Most membership plugins focus entirely on restricting content to members: who can access the content, when, how much does access cost, and what to do if a member doesn’t have access. However, they don’t make it easy to build a community of members: showing directories of members, publicly displaying member profiles or only displaying profiles to other members, and showing member information.

Building directory-type sites is difficult, and I didn’t really have a great recommendation for most types of membership sites looking to get this kind of functionality. However, the fairly new Ultimate Member plugin provides a great member directory and frontend member profile solution. Even better: you can get the core plugin for free.

Ultimate Member Review: Overview

Ultimate Member adds the ability to manage members on your site, but also enables members to manage themselves. You can create roles for members, directories, and profile forms so that members can display their personal information within their profiles in your directory. Members can then edit their own profiles easily and view any content accessible to their member roles.

The core Ultimate Member plugin will let you register members, add and update profiles, create member directories, and restrict content to members. Posts, pages, and custom post types (such as products from most eCommerce platforms) can be restricted to member roles.

If you need additional functionality, you can check out the Ultimate Member extensions. There are already several extensions available, such as a social login extension and a bbPress add-on to add your content restriction to bbPress forums.

Ultimate Member Review: Setup

I was a bit overwhelmed with the plugin setup, as there are a lot of configuration options, and the plugin uses a customized settings page rather than one that blends in with WordPress. However, you’ll only go through setup once, so it’s worth taking the time to go through each settings tab. You can determine what profile components are available to members, configure emails and profile image settings, and change appearance settings.

Ultimate Member Review: Settings

General Settings

Once you’ve gone through all settings, you’ll also want to create your member “roles”. These are your membership types, and they dictate how content is restricted on your site. Each role has the ability to change what access the member has to his or her own profile, as well as the profiles of other members (i.e., can they view other profiles).

Ultimate Member Review: new role

Add a new role

The “Admin” and “Member” roles are automatically created, but you can add as many other roles as needed. Site administrators will automatically have “Admin” community roles, while your subscribers or other users will be “Members” unless you change them to a newly created role.

Ultimate Member Review: roles

Community Roles

These roles will be integrated into the WordPress “Users” screen, and you can use this to adjust community roles, as well as review and approve new member registrations (if you don’t auto-approve new members).

Ultimate Member Review: users

I didn’t like that community roles have to be changed in bulk here, as they can’t be changed from the “Edit User” screen, but this isn’t a major drawback.

Ultimate Member Review: Member Profiles

If you allow members to create and edit their profiles, they can do so directly from the frontend of your site. You’ll need to create a profile form to include any information about the member, which you can do from Ultimate Member > Forms.

Ultimate Member Review: profile forms

Create Profile Forms

You can add predefined fields to this form, such as fields for some social profiles, or you can add your own custom fields. This is helpful, for example, to add a “biography” field for a longer user biography.

Ultimate Member Review: form fields

Profile / Registration fields

You can adjust settings for your custom fields before saving them, or use conditional logic to display or hide fields depending on the other fields used in the profile.

Ultimate Member Review: custom fields

Custom fields

All forms you add here will be used within the main user profile. These profiles are the public-facing profiles for all members, and this is what a member directory will link to for each member.

Ultimate Member Review: user profile

User Profile

Users can visit their profile pages and edit them directly from the frontend of your site. Profile editing is extremely easy, and this is one of my favorite features of Ultimate Member. Members can adjust profile and cover images, as well as any of the profile fields you’ve created.

Ultimate Member Review: edit profile

Edit Profile

Ultimate Member Review: Member Directories

If you’d like to display all of your members or members of a particular role, you can create a custom member directory. This directory can have rules as to which members are included, how they’re sorted, and what member information is displayed. The member directory will link to the member profile for more details.

Ultimate Member Review: new directory

Create a Directory

Your directory will show a grid of member profiles with the information you’ve opted to include, and will also include search options if you’ve enabled search.

Ultimate Member Review: Directory

Member Directory

Ultimate Member Review: Content Restriction

Basic content restriction is included in Ultimate Member, and it’s very easy to use. You can restrict posts, pages, or custom post types such as products in a shop or portfolio items. You can also restrict the user profiles generated by the plugin by restricting the “Users” page, or restrict the member directory by restricting its page.

You can restrict a page using the Ultimate Member meta box while editing a page or post to make it public, for logged out users (nonmembers), or for logged in members with specific member roles.

Ultimate Member Review: content restriction

Restricting content

As you may include some items in your navigation that are only for members, you can also restrict menu items so they only appear for members / non-members. For example, you can restrict the “Register” page to non-members, but the “My Account” page to members.

