How To Launch A Membership Site – Part 3: Technology

Published by 38 Comments

Read previous articles in this series:

Puzzle PiecesThe pieces of the puzzle to produce a successful membership site are coming together. Preeminence (credibility, reputation, key contacts) and marketing (an ability to communicate with your prospective members) are in place, or at least you know you need them to be in place, and now you can work on putting together the nuts and bolts technology to deliver your membership service.

To build your membership site you need to consider the following requirements:

  • How will you protect member resources from public access?
  • How will you take payments and process registrations/deliver resources?
  • What content features will your membership site contain (audio, video, forums, chatrooms, webinars)?
  • What email list service will you use to communicate with and how will it integrate with the rest of your membership site?
  • How will you handle affiliates – track referrals, offer promo tools, pay out commissions and ingrate everything with your email list service?

As is typical with web technology, you have quite a few options to choose from to satisfy all the above requirements. The challenge is coming up with the right combination of tools that meet your needs and work well together.

My process to decide what technology to use started a long time before I launched Blog Mastermind, in fact years before I even decided to produce a membership site at all.

Before deciding to produce a mentoring program for professional bloggers I was planning to release an information product, an e-book along with some videos. This was about a year into my blogging career and at the same time I made my very first technology choice, which (eventually) impacted the structure of Blog Mastermind. I made the decision to use AWeber as my email list provider (AWeber review is here).

Thankfully AWeber integrates with pretty much every mainstream membership site software program, so although I made my email autoresponder decision early, it had little impact on what software I used to meet the rest of my membership site needs.

Membership Site Software

Choosing a program to protect membership content was and still is the hardest part of the technology decisions you have to make. Eventually I switched from releasing a book to an online course, a course on building blog traffic called Blog Traffic School (I still have a no longer updated blog for the site and an 80% finished course I hope to one day release in the future in some shape or form).

With the decision to release a course I had to find a way to password protect the course materials using a membership system. I begun as always by researching online, checking forums to see what people were recommending and talking about, searching Google results and compiling a list of the market leaders in the online membership site software industry.

Some of the programs I considered were -

Some programs, such as MemberGate, were way out of my price range, so I disqualified them immediately. Others seemed quite good, but after research turned out to either lack the features I wanted, or the demo version had such complicated navigation that I felt it would take forever to install and configure the software.

In the end I settled on aMember (not because it sounds like AWeber!) mainly because it had plug-ins to integrate with common forum software programs, including the one I was using at the time, Invision Power Board forums, and even a plug-in to integrate with WordPress blogs. I liked the idea of using a blog to deliver a course about blog traffic, so my initial plans were to use the plug-in to protect a special members only blog and have an additional resources area as well.

Switching to Butterflies

I began the process of setting up aMember myself, a critical mistake given my tech skills were not up to the task. It took me so long to make any progress that I found my launch plans pushed forward month by month.

It was around this time that I took notice of Butterfly Marketing. Although Mike Filsaime had released his flagship product almost six months earlier, it wasn’t until I began to seriously consider releasing an information product and really delve into the Internet marketing world that Butterfly Marketing became a real choice.

I decided to purchase Butterfly Marketing, the full home study version for $997 (just before they raised the price to $1497), and use the 30 day trial period to assess whether it would suit my needs.

It was because of reading the techniques that Mike talked about in Butterfly Marketing and through watching all the various product launches that ALL seemed to do so well, which used Butterfly Marketing style tactics combined with Product Launch Formula strategies, that I decided Butterfly Marketing was the software to go with.

Butterfly Marketing Reviews

If you want my definitive review of the Butterfly Marketing strategies, see my Butterfly Marketing Manuscript review.

I also reviewed the software program you can use to implement the strategies in this article – Butterfly Marketing Software Review

With the power of hindsight I can now tell you that although Butterfly Marketing is still my top choice to manage a membership site at this time, aMember is possibly a better choice if you don’t really care too much about having an integrated affiliate system.

