For many companies, when they’ve grown to a certain point, they need to start thinking about creating a more sustainable, scalable business model.
One-to-one services can be hard to sustain without a large team (though deploying productized services can help) and recurring revenue through some sort of membership or subscription model can be appealing.
Because of this, it’s no wonder that some of the most popular content on my website has—for years—been about member areas/memberships/locked content on Squarespace (aff link).
Because much of our audience is considering Squarespace for their website architecture, folks often want to know if they should host their member content directly on Squarespace or if they should have a standalone solution like what we use, Podia.
The truth is, there’s no universally right answer—and the right answer can change as your needs evolve!
Squarespace threw a wrench in my typical answer (which is use a third party tool) when they launched member areas in 2021.
You may be asking: What do I need to consider when evaluating Squarespace’s Member Areas?
I thought it would be useful to many of you to learn about the key points you need to consider if you’re thinking about using Squarespace’s tool for your own member-based content.
What is a membership website?
At its core, memberships are gated content that can be free, a one time cost, or an ongoing cost. For example, SM&Co has a free “client library” style membership that only our website design clients have access to. (Don’t have something like this for your clients? Fix that!) Other folks have a high-end membership that’s their core revenue generator. Nonprofits and causes will often have a membership that has perks like discounts or access to events.
Memberships can be a core of your business or an “extra” that is just a benefit to your audience, or something in between, such as a small additional revenue rung in your product ladder.
I am of the belief that there are very few businesses or organizations that cannot benefit from having some sort of gated content to keep your audience engaged—it’s something to seriously consider even if it scares you.
What are the pros of Squarespace’s new Member Areas?
The biggie is, of course, that you don’t have to learn how to use yet another platform! That may sound small, but learning tech can be a huge barrier for some people—even tech savvy folks who just can’t add one more thing to their plate.
Other people may love that everything is contained in one place, so they don’t have to remember multiple logins and so their members stay on their website. This would likely particularly be the case if your primary member type is past clients—you’re keeping them in the place they’re familiar with.
If you’re a Squarespace Campaigns user, you will likely love that the Member Areas integrates cleanly with the email campaigns. It’s a small thing, but email management quickly becomes a beast when you have customers vs clients.
The interface where customers can see what products they’re subscribed to is very clean and tidy. I know that sounds like a small thing, but it’s actually pretty important. Kerstin Martin has good screenshots of what this looks like over on her blog.
Squarespace member areas offer video hosting.
This can be convenient so you don’t have to have multiple apps to log into when you’re updating your gated content. You will need to make sure to follow Squarespace’s guidelines regarding video sizes, but that certainly is a big one in the pro column!
A note on third party video hosting:
(Vimeo does still boot people from their system for having commercial content on their lower tier plans.) Again, not a deal breaker (Vimeo is a high quality product with a lot of controls and the ability to have tightly branded content), but it may bother some people. Note: DO NOT USE YOUTUBE FOR THIS. It’s tacky and unprofessional, and your members will be served ads in your membership.
What are the cons of Squarespace’s Member Areas?
I have a few issues that are important to consider if you’re considering using Squarespace for a membership website.
The first issue with Squarespace’s new member areas is, frankly, the confusing pricing structure.
You can see all if that in the screenshot below (current as of Nov 2020):
I find this very overwhelming (just make it a single price or add it only to commerce plans or something) and what particularly irks me is that at every plan level they take an additional fee on top of your payment card processor fees. So, if you’re on the Starter level and charging for access, you’re looking at 2.9 percent for Stripe and 7 percent to Squarespace. Ouch! (Fees do not apply to free memberships.) This is on top of what you’re already paying Squarespace.
Squarespace member areas also still lack a proper LMS (learning management) tool, which means that if your vision is more for a course progression, you may find it limiting.
There are some workarounds, such as using a blog, so you have modules, but there’s not a way to have users mark off progression. You could create a PDF checklist so folks can track where they are, though I’ve not had great luck with people actually using those types of things—your mileage may vary, of course!
No bundling of memberships are possible in Squarespace Member Areas.
This could be annoying for some people. For example, we have two resource libraries and a small course all of our clients have access to. I add them as a bundle in Podia with one click—I’d be constantly annoyed having to add them to each library.
No file-specific protection. This means that some jerk could share a link to your files and others would be able to download it.
(Sadly, there are fair amount of jerks out there.) So if you’re focused on, say, selling monthly subscriptions to your stock photography service, you’ll likely want to look at a different solution.
I’m keeping it very top level, but those are the basic pros and cons.
Who is the ideal customer for Squarespace Member Areas?
I’ve been thinking a lot about who would be a good audience for the Member Areas setup in Squarespace and I’ve come up with some solid use cases.
- You just need a client library! This is something I advocate for most people to consider. You could easily have the lowest tier plan, create a great resource library for your clients using vimeo, PDFs and whatever else you need them to have, and they’d have a nice branded login and go back to your site when they need to access the library.
- You’re writing a private blog. This could be a nice tool for someone who wants to have a “patrons only” style blog (think Patreon but on your own site). You would need to account for the fees in your pricing, but it could be a dead simple way to monetize some content without using an outside tool.
- You want to test the concept of a membership. This is a great use case! Why go to all the trouble of learning a new tool and setting up a separate system if you’re not sure if there’s an audience. Set up a member area, set a price, and see what happens!
- You only plan on having one course or piece of gated content—and it’s not your core business. This is another one of those “business case” situations. Have a great idea for a lecture you’d like to sell? Member Areas could be a great place to sell that without too much fuss—and it’s a great alternative to the dodgy digital downloads system in Squarespace.
- You have a board that needs access to documents, meeting minutes, etc! This is a no-brainer if you stakeholders who need access to locked info. (Keeping in mind that it could be possible to share PDFs etc.)
- You want to offer a benefit or bonus to donors. This could be interesting for nonprofits as well—say you have some educational content, downloads, etc, that you wish to give them as a thank you.
As we more thoroughly test Squarespace Member Areas, we will likely be able to make more thorough recommendations for use cases, but for now if you have questions about all this—as always—leave a note in the comments!
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