Ultimate Member Review: menu restriction

Restrict menu items

Content restriction is fairly limited, as you can’t add restrictions in bulk to pages, posts, or taxonomies (such as a category of posts). There’s also no way to schedule the delayed release of your content (dripping) so members get more access over time. Restrictions are very easy to add and effective for member roles, and I liked that I could apply them to products in my store.

When a user tries to visit a page he doesn’t have access to, he’ll see a login form instead of the content on that page.

Ultimate Member Review: restricted

Restricted post

If a member tries to visit a page while logged in that’s for a different member role, she’ll simply see basic account information instead of the “login” form.

Ultimate Member Review: restricted

A restricted post for another role

While I liked how easy content restriction was, it feels a bit incomplete, as there are no notices to inform non-members why the content is restricted (such as a “This content is only for members” notice), and no what to tell the user what kind of membership is required to view the content. There’s also no way to tell a logged-in member why content for other membership roles isn’t displayed, as the “Login” / basic account display doesn’t provide any insight to a member as to why the page is inaccessible.

Selling Memberships with Ultimate Member

Ultimate Member includes all membership capabilities, but doesn’t provide the ability to sell any of your memberships. It’s a great member and community management tool, but does help you to monetize your memberships.

Fortunately, you can do this by replacing your registration form with a purchase / checkout form. I’ll use Gravity Forms because of the User Registration add-on I have with my developer license ($199). This will let me create a purchase form that will automatically create a member and assign the correct role, which lets me sell access to memberships.

You’ll need to get a bit fancy with your form to automatically assign the right membership role when it’s purchased, as we’ll need to ensure that the form sets the “role” user meta correctly. To do so, you can’t use a Product field (this would include the price in the user meta, which we don’t want). Instead, you’ll need to use a field to select the membership type, then conditionally show the associated product.

I know it sounds a bit confusing, but basically I can’t create a product dropdown with "Silver membership – $25" and "Gold membership – $50" because this field won’t set the member data correctly. Instead, I’ll create a “Membership Types” field with “Silver membership” and “Gold membership”, then, depending on which is selected, I’ll show the correct “product” field.

Gravity Forms Ultimate Member product selection

Form Fields to sell your membership

This ensures that the correct meta will be set for the membership role. When you create this “Membership Types” field, you’ll set the values as the slugs for the correlated memberships. My “members” role is sold as a “silver membership”, while an upgraded role is sold as a “gold membership”. I’ve created the role “Gold Member” in Ultimate Member, so I’ll set this as the value for my field.

Gravity Forms Set Member Role

If I’d created a role for “Platinum Member”, I could add another field for “Platinum membership” and set its value to platinum-member. This will ensure that the purchase form automatically creates your user, and that the user is assigned to the right member role immediately.

The only other field you’ll need to include is an admin-only field for the account status, and set the default value to approved. This ensures that your members aren’t held for your review when they’ve paid to register.

If you want a head start, you can download a sample form by viewing that link and clicking “Download” in the top right. You can then import this form into Gravity Forms and use it as a starting point. This sample form includes the hidden “account status” field as well as the Membership Types field and conditional logic so you can see how its done.

Once you’ve got a registration form with your member details, payment info (I’m going to integrate Gravity Forms with Stripe), and credit card number, you’ll need to do two things: tie this to the Gravity Forms User Registration add on, and tie this form to your payment (Stripe in my case, but there are other payment add-ons).

When you set up your user registration, add the two special fields we’d mentioned earlier: the “role” should be set to the membership type selected by the customer (this is why we were picky about the value), and the “account_status” should just use your hidden fields so it’s automatically “approved”.

Gravity Forms Ultimate Member user registration

Connect user registration to your form

Don’t forget to tie the payment fields in your form to Stripe so they’re sent to pay for the registration!

Gravity Forms Ultimate Member Stripe setup

Connect payment gateway to your form

This process is a bit difficult if you’ve never used the User Registration add-on (though I highly recommend it; I find it very useful). However, it’s a simple way to sell registrations for a membership, as you can simply replace the Ultimate Member Registration form with your Gravity Form and charge for registration. This will automatically register the user and provide the selected membership role.

Ultimate Member Review: Summary

Ultimate Member does an excellent job of creating a type of site that previously required a ton of custom code to create: directory sites.

Despite the lack of purchasing functionality (though you can make this work with Gravity Forms, the GF User Registration Add-on, and a payment gateway add-on), Ultimate Member is a great member-management plugin, and I think it’s best served for sites that want to focus on member directories and communities. UM easily lets members update their profile information, and can create customized profiles with the information you’d like to use in your community. The frontend profile-editing is one of my favorite features, and its very well done.

