained and is under constant development. This means you'll benefit from our team's OCD-level focus on rolling out new, innovative features, and pushing out bug fixes and security patches whenever they crop up.

We're invested in your success.

Along with MemberPress, we provide extensive documentation in our user manual to help you get your site setup the way you want. If you have issues beyond the information in our documentation, then you can always contact our support team.

All you need to do is read through our testimonials to see that our support is rock-star level. Part of the reason our support is so good is that our support team is made up of actual developers who have helped people out of all kinds of “sticky” situations.

MemberPress is exceptionally extendable.

If you ever need custom features integrated into your website, MemberPress allows you to add them seamlessly. We have an extensive WordPress API and our code is totally open, so you can hire a developer and pay them to develop only that which is custom to your membership site.

We've got your back

Whatever you do going forward, we hope you're able to create a unbelievably successful membership site. And we hope you'll continue coming back to memberpress.com to get the FREE but valuable information we consistently provide on our blog.