I recently launched some pretty substantial changes to the setup of my own membership site right here at the Blog Marketing Academy.
I changed my mind on some things and reversed myself. I made some software changes. And if you're here on this site right now, you're basically looking at it. 🙂
I have many people who follow along with my software stack and follow my advice on themes and plug-ins. So, I thought it was important to provide an update.
So, let's once again go "behind the scenes" on the changes that have been made, some of what went into it and, most importantly.... why I did it.
Change Is Constant.
They say the one thing constant in this world is change. That is certainly true in the world of Wordpress. And, let's be honest, it is true in the world of the Blog Marketing Academy. 😉
It really began back when I was still running a heavily customized theme and was still running MemberMouse to run the backend operations.
MemberMouse was beefy and they barely ever updated it (and that's still true). The complications and load of MemberMouse first let me to a massive change...
I underwent a massive project to separate my membership site (THE LAB) onto a sub-domain. I even called it a "mistake" to ever have it all under one roof. That was in 2019.
As time went on, I began to simplify things and try to peel away from MemberMouse. MemberMouse was becoming more and more frustrating and, in retrospect, a lot of the moves I made was because MemberMouse was so beefy, so slow, and was literally doing nothing about it.
First, I changed web hosts. Twice, in fact. First, I switched to WPX Hosting then I switched to Cloudways. I'm quite happy with Cloudways now, but one of my biggest drivers for switching was backend performance. In retrospect, MemberMouse had a lot to do with it.
In another move to get rid of MemberMouse, I started using Thrivecart.
At that time, I wanted all sales activity OUT of Wordpress because Wordpress was just too slow on the backend. Because of MemberMouse. But, I was stuck with MemberMouse for awhile because they lock in the recurring payments to their platform. You can read my Thrivecart review which I wrote before I fully switched over.
I got tired of my custom theme. I wanted more functionality and I didn't want to be the only one supporting it. So, I switched to BuddyBoss. At the same time, I switched to WP Fusion and officially began the process of de-coupling from MemberMouse. In May, I recorded an official video (and post) where I documented the software stack that powered my membership site.
At that time, I was still running two separate Wordpress sites. The public blog was using Thrive Theme Builder while the membership ran on BuddyBoss.
All these changes were part of a big project I did when the pandemic lockdowns were happening. 🙂 I literally re-engineered my whole tech stack and got rid of pretty much every bit of custom software in order to move to more capable solutions that were well-supported.
Oh, and eventually, I officially turned off MemberMouse. I was down to a handful of paying members with it and I simply reached out and made arrangements individually with them and cancelled a few. I wanted to get rid of MemberMouse so freakin' bad! 🙂 And, I did. Good riddance.
I still look at the MemberMouse updates and they're still barely ever updating it. They spend time doing a podcast and updating their website, but seemingly no work on the plug-in. I don't know their internal situation and I don't care. It doesn't work for me. It was once one of the best solutions on the market, but it has frozen in time (in terms of development) and I no longer recommend it.
New Tech Stack. New Complications.
In retrospect, many of the complications that led me to change web hosting, software and separate out into a sub-domain was due to the software I was using. Namely, MemberMouse.
But, I eventually (more or less) landed on a tech stack that was mostly working well:
- BuddyBoss (see my BuddyBoss review)
- WP Fusion (see my WP Fusion review)
- LearnDash (see my Learndash review)
- ConvertBox (see my ConvertBox review as well as why it rocks for membership sites)
- Drip CRM
- Thrivecart (see my Thrivecart review)
It worked. And it was mostly simpler. Also faster. Literally, the Wordpress backend sped up noticeably the minute I de-activated MemberMouse.
So, my concerns shifted. Many of them vanished.
But, some things began to rise up as... complications. Complications from having two different sites rather than just one. Also, complications having my shopping cart outside the whole thing over on Thrivecart.
Here's a rundown...
#1 - Content Placement & Duplication Issues
When you have 2 separate sites, complications can arise over what goes where.
Sure, the blog goes on one and the membership stuff goes on the other. However, issues come up when what you're SELLING is being marketed on a different site.
- Where do the sales pages go? If I have a sales page on the main site and another one in the membership for people to upgrade, that's TWO separate pages for the same product. That's extra work to maintain both.
- If the products are on the membership, you're a little more limited in where and how you can present calls to actions on the main site. In fact, I literally built a custom post type on the public site just for sales pages for the courses and wrote up a post about how to do it. But, all that was just creating duplicates of the sales pages again.
- I could not simply display a course library on the main site because all the courses were "over there" in the LAB. The only way to do it was to manually create it.
So, it was just inconvenient.
#2 - Lack Of A Seamless Experience
The public site had a big "Log In" button that simply linked to THE LAB. But, very clearly, everything was different once you got over there.
The branding was different. The theme was different.
If I wanted to reference public content, I had to link to the blog as an external link. Searches for content were searching two different databases. Also, since members could not be logged in on the main site, I could not carry over the experience, put member upgrades in blog posts, or change things in any way for members.
I think it just felt disjointed.
#3 - External Shopping Cart Was Disjointed
In addition to two separate Wordpress sites, things were made more complicated due to the fact that my shopping cart system was third-party and operated as a third entity.
Thrivecart is awesome. I really like it indeed made things simpler overall. But, there's no getting around the fact that an external shopping cart cannot be as seamless as an "in house" cart. Some of the issues I had with Thrivecart were:
- The cart didn't have any tight way to ensure I didn't have to ask for people's name/email again even though they were already members and I already knew who they were.
- No way to pay using a card on file.
- The look and feel was not consistent with my site and the Customer Hub was a very disjointed experience compared to a person being able to self-manage their account right on my site.