The technical challenges and lack of a dedicated software company backing up Butterfly Marketing result in some nasty implementation issues. I still love the simplicity of Butterfly Marketing (in terms of user presentation, not installation and customization), but I don’t like how much time and money it’s costing to get it to work right.

AMember is a solid membership system and although I think it tends to over complicate and create too many layers to get some things done, it does feel more “solid” than Butterfly Marketing, plus it has the backing of a dedicated software company updated and supporting the program.

These are the only two membership software programs I feel qualified to comment on given my own experiences and you shouldn’t follow my actions blindly with your membership site. Investigate all your options given your specific needs. There are new membership systems in development, so your options will improve.

Taking Payments

Paypal

I chose Paypal (read my Paypal review) as my payments processor and while I love the simplicity and the fact that Paypal integrates with every membership software program you could think of (in fact you could use just AWeber with Paypal to create a membership service if you just want to keep things very simple – here’s how you do it), it has come with its own set of unique issues.

Paypal has a nasty habit of cancelling subscriptions if it thinks your customers may not be able to make payments, for example if their credit card has issues. I’ve had a few members who have had their subscription with Paypal cancelled without wanting to leave my program.

This has created yet another layer of support to get people back on to subscriptions and an annoying process of having to follow up every cancellation to see if they actually intended to cancel or not.

2CheckOut & Paymate

I also registered an account with 2Checkout.com as a potential emergency back-up option if something went wrong with my Paypal accounts, although 2Checkout does not have a subscription option.

I also have an active account with Australian Paypal clone, Paymate.com.au left over from the days when I used it for BetterEdit.com. Paymate is only for Aussies though and also does not have a subscription option.

ClickBank

Clickbank recently launched a subscription option, which I have not tried, but when I took a brief look the fees they were charging were quite scary. Clickbank has the advantage of an in-built affiliate program, so a good option is to combine aMember with Clickbank and you have the membership plus affiliate and payment components handled, just like with Butterfly Marketing (and there is a plug-in you can use with Clickbank to replicate the Butterfly Marketing style promo tools affiliate management features – it’s called EasyClickMate).

Clickbank also sends you simple payments that come from one source – Clickbank – not your individual customers, which makes accounting for the income a lot easier. I also have concerns about Paypal’s subscription integration with Clickbank (Clickbank can use Paypal as a payment processor), which might suffer from the same unwanted cancellation problem I mentioned above, and trying to recreate it with Clickbank would probably be a nightmare.

PayDotCom

Mike Filsaime’s PayDotCom.com is a Clickbank clone, and a good one, which also has a subscription feature you can use to take payment with. I’ve not tried it, but on initial inspection it looks good and I know Mike pours a lot of money into keeping PayDotCom going because last I heard it was his second biggest earner in his business empire. I also believe it’s Mike’s only real “business”, where a lot of his other income sources are information products that make a big splash upon launch, but do not sustain high cashflow levels like PayDotCom – the business model is just much better with PayDotCom.

PayDotCom can use Paypal as a processor, so you have the unwanted cancellations issue again, and there are fees, so like with Clickbank, you get the Paypal fee added to the PayDotCom fee, which adds up. I don’t feel qualified to rate PayDotCom, but I do think it’s worth investigating as it appears quite robust and again there is an in-built affiliate program, so that aspect of your membership site is handled.

Other options

The above providers are what I considered for Blog Mastermind and still consider for future membership sites. I’m also considering a fully fledged merchant solution with a local bank, which would hopefully eliminate unwanted cancellations. I’d offer it as an addition to Paypal because many people prefer to use their Paypal balance rather than their credit card (see this article to explain why not having Paypal is not an optionWhy Paypal Is A ‘Must Have’ Payment Option For Your E-Business).

