In-depth Review: The best membership site platforms in 2021
You know that many things contribute to your business’s success, and if you’re following trends and actively working on them – you are probably aware of the importance of the membership sites.
You might or might not know yet that membership sites and their contribution to your business depend a lot on the platform you choose to build them on. And with many platforms and different options they offer, we know how challenging it can become to select your business’s membership site platform.
That’s why we created an in-depth review of the membership site platforms and enlisted for you the best ones to choose from in 2021. We will guide you through different features and important criteria to consider, and by the end of this article – you’ll be able to choose the best one for you. So let’s dig in!
A membership site is a website we use for membership management. That’s what we call a website with exclusive content and other benefits to which only members have access. In other words, a membership site is the best way for you to build a community and ensure you grow your business by working on relationships with your customers.
There are different features that bring alongside benefits to you if you decide to build an online community using a membership site platform. We will cover them all soon enough, but before that, you should also be aware that there is a potential cost of a membership site. If you want to see improvement and significant results, you should be ready to invest in this direction.
Welcome to the new era of marketing and sales! Good old sales as we know it – the one we learned watching The Wolf of the Wall Street – does not work in 2021.
We all might still have the same target group as we used to have a couple of years ago, but we should face it – the new generations are here, and push strategies do not work on them. If you want to sell something to millennials or gen Z – you’ll have to give them a chance to connect with you. The best possible way to do so is through a membership site.
Engage your customers with your brand – give members of your community an added value, so they connect with your brand and start feeling proud of being your customers. They are more likely to encourage others to use your products or services and stay loyal to your brand.
Offer exclusive content – attract more customers and keep them by building a membership site where a tight circle of your customers – the ones who are the most loyal or professionals in the area – can share experiences of using your products/services with each other.
Improve user experience – you can ensure your customers get answers in real-time. They can as well connect, share their experiences, thoughts, concerns, and recommendations. Happy customer = successful business.
Give accurate product information – imagine minimalizing chances of making a mistake in your (potential) customers receiving information about your products. You can do that by creating a membership site where you will keep all the information about your products up to date and ensure everyone knows what you are offering and what value they will get out of it.
Understand your customers better – as we mentioned before, it’s all about giving your customers a chance to connect with your brand. There isn’t a better way to do so than stop and listen to what your customers have to say. Through a membership site, you get to open topics and engage in conversations with your customers, which leads you to a better understanding of their needs.
Build a collaborative culture – a membership site is a place for people to connect – and not only your employees with customers but also your customers with each other. You can build a collaborative community that comes alongside the products you sell, something unique to place on the market, and get a competitive advantage.
Improve your SEO naturally – you probably didn’t think about this before, but membership sites are a fantastic tool to improve your SEO. Just by having one place on the internet where everyone is talking about your products and mentioning them, the algorithm will recognize your business.
The list does not end here, as there are many other ways to use your membership site. You can launch online courses, charge subscriptions monthly for something your customers will use daily for free (ex. photography websites), etc. It all depends on your goals and on a platform you will use, of course. So let’s learn more about the possibilities.
Membership site platforms are tools used to manage all membership functions online. They have different features and possibilities, so they are widely used by different types of organizations.
When we say you get to manage all your membership functions online, we mean it. You can easily:
- Set up an online event and everything that comes with it (invitations, registrations, announcements, reminders, etc.)
- Generate automated newsletters, invoices, and emails to all members
- Run through the CRM – have the contacts and needed information of all your members in one place and easily search through it and segment the information you need
- Set up the payment processors (membership subscription, donations, fees, affiliate programs, upsell and checkout pages, etc.)
- Get the data on your subscribers (track their engagement, interests, etc. and automatically generate reports on this)
- and more.
One of the best possibilities is that you have everything in one place, so you do not need to use other platforms and applications like before. It makes your life a bit easier.
As we became aware of all the benefits membership sites bring us, the membership site platforms’ market grew proportionally. We honestly understand your frustration when choosing the best platform for your business – there are just too many out there, and it’s not an easy decision to make.
