Best membership website builders – top solutions for online communities
No matter whether you’re looking to build an online community, or make a big business out of it – a suitable membership website builder can help you reach your goals.
There are various reasons why you may want a website that contains gated content. Whether you already have a well-established audience and wish to monetize your content, or you simply want to build a community, a membership website sounds like the best option.
If you want exactly that, but you’re not sure how to do it – fear not. Building membership sites is made easy with a website builder. Several providers put a ton of advanced tools at your disposal so that you can focus on what you do best and not on the technical difficulties involved in web development.
Either way, I did all the hard work of testing the builders and picking the best ones to help you out. So, what do you say? Got a couple of minutes to see which website builder is best for creating membership websites?
Best website builder for membership sites: ranked
- SITE123 – beginner-friendly membership website builder
- Wix – membership website builder with design flexibility
- Squarespace – premium subscription website builder
- Shopify – membership builder with powerful eCommerce features
- Weebly – well-rounded provider for building membership sites
And just a heads up – if you’re not sure what to pick, just skip to the end and see what to look for in a website builder for membership sites.
1. SITE123 – beginner-friendly membership option
|Membership area||Entire membership website|
|Membership features||Forums, email marketing, gated content|
|Best for||Easy membership website building|
SITE123 is that type of website builder for membership sites that won’t give you any headaches. It’s easy to use, allows you to create an entire site available for members only, and it’s suitable for all kinds of membership content. Plus, the provider is affordable and allows both physical and digital sales.
Creating a membership site with SITE123
Building a membership site with SITE123 is a process that doesn’t take much of your time and doesn’t make you work hard for it. You only have to go through a few steps:
- Create an account
- Click the New Website button in your dashboard
- Select a niche for your site
- Give your website a name
- Go to your dashboard and then Settings and make your website accessible for members only
After that, SITE123 builds your website, and you’re free to edit at will.
Now, SITE123 doesn’t give you the option of creating one specific section for your paying customers. You have to make the entire website for members only. To do that, click on the Settings button in your dashboard and then the Website Access button.
With the free plan, the best thing you can do is set a password for your website. If you want visitors to become members and access restricted content, you need a premium plan and go with the Confirmed Members Only.
When you build a membership site with SITE123, you don’t have an option for recurring payments. Members will not be automatically charged on their credit card for every month of use.
As soon as all that is set up, you’re free to create your website. Just hit the New Website button in your dashboard, select a niche, and you can start editing your website.
SITE123’s editor is minimalistic. You don’t have a lot of design freedom, so there’s not much you can change. Buuut, that also makes it easy to use, which is why I think SITE123 is ideal for beginners.
While there is not a lot of design flexibility, you can still add images, change the color palette, go for another layout, and select another font. Personally, I think the custom design options need a revamp. Still, for a cheap and easy-to-use website builder, SITE123 offers plenty.
To find out more about SITE123’s editor, take a peek at our SITE123 review.
Now, leaving the editor aside, let’s talk about some membership-related features.
For one thing, SITE123 offers you the chance to create a forum. To do that, access the Pages section in your editor, go to the Popular category, and you’ll see the Forum option.
While forums are great for speaking directly to your membership site’s subscribers, email marketing could be an even better way to do so. By utilizing email marketing it’s possible to build relationships with current subscribers and even past subscribers – it gives you a chance to speak directly to them at a time that is convenient for them. SITE123 has a great email marketing solution – found on your website's dashboard, the mailing list lets you easily import your subscriber list, and send them marketing messages.
It’s also worth noting that SITE123 can accommodate several types of content. So, for instance, if you want to provide your gated community with your music, the builder comes with a few music players.
Photography and other visual arts are supported as well. Once again, when you create a new page, you can select photography, and you’re presented with a few gallery options.
Now, if you’re interested in monetizing your membership website, SITE123 allows you to sell both physical and digital products. However, not all premium plans support eCommerce. You’ll have to purchase at least the Professional plan.
Lastly, I want to mention that while there are no dedicated templates for membership sites, you can still take your pick. Below are a few examples of photography themes. They’re all free and look very appealing to the eye.
Bottom line is that SITE123 is a solid choice for a membership website. You can make an entire website for members only, you can sell your content with the right plan, and the editor is easy to use.