I recommend you have at the very least two payment options ready to go, although you can run fine with just Paypal, which is what I am doing with Blog Mastermind as I type this article. Remember that people do not have to have a Paypal account to pay with Paypal, they can use a credit card without signing up. Also, for certain countries Paypal has a fully fledged merchant option, so the payment can be seamless and branded as your own.

Audio, Video and Forums

I’ve been a user of audio in my Entrepreneurs-Journey podcast and in streaming format on the blog for years, so it was natural for me to include an audio component of my membership site too. To do this I continued to use the combination of Audacity audio recording and editing software, with iTunes for conversion. We also added an embedded mp3 player by taking the code from Audio Player plug-in for WordPress so I could have a streaming version of the audio along with a downloadable MP3 version.

With the launch of Blog Mastermind I finally delved into video, capturing the content with my Logitech QuickCam Pro 5000 Webcam. I use Camtasia to do screencast video recordings and export video in a web safe format, usually flash.

I use the very popular vBulletin forum software, although in the past I’ve used Invision Power Board and PhpBB is a good free open source forum script, but decided this time to go with the industry leading software vBulletin.

Unfortunately the forum is not integrated with my membership site directly and members have to create a second user account to use the forums. I also use a basic password protection feature to protect the member’s only forums, creating yet another password.

The lack of a single sign-on has caused a few of my members some problems, although it’s a very small percentage. This is primarily the fault of Butterfly Marketing, which unless you custom hack it, does not speak to other software programs. AMember currently has the advantage of a good selection of plug-ins to integrate with popular software packages, so you can establish a single sign-on process for your members, but be aware it’s not foolproof, I had problems getting it to work perfectly back when I was using aMember with Invision Power Board.

You can also offer features such as live webinars and teleconferences (try GoToMeeting), chatrooms (most forums have a chatroom plug-in or you can get standalone software) and provide downloadable software (if you provide custom software it can be a huge competitive advantage and value-add).

The sky really is the limit when it comes to the technology you can use to deliver membership features, but I recommend you definitely consider using audio and video whenever feasible. The tools are free or very affordable and you don’t have to be a professional. Camtasia screencasts are particularly powerful, easy to produce and your members will appreciate the multiple media formats. I think a forum is also a must have as it allows your members to create a resource and meet each other in a community format.

Affiliate Management

I spent a lot of time searching for an appropriate affiliate script to manage my affiliate program. Before I committed to Butterfly Marketing I was going to do like so many other Internet marketers do – find a standalone affiliate program and run it separately from my membership site script. Eventually I realized how much more powerful it was if the two systems could be integrated, which is THE single biggest reason I went with Butterfly Marketing, but for the sake of helping your research process, here’s what I looked at before making a decision.

In hindsight, I would recommend Butterfly Marketing only if you think the integration is critical and you want the one time offer feature. The affiliate module in Butterfly Marketing is simple, that’s an advantage in terms of usability, but it’s a disadvantage in terms of features. Every affiliate script listed above has many more features and statistics, since they are dedicated affiliate scripts.

Of the list above I seriously considered Clickbank and iDevAffiliate as my first two choices. Clickbank for reasons I have already stated (the huge affiliate marketplace) and iDevAffiliate because I’ve seen many products use it, including Aaron Wall’s SEOBook.

Lately many of the big Internet marketers are moving to a full CRM (customer relationships management) system to manage their affiliate program and the service of choice is Infusionsoft.

Perry Marshall, Richard Schefren, Andrew and Daryl Grant and according to the Infusionsoft website, Dan Kennedy and Michael Gerber are all users of the software. Besides offering a robust affiliate solution, the integrated user management features allow you to carefully track a person through all stages of your business, which is great for your sales funnel.

I have no back-end experience with Infusionsoft, so I can’t say how good it is, although I hear it’s quite challenging to get working due to all the features. It’s also not cheap, in the vicinity of $300-$500 a month but it does everything – salesforce integration, email list marketing, shopping cart, contact management and of course – affiliate management too. If you are serious about your tracking then Infusion could be the all in one option you need, but if you are like me, just getting started, it’s overkill.

