These 5 Mistakes Kill Your WordPress Membership Site

Do you want to build a WordPress membership website?

Then you certainly want to avoid these five mistakes I made.

Let me explain:

You can create a WordPress membership site usually to sell access to an online course, downloadable products, or private communities.

I've built various membership sites using WordPress in the past, Restart Academy and the WP Summit are just two of them.

Now I'm working on a new online course about WordPress, which will be the third WordPress membership site I'm building.

I thought this might be a good timing to reflect on mistakes I made while building my first membership areas so that you don't have to make them.

Let's dive right into them:

1. Building A WordPress Membership Site Without Validating The Idea

I've made this mistake in the past, and I bet you did too.

Sometimes we just get so excited about our ideas that we start taking action to bring them to life too fast.

We don't take the time to validate our ideas, which we should.

Building a membership site without making sure people want it, is like jumping into unknown water with your head first. (Tweet This)

You don't know if you smash your head on the ground, or if you discover hidden treasures below the surface.

Here's how Infusionsoft Small Business Growth Expert Paul Sokol puts it:

“One of the most important things I learned as a Product Manager is to first before ANYTHING else is done, find the market problems you are solving for and then validate them.

You have to get really clear about who you are serving, what problems they have and then figure out how pervasive the problems are. Too often, businesses will have some ‘great idea’ and then start building solutions without verifying if it is a big enough problem for their target market.

In other words, you can create the best hamburger in the world but if your target audience is vegetarian, it isn’t going to matter.

You are going to waste a bunch of time and resources creating something nobody wants. Discover market problems, validate their pervasiveness, and then start developing solutions for it.”

Especially once I became self-employed, I had to start thinking about validating EVERYTHING that I do.

When you don't have the safety net of a paycheck anymore, making sure what you do earns money is crucial.

2. Building Your Site With The Wrong Membership Platform

There are more WordPress membership plugins out there than you'll be ever able to handle.

Choosing the right plugin to use for your membership site is tricky, as many WordPress membership plugins are very similar.

But, some have vast differences in the scope of their functionality.

Let me highlight a few key aspects that you want to consider when building your WordPress membership site:

  • Make sure the plugin allows you to configure multiple membership levels.
  • The plugin needs to integrate with common payment gateways (PayPal, Stripe, Clickbank, etc.)
  • Consider recurring payments, one-time payments or payment plans
  • It should have extensions that allow you to add coupons, one-time messages for the first login, gamification, etc.
  • If you're using a free membership plugin, make sure there's high-quality support available (that's a must for paid plugins!)

My favorite plugin for building WordPress membership sites has been OptimizePress. It's a theme builder and membership plugin.

However, I experienced big issues with OptimizePress in the past. I won't even link to it anymore.

For example:

  • They released four bug-fix updates within 24 hours, each one introducing new bugs and fixing bugs caused by the previous update. Can you imagine what it feels to debug your site 4-times within 24 hours (or paying a developer to do so) and finding the result that it's the theme developers' fault?
  • Extremely long sales pages wouldn't save without server settings being changed (good luck getting those changes on Bluehost btw.)
  • The menu on the blog and posts looks different than on the landing pages

The list goes on...

You can see why I switched to Wishlist Member to handle my membership sites.

So far I'm using it on The WP Summit site and for the WP Mastery Club, both working seamlessly.

3. Not planning the content structure inside the membership site

Most membership sites are meant to educate members on certain topics.

That's why you need to have a clear content structure in your membership area.

From conversations with highly experienced online entrepreneurs like Sean Malarkey, I learned that an important lesson:

The simpler you keep the content structure, the more active your members will be.

And it makes sense if you think about it:

What do your members want?

They want to learn. And the easier they can consume the content, the more time they'll in your membership area.

If you, however, build a membership website that comes with three different sub-levels of navigation, you'll turn off your members.

Members will ask for a refund if they can't easily consume your content.

Ease of use also includes choosing the right content format.

Most often you'll see a mix of video lessons, keynotes/screencasts, audio interviews, and written content.

The choice of content format depends on what you're teaching.

Make sure to pay attention to what formats your target audience likes most.

4. Not having a mobile-friendly WordPress membership site

Statistics like the one below show that Internet users use more mobile devices than desktops or laptops.

Internet usage statistics

Statistic from

I hope that you already knew having a mobile-friendly site is a must-have. If you do, and your WordPress membership site is responsive, skip this section.

In case your membership area isn't responsive, I highly recommend switching the theme or hiring a developer to make your membership site responsive.

The chances are that people already open your website on mobile devices.

You can easily track those statistics inside your Google Analytics.

Mobile usage of my blog

5. Not Optimizing Your Sales Funnel

When you've built your WordPress membership site, you need to have a funnel in place to turn your average reader into a lead and a customer.

That funnel usually consists of an ad campaign (or content marketing based traffic), landing pages, and an email series.

And I want you to monitor every stage of this funnel closely.

Set up split-testing to test copy variations, different layouts, or compare a written sales page against a video sales letter.

Jay and I are working on a service that sets up split-testing for you and helps you develop a raving community. Send me an email if you're interested!

You can use tools like Nelio or Optimizely for this.

Also, make sure to use heat maps on every page of your funnel, to track how far people scroll on your page and what elements they click on.

Heat map of my WP Summit membership site

Split-testing and heat maps alone can help you increase your conversion rates by several hundred percent. Yes, you read this correctly.

If you're leveraging paid traffic for your sales campaigns, make sure to use retargeting and to know about this Facebook ad strategy.

There are many reasons to leverage paid traffic, by either using Facebook Ads or Google Ads. You can even drive paid traffic for less than $1 per day, using the strategy linked to above.


Building WordPress membership sites surely isn't easy.

You have to not only manage the technical site of installing and configuring membership plugins, protecting your content from free access, and setting up payment gateways and affiliate systems.

You also need to make sure your content inside the membership area is easy to consume and follows a clear concept.

If you're confusing your members inside the lessons, you'll get more refunds than you'd like.

However, building membership sites can be extremely rewarding.

I've seen it with my WP Summit, Bryan Harris or Nick Stephenson are just two of many entrepreneurs who made a whole lot of money with their membership sites.

I truly believe that anyone can build WordPress-based membership sites - and use them to change their life. You can, for sure.

If you don't know how or to start, you'll enjoy reading my WP Workbook 101. It's a 50-page eBook outlining every step you need to take to building a profitable membership site.

And now go out, grab any resource you need, and start implementing what you just read!

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