This can be a good thing – the fact that you can make a conscious choice once you learn the features and characteristics you should be looking for. Out of all possibilities, there are the non-negotiable features your membership site platform should have.
The platform that you choose should give you the ability to place exclusive content on your community members, but also non-members. That’s what gives added value to your membership, and on the other hand – attract others to become members. Ensure that the platform allows you to showcase a glimpse of your exclusive content to those who are not yet customers but only visitors.
We already told you that an upside of using a membership site is the possibility to use it as a personal CRM that will contain all the information about your customers. The options become even better here – if you’re trying to understand what membership site platform is the best choice for you – you should check what kind of data is being gathered about your members and how useful it is for your marketing and sales strategy. This kind of CRM-based service could allow you to segment your customers and customize the content for them.
The platform you choose should allow you to build personalized pages, events, forms, etc. When it comes to all of these different types of content, make sure to check if you can create them from scratch or there are various templates in place that you can use. The best option if you can have both is to be as creative as you want and have a backup plan if you find yourself lacking the ideas. There is a lot of work on the membership site – from building landing pages to pricing, membership, and sales pages, so make sure the tool fits your way of work the best. And always check if add-ons are an option.
Are you aware of how much of your working time you spend doing operative things, such as sending emails, reminders, thank you notes, etc.? If you care about your customers and don’t have a membership site yet – probably a lot. Every membership site platform should have automation features and give you the ability to send automatically:
- Welcome notes
- Discount offers
- Targeted ads
- Thank you notes
- Birthday cards
Free membership does not have to be where you stop. If you plan to charge your membership or any subscription on your membership site, you should check if the platform allows you to integrate the payments. Usually, you can incorporate different payments – from cards to PayPal. The more options, the better. Even if you do not plan to charge the membership, think about this twice, as things might develop in the future, and you will find yourself offering a paid membership and in need of integrated payment.
There is no one type of membership – ideally, there should be different levels and layers of membership. Each should bring additional content and functionality but also come with a higher price. The membership site platform should allow you to divide members into membership tiers or clusters and build your community like this.
One of the membership site’s top benefits should be integrating other platforms and applications, such as a membership plugin, MemberPress, MailChimp, Excel, WordPress site, WordPress membership plugins, Social Media, etc., so you should also check if this is the case with the platform you are considering. It’s unnecessary, but if you want to keep everything on one platform, explore these options.
You already know the features you should be looking for – no matter the choice you make, above listed ones are the ones you are most likely going to need and use in your business.
When it comes to the actual criteria you should consider, these are the most important questions to ask yourself.
Usually, the membership site platform’s cost goes from $30/month to $450/month, depending primarily on your organization’s size (contacts and members) and the features you want to use.
Bear in mind that the costs are not limited to the platform itself only. Most membership site providers will help you with the platform by providing additional services that they would charge accordingly.
Those costs could be for services such as:
- Membership website platform setup
- Regular or on-demand support
- Extra features you want to add to the platform
- Transaction fees
- and similar.
The membership site platform’s cost also depends on whether you pay for it monthly or yearly. The perks of paying it annually are that many companies will offer you a discount if you choose to buy a yearly plan. Besides that, you can always sign up for a free trial and test all of the platforms’ options.
You can see an example of a pricing plan by GroupApp here. We’re highlighting it as an example of everything mentioned above and as one of the more affordable platforms and can fit almost everyone’s pocket.
For a platform to be helpful, you need to know how to use it. Now we understand that you already have routines and things you are working on (this goes for your employees, too), so introducing something new and as big as the membership website isn’t an easy job.
Your routine will get disrupted for a bit; even some parts of your (or your employees’) job description might change. Having this in mind, you want to opt-out for a platform you and your employees will be able to learn how to use in a short time.
You can test this by watching the demo videos or accessing the free trials the providers are offering. An even better solution is to read through the customer reviews and look for their comments on its simplicity.
