The Ultimate Guide to the Best Membership Software To Run an Online Program

Posted on / by Natalie Sisson / in Business Tools / 44 comments
The Ultimate Guide to the Best Membership Software To Run an Online Program

One of the easiest ways to share your knowledge and experience in your chosen ‘niche’ is to package all that information brimming inside your head, and put into an easy to digest and implement online course or membership site.

If you’re already at that stage and ready to launch your totally terrific online program or membership site, you know exactly what your niche is desperately calling for and you have the answers to give them what they need then fantastic!

The Ultimate Guide to the Best Membership Software To Run an Online Program

Welcome to The Ultimate Guide to the Best Membership Software To Run an Online Program

I know just how much blood, sweat and tears goes into developing a truly rockin’ course and organizing all your thoughts and knowledge into modules and a curriculum that breaks it all down.

The tricky part is exactly how to do this. There are literally hundreds of platforms, software and plugins out there to help you do that, and in the last 6 months alone there are more solutions coming on the market than I can shake a fist at.

You might be you’re wondering:

  • How on earth you’re going to deliver your online course?
  • What is the best way to keep track of and manage your new members?
  • What’s the best way to upload video, audio and content in one place?
  • How do you separate out members-only content vs free stuff?
  • How do you integrate a payment system like PayPal or Stripe?

Then you’re in the right place.

Not all membership sites are created equal. Get the wrong site for your needs and you may undo all of the many hours you spent slaving away developing the very course you’re trying to sell!

I’ve rated and reviewed the best of the best Membership Software to ensure you match the right one to your business needs. This post is chock-full of valuable insights and important recommendations, so that you can rock your own membership focussed offerings like a pro.  I’ve interviewed real users of each of these platforms to get their full and honest opinion.

Here’s what is included in this Megapost

You can simply click on the section that interests you most and skip straight to it or I recommend reading it from start to finish AND bookmarking this page to come back to.

 

You can also grab the entire post packaged into a beautiful 47 page eBook for free, so you can always refer to it at any time in one handy place.

What Makes A Great Membership Site

Firstly, let’s look at what actually makes a great membership site to host your online program or course?

Honestly, that has a lot to do with your tribe. You know your tribe best so take the time to think about how they would like to receive the exclusive content you have to give.

  • Is your tribe full of super creative types who like visual content? Then perhaps they’d prefer more videos and imagery.
  • Is your offering all about the techie stuff and therefore your audience is looking more for structured content and downloadable documentation?
  • Do you have a tribe who is super interactive, who thrive on community engagement and who need group chats and hosted online events?

Taking the time to consider your tribe and what offering will meet their needs will make all the difference to the success of your online program and membership site. You need to consider the process you want your new members to go through and then evaluate what features you’ll need from your software solution to make this happen and whether the price fits your budget.

That’s not to say your site won’t grow and change as you and your audience’s needs do. Keep an eye on your members’ engagement and pursue what and how they want to get the most out of the site.

You must also be realistic about your own level of expertise and how much time you will have to manage the site and integrate with your members. These limitations will very much determine the membership software package that is right for you and your deliverable.

If you’re already using WordPress for your website or blog you might be able to simply use the right membership plugins to build your online platform. These plugins will save you time and best yet, there’s no need to recreate the wheel – what you need more than likely is already available to you.

If you’re not using WordPress because you have the skills, knowledge and time to build your own software – and subsequently maintain complete control over it – then you’ll need to consider whether a theme only version is more suitable; like OptimizePress for instance. Word of warning though, as your membership grows so too will your needs for a fully responsive and integratable software solution. Will you and your site remain sustainable whilst meeting your members’ needs, at your current level of administration and site development?

Check out this clever infographic that compares some of the best WordPress membership plugins.

7 Features of Great Membership Sites

If you start by considering the following 7 features of any membership software and site, you’ll definitely be on the right track for delivering your own that firstly, you can manage and secondly, will excite your tribe and keep them coming back for more.

1. Design & Integration

  • Professional, Simple & Functional design – ease of use for both you (back end) and your members (front end)
  • Mobile responsive
  • Customisable to match branding
  • Support available to manage the software on your behalf as needed
  • Consider the level of maintenance you must contribute to, and your abilities
  • Custom domain or can the software integrate with your current site?
  • Member log-in and access to new content, course levels etc is intuitive
  • Can members track their progress through modules/courses without being overwhelmed? – good membership site will have a streamlined method
  • Can members see what courses they’ve completed & others available for enrollment? – this is a clever upselling opportunity, without being pushy
  • Easy navigation through enrollment & payment process, as well as the course modules
  • From landing to completion, does the complete process intuitively flow

2. Membership Management

  • Are gifts certificates, coupons and different access levels standard?
  • Events functionality
  • Functionality for interaction level you need with your members, and they need with each other? Forums, newsletters, and associated mailing lists etc
  • Automated messaging – welcome message on sign-up for example
  • Members to populate their accounts, or complete registration forms
  • Restrict members to different levels or lists
  • Subscriptions directly linked to your database? – don’t lose members when subscriptions expire
  • Members or groups quota limits
  • Free and paid courses – cross-selling opportunities

