When you’re creating a course or digital subscription, one of the tougher choices you’ll face is that of where to host it.
I recently had to research hosting platforms for courses and memberships for our own courses, and of course I’m happy to share the results with you!
Self Hosted vs Third Party Hosting Platforms
The first choice you’ll face, is that between hosting your course on your own website – or going with a third party to host it for you.
Hosting a course or membership with WordPress can be done in so many different ways; our favourite is a combination of MemberPress & LearnDash. No doubt our resident WordPress wizard Mellissa Wheeler will be writing something about this option later on.
There are many other options though; our courses on WordPress were previously hosted with the Tribe Theme & WP60 (long story), we hear good things about AccessAlly and Wishlist Member – we think much depends on what you’re used to working with, and what aspects are most important to you.
Hosting a course or membership with SquareSpace is an excellent option as well. Possibly not as robust as some of the WordPress plugins, and not as hands-off as third party hosting platforms, but they work well, they’re pretty, and extremely easy to set up. Read more about this on Kerstin Martin’s blog! Kerstin is my go-to person for everything SquareSpace.
Needless to say – hosting a course on your own platform requires you to have a great attention to detail… and you’ll need to set up everything yourself. From the sales process to onboarding, payments processing, flow of the course,… if you choose this route, you might want to make sure you’re getting at least some help from someone who’s done this before.
A third party hosting platform takes all of the hassle out of your hands: they’ll make it easy for you to upload videos and resources, set up sales pages in no time, and will collect the money for you (if that’s what you want). Most of them will even handle affiliate sales – which means that if someone buys your course through an affiliate link, the platform will pay out the affiliates directly. Talking about hands off!
Now since this article is supposed to be about hosting your course or membership on a third party hosting platform… let’s take a good look at my favourites!
My Top 4 Choices: Teachable, Thinkific, Membervault, Kajabi
When I looked into suitable third parties to host my courses, I looked into at least a dozen of them.
Some of them didn’t seem very trustworthy, professional or robust – while others didn’t offer all the elements I really needed.
My requirements were:
- Has to be robust – needs to host dozens of courses + resources
- Needs to look good and offer a fluent user experience
- Needs to be easy to use on the backend; easy to set up a sales page + upload course elements into
- Needs to allow affiliates – and be transparent as to who gets how much money at the end of the day
- An extra plus if it allows “authors” – were different authors could all host their courses on our platform.
I ended up with four different platforms that all came highly recommended… so look at them each individually!
Hosting Platform #1: Teachable
Offers a free plan: Yes!
However, the free plan doesn’t allow multiple admins, coupon codes, dripping course content, affiliate marketing and integrated emails.
Lowest paid plan (February 2019): 29$ per month (if billed annually). Depending on which pricing plan you’ll choose, you’ll be charged transaction fees for every purchase.
What I love about Teachable:
- You can use the free plan to set everything up – then switch to a paid plan once students are enrolling and you want the extra features
- The user experience is great; both the signup process and the courses themselves look good and are easy to use.
- Teachable takes care of everything (if you want them to); they’ll pay out affiliates and authors directly, so you don’t need to worry about that.
Example of a course hosted with Teachable: our Course Creation MasterPlan (which teaches you all about creating, marketing and launching a course!).
Hosting Platform #2: Thinkific
Offers a free plan: Yes! You can have up to 3 courses for free (less than Teachable, who offers unlimited courses for free). Like with Teachable, you need a paid plan to unlock extra features – like dripping the course content, affiliates, or integrations.
Lowest paid plan (February 2019): $39 per month, when billed annually.
What I love about Thinkific:
- Thinkific offers lots of options for student notifications. For instance, you can tell Thinkific to reminder your students they haven’t finished a lesson yet…
- You only pay transaction fees for third party payment processors (like Paypal or Stripe); Thinkific doesn’t charge you extra.
Example of a course hosted with Thinkific: Sew With Alicia. Which reminds me I should really finish that one and start using that sewing machine of mine!
Hosting Platform #3: Membervault
Offers a free plan: Yes! It’s “forever free”, as long as you have less than 50 users.
Lowest paid plan (February 2019): 39$ per month
What I love about MemberVault:
- It’s really easy to see everything on offer in one blink of an eye
- That forever free plan! What’s not to love? Ok, it’s only free up to 50 users… but with over 50 users, you’ll have the income to pay for the extra support.
- MemberVault has built-in gamification – you can follow your students’ progress really easily.
Example of a course hosted with MemberVault: Jamie Russel’s Dubsado courses
Hosting Platform #4: Kajabi
Offers a free plan: Not really – there’s a free trial, and a 30-day money back guarantee – but no way to actually run your courses for free.
Lowest paid plan (February 2019): $119 (if billed annually).
What’s great about Kajabi:
- Honestly? What impresses me most about Kajabi is their fan base. Everyone I know who went with Kajabi, stays with Kajabi – and LOVES it.
- No transaction fees when students sign up
- It has MUCH more than just course hosting. It includes email marketing, webinars & events, so many ways to customise your courses,…
Example of a course hosted with Kajabi: my friend Jack Long’s “Messenger Bot Secrets” course
So… Which Platform Do We Host Our Courses On?
Choosing the perfect third party hosting platform was TOUGH, believe me. We loved most aspects of all four of our top choices – Teachable, Thinkific, Kajabi and MemberVault.
In the end though, we went with Teachable.
- We felt the user experience was better than with Thinkific…
- It looked prettier than MemberVault at first sight (looked more professional)…
- And was a lot cheaper than Kajabi.
And most importantly – it offered all the features we could ever want.
Check out our Teachable “school” (and all of our available courses) here! You’ll definitely want to check out the Course Creation MasterPlan, which is a full 7-module course helping you create, market & launch your own online course.