A couple of more things to consider when assessing these criteria:
- Who will need to learn how to use the platform?
- What kind of technological knowledge do your employees have?
- Is support included in the price when purchasing the platform, or you need to pay additional if you need it?
- What kind of support can you expect? Is it through email, phone, 1-1 sessions, etc.?
- If platform support fails, do you have anyone in your company you can count on?
Once you answer these questions and consider everything mentioned above, you will clarify how simple or challenging to use your membership site platform needs to be.
Customer centricity is a broad term and also a necessity for any successful business. Here we will narrow it and talk only about how easy to use a membership website is to your customers.
We already talked about the simplicity of learning how to use the platform for employees. But they are employees – they get paid to do their job, and if their job requires them to learn how to use the platform – they will do it, no matter how difficult it is.
With customers, it’s different. They pay to gain access to the membership site – and when they access it, they want to be able to use it without any special training or technical knowledge. What does this mean for you?
Simply, it means that you need to check how intuitive and easy to navigate the platform is before purchasing it. The good thing is that you can watch the demo videos to get a better picture, or even better – gain the free trial, make a draft of your membership website and test it on a couple of people in your environment. You will get feedback on the spot and understand the best solution from the customers’ perspective.
Additional questions to help you assess these criteria better:
- How many steps in the process are required for new members to sign up?
- How many steps in the process are required for regular members to log in?
- Would my customers say that the user interface is clear and intuitive to use?
Cyber attacks and data manipulation are the biggest fears the digital age brought us, so it’s normal to check security twice before purchasing. Most of the platforms are secured well – some of them offer better protection than we’re used to with other platforms or applications.
But, if you know you’re working with sensitive data or just want to be extra careful, you can always check with the provider if there is the ability to set admin access levels or enable two-factor authentication.
Additional questions to help you assess these criteria better:
- How sensitive is your data? Does it need regular or extra protection?
- Would your customers require any specific security protocol or verification?
Another thing you should consider is how long it would take for a platform to be set up. Some of them can easily be set up (within a day), while others take some additional time and help from specialists. The providing company usually assigns the specialist, but make sure to ask before buying the platform (we’ve covered this already in the previous criteria).
The main point you should consider here is: when do I need the platform to be set up and running? That should be your starting point.
Additional questions to follow up on this topic:
- Do you need the platform right away?
- How long does it usually take for the software to be installed in your company?
- If the support is not provided, do you have anyone within the company who could do the job?
In case that you are just starting your business – you can skip this part. But suppose you already have some systems running – such as an email marketing system or blogging system. In that case, you should assess the platform options based on integrating options of the platforms and applications you are already using.
You can check this quite easily – make sure you look for the information on integration possibilities (what platforms are an option) from the providers of systems and platforms you are already using. This might narrow your options when it comes to the membership site platform, in case you want to continue the work you already put through.
Another option here is to check with all the potential membership site platform providers if they offer a built-in integration, an app market, or custom-build you a solution.
Additional questions to follow up these criteria:
- Does the platform have all the tools you are already using?
- How hard would it be to switch?
- Does the platform have an open API (for those with advanced technical knowledge)?
A tool by itself doesn’t do much if you don’t know how to use it properly. We’re going to show you some successful membership site examples that will inspire you and give you an idea of how you can use the membership site platform to improve your business.
One example is definitely a membership site by Barry Magliarditi – a specialist in the business coaching niche. He uses the platform to support the members with their personal development plans by giving them the structures, systems, and mindset that fuel business growth.
Like many successful membership sites, Barry Magliarditi created different membership levels that you can buy. The more expensive the tier, the more extensive access you get to knowledge and its features.
This company — which is a SaaS customer experience platform — used the membership software to build an outstanding online community. Their main goal was to improve customer experience, focusing on making better support to answer customer questions – especially those in the community that other customers probably wouldn’t answer.
Matt Lawson – Genesys’s online community manager — prepared a series of videos pre-recorded by himself and other employees talking about a particular topic and answering customer questions in the community.