3. Invoicing, Payments & Accounting

  • Payment preference options – one off, installments, automatic renewal on expiration
  • International currencies
  • PayPal or other online payment service
  • Account security, privacy settings and back-ups standard
  • Integration with your selected accounting package
  • Simple payment process & stored payment details

4. Analytics & Dashboards

  • Member surveys
  • Monitor your members’ engagement

5. Third Party Services

  • Integration with third party tools & services (Stripe, WishList Member, PayPal, WooCommerce, Infusionsoft etc)
  • Standard plugins or further implementation required

6. Cost

  • Sustainability costs
  • Cost escalation with additional features
  • Penalties / difficulties upgrading as membership grows

7. Customer Service & Support

  • Own blog and / or forum
  • Responsive & timely assistance when needed – video tutorials, documentation, support desk (ticketing system vs live chat)

My Pick Of The Best Membership Sites to Run Your Online Course

Course Cats

What’s To Like: Can you imagine creating an extraordinary online course without requiring ANY design or programming skills. Well imagine no more because with Course Cats the frustrating, energy-sapping, time-consuming fiddly bits are done for you!

My friend David Siteman Garland launched this software in 2015 to go along with his great online course: Create Awesome Online Courses since he saw so many of his members struggling to find decent software to allow them to have a successful launch.

You can watch the videos and/or read the step-by-step guide that comes with Course Cats, follow along, and you’ll have your tribe signing-up in no time.

Jeff Patterson, a Course Cats user says “If you’re familiar with WordPress, it’s not hard to create modules”.  Setting up your program modules will be a cinch as the layout is similar to their standard themes. With Course Cats you can focus on your customers, rather than all that dreaded techie stuff that can sometimes drag you down and keep you from being your most creative self.

Awesome Features & Functions:

  • Responsive WordPress theme
  • Step-by-step guide that walks you through everything (with videos)
  • Constantly evolving, unlimited updates
  • Unlimited email support!
  • The ability to simply integrate plugins to protect your course content whilst giving total access to your valued customers (i.e. WishList Member, Stripe and other plugins that can handle all the payment processing for you)
  • Many cool examples of Sales & About Pages and more, with walk-through steps to get your program up and running quickly
  • Mobile responsive
  • Run two or more courses using the one url
  • Add snazzy images using the Hero image tool and practical videos using iframe codes with Wistia, Youtube or Vimeo

Example in Action by Jeff Patterson of HomeRepairTutor.com

“The nice thing about Course Cats is that they walk you through the whole process step-by-step. If you’re already familiar with WordPress then you’re going to be super familiar with this and it’s not hard to create modules. I’m not a techie person and I found this to be super simple, and I think you will too. You can add several videos for one module using iframe code from Wistia, and Youtube etc. You can add bonuses to modules too and the layout will be similar with all the modules. On the backend we are integrated with Wishlist Member and Stripe.”

CourseCats

CourseCats

CourseCats

CourseCats

CourseCats

CourseCats

What Would Up The Stakes for Jeff?

“When you go to the home/sales page for CourseCats, I would love to have a button to buy Course Cats as a gift.”

Note from Natalie: I personally think that would be a cool feature to have for anyone hosting an online program through this software – to allow others to buy our course as a gift.

The Bottom Line

30-day Money Back Guarantee
Monthly Plan – $47/ month or Yearly – $467/ year with 2 months free

See DEMO here

LifterLMS

What’s To Like: LifterLMS is a well-constructed Learning Management System (LMS) that takes the pain out of creating online courses using just one WordPress LMS Plugin. This is a fun, student centric membership LMS where you test your students through quizzes, and award them badges and certificates for their achievements as they progress.

Right out of the box, this is an eCommerce plugin, a membership plugin, a gamification plugin as well as other useful functionality all rolled into one. Though currently quite lean, there are big plans afoot for a more sleek front-end design which is poised to include visual cues, download buttons and variable assessment options etc through a theme that runs on top of LifterLMS. Student engagement is key here.

Key Features & Functions:

  • Currently the only WordPress Plugin that is usable straight out of the box
  • Integrates with Paypal, Infusionsoft, Stripe & WooCommerce to set-up free trial scenarios or varying billing cycles
  • Built-in E-Commerce with integrated coupons
  • Analytics – Track orders, issue refunds, see sign-ups and more all in one place
  • Gamification – encourage student participation through awarding badges and certificates (using your own logo) based on lesson and course completion
  • Mobile Responsive
  • Drip-fed content allows you to decide when you want your content released – day 1, day 5, day 30 etc, it’s up to you
  • Protect pages that exist outside of your course and sell bundles of courses with the LifterLMS membership functionality.
  • Automatic customised student reminders
  • Customisable Side Bars for each course or membership level
  • Direct support via email, forums and their blog
  • A Student Dashboard where students can see enrolments, badges earned and more

Example in Action – Joshua Millage (cofounder of LifterLMS)

“I think the key differentiator from us and our competitors is that we allow you to build, sell, and engage your students from one plugin. We want to make it easy for you to manage so you don’t have to string together a bunch of plugins together to create your ideal system. Also, unlike many of our competitors you aren’t required to buy future updates or support, and your plugin will still function if you choose not to renew your license.”

