Calan Breckon • Updated June 12, 2023
Membership sites and online businesses have been growing in 2023 and they don’t show any signs of slowing down. In the last few years, the membership subscriptions business model has grown by nearly 6x and subscription-based businesses have been growing five to eight times faster than non-subscription-based businesses.
It makes sense when you think about it. We saw a huge uptick in online learning from 2020-2022 due to the pandemic. People became more familiar with systems like Zoom conferencing and online learning became the new normal.
Building a successful online business around a membership site can be a great way for you to create consistent monthly income, build a loyal community of only your members, and teach the valuable skills you have to those wanting to learn them.
You can literally create a membership site around any topic (I once saw one all about knitting).
If you have a desire to create a membership site but you’re not sure where to start, I’m going to walk you through my top picks for the best membership site platforms and break down what they all have to offer in terms of membership site software, free trial options, key features, membership management systems and more.
You can also use these membership site platforms sites to create online courses and for selling online courses as well if you’re not looking to create and manage a membership program.
Discover what a membership site is and why you should start a membership site to generate income
My top 7 membership site platforms and why I like them (ranked in order)
Different ways and ideas to generate more income with your membership site
Final review of the best membership website platforms and which one you should use
Frequently asked questions about membership site platforms
What is a Membership Site?
A membership site platform is a place where you can host your premium members only content that only they have access to. Creating a membership site is a great way to monetize your community or followers through recurring subscriptions while also building a more personal and intimate connection with them.
A membership site platform lets you deliver high-value content and benefits to people who pay a monthly or annual subscription and it’s a way for business owners, influencers, and content creators to scale their monthly income potential for their online business.
Most of these membership programs will track membership subscriptions for you and will easily intergrate with your payment processor.
Why should you start a membership site?
There are so many reasons why you might want to start your own membership site but I’ll list my top 4 here for you.
Become a respected source of information
Create a supportive and loyal community
Earn reliable and sustainable income
Create a successful online business that brings you financial freedom
So many things that we consume today run off a subscription-based model. Anything that you have to pay monthly is a subscription model. Usually, it’s a smaller fee, but over time those recurring payments stack up.
Why wouldn’t you want to create that kind of financial stability for yourself?
Plus, you’ll be building an amazing community full of loyal and supportive people that you’ll be able to help and serve in only the way you can.
What is the best Membership site platform?
Searchie is one of the best membership site platforms for those looking to build out their membership experience so that it looks and feels like their own website.
I love Searchie because it gives you the biggest bang for your buck in my opinion. The membership website builder is built using blocks (drag and drop editor) so it’s easy for you to drag and drop sections in and out of your hub with their membership site builder. It’s super easy to customize everything from having a custom domain name, to colors and fonts, you name it.
You don’t need to be super techy in order to learn how use the Searchie website builder and in the long run if you plan on hosting both unlimited courses and a membership, this is what I would use. It’s one of the easiest membership website builders I’ve ever used that also gives a lot of freedom when it comes to design.
It was created by Stu McLaren who teaches people how to create membership sites with his program, The Membership Experience, which tells me he’s done his research and know’s exactly what a membership website needs to be successful as a membership platform.
There is one BIG reason why Searchie wins out over everyone else, and that reason is…
Searchie automatically converts all of your content into transcripts for you to download and use. It also means you have built-in subtitles and searchability in your membership website content.
If someone goes into your search bar on your membership website and looks something up, the Searchie system will crawl ALL of your member only content and present it to the user where that topic was mentioned, and it does this automatically.
This makes your paid membership website much more user-friendly because now you don’t need to lay everything out perfectly and direct people everywhere inside the membership platform. They can easily use the search bar and find the content they’re specifically looking for.
If you have a podcast, you can also upload your audio or video into Searchie and then download and use those podcast transcripts for your podcast SEO on your hosting site. We all know SEO is HUGE for discoverability and most platforms charge a premium for this feature. With Searchie, you get it built-in.
You can also have unlimited members when you create a membership website with Searchie, which is important to note. A lot of other membership site platforms charge you more depending on how many members you have so it’s nice to have unlimited members with this platform.
Searchie also doesn’t charge transaction fees for your subscription websites which is a big plus. You’ll only have to pay any transaction fees that your processor might charge.
These are just a few of the reasons why I have ranked Searchie as the best membership site software.
There is one downside though: they don’t have a native community area (yet). So if you want to build an engaged community around your membership then you’ll have to look at using something like Facebook groups, slack, or something similar.
