What is a membership site (and how to choose a platform)

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You coached plenty of clients one-on-one and have now developed a system you’re ready to teach in a group program. You’ve spent hours upon hours writing course content, emails and blog posts to promote your program, and connecting with potential customers. Now you need to decide how to deliver your content. Can’t you just save Word docs as PDFs and send them via email? There’s nothing wrong with that for a first beta round of your program, but after that, you want your program to look as professional as the content in it.

Membership sites can be used for memberships (duh), where you’re charging a recurring monthly or annual fee, but you can also use them for group programs, courses, or other digital products with a one-off fee. Whether you want to call it a program site, course site, or anything else, it’s still the same thing – membership site is just the most used name for it.

What is a membership site?

A membership site is a gated part of your site, or a separate site. Only members can log in and access the exclusive content. That’s why they’re perfect for group programs and e-courses.

Your exclusive content can be written content, workbooks, videos, and anything else you can think of.

How do membership sites work?

Members first need to login to your membership site.

Membership sites: Login pages
Disclaimer: I did not design these sites

After login, your members see a dashboard. They can learn everything they need to know before starting, or click through to one of your courses or course modules.

Membership sites: Dashboards
Disclaimer: I did not design these sites

Clicking through to a module will show them the actual content for that module. A module can have text, videos, downloadable worksheets, etc.

Membership site: Module
Design for Jasna Burza’s Purpose Compass Formula program by me.

You can also drip out the content, so not all content will be available immediately. This helps with people not getting overwhelmed and stopping before they’ve even started the program or course. Most platforms and plugins have a feature to set up content dripping. If the one you use doesn’t have this, you can show that there’s more content to come by either:

  1. adding the titles for that content and saying ‘coming soon’; or
  2. making text links faded and unclickable; or
  3. if you use images to link to the modules, you can use grayscale versions of the images for the modules that aren’t available yet.

How to choose a membership site platform

Thinkific, Teachable and Kajabi

There are several platforms where you can host your program materials separate from your site. You can set up a subdomain of your site (e.g. courses.yourdomain.com) to point to the platform you use. The most popular ones are Teachable, Thinkific and Kajabi.

Teachable and Thinkific specialize in course sites. Kajabi is an all-in-one marketing tool.

On all of them, you can set colors, fonts and some images to make your membership site fit with your branding. You’re limited in what you can customize. Even though the colors and branding are different, it’s easy to tell which platform you’re using based on how it looks. That’s not necessarily bad though, these platforms host a ton of courses and know what works and what doesn’t. You can use your branding in the few customizations you can make, as well as in your workbooks and presentation slides.

From left to right: Thinkific, Teachable, Kajabi.
Disclaimer: I did not design anything for the left and middle ones. While I did design the sales page for the course on the right, the course creator DIY-ed her course site and materials.

How to choose which platform to use

All three have free trials, so try them out and see which one you prefer. Make sure to look at both the management part of it as well as the student site. None of them are hard to manage, but one may feel more intuitive to you than the others. You also want to look at what your students would see, to make sure they have the experience you want for them. I’ve taken many courses as a student – and you probably have too. If you can, go back to courses and programs you’ve taken before, see which platform they’re using, and which had a better experience for you as a student.

Ultimately though, it’s the content of the course (and its sales page) that makes students sign up, not which platform you’re using. Still, it can impact the experience your students have and thus impact the testimonials you get, both the number of testimonials and what people say (and don’t say).

Choosing WordPress to set up the membership site for your program

If you want a more custom look, you can create a membership site in WordPress. If you do this, I recommend creating a separate WordPress site for it, both for security and making it easier to manage. You can set this up on a subdomain, such as courses.yourdomain.com, as well.

If you want to DIY your program, I recommend going with one of the platforms. While WordPress is infinitely more customizable, there are a lot of membership plugins of different quality out there. If you do want to DIY your course site on WordPress, definitely stay away from the free membership plugins. Paid plugins typically mean support and regular updates. Free plugins may not get updated as often and that could mean a broken site, content not looking as expected, and security vulnerabilities. The wrong plugin can result in technical issues, complications, and unhappy customers.

Which route you choose to go is not a decision to make lightly – it directly impacts the experience your students have.

Interested in getting your membership site done for you? Work with me.


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