What Tools Do I Need To Build A Membership Site?


I hear questions all the time about building a membership site. And I get it. Membership sites are a very interesting concept that can seem highly technical to the uninitiated.

If you’re just getting started, then you probably have all kinds of questions. Should I use WordPress or an existing platform like Teachable? Can I use my existing site, or do I need something new? Which tools do I need?

If you’ve asked any (or all) of those questions, this post is for you. Below you’ll learn how to build a solid foundation for your membership site, the kinds of tools you’ll need, and how to start building your site.

What Are the Goals of Your Membership Site?

Before we get into the discussion around what tools you should be using, you need to begin thinking about your reasons for building a membership site in the first place. Ask yourself the following questions to help gauge your membership site’s direction:

  • Do you want complete control over the content and layout of your site?
  • Do you want to build out a separate site, or do you prefer an add-on to your current site?
  • Do you have any existing tools like WordPress, OptimizePress, Ontraport, or others?
  • How big do you want your site to be? Is it a course? Or are you building a content archive that is constantly being added to?

Most membership sites, no matter the end result, have certain similar qualities. For instance, every site will allow people to register and gain access to “members-only” content. The payment is typically based on a subscription or a one-off fee.

The Tools You Need To Build A Successful Membership Site

To build out a membership site, you need three things:

  1. A platform to build the site on
  2. A protection mechanism that controls who has access to what content
  3. A way to control the design and layout of your site.

Below you’ll learn how to choose the right tools that will help you accomplish all of the above goals and more.

1. Choosing a Platform

When browsing around the internet and looking for membership site options, chances are you’ve come across numerous platforms. There are a few hosted / SaaS (Software As A Service) options that let you create memberships either on or off your site. The most common ones are Kajabi, Teachable, and even ClickFunnels.

Although these options seem enticing, they often aren’t the best way to go about creating a membership site, as they don’t give you complete control over your site or even full ownership of your content.

The option we recommend most often is WordPress, because it gives you the most freedom, flexibility, and features. Plus, you have total control and ownership over your content, no matter what happens.

If the other platforms seem more appealing because you don’t feel like you have the technical skills to set up a WordPress site, then that can be easily solved. All you have to do is hire someone with the right skills to take that off your plate. ** HINT: This is something we can help you with 😉 **

2. Getting Membership Protection

Membership protection is a way to create a wall around your membership content so only your members can access it. There are multiple means to do this, depending on what software you have at your disposal.

  • If you’re using ActiveCampaign, ActiveMember360 or Memberium are your best bet.
  • Using Infusionsoft? Try iMember360 or Memberium.
  • Using Ontraport? You don’t need any 3rd party tool. You already have their free membership plugin, PilotPress.
  • Any other CRM: I recommend using MemberMouse.

Any of these tools will make it possible for your members to register and make a payment, and for you to protect your membership content.

3. Designing Your Site

You have a lot of choices when it comes to designing your membership site. One thing to keep in mind is the structure and layout of your content. You’ll want to create a logical learning progression with your content to keep your members from getting overwhelmed.

Both OptimizePress and Thrive Content Builder are great solutions for structuring and building out your WordPress membership site. Especially if you’re building an online course.

If you’re building out a huge membership site with tons of archived content, then you might be better off with a custom theme, like something built on the Genesis framework. The advantage is, if you need to make a large-scale design change, you don’t have to go back and edit every single page individually.

4. Additional Tools and Add-Ons

When building out your site, you’ll have a ton of options for different content types or additional features to offer your members.

Common among those are things like members-only forums. In WordPress, you can easily integrate a forum into your site with plugins like bbPress or BuddyPress. They are all very easy to set up, and they work with most existing theme options.

If you’re considering quizzes to either learn more about your members or gain insight for future content, then you can use tools like AccessAlly, LearnDash, or Sensei.

That’s the beauty of WordPress: whatever function you can dream up, chances are there’s a plugin for it.

5. Creating Content

The tools highlighted above will give you a framework to put your content in and if all your content is simply written with a few images you’re good to go…

However, if you want to create high-quality multimedia content like videos and presentations, you will need additional tools, such as a camera, a microphone, and editing software.

  • For editing software, Adobe Premier Pro is the industry standard.
  • The Canon EOS 70D is a solid beginner camera when you’re just getting started. But even something like an iPhone 7 can get you some pretty good quality video (it’s just lighting and sound that will make it seem amateurish)
  • If you’re looking to record audio, then the Samson Meteor Mic is a solid choice.

Of course, those are just recommendations. Feel free to do your own research when it comes to cameras, editing software, and recording mics.

If you’re creating tutorials and videos that record your screen, any of the options below could work for you:

Should You Build a Separate Website?

This is one of the most common questions I get: “Should I put this on my existing site or build a separate site?” Technically speaking, you can add membership protection plugins to your existing site and build a membership site around that. However, that’s not the course of action we usually recommend — for a few different reasons.

1. Performance

Your existing site and your membership site probably have a lot of plugins respectively. When you combine the total amount of plugins each site utilizes, you will only decrease the performance. Longer loading times and a slower performance will negatively impact the user experience, which is never a good thing.

2. Security

We recommend building out a separate site for security reasons alone. First, the more plugins you have installed, the greater the points of entry for being hacked. Second, if your membership site is successful, you’ll have a lot of usernames and passwords to store securely.

Having your membership site compromised will only diminish the trust your users have in you. Keep them and their data safe with a separate membership site you can reinforce with security plugins.

3. Uptime

If both sites are together and your main site breaks, then your users will lose access to their membership content. If they’re separate, then your members will be fine, even with your main site offline.

Also, if your membership site goes down for any reason, your users can still contact you through your main site to figure out what’s going on.

Building your site separately doesn’t have to mean you need to go and think up or buy a new domain name, you could simply use a subdomain like members.yourexistingdomain.com – these are most of the time free and easy to set up on your existing hosting provider.

Once you have the above tools worked out, it’s time to put all the pieces together. And if you’d like help putting the puzzle together, reach out to our team today we build new and work with existing membership sites all day every day!

About The Author

Carl Taylor

Carl Taylor is the Founder & CEO of Automation Agency. For the past 10 years Carl has been building businesses and marketing them online through the use of Sales Funnels, Email Marketing Automation, Landing Pages, and Wordpress Websites. Carl is also a #1 author and highly sought after speaker and consultant whose work has impacted thousands of businesses across various industries worldwide.