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Squarespace Member Areas – Worth It?

Full disclosure: I’m not a huge fan of Squarespace, tho I do support several members that use it. It’s limited, is very “pretty” vs. functional, blogging is a pain in the ass on it, and their SEO leaves a lot to be desired. That said, this new feature is a marked improvement I’ve already been emailing folks about.

What Is Squarespace Member Areas?

Announced yesterday, Squarespace Member Areas is the ability to make content exclusive to paying members of your existing Squarespace site, thus creating a paywall or gated access. It’s about fucking time.

You run into this “content creation and sale” method on Medium, Patreon, The New York Times, Substack, Ghost, and more: exclusive articles are for members only and behind a paywall. Want to read the posts? You need to be a paying member. (Just like on The Fiery Well.)

Squarespace Member Areas is an opportunity for site owners to earn renewable income every month through subscription, or membership, pricing. It’s a long-awaited functionality on the platform. So much so that entirely different services, namely MemberSpace, have risen to fill the void and offer “secure member areas” (more on them in a minute.)

By contrast, Automattic has offered Subscriptions and gating of content to specific members on WordPress.com, and through their Jetpack plugin, since November of 2019. Self-hosted WordPress websites (like this one) have been able to do this for years through third-party plugins. 

It was only a matter of time before Squarespace caught up and wanted in on the growing cash flow memberships and subscriptions offer. Subscription services & membership communities have only exploded since the coronavirus pandemic.

How memberships work, then vs. now.

Before this announcement, you had to do one of two things: use one password across a series of pages as a pseudo-members area, or use a third-party service like MemberSpace to inject JavaScript to “lock pages” down and prevent access.

Using Just a Password & Squarespace Pages

Using just a password to protect content people pay for reminds me of the following quote:

Three can keep a secret if two of them are dead.

Benjamin Franklin

Sharing passwords is rampant among membership models. Just ask Netflix

And, if you have someone on the exclusive content side that stopped payment… how do you kick them out without having to reset all the passwords and inform everyone else of the change? It’s a lot of work. But, it’s also worked for a lot of folks.

Especially if they didn’t have a third party service to handle it for you.

Using a Third Party Service, such as MemberSpace

In research for what was supposed to be a brief article, I decided to dive deeper into how MemberSpace functions compared to what Squarespace is now primarily offering. And boy, oh boy, was it a roller coaster. I hadn’t realized MemberSpace relied on JavaScript and redirects to “secure” pages. (The code is detected on a page load, it redirects the visitor to MemberSpace where they are authenticated and returned to the Squarespace site. Yikes.)

It makes sense, however, because Squarespace does not allow for back-end executable code.

That means I was able to hack into another witch’s website and members-only areas in under 5 minutes and gain access to their entire course material for free. (Not sharing who or how because…. Hi. Ethics.) Was it set up wrong? Maybe. Should JavaScript be used for user authentication or content obfuscation in any fashion? Absolutely not.

It just really pisses me off that folks buy into and rely on this as a secure option… when it’s not, and they aren’t as upfront about the potential issues as they should be.

So now that Squarespace has *actual* member areas natively on the platform? Ditch the MemberSpace immediately. Yes, MemberSpace does more than just add that “layer” to your Squarespace site, but if your private content is precious, you could be losing out.

Now Squarespace has true membership capabilities

Squarespace utilizes the back end functionality it already has: eCommerce, which has to be secure and has to do authentication on the server, not in the browser (read: JavaScript.) And not just for credit cards, but for account logins. Which now connects to your pages to create an authentication link between a verified user and an allowed area on your site.

Voila! Member Areas.

Now, files can still be accessed (PDFs, movie files, audio files, etc.) because it doesn’t look like they protect entire directories for the content. Yet, without getting into their actual file hierarchy, data structure, and code, this is all an assumption (a solid one, at that.)

And they also tell us right on the Member Areas sales page:

Can I protect everything on my website?

Yes, you can protect any page on your site. However, you currently cannot protect specific files (such as images and audio tracks) from being accessed by a non-member. You’re back to folks password sharing, only with files.

Squarespace Member Areas

What Squarespace Member Areas Costs

It’s going to add upwards of $10-35/month to your current website plan if you pay annually at Squarespace. And they take a 1-7% cut of the price you set for the membership, every payment, in transaction fees. There is no escaping the transaction fee as of this writing. And, it’s not really clear if Member Areas (you can have up to 10) are a way of doing payment tier structures? Or are only making specific areas open for specific prices, so you’d have to join multiple areas at multiple prices? Their documentation is still really thin around this.

Is WordPress.com any better about pricing and fees? Meh. They take a 2-8% cut of the price you charge. However, if you are on their highest-paid tier, their transaction fees drops to zero, so you can keep more of your money. 

Who doesn’t take a cut at all? Podia. You pay a flat $79/month and $0 additional transaction fees. 

NOTE: No matter where you go, you will still be out the processing fees from wherever you take payments: Paypal, Stripe, Braintree, etc. These average about 3% + a flat per-transaction fee between 10-30¢.

Just for Members of The Fiery Well

Looking for a precise price breakdown for each subscription offering between Squarespace, WordPress.com, and Podia? I’ve got a spreadsheet just for you. Plus, a membership revenue calculator!

Log in below to grab it.

Not a member? Join today to unlock this and so much more.

Is this membership option upgrade worth it?

Suppose you have a large site on Squarespace and want to paywall some content and start earning revenue today, yes. In that case, it may be worth it, especially if you were already considering doing this previously. 

Absolutely up to you. I do suggest that it is worth it to get away from MemberSpace and those that function in the same manner.

And ultimately, if you like Squarespace and its ecosystem, then stay with Squarespace.

Caveats

That Squarespace advertises “selling your courses” in the members’ area is equivocal because Squarespace has no learning management system. 

Suppose your course is just a bunch of password-protected pages. In that case, this is a great option and opportunity to really lock down your content to a restricted set of paying members. But, if you are hoping to replace Teachable or Thinkific, that won’t happen here.

Suppose you want to sell things outside of the membership? Digital files or physical products? In that case, you will still need a Commerce plan from Squarespace, which adds another $18-$26/month + separate transaction fees.

If you want to do a website, sell courses, have a membership, and offer digital products? Use Podia.

Or build it 100% custom on WordPress.com or a self-hosted WordPress website.

What does The Fiery Well use?

Currently, a self-hosted WordPress installation on Flywheel hosting with the premium plugin Restrict Content Pro, now owned by iThemes, and lots of other connected funsies. Want to know how I set everything up?

Become a member today, and I’ll be happy to show you. But more importantly, let’s talk about what option fits best for you.

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& Get Online, Witch!

The Fiery Well is a business & tech support space just for those that call themselves “witch.”

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