7-Day Free Trial option
Options from $29-$166 per month
Read my FULL SEARCHIE REVIEW
Thinkific is a great place to start if you’re looking to first build a course and then move into membership sites later. It offers a free trial option where you can host a few courses on its online course platform, which is very easy to use and set up, and then you can start making some profit before you choose where to spend your money.
I’ve hosted a few courses on Thinkific and love the easy drag-and-drop set-up for your course landing page as well as the layout for the course when someone is enrolled. The downside is it’s kind of limited on what you can do with the free trial option but overall it’s pretty decent considering it’s free.
Thinkific also offers membership platform & bundle options but only after you choose a paid plan, but even then it’s not too pricy depending on what your needs are. They also have add-ons and ways to grow without needing to fully upgrade and pay a lot more before you need to.
If you’re looking for more course-based, I’d also recommend checking out ThriveCart and comparing the two because ThriveCart is only a one-time payment and offers a lot more options. It doesn’t have a free trial but it’s what I use for all my online courses and checkout software.
Option from $99-$399 per month
Read my FULL THINKIFIC REVIEW
Teachable comes in after Thinkific because in a side-by-side comparison Thinkific is a bit stronger as a membership platform, but Teachable also has its positive points as a basic membership site.
The major difference I notice between the two course creator platforms is that Teachable offers better marketing tools whereas Thinkific offers better site design to sell memberships.
Teachable also has better analytics if that’s something that you’re concerned with (and you should be if you’re serious about growing your online business and membership websites).
You can also sell courses with Teachable on its free plan and if you’re wanting to move into the membership platform option then Teachable offers its community integration on its lowest-paid tier, as well as a student referral program. This is one of the key features for its lowest plan. Whereas, Thinkific only offers membership platform options at its higher pay points.
The reason Teachable is below Thinkific for me is that Thinkific is a more dependable learning management system overall. When you get into the technical side of it, Thinkific has fewer technical problems than Teachable while trying to use the platform. I’ve never had issues with either of them, but the data is out there and it’s something to consider.
Also, you’ll have to pay transaction fees with Teachable which isn’t great for a new entrepreneur looking to maximize profits in order to grow their online business.
Options from $29-$249 per month
Read my FULL TEACHABLE REVIEW
Podia is the best membership site platform to start with the free plan and then pay-as-you-grow option that allows users to create and sell online courses, digital downloads, unlimited courses, and memberships.
It comes with some basic community membership management software functions and also manages your checkout and sales so you don’t need any coding or design skills, and it also uses a drag and drop membership site builder, which is big if you’re not a tech-savvy person.
You also have key features like the option to sort out all your bookings for 1-on-1 sessions in Podia if you don’t already have something like Acuity that you’re using for scheduling, which is a nice little bonus.
Podia also offers affiliate payouts for members, so if you have a member who refers someone else to your course or membership they can get a nice little payout, which is great when working to build your business. Most other programs charge top tier for marketing features like this.
The downer is its membership community engine is fairly simple so if you’re looking for a more robust online community option this may not be the best match or you’ll have to use something like a Facebook group, which means more work and moderation on another platform for member management.
Podia also has transaction fees of 8% so you’ll for sure end up paying for those sales and marketing features later on down the road as that 8% compounds over time. I’d rather have that money in my pocket.
If you’re looking for free alternatives for the best membership site platforms then keep scrolling as I have more listed below that you might like.
Options from $33-$166 per month
Read my FULL PODIA REVIEW
Subkit is the new kid on the block and a great option for new entrepreneurs looking to build their successful online business in one convenient spot.
The best part about Subkit right now is that it’s still in its beta so they’re offering a great deal to those who sign up now. The platform runs very similar to Patreon but has a lot of big plans to bypass Patreon in what it has to offer.
Right now if you join you won’t pay a single dollar until you start making $500 or more per month. Once you hit that number you’ll only need to pay a flat fee of $39 a month.
Everything is run through Stripe so it’s super quick and easy to set up and if you don’t know how they’ll walk you through the process when you sign up with their website builder. If you’re looking for the quickest business in a box option, this would be it.
Some key features of Subkit are you can schedule virtual sessions, offer subscriber-only exclusive content, sell courses, create multiple subscription plans, offer membership tiers, conduct surveys, create members only pages, and also run your email marketing campaigns through their platform. They also have plans for podcasting in the future as well as a few other things.
If you’re looking for a membership site that you can grow with and you want to help contribute to its growth, then Subkit is the way to go.
I really loved working with Searchie during their growth stage because I got to help them build a better product for me to use, you can get the same benefit here with Subkit where they will actually listen to what you have to say, which won’t happen with other member management platforms.
Start paying $39 a month once you hit $500 of revenue per month
Patreon is the best free and most simple option for building a following to support you.