This brought customer support to the roof, as Genesys took something very technical and made it human, making it easy for their customers to use the product.
By the end of the implementation, the result was a way lower number of tickets and more satisfied employees – as they pretty much enjoyed this way of supporting the customers. Genesys took it even one step further by implementing an “Ask Me Anything” (AMA) style discussions for their pureConnect audience, tripling average daily engagement metrics during AMAs.
EdTA is a true example of how a membership site platform can boost the engagement between members and bring countless benefits both to the company and members.
School theatre departments are often a one-person show, leaving these educators without colleagues to learn from or work with. EdTA opened its online community to the public with a simple goal of expanding participation and attracting more users, including even those who can not afford the membership.
Now imagine what happens in a world like this — where there is no community — when someone builds one and enables it to all users? Their numbers jumped out of the roof, and the community became a thriving destination in no time. A simple proof of that is that they created a 900% boost in their organic search rankings.
The community enables members to find the resources they need in the library and builds a space to get advice from members. Different automation rules keep the community engaged without operational work required. We can only say Bravo to EdTA! That’s how you get the most out of membership site platforms.
And here we are! This is the moment we’ve been all waiting for. We’ve done an in-depth review of the membership site platforms and concluded which ones are the best in 2021. Are you ready to find out?
GroupApp is a platform that allows you to host your online community, online courses and set up membership subscription plans all in one place. If you choose GroupApp, you can charge your online community members membership subscription fees and create and sell online courses to monetize your community.
- Complete ownership over the management system – you will have full control when managing your membership site.
- Easy online course builder – if you’re planning to work on online courses (and you probably should), GroupApp is a good option, as you get to build and sell the courses within the platform.
- Applications integration – this is what you do not have to worry about; you can integrate various software tools, such as Mailchimp, Zapier, Google Analytics, Facebook Ads, HubSpot, etc.
- Membership subscription feature – it’s good to know that with GroupApp, you can easily manage the subscriptions to your membership and ensure you do not have to depend on donations.
- Transaction fee – if you choose a Starter payment plan, you will be charged a 5% transaction fee.
- No donation or tip option – there is no option for one-time donation; you can only charge monthly/yearly subscriptions.
- Stripe is required for payments – you need to have a Stripe merchant account to set up a membership subscription on GroupApp.
Kajabi is an all-in-one marketing platform that offers educators professional websites to market their courses and other digital products. The platform features a set of different built-in tools to help you start and manage your online business. Kajabi lets you build, market, and then sell online courses, coaching programs, and membership sites.
There are three payment plans that Kajabi offers: Basic, Growth, and Pro.
- No need for a third-party email provider – there is a built-in email marketing tool
- The Sale Pipeline Builder – a built-in sales funnel software that allows you to create a few marketing funnels to make sales.
- A custom domain name – even though Kajabi hosts your courses, you can make your domain and set it to be a part of your website.
- Kajabi is not cheap – its prices are higher than those you will find on other platforms.
- There is no search option for members – there is only a category filter people can use when looking for courses.
- You might need coding skills – in case you want to edit a site post
Thinkific is an online course platform that helps you create and sell online courses and membership sites. It comes with an easy-to-use drag-and-drop builder that allows you to build and design your courses and websites.
The pricing of Thinkafic comes in four different options. You can choose from a free version to a premium one, which costs 399$ per month.
- Full design access – if you are a designer, you know how valuable this is
- Immediate payment options – you can add different payment options and receive payments in more than 100 currencies
- Completion tracking – you can easily track the progress of your members on courses, quizzes, etc.
- Not enough intuitive navigation – interface is not that customer-centric, and members might find it challenging to navigate through the website.
- No monthly payment option with a Basic plan – if you choose a Basic plan, bear in mind that you won’t be able to charge your members a monthly subscription.
- Quirks with the editor – you can design your website pages, but you are most likely to face some bugs with the editor in that process.