Our software lets you offer up Achievements, these are badges something you gain notification you’re having set up in the course, but you have a stuck one here you could say, Thumbs, Achievement Title: Good Work! Complete with the first lesson. “Give yourself a pat on the back”, put something here and then the actual image that you use for the achievement. And then this will be saved in your user account so they can see which badges they have collected as they went through the course. So again, it’s lightweight, gammification features that I think are really, really cool.

You can set up an Engagement series of emails to welcome people in, once the course is completed as well as days since last log in. That one is probably my favorite. You can actually send an email through user if they have it logged in for your course for say 14 days or a month. You can send email as “Hey, Natalie, we have noticed that you have not logged in into our demo course for a month and we just want to make sure everything’s alright. Is there anything we can do to help you come back and continue your learning with us?”

LifterLMS Achievements LifterLMS Certificate LifterLMS Course Tiles
LifterLMS Student Dashboard

What Would Up The Stakes

A little more scope for users to customise the overall look of the platform would go a long way but not to the detriment of Lifter’s current quality functionality. And the latest from Joshua Millage is that they are actively working on integrations with Zapier and ActiveCampaign, more assessment choices, xAPI/Scorm compliance, pre-testing, and vouchers, so stay tuned if this platform tweaks your interest.

The Bottom Line

30-day Money Back Guarantee
Personal (1 site) – FREE

See DEMO here.

WishList Member™

What’s To Like: WishList Member™ is a powerful, yet intuitive and easy option for the first time user that can turn any WordPress site into a full-blown membership site. If you’re already comfortable using WordPress then WishList Member™ is a super easy way to convert your blog into a fully functioning membership site – there’s no need to purchase extra software, or a different domain and have to move all of your valuable content. A solid yet affordable option with unlimited updates provided free for your first year. In fact, I like WishList Member™ so much that I use it myself, along with a combination of purpose built WordPress and WP Courseware, for my Freedom Plan.

Awesome Features & Functions:

  • WordPress Plugin
  • Add to your existing WordPress blog and secure your existing and future content
  • Members-only content
  • Sequential Content Delivery
  • Controlled Content Delivery using a “Hide” button to protect exclusive content
  • Seamlessly integrates with the most popular shopping cart systems, including PayPal, ClickBank, and many more. Plus, WishList Member™ now integrates with Cydec and Infusionsoft.
  • Multi-Level Access with designated access that you assign
  • Unlimited Membership Levels – free, trial or paid (or any combination of the three) using personalised naming conventions
  • Member Management
  • Subscription Length Control
  • Secure RSS Feeds allowing members to see paid content in their RSS reader of choice
  • Custom Error Pages
  • “Sneak Peek” Content Display
  • Partial Content Display
  • Login Redirection providing unique messaging to different access levels
  • Good customer support, online documentation & well-rounded FAQ – including 1 year of unlimited customer support

What Would Up The Stakes

Though you do get support through FAQs, Member Tutorials, a Products Knowledge Base and a ticketing system to a Support Desk, this just would not be reactive enough for many. An online chat service would quickly and responsively solve many users difficulties without all the angst of trawling through their site or waiting on a response from the offline Support Desk.

The Bottom Line

30-day money back guarantee
Single Site License – $197
Multi-Site License – $297

See DEMO here

MemberMouse™

What’s To Like: MemberMouse™ is a WordPress membership plugin that provides all you need to manage a successful online business with ease and flexibility at a low entry point. Powerful reporting and analytics functionality, and unlimited scalability, keeps you firmly in control of all the moving parts. A no programming required membership solution for selling digital products, subscription content, software as a service, or to ship physical goods. Also, an incredibly efficient self-service member management functionality allows you to get on with serving your customers without getting bogged down in administration.

