Setting up a membership site using WordPress is a massive task. Seriously. It requires a lot of work and research, and needs constant TLC in terms of content generation and updates. There are a lot of options out there available to use for setting up a membership site, but each provides different features and functionality. So how do you choose which membership plugin is for you, and whether investing in a paid plugin is the way to go, or if a free one will work? There are some important questions to ask yourself, and fortunately there are some great options both within eCommerce platforms and via general WordPress plugins.

We’ll cover some of the possible solutions in a series and link to each article here as we post them. We’ve included a checklist of things to consider about what kind of solution you’ll need, and we’ll first cover some plugins that probably work will all eCommerce platforms or won’t require you using one. Then we’ll go over some ways you can tie membership functionality into your eCommerce plugin if you’re selling other things besides memberships.

We also posted a guest post about running a successful membership site, which required a move from WooCommerce to MemberMouse.

WordPress and Membership

First, why should you create a membership site using WordPress when there are lots of other solutions out there already? Well friends, it’s pretty darn cheap and usually very flexible. Pricing for most non-WordPress membership platforms can be anywhere from $100 in one-time fees to $100 per month. You’re going to need a decent amount of members pretty quickly to ensure that your site pays for itself if you’re paying a high monthly fee just for your membership platform. (Remember, you’ll have to pay for your domain name, DNS, possibly an SSL certificate, hosting, and other site costs as well.) If you want to check out a list of non-WordPress membership platforms, we have a list at the end of this article.

Using WordPress can reduce costs and allow you to integrate a store, blog, and membership area all in the same site pretty easily. Plus, WordPress is built for content. So building a content membership site using WordPress? Kind of a no-brainer to us ;). However, we know not all membership sites are based on digital content (subscription boxes, anyone?). This makes us like WordPress even more: you can make a membership site with your existing store and eCommerce platform. The flexibility to do what you want is pretty awesome.

So how do you determine which WordPress plugin is for you? That depends. If you’re already tied into an eCommerce platform, you may want to look at what options you have within that platform, so that’s why we’ll cover potential setups with some of the more popular eCommerce plugins. If you haven’t set up your site or store yet, you’ll want to ask yourself some important questions on what kind of membership site you’ll run and what features are important to you. The checklist below will cover some of the important questions to ask yourself when starting this process, and we’ll address points from this checklist throughout the articles in this series.

Checklist

Obviously budget may be a concern, so you should keep it in mind. However, if you’re going to be building a site that will generate revenue on a platform, I’d advise being sure that the platform is sustainable. Nothing will be worse than building your site and then finding out the platform is no longer actively developed, so cheap doesn’t necessarily bode well for the long haul. However, I’ll try to recommend plugins with proven track records throughout this series that will (hopefully) be around for some time.

  • First, you’ll want to take a look at how your content will be protected. Chances are you may want some free content in addition to the paid content on your site, so the way the content is restricted will be important. Does the plugin protect both pages and posts? Can you protect custom post types (i.e., products) or certain post categories automatically? Most plugins will have good options for this, but pay attention to how you want it to work.
  • How many membership levels can you have? Can you restrict content in different ways for all of them?
  • Can members purchase more than one membership if you want to use a topic-based approach instead of a tiered approach?
  • Does the plugin handle scheduling recurring billing/subscriptions as well, or just the content restriction (for example, you sometimes need two different plugins to accomplish this with some eCommerce platforms)? What else do you need to make this happen if billing is not scheduled? What kind of billing cycles are available (monthly, yearly, custom schedules)?
  • This is a big one for us, but may not matter to you: Can you use Stripe to process payments, or are you stuck with another processor? Here’s an explanation of why we love Stripe.
  • Can members pause or resume memberships? Is there a way to prorate fees for new or canceling members? MemberPress is the only general solution that allows you to do this, or WooSubscriptions can do it via WooCommerce.
  • Can customers upgrade/downgrade subscriptions or memberships?
  • Can you “drip” content over time? If you’re counting on using “evergreen” content in the membership, you probably don’t want to give all of your content out to members immediately when they sign up, as they can then download everything and cancel or it could be overwhelming to see it all at once. “Unlocking” content over time (dripping) protects you from these members who sign up and then ditch. Depending on your model, this may or may not be important for you. Want some insight on this? Check out this post by Memberful.
  • Can you restrict logins? By preventing multiple IP addresses from logging within a certain time period, you can (hopefully) reduce sharing of one membership among multiple people. Many platforms ignore this possibility, but MemberMouse handles it well.
  • While this probably won’t be a major concern for most sites, you should ask yourself if you’ll need to set a membership expiration date. While most plugins support billing every month, year, etc., what if your membership runs only until Dec. 31? I know that you can add this to Paid Memberships Pro using Chris Lema’s tip here or using Restrict Content Pro’s non-renewing membership, but it’s something to consider if you know you’ll want to use this model.
  • Last, ease of use will be important. You don’t want to be saddled with a platform that’s tough to use. Well, that’s going to be tough unless you can try them all, and you probably can’t. So we’ll do our best to cover some potential options, but I’d also recommend looking for other reviews in case there are things we miss, then trying whichever platforms you think will work for you before launching the site. Paying $100 and finding out the plugin doesn’t work for you is infinitely better than building out the entire site and being stuck with something you don’t want. Consider it a testing fee if you don’t get it right at first, but this isn’t a plugin you just install and forget about so it’s important you can work with it.

Non-WordPress Membership Platforms

If you really want to look at some of the other options out there (hey, we don’t blame you for doing your homework!), here are some platforms you could check out (I haven’t experimented with all of these):

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Cover Photo Credit: Howard Lake (CC BY-SA 2.0 license)
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Posted by Beka Rice

Beka Rice manages the direction of Sell with WP content and writes or edits most of our articles to share her interests in eCommerce. Or she just writes as an excuse to spend more time jamming out to anything from The Clash to Lady Gaga. Who knows.

3 Comments

  1. Beka, great article with some important things to think about when starting a membership site and considering the software out there.

    Thanks for mentioning Paid Memberships Pro, which of course I think is a good option for people… especially sites that needs things a little bit custom. We’ve made it easy to tweak how the plugin works, and there are addons for things like drip feed content (PMPro Series).

    Since you pointed out restricting logins, I did want to share a plugin I built called WP Bouncer which works on its own to make sure that only one device is logged into a WP user account at once. It doesn’t require PMPro, and would work with any WordPress site. http://wordpress.org/plugins/wp-bouncer/

    1. Hey Jason, thanks for stopping by! I’m actually posting more detail about plugins that will work for any site on Monday, and referenced WP Bouncer there (you beat me to the punch 🙂 ). It’s a pretty awesome option for deterring members from sharing credentials and really well done. Hopefully you’ll have a chance to check the other article out!

  2. […] are several approaches to creating a membership site with WordPress, as there are a lot of plugins available, and they each do things differently. One of the most […]

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