While SITE123 does offer a free plan, you won’t be able to create a membership website with it. Instead, you have to choose among 4 premium plans, and the prices vary from $6.90 and $23.18 per month.
All premium plans come with a free domain for a year, allowing you to connect your domain and remove the SITE123 floating tag. But other than that, they’re different as far as resources go.
- Basic - $7.80/month – 10GB storage and 5GB bandwidth
- Advanced - $6.90/month – 30GB storage, 15GB bandwidth, 1000 mailing list messages, 2 mailboxes, and 1 additional language
- Professional - $9.90/month - 90GB storage, 45GB bandwidth, 2500 mailing list messages, 5 mailboxes, and 3 additional languages
- Gold - $12.90/month - 270GB storage, 135GB bandwidth, 10k mailing list messages, 10 mailboxes, and 5 additional languages. eCommerce features limited to 500 orders per month are provided as well. So are credit card gateways and website statistics
- Platinum - $23.18/month - 1000GB storage, 1000GB bandwidth, 50k mailing list messages, 25 mailboxes, and unlimited languages. You also get advanced eCommerce features, SEO Advisor, multi-currency, and abandoned cart recovery
The best option for membership sites is the Gold plan. The resources are more than enough, and it allows you to sell both digital and physical content.
SITE123 is a great and affordable option. With this builder, you have access to all the basics you need for building a membership website.
- Affordable prices
- Ease of use is guaranteed
- All premium plans allow memberships
- Has eCommerce functionality
- There are no dedicated templates for membership websites
- Recurring payments are not possible
|Membership area||Specialised members' area|
|Membership features||Event calendars, forums, gated content|
|Best for||Design and editing freedom|
Wix’s popularity derives primarily from its design flexibility. Not many, if any, website builders can match its customization capabilities. Other than that, Wix allows you to create pages specifically for members, as well as for free content, and you gain access to several membership-related features.
Creating a membership website with Wix
Wix makes creating a membership website easy. The steps you have to follow are as follows:
- Create an account
- Click on the Create a New Website in your dashboard
- Choose a topic for your site
- Pick whether you want an AI to create your website or you want to select a template
- Add a member area from your editor (Add to site button)
Whether you choose to edit your website first or create a member area, it’s entirely up to you.
After you first make an account, you’ll have to create your website. Wix asks whether you want to make it yourself by choosing a template or if you want an AI to make it for you. Wix ADI (Artificial Design Intelligence) creates a website based on your answers to some questions. Even if you take this path, you can edit the result as you see fit.
Once the website is created, either by you or Wix ADI, you’ll come across the editor.
While you can edit your entire site with the ADI editor, it is pretty limited (you can read more about it in our Wix review). For that case, I want to speak more about the regular editor here.
To start off, Wix’s regular editor is not that difficult to use. Although some people may argue that so much design flexibility can prove to be confusing for beginners, I beg to differ. Once you find out where everything is and what it does, it’s all smooth sailing. You can change the background, play with the colors and layout, and images are highly customizable.
Now, moving on, Wix allows you to create a member area within your website. To do that, just click on the Add to Site button (the big plus sign on in the left menu) and go down to Members.
You can also see some related features as you scroll down. Not to mention, Wix allows you to post free content for unregistered visitors as well.
After the member area is created, you can access a menu that includes member cards, pages, a login bar, and a menu.
Additionally, Wix provides some membership-related features. One of them allows you to create a forum for your community. Others include groups, pricing plans, file sharing, and online courses.
In case you don’t find what you need in your editor, visit Wix’s app market for more. For instance, if you want to sell artwork, you can choose between a few free print-on-demand apps.
For other types of media, let’s say audio files, Wix has a podcast player.
Needless to say, anything you may need for a membership website can be found either in the editor or the app market.
Additionally, an events calendar can be used on your website to show your visitors the events based on dates on your website. So why would a membership site need an events calendar? Well, it is an organized way to show the upcoming events – they could be a new subscriber-only product launch or a new online course.
To do this on a Wix website, you’ll need to choose between quite a few apps, but I highly recommend two – The Google Event Calendar or Wix Bookings apps, both of them created by Wix.