Awesome Features & Functions:

  • WordPress plugin
  • Protected self-service Member’s Area where members check their order history, account information (which is not stored on your site), manage their subscriptions and cancel their memberships
  • Time-Release / Drip Content
  • SmartTags – add all kinds of customised functionality to your WordPress pages without knowing anything about programming – from the Home Page members will see an access button, or if not a member, a button to buy-in.
  • Fully integrates with leading billing providers (PayPal, Stripe, Braintree, Lime Light CRM, Authorize.net,
  • Auth.net CIM, ClickBank & Coinbase). Returning customers click a button and either use their previous payment details or opt to use another method – no re-entering all those pesky credit card details.
  • Customer Management – if a customer’s billing payment fails, it switches off their access to the course and sends them an email.
  • 1-Click Upsells based on other products purchased, with targeted offers option, save a sale & cancellation processes automatically built-in
  • Self-Configuring Checkout
  • Split-Test Prices
  • Trial Offers & Coupons
  • International Currency support comes as standard
  • Employee Accounts which allow you to get your team on board right from the start
  • Sharing Auto-Lock
  • Safe & secure PCI Compliant Security integration
  • Gifting Functionality
  • Appropriate Prorated Upgrades
  • Easy Facebook/Twitter/G+ Login
  • Churn & Retention monitoring
  • Automated Overdue Payment Handling
  • Automated mailing list management integrated with MailChimp, GetResponse, AWeber & iContact
  • Fine-tuned High Performance SQL
  • 24/7 On demand video-based Support Center
  • Quick Start set-up service
  • Starter package guilt-in Reporting Suite covering member reporting, revenue and engagement statistics –
  • Advanced Reporting Suite available with Advanced & Premium packages

Example in Action – Ian Brodie, ianbrodie.com

“One thing I like about Member Mouse is the use of shortcodes on the homepage. If a member buys a course, they will see a button to access it and if they haven’t bought it they will see an option to buy it.

Member Mouse is also well integrated with Stripe. Stripe has this nice feature where it can remember without storing any credit card information on your site, it can still remember the customer so if someone already bought something from you using Stripe and they want to buy another program they just have to click on the button and they can either pay immediately or you just put a little popup to confirm if they want to use their stored credit card and that way they don’t have to re-enter their credit card information.

It also does upsells and downsells, pretty advanced reporting and automation, for example, if a customer’s billing payment fails, it switches off their access to the course and sends them an email.”

IB Dashboard

IB Focus Section

Member Mouse

What Would Up The Stakes for Ian?

MemberMouse does have a steep learning curve and if you’re not all that familiar with such software, you may take a bit longer to get up and running with this platform than others. That said, with all the other services and functionality on offer, it may be worth grinning and bearing it should you favour these options.

The Bottom Line

Three primary pricing categories and a 14-day free trial:
Starter (1,000 members) – $19.95 / month
Advanced (50,000 members) – $99 / month
Premium (100,000 members) – $299 / month

See DEMO here

Zippy Courses™

What’s To Like: Zippy Courses™ is a budget friendly option in the Membership Software market. If you’re using videos as a significant part of your course delivery, then Zippy Courses™ should definitely be investigated further. A robust content scheduler allows you to go from videos for your welcome and lessons, which are easily linked according to your course schedule. You can also choose when students will have access to your amazing ebook so that they’re not unnecessarily overwhelmed. Overall a good entry level membership management option.

This software has been designed and created by Derek Halpern and his team so he also understands what goes behind launching online and what needs we really have to build out a great program or course and have a slick delivery that delights your customers.

Awesome Features & Functions:

  • WordPress plugin
  • Works with most WordPress theme with 2 themes pre-selected to get you up and running fast!
  • Unlimited Courses
  • Analytics with built-in student tracking functionality
  • 1 Full Year of Support and Updates
  • Content Scheduler delivers your modules immediately, drip fed or evergreen
  • Compatible with Constant Contact, Stripe, Paypal, Aweber, Ontraport, Infusionsoft and Mailchimp
  • Drag and drop interface

Example in Action – Adam Franklin

“We use Zippy Course and it is excellent. It’s very simple, easy to use and fast to ship the technical parts of a course (especially for non-techies like us). Any WordPress developer would be all over it in a heartbeat.  We set up a subdomain students.bluewiremedia.com.au and we were away. A few years back we spent way too much money building & customising something similar, and now Zippy Courses is only $199 (or thereabouts) and does everything we tried to do ourselves.” – Adam Franklin, Bluewiremedia.com.au

Zippy Courses™

Zippy Courses™

What Would Up The Stakes

Currently Zippy Courses™ only permits your customers to make 4 payments (including their initial buy-in) when using PayPal. More payment scheduling options are expected in today’s competitive membership software market.

Chris Lema has done an indepth and valuable review here on his blog you should read first, but here’s a summary sentence from him:

“If you’re looking for serious Learning Management System (LMS) features, this isn’t the right plugin for you. There’s nothing for quizzes, for example. And I know that knocks a lot of folks out from using this. But I think Derek’s audience isn’t the LMS folks. I think it’s the folks looking to put some online content on the web and sell it. And if that’s you, then this may be right for you.”

The Bottom Line

30-day Money Back Guarantee
Standard Package – $199 for the first year, then $199 each year after
Deluxe Package – $299 for the first year, then $199 each year after

See DEMO here

Ruzuku

What’s To Like: If you want the feeling of teaching in a classroom but your students are spread from one place to another, then Ruzuku allows you the engagement and scheduled group programs you may be looking for in your online course. Ruzuku promotes itself as being part of your team.