1ShoppingCart

1ShoppingCart is worth considering as an option for a shopping cart and affiliate program. It also has a digital delivery service, ad tracking and a host of other features. It’s not the best at anything, but it does everything reasonably well and if you like all in one solutions, this might be just the ticket, however it doesn’t handle membership management, but it should plug straight into whatever membership script you choose.

You can read my review of 1ShoppingCart for more information about the service.

Putting It All Together

As you can see, constructing your membership site is no easy task. You face a lot of options for each component of the system and you have to be careful when making a decision that you get the best combination of tools given your requirements.

There are a lot variables to consider with each decision, many of which I have touched upon in previous articles and many more that I could talk about, but this article is long enough already.

Once you know what you want your membership site to do, the technology decision process can begin. When you do decide upon the tools you will use, from there it’s just a matter of putting the pieces together and your tech team should be able to do it for you. This is a task that has to be done, but once set up, tested, and functioning correctly, you have the foundation you need to deliver a successful membership site.

Next up in this series on how to launch a membership site we will look at the prelaunch and launch phase.

Yaro Starak
Membership Technologist

About Yaro Starak

Yaro Starak is the author of the Blog Profits Blueprint, a report you can download instantly to learn how to make $10,000 a month, from only blogging 2 hours per day. You can find Yaro on Facebook, Twitter and .

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38 Comments

  • Yaro, this is a great series and it probably wouldn’t hurt to put all this info together in an ebook. For now clickbank is working fine for me for my ebooks.

    I have signed up with paydotcom and going to give it a try for the next one I am working on now.

  • Yaro, you sure are focused with what you do. You reveal such great tactics and insight on how to turn blogging into so much more. Your post on the salesfunnel was a real eye opener as I never heard of it before.

    One unrelated question though. How long did it take you to write Blog Profits Blueprint eBook? I’m curious as to how much effort someone usually puts into producing a good quality eBook.

  • I was wondering what would be a good system to protect content behind in terms of a membership site so thanks for the recommendation

  • I was using clickbank as a publisher (try to make money of their affiliate programs) and I’ve got the impression (plus I’ve even read Darren Rowse expressing this opinion) that they have a bit bad reputation, since they sell many ebooks and other stuff that’s often of too low quality for the price.

    That’s comparing it with the likes of linkshare, for example, which seems to hold quality brands.

  • You’ve really laid it out well and a membership site is a huge job. I’ve had one for more than 10 years and need help boosting conversions, so I’ll keep reading your blog!

  • Hi Yaro,
    The Membership Site concept is a Hot Buzz right now. Having run a nenbership site for nearly 10 years now, I can tell you that this is the best way I know to make money online. Find a special interset group and create a place for them to gather and participate can be very rewarding in many ways.

    I have not only made a boatload of money, I have developed friendships that have lasted for years.

    Thank you for creating this great series on Membership sites!

    Your Friend,

    Steve

  • Thorough roundup of the options Yaro. I am using aMember with PayPal and found it operates very well – very easy to use for subscribers. The setup was very fast – though rather than outsource the whole setup, I just outsourced the hard bits.

  • Yaro

    YOU DA MAN!

    Thanks for the very helpful post. I really appreciate you putting this information together. I found the tips about Clickbank and Amember particularly useful!

    Take care!

    Gideon Shalwick

  • Hey Gideon, thanks! – We still need to do that interview. Things have calmed down for me a bit now so I can meet up sometime if you are still keen.

  • Although I do not have a membership site currently on my todo’s I believe it may not be too far in my future. Your information is insiteful and I will bookmark it for future reference.

    Thanks,
    Brad

  • Yaro,

    WOW! That was fantastic information. I am putting together a membership site and I am glad to see I am not the only one who has gone back forth on the technology to use.

    I can’t wait to read the rest of this series!