When it comes to eCommerce, not only does Wix have specific plans for it, but it also delivers a ton of features. You can sell both physical content and digital downloads. All of that with minimal effort. There are a ton of apps for that.
As far as templates are concerned, Wix doesn’t have any specially designed for membership websites. Even so, the provider has over 800 templates for all major niches, and they all look professionally made. Here are a few for the music industry:
Wix’s templates look appealing and they’re highly customizable. I’m sure you’ll find one that suits you.
Overall, Wix is an excellent choice if you want to build a membership site. It comes with a member area, the templates look amazing, and tons of membership features will help you create a community around what you have to offer.
While Wix is known for its design flexibility, it’s also known for its high prices. While there are 4 regular plans, you’re planning on selling subscriptions (at least), which is why I recommend a business plan. There are 3 of them, and the prices range from $13.50 to $24.50 per month.
All plans include secure online payments, recurring payments, customer accounts, and custom domain free for 1 year. But here's how the plans differ:
- Business Basic - $17/month – 20 GB of storage, 5 video hours, customer accounts
- Business Unlimited - $25/month – 35 GB of storage, 10 video hours, $300 ad voucher
- Business VIP - $35/month – 50 GB of storage, unlimited video hours, customized reports
A good plan to start with is Business Unlimited. You can sell subscriptions and unlimited products, and there are enough resources to manage a successful membership website.
The bottom line is that Wix is one of the best website builders for membership websites. You can create a member area, as opposed to an entire gated website, there are a ton of related features, and ease of use is not an issue.
- Top notch eCommerce
- Extensive app market
- No dedicated templates for membership websites
- More premium prices
|Membership area||Specialised members' area|
|Membership features||Social media integration, gated content|
|Best for||Visually pleasing websites|
If you’re looking for a more premium website builder for your membership website, you may want to consider Squarespace. It allows you to add a member area on your website, there are dedicated templates for membership websites, and you can offer discounts to your subscribers.
Creating a membership website with Squarespace
Just like most website builders, Squarespace is easy to use. To create a membership website, you have to follow the steps below:
- Create a Squarespace account
- Click on the Create Website button in your account dashboard
- Select a membership template
- Click on the Members Area in the editor’s settings (left menu)
- Set up and manage your member area
First things first, once you make an account, you’ll be taken to your dashboard, which is easy to navigate. Then, you click on the Create Website button, and you’ll have to select a template.
The good news is that Squarespace has dedicated templates for membership websites, and they look beautiful. Well, all Squarespace’s templates look beautiful – you can see what they look like in action on our Squarespace review.
After choosing your template, you have to name your website, and then you’re taken to your editor. I found it very beginner-friendly, and the fact that it has that large menu on the left makes it even better.
I would like to mention here that Squarespace relies primarily on built-in integrations rather than an app market. Hence, the editor includes pretty much anything you need.
As for design flexibility, Squarespace doesn’t have too much or too little. It allows you to play with images, fonts, and colors. But that can be said about most website builders. Recently, the provider added a new feature called Site Styles, where you can manage everything design-related globally.
Now, moving up to membership-related features, Squarespace allows you to create an area for members only. You can still offer free content, but people can pay to access the community you want to build.
To create a member area, just go to Settings in your editor, and there you’ll see the option for Member Area.
After you click on it, you’re redirected to a page where you can manage your members, set up payments, and offer discounts.
The whole process is pretty intuitive, and Squarespace throws in a tip here and there. There’s even a quick tutorial on the matter.
This is also where you can set up a price and whether a particular member can access your website’s content with a set amount, a recurring fee, or free.
Other than the fact that you can create a member area, Squarespace allows you to build a forum as well. However, not how you’d expect – Squarespace makes you use a third-party solution you’ll have to integrate. Squarespace stands by this decision, which is why its official website adopted a similar option. A good example for building a community is Invision Community, Florum, and Discourse.
Of course, that means you have to pay for having a forum. Invision, for instance, has a free trial, but it costs $49/month afterward.
Another aspect I should mention is that Squarespace can accommodate different kinds of content. You can add audio files and videos. If you want to create a gallery, the provider made some tasteful-looking ones.