- There were a lot of automations and capabilities I could do with Wordpress and, specifically, WP Fusion.... except that I wasn't running sales through Wordpress. If I were running sales through an in-house shopping cart, WP Fusion can work some real magic.
So, It Came Down To This...
Initially, I made a lot of changes in order to modernize my tech stack and alleviate speed bottlenecks. And I definitely accomplished that.
But, after solving all those issues, the NEW issue became the complication of having things spread out over multiple platforms.
Suddenly, I was longing for having everything under one roof yet again.
I really liked using Thrive Theme Builder on my main site and remain super impressed with the platform. But, I knew I'd have to stop using it at the Blog Marketing Academy. As awesome as Theme Builder is, it isn't well suited for a dynamic membership site. And Thrive Themes tools don't integrate well with others.
But, BuddyBoss can run a blog, too. 🙂
So, I started making plans...
Turning THE LAB Into The Entire Website
The tech stack I wanted to use was already in place right inside THE LAB. It was on a sub-domain, but I could just point the main domain to it and let it take over.
But first things first...
- I need to re-design THE LAB to be able to take over the role as the blog, too.
- I needed to move public content over, including all blog posts, core pages like the about page, and more.
Now, the thing about the BuddyBoss Theme is that it is actually way more flexible (design-wise) than it looks. But, to do that, you need to be using Elementor Pro.
I love Thrive Architect and I get around fast with it. But, it doesn't integrate with BuddyBoss nearly as nicely. Thrive Themes works nice with other Thrive tools, but that wasn't what I was using in the LAB. I briefly considered whether to change all my courses to Thrive Apprentice (read my Thrive Apprentice review) and run an all Thrive Themes site. But, the lack of integration with WP Fusion was a deal killer. I'm not giving that thing up! 🙂
So, I had to confront Elementor and get good with it. 🙂
I began to appreciate it, actually. I would say that Elementor is more capable than Thrive Architect and it certainly excels in it's support for third-party integrations. The developer in me is happy. 🙂 I still think Architect is way faster to work with, but I've come to have way more respect for Elementor during this process.
So, using Elementor, I re-designed aspects of THE LAB to prepare it for it's new role to BE the entire website.
Bring The Shopping Cart Back In-House Again
As part of this change, I decided to migrate away from Thrivecart.
I can't say I wanted to, but there's no doubt I'd be able to provide a much simpler and seamless experience to people if they can stay on my website for everything.
Initially, I tested Easy Digital Downloads inside THE LAB. I began running sales for service credits through EDD and actually ran several grand through it. Easy Digital Downloads is a really nice shopping cart system. A few things were bothersome, however:
- It's insistence on "downloads" because I just don't sell "downloads".
- The fact that it takes so many different plug-ins to get the functionality you want.
- Integration with WP Fusion not quite as tight.
The shopping cart that WP Fusion works with the closest and offers the most power with... is WooCommerce.
It also just so happens that BuddyBoss is pre-coded to work with WooCommerce and it styles things up nicely right "out of the box".
So, I ran some tests on WooCommerce and I was impressed. After all these years, I had always kept WooCommerce at a distance. I thought of it as over-engineered and complicated and most suitable to stores shipping physical products. But, as I began using it (and used it on a couple of client projects), I came to realize. the power and flexibility that WooCommerce offers. It also has a TON of flexibility... almost as much as Wordpress itself. I realized that WooCommerce was, essentially, future proof.
So, WooCommerce it was.
The New Membership Site Tech Stack And Setup
OK, so this time, I didn't change up everything. No need. Plus, once you find something that works so damn well, you don't change it.
WP Fusion is my awesomesauce. 🙂 The most useful plug-in I've ever used and it forms the center of my membership site. It is often glossed over as a membership site plug-in because it isn't marketed that way, but I firmly believe WP Fusion (couple with the right services) is the best membership site software out there.
Here's my tech stack:
- The BuddyBoss theme now runs the whole site. Elementor works in tandem with it.
- WP Fusion is the center.
- Drip remains my CRM although I may officially switch to FluentCRM at some point.
- WooCommerce takes care of the sales
And it is now all on one site. No more sub-domain.
This meant a LOT of pages could be trashed as I no longer needed duplicate copies. A lot of stuff I did to accommodate for the spread out nature of things could go away.
It means... simplicity.
I love simplicity.
But, What About Site Speed?
Did site speed and core web vitals suffer any because suddenly my front-facing site now had all those plug-ins running?
Honestly, I was prepared to have to deal with some things to maintain speed. I thought I might even need to beef up my server on Cloudways to get more memory.
So, you can bet I was surprised when I got the exact opposite result.
My site speed and core web vitals actually got better after unifying the whole site!
I never had scores that high with Thrive Theme Builder even with all the caching turned on. I honestly couldn't believe the difference. Also, the mobile experience is just better now.
Hats off to BuddyBoss. They coded a very professional, flexible theme that is also coded very efficiently. Also, I don't think there's any doubt that Elementor handles things more efficiently than Thrive Architect.
It's Been A Journey
Change is constant. And people who have been reading my site for awhile and/or have been a member for awhile have seen me go through a lot of changes.
I feel like I've gone in a circle, in some ways. Splitting things up and using more outside services... only to circle back to doing most of it within Wordpress yet again.
The tools have just gotten better. And I feel I had to try some stuff before knowing what would work the best for my business.
One last leg of this journey made indeed be bringing the email list itself in-house by migrating to FluentCRM and getting rid of Drip. FluentCRM has matured to a point where I think it could probably do it now. But, certainly there will be some testing before I make such a move.