You concentrate on course content, promoting your course, and engaging your students, while Ruzuku concentrates on designing and building the course platform. They’ll even answer student queries right down to “Help, I can’t log in to my course”. That’s right, they’ll handle registration and payments on your behalf too. So if you’re a solo entrepreneur with no team behind you, Ruzuku could be your saving grace.

Ruzuku

Awesome Features & Functions:

  • Course management & layout options
  • Create a step-by-step course with text, videos, and PDFs in minutes that students go through together as a ‘class’
  • Live (scheduled calendar-based) courses with automatic email notifications
  • Integrates with Mailchimp, Stripe, Paypal, Infusionsoft and 1Shoppingcart
  • On Demand and Ongoing Membership models both supported courses
  • Open Access (aka Self-Directed) courses
  • Global Content Delivery Network (CDN) providing professional audio and video hosting to support students from all over the world
  • Daily backups
  • Students have social profiles, bios, and photos in the course community – peer-to-peer support is promoted
  • Post discussion questions/prompts for specific activities/content
  • Students can post images, PDFs, and videos in their responses – great for those visually intensive art or craft courses
  • General course-wide Q&A and forum
  • Receive email notifications when a student posts a question
  • Send email announcements to all participants in course
  • Students can mark each activity as complete, and track their own progress
  • Host teleconferences with slides, group chat, and automatic recording
  • Host video broadcasts with slides, group chat, and automatic recording
  • Easy access to support via Phone, Skype, Email, Live Chat, Facebook Group, Knowledge Base, Training
  • Courses, and Tutorials
  • Your students ALSO have easy access to support as they register, pay, and access your courses
  • You can create Paid or Free courses
  • Check on your Student’s progress and comment rates by using the ‘Health’ function
  • Host ‘Events’ through live broadcasting, group chats and automatic recordings

Example in Action: Jennifer Dobson, Founder of www.proview.photo

“One feature I like from Ruzuku is that you make your course On-demand, Open Access or Scheduled. I put my course to start on a certain date and Ruzuku closes your course to the public when your course starts.

It’s great that it links with PayPal for processing payments and you also have the option to have Paid and Free Pricing. You can also invite people by email with an access code if you want them to get the course for free, you can essentially send them a private invite.

Once members sign up you can have Ruzuku send an automatic welcome email and it was really easy to set up.”

Ruzuku

Ruzuku

Ruzuku

activity-editor Ruzuku Sales Page Editor 3.18.16 steps

What Would Up The Stakes

“With Ruzuku you are very much responsible for your own marketing – which suits me fine and ensures your course does not get on sold to the marketplace.”

The Bottom Line

14-day Free Trial and a 30-day Money Back Guarantee
Up-and-Comer PLUS (All Features + Unlimited Everything) – $997/yr
Bootstrapper PLUS – $697 / year
Starter PLUS – $497 / year
Up-and-Comer – $149 / month
Bootstrapper – $99 / month
Starter – $79 / month

See DEMO here

Want to get this entire megapost in a beautiful and easy to read eBook??

Teachable

What’s To Like: Teachable (previously named Fedora) is all you need to sell courses from your own website and focusses on online course creation platforms, rather than wholefully from the angle of the needs of the students’.

You will own your students data and can contact and manage those individuals to build your business as you see fit. Teachable courses are ideal for skilled based, individual learning.

While you can use Teachable for video-based teaching, you can also use this platform for online & offline courses, webinars and tutoring. If you have the practical skills, Teachable has the platform for you to share and profit from those skills.

Awesome Features & Functions:

  • Personalized Branding using your own logo and color selections
  • Multi-Language Support for any part of your site
  • Custom Domains
  • Mobile Responsive
  • An easy to use Advanced Site Editor
  • Multimedia Lectures
  • Send segmented Student Email Lists
  • Discussion Forums using Disqus
  • Quiz Tools
  • Third-Party Marketing Integrations with MailChimp, Ontraport, Infusionsoft, Mixpanel, and others via Zapier
  • Accept International Payments
  • Affiliate Program
  • First and Last Touch Attribution to adjust your marketing strategy when and if needed

I started using Teachable to host my courses after taking someone else’s course via the platform and falling in love with the simplistic, intuitive design. Now that I’ve launched Facebook CPR, I’m finding even MORE reasons to love Teachable.

It’s easy to set up a professional looking course, you can offer an affiliate program (AND they’ll pay it out for you), you can set up extensions to hook your students up with your mailing lists, it hosts your video, you can embed media, offer downloads, or even have a comments section on different lessons in your course. So far I haven’t found a single thing I need that they don’t already offer. Can’t recommend it enough!

Desiree Fawn, CEO at kitzandco.com

Example in Action – Natalie Sisson, Idea to Income

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What Would Up The Stakes

It’s said that Teachable has a few bugs still within it’s system, which no doubt they are trying to iron out. These are more an irritation than any significant errors and may really only frustrate the true ‘techies’ amongst us.