Additionally, a good online presence is extremely important for any kind of website, not only a membership one. For that case, Squarespace offers social media integration. There’s the social share for blog posts and new products to your store, which could be a great way to announce your new gated content for your subscribers.
Not to mention, there are also share buttons. You can place them anywhere on your page for users to quickly share your site through Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.
Lastly, Squarespace allows you to sell online. However, you’d have to choose the Business plan (at least) to be able to make a sale. Still, the provider offers everything you need for your store, such as customer accounts, orders, discounts, print on demand, etc.
Overall, Squarespace can help you build and run a successful membership website, and the editor is easy to use. Most features are in-house, there are dedicated templates, and you can create a member area and provide free content for non-paying visitors.
Squarespace offers 4 plans, and the prices range from $12 to $40 per month.
All of Squarespace’s plans include a free domain for a year, SSL certificates, unlimited bandwidth and storage, SEO tools, access to extensions, and basic metrics. This is how the plans differ:
- Personal - $12/month – it won’t allow you to create a member area. There are no available eCommerce features
- Business - $18/month – advanced analytics and eCommerce with a 3% fee
- Basic Commerce - $26/month – customer accounts and professional emails as well as no fee for eCommerce
- Advanced Commerce - $40/month – selling subscriptions and abandoned cart recovery
The Basic Commerce plan is an excellent option for a membership website. You can create subscriptions, won’t have to pay a transaction fee, and have access to customer accounts.
All in all, I think Squarespace is a great idea for a membership website. It’s easy to use, the plans are inclusive, and you don’t have to look through an app market to find everything you need. Sure, it’s not the cheapest, but Squarespace can give you what you need.
- The website creation process is streamlined
- Dedicated membership site templates
- Squarespace relies on in-house features
- Areas for both paying and non-paying visitors
- You have to pay if you want a forum
- The prices are on a premium level
|Membership area||Entire membership website or a specialised members' area|
|Membership features||Customer tags, forums, easy selling|
|Best for||Easy selling of digital and physical products|
Shopify is the go-to solution for all those who want to create an online shop with minimal effort. However, it’s also very useful for a membership website. It allows you to make parts of your website unavailable to users that are not registered. Plus, you can create a forum.
Creating a membership website with Shopify
Creating a membership website with Shopify is a bit different because this platform was built with online shops in mind. Consequently, you’ll rely more on apps than in-house features. Here’s what you have to do:
- Create a Shopify account
- Click on the Online Store in the menu on the left
- Customize your website
- Download an app to create member areas or customer tags so that only members have access to certain products
As I said, the creative process is different. First of all, after you create your account, you’ll be redirected to your dashboard. The first thing you’ll notice is that you won’t find an editor but a very blog-like area.
To customize your online store, you have to click on the Online Store button on the left. There, you can make blog posts, change the aspect of your store, add and manage pages, etc. You can also change your theme, and while Shopify has free templates, some of them are paid and can be pretty expensive.
The templates are limited in number, but we can’t argue with free stuff, can’t we?
If you want to see how the paid and free templates compare, take a look at our Shopify review.
Now, as for the reason why you’re here, Shopify allows you to create member areas. However, not the way you’re used to. You’ll have to rely on apps.
For that, here are a few membership plugins:
- Customer Fields ($12/month) – an app that allows customers to submit their information which you have to approve. Once you do that, the exclusive content in the member area becomes available to them. You can also assign customer tags. The tagged customers can access parts of your website that unregistered users can’t.
- Locksmith ($9/month) – similar to Customer Fields, it’s an app that allows you to make some parts of your website accessible only with a password. Customer tags are present here as well.
- Xenforum ($19/month) – forum app. Building a membership community in the center of your store has numerous benefits, some of which are revenue-related.
- FetchApp (free plan + premium plans from $5/month) – an app for selling digital products, such as artwork or music.
In addition to these apps, to get the most out of your membership site you should utilise email marketing is always a great idea. While there is a Shopify in-house solution for email marketing, you can always look into third-party apps for this case. For instance, I would highly recommend checking out Klaviyo – this app offers precise targeting, in-depth analytics, and better audience segmentation.
Lastly, Shopify has a Files area where you can upload all kinds of media, such as images, videos, blog posts, and so on, and only members can access them. To upload a file of any kind, just go to Settings in your dashboard.
