[Updated 2016] 

When I first decided to switch over to a CMS to run my websites (back in 2005), my first choice for managing content was WordPress. At the time though, WordPress was just not flexible enough for what I had in mind i.e. run a video tutorial membership site. So, I moved to Joomla. Although Joomla was simple enough to learn and did many things that I wanted it to, I found it too ‘bulky’. Adding content took just way too much time for this impatient webmaster.

So, after reading as much as I could about content management systems, I decided to switch to Drupal. After a year or so of running my site on Drupal, I found myself switching back to WordPress. And many years later, I’m still using WordPress.

Why Use a CMS for a Membership Site

There are many reasons to use a CMS for a membership site. When I say membership sites, I am referring to sites that offer protected premium content to members. So you’re pretty much gonna be churning out quite a bit of content. And depending on your membership site model, this could be an ongoing thing. So you’d be wise to find someway to manage that content. And guess what? That’s exactly what a CMS does and much more. Here’s just some of it.

  • Ease of content management
    As I mentioned before, this is the biggie. With a CMS, you can add, edit, delete, rearrange, categorize and tag your content easily. You don’t have to worry about editing HTML or programming any code. Just tick a few boxes and click a button.
  • Ease of member interaction
    Getting members to interact can be as simple as enabling the comments feature and as complex as giving members the ability to start their own blogs. Member interaction makes your membership site more active and alive and thus, help you retain members for a longer time.
  • Ease of feature updates
    You can easily add, remove and update features at a few clicks of your button. You used to have to upload files to add these features but now it’s as easy as searching for a feature, clicking on install and activating it. There are literally thousands of plugins and add-ons you can add to your site for free.
  • Ease of design update
    You can also change the entire look and feel of your site without touching your content. In fact, you can hire someone to design a theme or skin for your site and continue working on your content oblivious to the fact that it’s design is currently being worked on.
  • Ease of member management
    A CMS has an in-built user function. Where you can add, delete and update users to your site. With a plugin or an add-on, you can extend this feature to include members. In addition to adding, deleting and updating, you can also assign the member to a membership level.

How To Choose a CMS

If you Googled “content management system”, you’d be amazed at what’s out there. So, where do you begin? It really depends on what you need and what you feel comfortable with. If you already use a CMS for your main site, then just search for a membership plugin or add-on for your CMS. If there’s already one and it does everything you need it to, then just go with that. No point learning a completely new system.

If you’re not using a CMS or if you don’t even have a site yet, my advice is to start with open source software. First and foremost, because they are free. You can try them out to see which one suits you best without having to pay for something that you may end up not using. In fact, unless you need a particularly unique “nobody’s ever done it” setup, you don’t really need to look beyond open source cms.

Check out what your web host offers. Most good web hosts will provide several open source cms, ready to be installed in one click. If you have an account with BlueHost, you’ll find WordPress, Joomla and Drupal included in their one click installs.


Another great reason to go for open source software is that you’ll always have access to the latest updated and improved version. In my case, for example, a feature that was not available with WordPress before is now a part of the core and I didn’t have to pay a single cent to get the upgrade.

If you don’t want to bother with testing all the different CMS out there, I highly recommend that you start off with WordPress. It is simple to install, easy to learn and will give you the ability to manage your site without any help from a third party designer or programmer. And at this point in time, I don’t see anything that it is not capable of doing, out of the box or via additional plugins.

Why You Should Use WordPress

I’m not going to get into this in this post because I’ve already written several posts about this. In the unlikelihood that you’re still on the fence about WordPress, have a read of these two other posts here:

When You Shouldn’t Use WordPress

Even though I’ve been pushing for WordPress, believe it or not, there are times when I would recommend you seek a different solution. WordPress is what you call a self-hosted solution. Meaning that you host it yourself. This could be on a server that you own or, more likely, are paying for through a web host.

There’s also a hosted membership site solution. This solution comes with hosting. There’s more than a handful you can choose from. Most offer the membership site as one of many features but there are also some where the membership site is their main feature.

Check out my post – Hosted Membership Platform vs Membership Site Plugin – for a more in depth discussion of the difference.

What’s Next

If you’ve decided on a CMS other then WordPress, you will need to find out what extensions, plugins, or add-ons are needed to turn it into a membership site. If you’ve decided on a hosted membership solution, then go ahead and sign up for an account. No need to look for anything else. If you’ve decided to use WordPress, then your next step is choose the right membership plugin for your membership requirements.

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