Podia is another online platform that allows you to build a membership site relatively quickly. It gives you different possibilities, such as creating online courses, uploading webinars, videos, PDFs, creating quizzes, etc., and drip-feed your content.
Podia is not that pricey and offers you two payment plans based on where you are with your business. If you’re just starting – a Mover payment plan is better for you. If you’re in a phase of growing your business, a Shaker payment plan will suit your needs.
You can also save some money if you choose a yearly payment.
- More Ways To Make Content – more features allow content creators to monetize their communities.
- No Transaction Fee – you only follow your payment plan, no additional fees for transactions
- Convenience – Podia combines different features and applications, so you have everything in one place.
- Not so robust email marketing feature – compared to other platforms, Podia does not compete in this category.
- Lack of customization – although there is a variety of content, the downside is that the customization is on quite a low level.
- No phone support – you can still contact customer support and access other helpful resources, just don’t expect regular phone support that some other platforms provide.
Wild Apricot is a cloud-based membership site tool for building and managing membership sites. This website builder is mainly used by bloggers, art councils, non-profits, clubs, historical societies, and more. The platform includes learning management software (LMS) that will help you quickly and effectively manage all of your course delivery needs.
Wild Apricot offers eight payment plans, which are a lot of options to choose from. You can see how the price increases with the number of contacts you have on your membership website. If you are just starting and still have no contacts – then the free option might work perfectly for you.
However, if you are already looking to improve your business, you can check which price range your contacts base fits.
- Templates – this platform offers you different platforms you can use for your content creation process, so you don’t have to worry too much about the design
- Online support – users are delighted with the online support they get while using this platform; you can count on many tutorials and videos to go through to understand better how to use the platform and also to solve any problem you might face
- Not so lean user interface – many say that they are not satisfied with the user interface, as it can sometimes be confusing for the members
- Pricey for more prominent companies – if you have many contacts (and for example, you do not charge your membership subscription), then most probably you won’t be able to afford this platform.
- No online live calls – even though there are many videos for you to watch and follow, the lack of support is that you can not have live online calls with them (which might be tricky in a case of emergency)
Mighty Networks is a bit different from what we have discussed so far. This platform’s primary focus is to build and engage an online community, so it offers best-in-class features for building an engaged online community. These features include the ability to create posts, full articles, and polls & questions, organize your content using topics, create free/paid groups within your community, and other features like member directory, direct messaging between members, live chat events, etc.
With Mighty networks, you get three different payment plans. As you can see, the most expensive one is the most popular one at the same time. Some of the benefits this one offers are online courses with native video, 3000+ Zapier integrations, and premium analytics.
Mighty networks offer you a free trial period, as well as an opportunity to purchase a yearly payment plan. If you choose to pay annually, you will pay in total for two months less. Trial plans do not require your credit card information, and you can cancel them at any point in time.
- Free iOS and Android applications – speaking of being mobile-friendly, we have good news here; your members can access Mighty networks via mobile applications that are entirely free (both for Android and iOS phones)
- Subscription flexibility – you can choose how you’re going to charge your members (if you’re going to) – monthly or annually, as well as to charge only specific content (online courses, for example); you can also give free trials to your members
- No in-built video/audio hosting – if you plan any activities apart from creating newsletters, reminders, blog posts, etc. (and btw – you should), you know that this downside might stop you from creative activities.
- Transaction fee – no matter the payment plan you choose, you still have to pay a transaction fee between 2% and 5% per transaction (this goes to the Business plan as well)
Wow, you’ve made it to the end of this article. That can mean only one thing – you are determined to get to the bottom of the membership site platforms and find the best one for you. We hope that this article helped you in that way.
Even though you have more knowledge and better understanding now, you still have a big decision to make. That’s why we advise you to go through the article once again and write your pros and cons of every membership site platform.
For us – the GroupApp stays in the top 1 in all of the categories – and if you choose to purchase this one, we believe it will remain your top 1 for a long time as well! Best of luck!