Overall, Shopify may not be your traditional membership platform. Still, if you want to build a gated community within your online shop, Shopify gives you the chance. Most features require an app (and an extra expense at that), but you’ll end up with a professional end product.
Shopify is on the more expensive range of website builders. There are 3 plans, and the prices are between $29 and $299 per month. And that’s without all the money you pay for apps.
All three plans allow you to create an online store and sell unlimited products. Features such as abandoned cart recovery, sales channels, free SSL certificates, discount codes, access to over 4000 apps, and more are available. But what about the differences?
- Basic Shopify - $29/month – eCommerce, unlimited products, 2 staff accounts, multiple sales channels, Shopify POS lite, 4 inventory locations
- Shopify - $79/month – eCommerce, 5 staff accounts, 5 inventory locations, professional reports, lower commissions on credit card payments
- Advanced Shopify - $299/month – eCommerce, 15 staff accounts, 8 inventory locations, advanced reports, 3rd party calculated shipping rates, lower commissions on credit card payments
If you want to build a membership website, the Basic Shopify plan is more than enough. It has all the necessary features for a simple website already, and anything else you might need can be simply implemented with the use of apps.
Needless to say, Shopify is not the cheapest option for a membership site. However, it gives you access to all necessary features and allows you to build the community you want for your store.
- All plans come with eCommerce functionalities
- You can create member areas and customer tags
- Offers a variety of apps
- It’s expensive
- No dedicated membership site templates
|Membership area||Entire membership website or a specialised members' area|
|Membership features||Member groups, forums, email marketing|
|Best for||Simple membership website building|
Weebly is yet another excellent website builder for membership sites because it’s affordable. It allows you to create an entire site for members only or create specific sections that are not accessible for unregistered visitors. It’s also very easy to use.
Creating a membership website with Weebly
Creating a membership website with Weebly won’t take a lot of time and effort. You have to do the following:
- Create an account
- Click on the Edit Site button in the top-right of your dashboard
- Access Settings in the top bar of your editor
- Click on the Members button that appears in the left menu
The very first thing you have to do is to create an account. Visit the website, give your information, and that’s pretty much it. Once you do that, you’ll come across the dashboard. After, click on Edit Site in the top-right of your dashboard, and you’ll reach your editor.
Weebly’s editor is pretty minimalistic. It’s a simple drag-and-drop editor that you’ll find easy to use. In fact, I think it’s excellent for beginners. Click on the Build button at the top, and on the left, you have a long list of elements you can simply drag on whatever page you want to edit.
If you’re not convinced on how easy it is, our Weebly review focuses on exactly that.
Keep in mind that as far as design is concerned, you don’t have many options. Still, you can find several templates in different categories that look pretty good.
Personally, I would choose a template from the Personal category for a membership website. There are no dedicated themes for memberships, and the personal ones look more artistic, in my opinion.
Regarding members and what you can do for them, Weebly allows you to create the entire website for members only. On the other hand, you can set up just certain sections for your subscribers. To do that, access Settings in your editor, and then click on the category that says Members.
However, keep in mind that the free plan and the entry-level plan won’t do much for you here. It’s also worth noting that the number of members depends on which plan you purchase. The entry-level plan allows zero, and the Pro plan only 100. The others include unlimited subscribers.
Other than creating member areas, Weebly lets you create a community forum. However, I didn’t find any setting that allowed me to do that within the editor. After some research, I found out that I had to embed a third-party community forum. I tried out Nabble, and I found it easy to use.
When it comes to email marketing, Weebly offers some good tools. A lot of them are free, however, doing proper marketing through this platform makes you pay extra. Personally, I really enjoyed Weebly’s email-composing feature. This feature offers around 15 quite nice pre-designed templates and an editor, very similar to the website builder itself.
There’s also a section for automated emails – which can be used for something like a welcome email for new subscribers or offering additional products for the existing membership site users.
Another related feature is that Weebly lets you create member groups. To access this setting, just follow the same path you use when setting up the member area.
As far as selling online is concerned, three of Weebly’s plans come with eCommerce capabilities. You can sell both physical and digital products. Still, if you want reviews and product categories, you need to opt for the Business plan. Plus, for some extra features, the app market can help.