If you’re an influencer, podcaster or content creator and you’re looking for a simple and easy way to monetize your following, Patreon is the way to go.
It’s been around for a long while now and has that trusted brand clout. Even though it’s lacking in advanced features like community options, marketing tools, a dedicated membership website builder, custom domain, and course creation, it is by far one of the fastest and easiest ways to monetize your following.
One of Patreon’s key features that it does really well is membership levels and membership tiers. It’s pretty easy to set up and you can offer different perks at different membership levels.
If you’re looking to eventually build out a proper membership management program with things like interactive community options, a mobile app, or exclusive content available only within membership pages then it’s best to go with one of the above options that offer those key features from the start.
You pay a percentage of your income as processing fees
Kajabi is at the bottom of the list because even though it offers a 14-day trial, it’s overall one of the most expensive options for a learning management system, but it’s also a business in a box with almost everything you’ll need on offer in regard to sales and marketing tools.
Kajabi does have a lot on offer for that higher price though. You have access to marketing emails, funnels, landing page templates, member management, a website (if you don’t already have an existing website), digital downloads, a drag and drop editor, and much more which is great for someone who isn’t very tech savvy but knows they need all of these things.
But, if at any point you want to change something or switch out, it’s going to be a long process to convert all of that over to other platforms that have different marketing features.
For starters, you should already have (or be ready to build) your own business website using something like Squarespace or WordPress and your next business move should be building your email list (I love using ConvertKit) because email marketing is still the best way to grow and market your business.
A great way to build an email list fast is by making a quiz people love taking. If it goes viral, you’re in email heaven! It’s easily one of the best marketing tools out there these days.
If you choose to do all that on Kajabi and then later decide to change because it doesn’t offer everything you want, then you’re looking at a lot of time and energy to migrate it all.
So think carefully about where you are in your business journey and what exactly you need and want from your membership site and marketing tools.
14-Day Free Trial option
Options from $119-$319 per month
How do membership sites make money?
There are a few ways that a membership site platform can make money. Once you’ve chosen your preferred membership platform, that works for you and your needs, you then need to decide the best ways to monetize your membership site.
You’d think that there is only one way to make money with a membership site, but you’d be very wrong in that assumption. There are ways I bet you never even thought possible!
Let’s go through there here so that you can plan out your membership site platform success so that you can build a thriving online community.
1. Subscription Fees:
This is what I like to call “The Money Fountain.” Ah, the good ol’ subscription model!
Membership sites often charge a recurring fee or subscription to access their exclusive content and perks. It’s like being a member of an elite club, except you don’t have to wear a stuffy suit or endure awkward small talk. By offering valuable content and a unique experience, this membership site keeps the money fountain flowing month after month.
Once you build a reliable membership community you won’t have any issues depending on those monthly or yearly subscriptions of recurring payments because a community is the cornerstone of any membership site platform.
People may come for your expertise and knowledge, but they will stay for the community.
2. Upselling and Add-Ons:
Supercharge your membership site experience with upsells and add-ons.
You can entice people to join you on your memberships site platform with your core offerings and then present irresistible upsells or add-ons to sweeten the deal. This could be premium content bundles, personalized coaching sessions, or snazzy merchandise.
I personally love using the ThriveCart checkout software for implementing upsells and add-ons because they make it so easy to use. It connects directly with your online payments systems like Stripe or PayPal and you can use it for as many programs as you want, like with other online courses you may have.
There isn’t a free trial but I wrote a whole review on ThriveCart and why it’s my number one program from online courses and checkout software.
These extras not only enhance the member experience but also boost your membership site revenue.
3. Tiered Memberships:
Create options for every budget by offering the membership levels and subscriptions in tiers.
One size does not always fit all, especially when it comes to membership sites. To cater to different budgets and needs, many membership site platforms offer tiered membership options.
By doing this, you can provide basic access at an affordable price while still enticing potential new members with premium membership tiers packed with exclusive goodies. This way, you capture a wider audience and maximize your moolah potential.
4. Affiliate Partnerships:
This is one of my favorite ways to help monetize not only a membership site but also any website or online courses you may have.
If you’re not familiar with affiliate marketing tools, then get strapped in because I’m about to give you the lowdown on how you can generate insane amounts of money without even needing to sell more products or programs.
Let’s take for example this post. A lot of the links in this post are affiliate links, which means if you choose to use one of the membership site platforms I’ve mentioned and you begin paying for a subscription to that program, I’m going to get a small percentage each month from your monthly payment because I was the reason you started using that platform. This doesn’t cost you anything extra as the user, but for me as the affiliate, it can add up to some big bucks!