Member directories will be created automatically using your directory rules, providing a handy way to show the members in your site, or just members with a certain role. I like that you can create several different directories, restrict who can view them, and then just drop the shortcode for the directory on a page.

The content restriction is good enough to use if this isn’t the main focus of your site. It does exactly what it’s supposed to do, but definitely has room for improvement in terms of bulk applying rules (to make setup faster) and informing nonmembers (or members that don’t have access) why content is restricted. It also doesn’t let you drip out content or expire memberships after a certain period of time.

Ultimate Member is young and it’s great to see several extensions already available. For example, the integration with bbPress is helpful to build your community via forums and restrict them to members. While there are a few downsides to using it, it’s overall a very polished plugin that makes building a directory extremely simple.


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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.

13 Comments

  1. I really hope they add content dripping Soon

  2. Thanks for this article! Very helpful.

    So, based upon the areas where there are gaps here, what other products might you recommend to consider?

    Here are my quick needs:
    – Sell membership by category. Allow payments. Automatically place into a member “Class”.
    – Auto generate ID and Password for the new membership subscriber. Allow recovery/reset in the future as needed.
    – Have the Class provide access to some content vs other content as the membership dictates. Do that by content categories.
    – Handle membership renewals
    – Exist on a WordPress base

    Pretty simple needs. Any other questions to consider for functionality that I left out?

    Thanks for your help!

    Greg

    1. Hey Greg, if you want to sell access and restrict content by category, I’d recommend checking out something like Paid Membership Pro instead. You can do memberships for each “class” and set up restriction rules for each. It can also sell memberships with a few payment gateway options. Not sure about auto-generating passwords, but that could be done fairly easily with custom code since WordPress has a function that can help out.

  3. Thanks Beka! I’ll check out that recommendation.
    Greg

  4. Hi Beka thank for you for writing this amazing article!!, I have found this very useful for a project I’m currently doing. Just one quick question, will the membership access stop if payment stops from the member on a Paypal monthly/yearly subscription?.

    Many thanks for your help Beka,

    Dave

    1. Hey Dave, what PayPal payment method / plugin are you using for this?

  5. Hi Beka, thank you for your reply. I want to use the Paypal add-on for gravity forms. If a member stops payment for access to the site, will the member stop getting access or will this have to be done manually with Ultimate Member?.

    Many thanks for your help,

    Dave

    1. Gravity Forms doesn’t communicate with Ultimate Member, so while you can accept payment as part of a custom registration form, the subscription / payment isn’t tied to Ultimate Member in any way. You’d need a custom plugin to hook into the payment status and then trigger the membership expiration in Ultimate Member.

  6. This is super. Thanks. I’m currently in the process of setting up something like this. However, I’m interested in including the email activation for GF registration. I figured out how to customize the terrible WP activation email, but not sure how that will integrate with UM.

    Thanks for an awesome post!

  7. Özdemir Erdogan October 6, 2015 at 5:53 pm

    Hi,

    Thanks for this article. I would like to know if there is a way to solve my problem.
    Do you know if it is possible in the User Profile page to hide some information when a user is not logged?

    In my site there are authors writing public articles (pdf). In the user profile I would like to list these publications but I want to hide the other information such the mobile phone etc…

    Thanks in advance for the answer.
    Erdogan

  8. Thank you for the fantastic reviews on this site! I’ll be coming back frequently.

    I am working on a site for an organization that offers a physical course and then provides online content. They need attractive user profiles and ways to interact, which Ultimate Member does very well.

    Going forward they need a way to enroll and admit students that includes a recurring tuition payment plan option and the ability to include add-ons (like sessions with a practitioner). Buying additional categories (like a lodging reservation for the offline class) is ideal. Non-students need to be able to buy one-off options like a session or pay for an event. Currently they are set up with Authorize.net.

    Ultimate Member now has a WooCommerce extension. I’m wondering if you have tried those two together and whether what I’m describing above is possible? Gravity Forms obviously works for a simpler approach but I need more…

    I’ve got Paid Memberships Pro but getting the attractive user interfaces is proving a hassle and setup and the code recipes are a bit above my pay grade. Any suggestions on alternative approaches that have the front-end beauty of Ultimate Member with recurring payment options?

    Thanks for your time!

  9. Hey Beka , I am trying to make a UM Directory. (using custom Meta in forms) It would search up the criteria based off the profile information meta I’ve selected. I need help!

    1. Hey Porter, afraid I’ve not dug deeply into UM so it’s not something I have sample code for. The folks at Codeable are great for these sort of projects 🙂

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