Should a Membership or Course Site be on a Subdomain?

Launching a course platform or membership site is a significant project with long-term ramifications. Making the right choices early on will save significant time and resources as well as a lot of frustration in the future.

Should my course platform or membership site be on a subdomain instead of my primary domain name?

In most cases, a subdomain is preferred over a primary domain for course and membership websites. Determining which is better for your particular setup will depend on your technical skills, website hosting environment, and whether or not you anticipate making significant changes in the future. 

In this post I will provide you with the pros and cons of using a subdomain for your course and/or membership site platforms and ultimately why I choose one over the other.

The Pros and Cons of using a Subdomain for your Course or Membership Site


  • Your membership site won't slow down your primary website
  • Experimenting and making changes won't impact your main sales/traffic site
  • You can use a completely different design and user experience on your membership site
  • Changing platforms or making major changes to your setup in the future is easier and won't impact your main website


  • A subdomain is a second installation of WordPress to manage and maintain
  • Communicating data between your primary site and subdomain requires additional tools


The benefits of using a subdomain greatly outweigh the drawbacks. Keep your primary website fast and focused only on driving traffic and sales. Let your subdomain be burdened by the bulky membership and course applications.

Communicating Data Between Subdomain and Primary Domain

The Simple Method

If set up simply, very little information needs to be communicated between your primary domain and subdomain. 

  • User registration happens on your subdomain
  • Purchases happen on your subdomain if you use a tool like SureCart and place the checkout form on the subdomain (or if using ThriveCart, they happen off-site entirely and get looped in.)
  • Members log in to your subdomain site

In the simple method, sending people to your subdomain is handled entirely by links. On my website, I have a link in the top right of my header for members to click if they didn't bookmark my site. Otherwise, the two sites are entirely separate.

Sending data back and forth (if for some reason you want to)

You have a couple of options. If you're using FluentCRM for your email marketing, you can use webhooks and simply send the data between your sites with Thrive Automator.

You can also use webhooks to register users for courses. Send a webhook from Fluent Forms, ConvertBox, or your favorite lead-gen tool and you can register users and grant access to a Thrive Apprentice course/product using Thrive Automator as well.

Thrive Automator, part of Thrive Suite, is a terrific tool for making these connection.

The Complex Method

In a more complex method, we can process transactions on our primary domain with a tool like SureCart and create a very familiar "shopping" ecommerce experience where the user can add products to their cart and check out. 

Then AFTER that, their data is sent over to a subdomain and their accounts and accesses and fulfilled there.

This method is significantly more complex because we have to account for data and accounts. I have a complete tutorial on this method that you can view here if you wish to learn more.

Subdomains Improve Performance & Keep Things Running Smooth

I'm lumping several pros into this section because they're all related.

Membership sites and course sites use a LOT of resources on your server - particularly CPU. By setting up your subdomain as a separate WP install, you can host your membership site on a partitioned area of your server or at another host entirely. This keeps both your primary traffic / public site running fast, AND your membership site able to go its fullest.

Course sites and membership sites are far more dynamic than a blog or brochure site. As a result, they need different caching options/settings. You may end up disabling caching entirely on your course site if users experience issues when logging in and accessing courses. If your sites were one site, you'd significantly hinder your caching capabilities.

Change is inevitable. You may use Thrive Apprentice today, but something else in the future. You may move off of WordPress entirely. Keeping a subdomain allows you to change that domain easier because it's redirectable. If you worked it all off your primary domain, then that's much more difficult to change.

Conclusion: Subdomains are best for courses and memberships

Keep your sites running faster and specialized to do what they do best. Your public and primary domain is for generating traffic and sales; Your membership/course platform is for dynamic user accounts. Keeping them separate affords you the luxury of making changes in the future and testing features on your subdomain that you wouldn't want to interfere with your primary domain. 

  • Donovan says:

    The timing of coming across this post is massive. I’m in the process of setting up a new membership site for launch in August. Really good information to consider here. Thank you.

  • Maestro says:

    Thank you for this. I’m also building a membership site and test launching within the next month.

  • Danno says:

    Do you have a course or video explaining how to set this up? Thanks!

  • chris huff says:

    I have just set mine up on a subdomain and it makes things so much easier so thanks for the recommendation. I do have a question that has stumped me. I have my apprentice pages controlled by user role – no big deal. However, I have created a handful of pages with thrive architect that I want to limit access by user role. I can’t find a way to do this with Thrive and everything I find online suggests I install a membership plugin. Am I missing something?

    • chris huff says:

      Never mind, I found the Content Control plugin.

      • Doug says:

        You don’t need Control Control or another plugin. Thrive Apprentice is a membership plugin. The products feature in Thrive Apprentice can protect any content on your website based on user roles (among many other things). You can learn more about that in my post all about Apprentice Products.

        • chris huff says:

          Ahhhhh…..I completely missed that. #morecoffee thanks

  • Andi says:

    One question that comes to my mind: When using a subdomain, doesn’t it add lots of costs because I have to pay for each plugin twice?
    As far as I know most plugins count per WordPress installation, so as the subdomain is it’s own WP installation I’d need a second license for each plugin?

    • Doug says:

      For some plugins/tools, yes. For most tools, it’s not an issue because you’re dealing with fixed costs anyway.

      Here are the big ones:
      Thrive Suite: 5 sites
      FluentCRM: Subdomain
      SureCart / ThriveCart: Independent of your site

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