  • Money Sxey Traffic – It took me about 3-4 weeks to write the Blog Profits Blueprint, but that was flat out writing every day because I had a deadline for launch. Normally I’d write something of that length in about three months of leisurely writing.

  • Great series Yaro. Lots of terrific information that’s I’m soaking in and trying to make heads or tails of.

    When looking at the various bulletin board options can you tell me how the subscription services in VbBulletin and InvPwrBrd racked and stacked? Are the built in subscription options they offer not acceptable?

    I’m wondering how they differ from the AMember software options – why you would use both.

  • Thanks for this Yaro, I am creating my first membership site so I was very glad to find these articles.

    I am using Launch Formula Marketing which is very strong on the OTO, JV, Affiliate side of the business. A simpler software is EasyMemberPro

    Thanks for all the technical detail

    alex

  • Yaro,

    Thanks for the long and informative posts you’ve been doing on this series. As someone mentioned above, I’m sure there’s an ebook here that you could sell.

    I’ve been looking for a way to diversify (currently make most of my money with Adsense), and a membership program is definitely something on the list of possibilities. I’m realizing (in part thanks to your posts!) that it may be more work than I want to take on by myself, but it’s good to know that before getting started.

  • Hey Yaro,

    Mate – this is a great information resource! Awesome material. Thanks for sharing another part of the journey so freely.

    And great to finally talk to you this morning ;)

    Cheers,
    Mike

  • No problem Mike, great to “see” you too!

  • wow.. it’s a long post.. great stuff.. learn a few new tips from this post =)

  • Alex – thanks for the heads-up about Launch Formula Marketing – I didn’t know about that one and it sounds good on paper.

    I might have to email the owner to see if I can try it.

    PaintChip – The in-built membership functions in forum software are good, but clearly not robust enough for a large membership site. You just don’t get the features or the level of control of an AMember or Butterfly Marketing.

    However, that being said, as a basic system they are pretty good, just expect to be frustrated if you want to do anything beyond the basics of charging for protected pages.

  • I continue to enjoy your commentaries and wonderful blend of business articles. Thanks for answer my question. I’ll certainly keep that in mind as I move forward in developing our membership community. :)

  • Have u reviewed Post Member Pro by Quality Unit, which produces Post Affiliate Pro?

    The link is here: http://www.qualityunit.com/vsg/

    How do u find both of them in serving their jobs?

    Thanks

  • Kiatlc – I never implemented those software tools, just researched PAP but decided to use something else, so I can’t say from experience how good it is.

  • [...] How To Launch A Membership Site – Part 3: Technology [...]

  • Yaro, excellent advice. I’ve been using aMember for the past 5 years and having my payments processed by a local independent source. At the moment I’m developing another membership site using ClickBank and aMember because I expect subscriptions will be too many for my local source to process (they only do this on a part-time basis). I can thoroughly recommend aMember – it has worked almost faultlessly, with only one glitch in 5 years. By the way, if anyone is wondering whether membership sites are profitable, I can tell you that in the last 2 years my membership site has grown to over 10 times the monthly income of my standard sales – and I’m at the top of ClickBank for those too! Membership sites can be a goldmine for recurring income!
    Ken Silver

  • Hi Yaro,

    Thanks for doing this series, it has prompted me to look into setting up my own membership site.

    One question though (at least for the moment), how do you handle the GST for your Aussie members? Do your payment or membership processors handle this automatically?

  • Hi Stropp – Unfortunately no, the system doesn’t and officially what you have to do is use the paypal search feature to determine what payments came from Aussies and then apply GST to that income.

    I’m still not quite doing this right, but I am accounting for GST but I just haven’t been able to exactly line up the specific number of Australian members I have.

  • Diana

    Yaro,

    You mentioned that Aweber integrates with just about anything. I have been trying to integrate Aweber with Amember but haven’t had much luck. Any ideas?