A great way to start is with programs you already use a love. Like me, I use and LOVE Searchie. It’s what I use for my video hosting for my online courses and it’s also the best platform for creating an online membership website, hands down, which I already told you about.
Because I love and use the program I became an affiliate and now I share it with others looking for a program to start using as their membership site platform. It was a natural partnership.
I’ve now had a number of people go through my Searchie affiliate link and it generates income each month without me needing to go out and sell it again and again because those people (usually) are going to keep paying their bill month after month.
That’s the beauty of being part of an affiliate program. You do the work once and share your link, maybe through a blog post or with a friend, and you get paid over and over again. This will also compound over time so if you get good at it you can keep getting new sales each month that then turn into months of recurring payments and revenue for you.
Depending on what kind of membership you run, you can choose things in your niche and become an affiliate for them and then share that with your members.
Like how Amy Porterfield is an affiliate for Kajabi so for every one of her students that goes through her affiliate link she will make a commission each month. And it’s a perfect partnership because she teaches her students how to create online courses and they will need a platform in order to host those online courses.
It’s a win-win situation: your membership site provides valuable recommendations, the members benefit from those trusted suggestions you make, and you earn some extra dough through the process.
Create Your Own Affiliate Program
Another way you can generate income is by creating your own affiliate program for your membership website.
It sounds complicated but it’s actually super easy. Again, I use ThriveCart for my affiliate program because it’s so easy to set up and manage. Online payments run through PayPal and you can customize it all to the point that it’s fully automated!
I have my payouts automatically set to pay out to my affiliates 30 days after the initial sale but you can choose whatever time frame works for you.
I also have an automated email system that walks them through how to set up their affiliate account and how they can find their own unique affiliate code to share the program.
This is one of the best ways for you to market your membership sites!
You get your existing members to become affiliates (because they clearly already love your program) and then they go out and promote it for you. They love it because they get some money in return and you love it because you get to watch your revenue grow without needing to spend advertising dollars upfront because you’ll only spend money if you make the money first.
If you don’t already have this set up, I highly recommend you get ThriveCart for this alone because it will easily increase your month-over-month revenue. (and yes, you can also use it for your online courses as well)
Which membership site platform is right for you?
At the end of the day, it all comes down to what you’re looking for in a membership website builder and how much work you want to put into your membership site.
If you’re more on the tech side and enjoy the idea of building your own membership websites with the “drag and drop” option and you really want to customize everything and make your membership site look magical, then I’d suggest going with Searchie.
If you want to focus mostly on building courses with the option to branch out into memberships, then opt for ThriveCart. It’s a one-time pay and you can host courses on through using Searchie as your video hosting platform. Then later if you want to build a membership, all of your content is already on Searchie and ready to go. All you’ll need to do is build a membership hub on their platform.
If you’re looking for more of a more simple and easy place to just upload your content to and build more of a following without the hassle of too much tech stuff then I’d suggest giving Subkit a try since they have a free trial and you only have to start paying once you make over a certain amount of money.
This is a super exciting step for you and you’re on your way to setting yourself up with more financial security and building that successful membership site and online business you’ve always dreamed of!
I hope this review of the 7 best membership site platforms has helped you decide on which one is best for you as you launch your online business.
If you’re looking for more help or want to talk about more options, you can book a discovery call with me for 20 minutes and I’d be happy to explain more to you and give you a better idea of what direction you should go in.
You can also check out my resources page for more business tools to help you build a successful online business.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I use my membership site as my main website?
The answer depends upon your needs. While many of these platforms offer options to host a website, I would suggest finding a dedicated home for your main website for many different reasons like SEO and link building.
What's the difference between a membership and a course?
With a membership, you’re creating a monthly recurring payment for your members. With a course, you are creating just a 1-time sale and will have to constantly promote it in order to get sales each month.
What are membership platforms?
Membership platforms are online platforms that provide a space for creators, businesses, or organizations to offer exclusive content, products, or services to their members in exchange for a recurring fee or subscription.
These platforms enable creators to build a community, connect with their audience, and monetize their work by offering special perks or access to members only content. It’s like a virtual club where people can join and receive unique benefits or experiences that are not available to the general public.
What are membership only websites?
Membership-only websites are online platforms that restrict access to their content, products, or services to registered members only. These websites require users to create an account and usually charge a fee or subscription to access the exclusive offerings.
By becoming a member, individuals gain special privileges such as accessing premium content, receiving personalized benefits, participating in member-only events, or enjoying discounts on products. Essentially, these websites create a gated community where users can enjoy unique experiences and offerings that are not available to the general public.