They do have the option to accept recurring payments as well (monthly or yearly), although you can’t choose how many recurring payments before it stops, you have to manually stop them for your students. Hopefully this feature will be in place in the near future.

The Bottom Line

Free (Transaction fee = $1 + 10% + credit card fees)
Basic $29 / month (Transaction fee = 8% + credit card fees)
Professional $99 / month (Transaction fee = 5% + credit card fees)
High Volume – $299 / month (Transaction fee = 0% until $15,000. Credit card fees still apply)

See DEMO here

Simplero

What’s To Like: The perfect everything-you-need solution for online courses in one neat package. Aimed at the Solopreneur who doesn’t (yet) have a team to back them up, or the time to learn all that is needed to learn more complex membership and payment platforms, Simplero gets you up and running FAST. Using Lists to send out emails to your leads, Products with flexible pricing, and Spaces for your private members – it’s that simple(ro).

Awesome Features & Functions:

  • Email Marketing – campaign specific or auto-responded depending on sign-up
  • Sell Products allows easy methods to sell kinds of info products
  • Member Sites with forums
  • Mobile Responsive
  • Support and Blog
  • Affiliate Management
  • Multiple Payment Plans – full payment or multiple installments
  • Transparent and Secret Subscriptions
  • Easily create pages with videos (hosted by Simplero) and downloadable handouts

What Would Up The Stakes

The Autoresponder to your Lists is currently quite limited and lacks the ability to segment these lists by categories or geotagging. Currently you’d need to bypass Simplero’s functionality and employ a dedicated email server. Also not so easy to create sales funnels for multiple courses.

The Bottom Line

Free Trial
Starter : $100 / month
Basic : $150 / month
Professional : $225 / month
Unlimited : $400 / month

Learndash

What’s To Like: LearnDash is compatible with any theme, so you can customize your learning management system to your heart’s content. Easily integrate LearnDash into your existing site, create courses, and begin awarding certificates. These guys know online courses – that’s where they hail from having set up learning programs for Fortune 500 companies to earn their bread and butter.

Awesome Features & Functions:

  • Responsive Support through FAQs, dynamic forums and a ticketing system
  • Mobile Responsive
  • WordPress plugin
  • Multi-Tier Courses
  • Drip-Feed Content
  • Certificates & Points
  • Advanced Quizzing available via WP Pro Quiz
  • Expired Access removed
  • Manage Assignments
  • Lesson Timers
  • Flexible Prerequisites
  • User Reports via the ProPanel add-on
  • Group Management
  • Email Notifications
  • Use Any Media
  • Use Any Theme
  • Active Community & Forum

What Would Up The Stakes

Currently there is no way of marking a course as complete, though you can mark individuals as completing the course. Just a niggly thing but time consuming none the less.

The Bottom Line

Basic Package : $99
Full Package : $129

Optimize Press 2

What’s To Like: OptimizePress is a WordPress theme you can install on your existing or new WordPress site and is arguably one of the most feature rich landing and sales page builders out there. Now with OptimizePress 2 (OP2), the complete revamp of the old OptimizePress plugin, you can create unique and responsive, mobile friendly, landing pages that are optimized to convert.

Winning Features & Functions:

  • Secure membership portals
  • Thank you, Webinar registration, Upsell and Downsell pages
  • 200+ customizable templates, plugins and add-ons
  • Compatible with most email marketing services
  • Dynamic content display
  • OP2 comes as a theme or a plugin to use on top of your current theme
  • Live Editor allows real time editing
  • Integrates with WishList Member if you prefer to continue using it, though not necessary with OP2’s own membership software
  • You can create and sell your own templates
  • Intuitive drag-and-drop page building eliminates the need for coding
  • Your content hosted on your site
  • Mobile responsive
  • OptimizeMember plugin fully integrates with OP2 and all of its templates and payment options (PayPal, Stripe, Clickbank, Authorize.net, ccBill)

Example in Action – Jonathan Millligan at bloggingyourpassion.com

“I’ve always kept it simple. My first course was in 2010 and since I’ve created over 10 courses and tried all kinds of platforms (Wishlist, Kajabi, GumRoad). The one I prefer that looks good, and gives me the most flexibility is OptimizePress 2.0. I launched a monthly membership site on it in 2015 called Blogging Your Passion University.

I love OP 2.0 because I can personally and quickly implement ideas into the pages whenever I want. Here’s an example: http://BYPU.org I use OptmizePress to run my membership site plus my other courses and it works great.

When you purchase OP you get 3 download versions. 1) Blog theme (which includes Course and Landing Pages), 2) Plugin (so you can use with your existing blog theme if you want) 3) OptimizeMember – a modified version of the popular plugin s2member (which allows you to password protect your course pages and set up payment forms with Stripes, etc)”.