  • Hi there I’m looking at setting up a membership site and was wondering just how you go about delivering the video content?
    Do you host the video content yourself or pay a premium service to do it for you?
    i.e. do you stream it, just have downloable link? If it’s simple a .swf file how can you make sure that it runs o.k. when there is more than 10+ people watching it at the same time?

  • Although not the latest article, definitely an article that carries weight. The choice of membership tools is surely overwhelming. I wonder when a complete all in one solution will be developed and accepted as de facto. Keep up the good work Yaro.

    David Alexander

  • Yaro, your work is very inspiring and your energy is uplifiting! I’m fairly new to your sites and teachings, and have learned a real lot in the last few weeks.

    I’m launching a video tutorial website for my services, and have so many questions… I’m sure you’ve heard every one of them by now.

    I’m marketing the site to current clients (and not necessarily concerned with selling it online) so I’m stuck between making it an actual “membership site” and just password protecting the tutorial videos…. and giving that password out to clients.

    What insights can you provide? Would I be at risk of password sharing? I operated on wordpress, should I just use the wishlist plugin?

    Look forward to hearing your advice on this. Thanks a million!

    • Hi Jeff, you should be okay to just password protect the pages. I’ve worked under that system for years now with no major issues. If people want to steal your content, they will find a way, just don’t focus on the thieves, focus on the good paying customers.

  • I had no idea that so much effort must go into starting a membership website. it is definitely not for the faint of heart. It really makes you wonder how ethical some of the people are who say that you can start a membership site from scratch and be making money in hours…

    i guess theoretically it is possible, but not very plausible in my opinion. Great article!

  • Dan

    Hey Yaro, great post, I’m reading it almost 3 years after you wrote it wut it is still very valid! Thanks a lot for sharing, there are great insights in there for those who want to start a membership site…

    I’m sure you get a lot of questions from your readers about plenty of topics, but I’ll try anyway ;)

    Today what would you recommand to deliver a video & pdf training ? Simply sending a download link with Aweber or using a membership site like Amember so people can access it online ?

    Also, do you have any recommandation for service to stream videos accessible through paying only members ?

    Thanks a lot for your advice on this !

    • I personally think aweber is enough, but it depends how many bells and whistles you want.

      I use Amazon s3 for video streaming, which you could link to behind a password protected area easily enough.

  • Yaro, very funny and coincidental story.

    Went into PC store to sell all of my broken PC’s because I’m now a proud MAC user. When the owner opened my first one, he asked me for the password. No clue, I told him. Haven’t used it in over 1 year.

    He then pressed something like command + shift + 9 + 7 or something close to those keys. WHAM!! Let him right in….

    He said, “Do you see how secure computers are?”

    Yaro, for some reason I thought of you and your blog about membership sites!! Probably because of the correlation between passwords and password-protecting websites (i.e. Membership Sites, etc…) So I figured I’d write to you and ask this question:

    Are our WordPress sites more secure than that? Regardless if they are membership or not.

    Also, I like the way you wrote in your last comment to me: “Focus on the good paying customers, not the thieves.” Thanks for that encouragement. Needed that!! Hope all is well in Australia!

    • I’m no security expert but I do know people can hack into wordpress if they really wanted to and know technology, which most people don’t. At the end of the day there is a risk involved and you do as much as you feel necessary to protect yourself.

  • Pat

    So much useful information in this post Yaro, thanks so much, I’ve been reading it in detail a few times and it’s been incredibly informative.

    3 years after writing this article, do you still use Vbulletin and 3 different passwords (htaccess, members areas, forum area) or did you find a better way to integrate those parts of your membership sites under one password ?
    I think it’s possible to go for wishlist members + simple press and have the two under one password only. With your experience, do you think this is a good option ?

    Thanks again

  • Ken

    Yaro, good stuff. The only thing I would suggest though is to avoid using paypal. I haven’t had any good experience with the personally and would prefer doing business with someone more reliable and client friendly such as click bank.

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