How To Choose Membership Site Software

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You can start a membership site for free.

Or you can pay several thousand dollars for a complete content management solution that will include everything from forums to video player to payment gateway to shopping cart.

Which way is better?

You’ll hear plenty of partisans on all sides of this question touting their particular software. Some are affiliates, who stand to gain financially from convincing you that their program is superior. Some are happy customers who want to share their good fortune.

Even after you separate the hucksters from the helpful, you still need to ask yourself: Which solution is right for you? Let’s begin by looking at the three most popular solutions and weighing their pros and cons.

THE PLAYERS

Although there are many more solutions available, the big players are:

  • Membergate
  • aMember
  • WordPress

START UP COSTS

  • Membergate = $4,000.00+
  • aMember = $180.00+
  • WordPress = $0.00+

CONSIDERATION #1 – CREDIT CARD PROCESSING

Will you bill members on an automated recurring, monthly basis?

If so, how will the payments be processed? Are you going to accept credit cards or will you rely on PayPal?

Some marketers will tell you that a free platform, like WordPress, coupled with a free PayPal plugin is all you need. Don’t believe it.

For most people, PayPal is inextricably linked to eBay. Although your members may have a PayPal account, you will find that few of them will want to use it to pay for a month-to-month membership.

What’s more, PayPal acts like a debit card rather than a credit card. Money is immediately withdrawn from the customer’s account when a purchase is made. So if a potential member is weighing the choice of signing up vs. the cost of waiting awhile longer – waiting will almost always win and you will lose.

Finally, accepting PayPal as your only means of payment marks you as an amateur. In the physical world, real businesses accept credit cards. No matter how lowly the corner Mom ‘n’ Pop store is, you can use a credit or debit card to buy a carton of milk.

HOW DO THEY RATE?

Membergate – Membergate is fully integrated with Authorize.net (and other gateways) and a proprietary shopping cart. Setting up members and collecting payment requires no specialized knowledge. Membergate also includes automated recapture of declined credit cards, so members are less likely to slip through the cracks in a month where they may have cancelled a card or forgotten to update an Expiration Date.

Functionality: A
Ease of use: A

aMember – aMember supports a huge number of payment gateways, including Authorize.net, Clickbank, and PayPal. Shopping cart software is installed separately via plugin.

Functionality: A
Ease of use: B

WordPress – Of course, WordPress was never designed to do this work. All efforts to build a membership site on WordPress involve a compromise between security, functionality, and stability.

There is no built in way to accept payments – of any kind – with WordPress. Through the use of plugins, WordPress can be integrated with PayPal’s recurring billing system.

In this case, the strengths and weaknesses are all PayPal’s and are all well documented.

  1. PayPal will bill members monthly, but it will not recapture declined data.
  2. Depending on the plugin you use, the membership data will not necessarily be stored in your WordPress database.
  3. Automation is limited – again, depending on the plugin
  4. You may need to hire a third party to make your “free” solution work.
  5. Your third party plugin may just stop working without notice (Google “WordPress + PayBox” for a hair raising example.)

Functionality: C
Ease of use: D

CONCLUSION

Not surprisingly, the really expensive software, Membergate, does more, and does it more easily, right out of the box. Some of the money you invest up front for the software is recouped almost immediately in non-existent support costs. More is recouped in tracking and retrying declined transactions.

aMember also does a decent job of taking payments. Although it is not quite as solid as Membergate, it does include a large number of gateways and payment options. It is certainly worth investigating further.

WordPress leaves a lot to be desired on the payment front. Since recurring billing is the heart of a continuity program, any breakdown here can cripple your membership site.

Relying on third party plugins leaves the very foundation of your business open to catastrophe. In fact, I consider it so risky that it was enough to knock WordPress out of consideration when I chose software for the new Web Sellers’ Circle membership site.

FINAL WEEKS

These are the final weeks for free access to all the content on Web Sellers’ Circle. In addition to the open to everyone blog, check out the VIP Membership area. All you need to do is sign up for the newsletter to gain access to our eBook and Video library.

For now, it’s free. In June, we’ll have the completely revamped Web Sellers Circle up and running with tons of tutorials, classes, articles, and videos that will help you build a profitable business online.

Check it out.

Photo by aussiegall Released under Creative Commons License