Optimize Press 2  Optimize Press 2

What Would Up The Stakes

Currently OP2 is not as easy to set-up as others, and has a slightly steeper learning curve before you start feeling familiar with its features. Also the cost may be out of the reach of some, though that said, the one-off licensing and extensive range of customizable templates really offsets this initial expense in the long run.

The Bottom Line

Core Package (3 sites) – $97
Publisher Package (10 sites) – $197
Pro Package (30 sites) – $297

Initial purchase includes 1 year of support and core updates, with minimal costs for ongoing support. Additional costs for access to OptimizePress Club with access to more templates and support.

See Demo.

Wp Courseware

What’s To Like: Another visually appealing LMS that will turn any WordPress site into your online course delivery platform, using any theme you choose. Promoted as having the most integration options for third-party membership plugins, WP Courseware soon caught the attention of many universities.

Winning Features & Functions:

  • Embed Media using protected video content via Amazon S3
  • Course Certificate with custom backgrounds including your own logo
  • Progress Widget
  • Course Outline
  • Email Notifications
  • Quizzes (by drop down or drag and drop selection) & Surveys
  • WordPress plugin
  • Traditionally Structured using Courses, Units & Modules – Units inside Modules, and Modules inside Courses
  • Easy Unit duplication
  • Users can be individually or collectively set back to the beginning of a Course, Module or Unit – again that traditional teaching model coming into play

Example in Action – Natalie Sisson
Yep that’s right I use this for the backend of my Freedom Plan, which is on a customized WordPress Theme, using Wishlist Member for member management and WP Courseware to ensure the modules are easy to navigate through.

I like that I can ensure my members take action by submitting answers to my questions, and we can see on the backend who’s done this, who’s progressing and follow up with members who are stuck (although this is a manual process).

Wp Courseware

Wp Courseware

Wp Courseware Wp Courseware Wp Courseware

What Would Up The Stakes

There is currently no way to make your course content public as all users must register to gain access. This kind of limits your ability to give sample lessons and previews to potential clients.

The Bottom Line

30-day Money Back Guarantee
2 Site License : $99
10 Site License : $125
25 Site License : $175

See Demo.

 

The Ultimate Comparison Chart of the Best Membership Software

Phew! That’s a tonne of information to take in, I know.

If this is your first look into the world of membership software then please don’t be overwhelmed.

I’ve created a summary table of the 7 great features a membership solution should have, and then measured all of the options I’ve reviewed in this megapost.

In one quick scan you can figure out which of these meet your needs and then choose the one that best fits YOUR immediate needs.

membership

Remember wayyyyy back near the beginning of this post I said “You know your tribe best so take the time to think about how they would like to receive the exclusive content you have to give”?

That’s your compass. As you investigate each software option, remind yourself that you know your tribe best, and keep going back to what they need and how they would like to receive your valuable information.

You’ve got this!

Want more in-depth information and training on topics just like this?

 
This online membership community is for action-taking entrepreneurs, like you, who want to join like-minded peers to get daily strategies for mindset, business and lifestyle, as well as accountability, monthly expert training and group coaching and the hottest updates on tools and resources to make your freedom lifestyle business a reality.
  • Thank you Natalie for this incredible post! I love the comparison chart you put together. I just wanted to add that this week we open sourced LifterLMS and it is now 100% free. I am totally biased here, but I think it’d be really cool to add price in that comparison chart 🙂 Thanks again for your work! This is really going to help people out.

    • Thanks Joshua and updated that. So awesome that you’re free!! Lucky folks planning an online course hey?!

  • Thank you Natalie for this incredible post! I love the comparison chart you put together. I just wanted to add that this week we open sourced LifterLMS and it is now 100% free. I am totally biased here, but I think it’d be really cool to add price in that comparison chart 🙂 Thanks again for your work! This is really going to help people out.

    • Thanks Joshua and updated that. So awesome that you’re free!! Lucky folks planning an online course hey?!

  • Hi Natalie – great post. I use Zippy and it has a quiz feature. You can even set up each lesson so that your students can’t progress to the next lesson until they pass the quiz (although my students sit the quiz during the last week to pass the whole course).
    I’ve also found the email support excellent (which is good because their online documentation is pretty sparse in info so I’ve had to email them a few times)).

    • That’s a great feature to have especially for progressed learning and mastery. Glad to hear you’re enjoying using it

      • I think the review by Chris Lema must have been done before they added in that feature!

  • Hi Natalie – great post. I use Zippy and it has a quiz feature. You can even set up each lesson so that your students can’t progress to the next lesson until they pass the quiz (although my students sit the quiz during the last week to pass the whole course).
    I’ve also found the email support excellent (which is good because their online documentation is pretty sparse in info so I’ve had to email them a few times)).

    • That’s a great feature to have especially for progressed learning and mastery. Glad to hear you’re enjoying using it

      • I think the review by Chris Lema must have been done before they added in that feature!

  • Tom

    Hey Natalie – you knocked it out of the park on this one. I am setting up a membership site this year and this has pretty much answered every question I had all in one post. Awesome work.