Lastly, you can create multiple pages with Weebly and upload whatever media you want. And you can make all of that accessible to your members only.
The bottom line is that Weebly is not the most potent membership website builder there is. Even so, it’s ideal for beginners and small websites, you can create separate areas for registered and unregistered visitors, and you can even sell online.
Weebly is an affordable membership website builder. It has 4 plans, and the prices range from $5/month to $38/month. However, only 3 of them allow you to create a member area.
All of the premium plans include a free SSL certificate, the possibility to connect a custom domain, SEO tools, and pop-up notifications. As for what’s different:
- Pro - $12/month – free domain for 1 year, unlimited bandwidth and storage, site stats, site search, 100 members, password-protected pages, eCommerce features, sell 25 products
- Business - $25/month – everything from Pro, except that it allows unlimited members and has 0 Weebly transaction fees. You can sell unlimited products, and you can have reviews and product categories. Advanced eCommerce statistics are available as well
- Business Plus - $38/month – the only difference between this and the previous plan is that Business Plus comes with Abandoned Cart Recovery
The best starting point is the Pro plan. 100 members are more than enough to begin with, and you have enough resources to go around. Besides, you can always upgrade if your membership website does well.
Overall, Weebly is a minimalist yet efficient website builder for membership websites. It’s affordable, easy to use, and you have enough features to provide your members with the membership content they want.
- Affordable prices
- You can create an entire website or specific areas for members only
- The editor is very easy to use
- The editor doesn’t allow much customization
- You won’t find dedicated templates
Best website builder for membership sites: final recommendations
The website builders I described above should help you with your future project. But just for a quick recap, let’s take another quick look at the strenghts of all the best membership website builders:
- SITE123 is affordable and fast – your membership website will go live in no time
- Wix provides amazing design customization and excellent templates
- Squarespace offers premium in-house features for membership sites and stunning templates
- Shopify delivers a community for your online store, but it can get pretty pricy
- Weebly is simple, affordable, and efficient. Its minimalistic editor is ideal for beginners
On the whole, I genuinely believe that one of the builders above will meet your needs. If not, here’s how to make your own choice.
What a good website builder for membership sites should include
The downside of having many options is getting lost in them and not knowing which way to go. However, if you want to have a basic understanding of what to look for in a membership website builder, you should develop a filter that won’t let you down.
But first things first, look into whether you want a whole membership site or a regular site that offers member areas. Not all membership website builders are created equal, and some won’t let you create just a member area. Pick the membership option that you think is best for you.
With that out of the way, here’s what you should look for when building a membership site:
- A forum feature – while the revenue aspect of a membership site is very appealing, another point of creating a membership site is to build a community, and a community needs to…communicate. Adding a forum can bring a lot of benefits. For one, it creates a lot of talk about what you have to offer.
- Media features – you must have the ability to showcase whatever your members subscribe for. That is why a good website builder will allow you to upload all kinds of file types.
- eCommerce capabilities – let’s face it! You’re trying to sell something, either only the subscription or additional products. That’s why the website builder of your choice should provide eCommerce features.
- Good marketing – to make your membership site successful, you’ll have to make yourself known! Choose a website builder that offers all the marketing features you could possibly need based on your audience – I highly recommend looking into good SEO tools for high rankings in search engines, email marketing features, and social media integration. By utilizing features that like you’ll be able to share resources, courses, important updates, and access to other benefits.
Some people may argue that templates are a crucial part of a membership website builder. I beg to differ. Sure, dedicated templates are always welcome, but any kind of template will always work with what you have to show.
Best website builder for membership sites: FAQs
How do I create a membership website?
To create a membership site, you’ll first need to decide on your membership model (an entire site or just an area). Then, choose a membership platform – I highly suggest trying out SITE123, Wix, Squarespace, Shopify, or Weebly. After that, publish your membership site and announce your new membership offering via social media or email marketing.
How do I create a free membership website?
You can’t create a free membership website. While some builders have free plans, they usually don’t offer membership-related features with those plans.
Do membership sites make money?
Yes, membership sites make money. The revenue source is represented by subscriptions and sales. It all depends on what you need the membership website for.