Membership Site PreDiscovery

There is no “best” membership plugin. It all depends on specifically what you need for your membership site.

When someone wins the gold in an Olympic event, it mean that athlete is the best in that event. No questions asked.  But guess what?  There is no best membership plugin!

Because it depends on what you need. Once you know that, you can find the best plugin for your membership site.

So this post explores the list of questions I send to clients to kick off our membership discovery sessions.  Begin the search for the best membership plugin for your site only after you’ve answered these questions.

Eight questions you need to answer to help you make a good decision.

1 – Do you require a special gateway?

Since a membership site is protected by a paywall, you need to decide how you want to process payments. While almost all the membership plugins include PayPal,  you should not choose PayPal by default.  But, if you’ve been using PayPal and want to also use for your website, then ensure the membership plugin supports either Paypal Standard or PayPal Website Payments Pro.

Other gateways to consider:

  • Stripe
  • Authorize.Net
    1ShoppingCart
  • 2CheckOut
  • BrainTree

If you do not already have an account with the your gateway of choice, you will have to sign up for one of these accounts. For some gateways, signup and approval happens the same day; for other gateway options like Authorize.net it can take a week or more.

My personal preference and recommendation is Stripe but, again, you need to figure out what works best for you.

Yes, setting up a solid membership site requires some homework!

2 – Do you need email integration?

If so, you need to make sure your chosen membership plugin integrates with your email list provider.

By integrate, I mean that you can automatically add members to lists based on their membership level. So, for example, when someone signs up for Membership Level 1 on your site, they are automatically added to a Membership Level 1 email list setup in your email provider.

Here’s a list of the most common email integrations:

  • MailChimp
  • InfusionSoft
  • AWeber
  • GetResponse
  • Campaign Monitor

But not all membership plugins support all of these email list providers.  Make sure your chosen membership plugin integrates with your email list provider.

3 – Do you need concurrent memberships?

Meaning, a member can purchase more than one membership level.  This is super important to answer, because not all  membership plugins provide this.

A basic membership site provides three to four levels and there’s no reason a person would want two concurrent memberships at the same time.  Level X provides x,y,z and Level Y provides x,y,z plus something else. If a Level X member decides to upgrade to Level Y, their Level X membership is cancelled and now they only have Level Y membership. They cannot have Level X and Level Y at the same time.

But what if you want to provide different types of memberships? Say, for example, you have three membership levels for a course you offer and you want to have three other membership levels for another course you offer.

If you want your members to be able to purchase both courses at the same time, you will need a membership plugin that provides concurrent memberships.

4 – Will you be dripping content?

Okay, I get it. Before you can answer the question, you need to know what the heck “dripping content” means.  So first a basic definition:

Drip content means members do not get all the information all at once; rather it gets ‘dripped’ over a set time interval.

Let’s say you set up a membership site with one level, and you add all your protected content. I come along and join your membership site and immediately upon registering gain access to all the protected content. So theoretically I can read, download, and watch all the content in a few days or weeks and then… guess what? There’s really no reason for me to continue my membership.

Which is why you want to “drip” your content based on a set time interval.

Example: your membership level is structured as a 12 week course.  When I become a member, I gain access to Week #1’s content and only in the second week will I have access to Week #2’s content.  So it takes a full 12 weeks for me to gain access to all the course materials.

So this is an easy one. You want to be able to drip your content!

5 – Do you need support for prorating charges?

If you have more than one membership level on your site, what happens when a member upgrades (or downgrades) to a different account in the middle of the billing cycle? So Joe Member was paying $19.99 per month for his basic membership level and he upgrades to the premium monthly membership that costs $79 per month. Thing is, he was already charged $19.99 on the first of the month and he upgrades to premium on the 16th of the month.

If your membership plugin does not support prorating charges, he will simply be moved from basic to premium and be charged $79. Obviously not ideal since Joe Members already paid $19.99 for the month and that payment should be applied to the new membership level payment.

A better solution is for the plugin to automatically calculate how much money the customer has paid into their current membership and apply that amount as a credit to the purchase of the next membership level at checkout.

That, in a nutshell, is prorating charges. Another easy one. If you have more than one membership level, you want support for prorating charges.

 6- Will you be combining this with an Ecommerce solution?

So you want to add membership to your site but have no plans to sell any other products. Great. If you are 100%  clear on this, then skip to the question.

But, if there’s any change you may want to sell products in addition to your membership, think through this question carefully.

Because you really want a membership plugin that integrates with an e-commerce plugin, specifically, the best e-commerce plugin for what you plan to sell.

So ask yourself: is it possible down the road that I may want to sell digital downloads (or any other type of product) in addition to my memberships?

If yes, you want to explore this up front to ensure you can add an integrated e-commerce solution to your existing membership site.

7 – Will you need a forum for your members?

If yes, do you already have a preferred forum plugin? If you do, you want to ensure that your chosen membership plugin integrates with your preferred forum plugin. If  you want a forum but are not already committed to a specific forum plugin, then just ensure that your membership plugin provides integration with a good forum plugin.

8 – Will you be combining membership with online course plugins like Learn Dash or WPCourseware?

While you can simulate an online course by dripping content, plugins like Learn Dash and WPCourseware allow you to create fully featured online courses, complete with quizzes, surveys, course certifications, etc.

If you want to provide fully featured online courses within your membership site, you’ll want to use a membership plugin that integrates with your online course plugin

Notice a pattern? When you want to add e-commerce, a forum, or a fully featured online course to your membership site, you want all the players (plugins) to play nicely together (to be integrated)

Which brings this post full circle.  Better to invest the time up front to fully explore and define your needs than find out six months down the road that the e-commerce plugin you want to use doesn’t integrate with your membership plugin!

Take the time to carefully consider both short term and long term needs and you’ll be much happier in the long run.

Next up, a closer look at adding e-commerce, forums, and member interaction.

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About the Author

Yael Reinhardt-Matsliah

For the last 20 years, I have helped businesses like yours dramatically improve their business with my support, guidance, and comprehensive web design and marketing strategies.  I can help you too. 

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