  • Tom

    Hey Natalie – you knocked it out of the park on this one. I am setting up a membership site this year and this has pretty much answered every question I had all in one post. Awesome work.

  • Great round up Natalie! I’d also add on that if anyone is using Infusionsoft or Ontraport, they really need to check out AccessAlly: http://accessally.com

    It’s really the all-in-one “above and beyond” when it comes to creating full on membership experiences that allow customers to update their credit cards, make payments, access their affiliate stats and links, and so much more! 🙂

  • Awesome post Natalie! Wish I had something like this when I set up my first membership site. No doubt this is going to help a ton of people.

    • Thanks Andrew. I really hope it does. I’ll have to keep updating it as new features get added by these platforms too

  • Awesome post Natalie! Wish I had something like this when I set up my first membership site. No doubt this is going to help a ton of people.

    • Thanks Andrew. I really hope it does. I’ll have to keep updating it as new features get added by these platforms too

  • Wow.. seriously EPIC post! Great job compiling this extensive list of online course programs and deep diving into the pros & cons of each one. Another option worth considering is Thinkific (www.thinkific.com). They are a great platform, especially for those who would prefer not to use WordPress to set up their courses/membership sites or get bogged down by all the technical steps involved in using some of the other options mentioned.

    • Cool thanks Tyler. Hadn’t heard of this one when I was doing my research but got lots of good recommendations for it so happy to have it included here in the comments

  • withfusion

    Love your article Natalie. Some great insights. I’m going to throw Zenbership (http://www.zenbership.com) into the mix though. It is open source (read: free) with all the bells and whistles!

    • Cool thanks for sharing

    • shumsal

      Have you used zenbership? I was thinking of trying it with a wordpress site and LifterLMS as the course plugin…

  • Daniel Rose

    Awesome blog Nat,perfect timing for me

  • Daniel Rose

    Awesome blog Nat,perfect timing for me

  • Gudrun Lauret

    Really awesome post, Natalie! I especially liked the detail on LMS options – I’m working with someone who’s planning to offer more “traditional”, accredited uni-style courses, so it’s good to see there’s an option for that too. Thank you!

  • Gudrun Lauret

    Really awesome post, Natalie! I especially liked the detail on LMS options – I’m working with someone who’s planning to offer more “traditional”, accredited uni-style courses, so it’s good to see there’s an option for that too. Thank you!

  • Yes they do indeed. Thanks Nathalie

  • Cool thanks Tyler. Hadn’t heard of this one when I was doing my research but got lots of good recommendations for it so happy to have it included here in the comments

  • Justin Ferriman

    Hi Natalie-

    This is a pretty epic resource for anyone wanting to run an online membership site and/or deliver courses – very well done!

    Also, thank you for including LearnDash in your list of tools!

    Kindly,
    Justin
    Founder, LearnDash

  • Justin Ferriman

    Hi Natalie-

    This is a pretty epic resource for anyone wanting to run an online membership site and/or deliver courses – very well done!

    Also, thank you for including LearnDash in your list of tools!

    Kindly,
    Justin
    Founder, LearnDash

  • I was all set on OptimizePress2 until I saw your chart. I thought it did all of that with their Optimizemember plugin. Am I wrong?

  • I was all set on OptimizePress2 until I saw your chart. I thought it did all of that with their Optimizemember plugin. Am I wrong?

  • Kimi B

    I notice New Kajabi and Thinkific aren’t listed. Is there a reason why?

    • Likely because I wanted to give people the best of the best and fewer choices rather than including every single option out there. There was a lot of time and research put into this but when/ if we update it I’m open to looking at them as have heard great things

      • Aumji

        I second that…

        In 2016 New Kajabi is THE leading platform for running membership sites and online courses.

        Built easy enough for beginners & advanced enough for professionals.

        So, yes, it would make sense to include them “when/if” in your next update to this “Best Membership Software To Run An Online Program” blogpost.

        Though surely unintentional….your post gives great contrast as to why the New Kajabi is so far ahead of its competition…

  • Kimi B

    I notice New Kajabi and Thinkific aren’t listed. Is there a reason why?

    • Likely because I wanted to give people the best of the best and fewer choices rather than including every single option out there. There was a lot of time and research put into this but when/ if we update it I’m open to looking at them as have heard great things

      • Aumji

        I second that…

        In 2016 New Kajabi is THE leading platform for running membership sites and online courses.

        Built easy enough for beginners & advanced enough for professionals.

        So, yes, it would make sense to include them “when/if” in your next update to this “Best Membership Software To Run An Online Program” blogpost.

        Though surely unintentional….your post gives great contrast as to why the New Kajabi is so far ahead of its competition…

  • Cool thanks for sharing

  • shumsal

    Have you used zenbership? I was thinking of trying it with a wordpress site and LifterLMS as the course plugin…

    • Natalie Sisson

      No I haven’t actually

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