Creating your membership site is not unattainable. However, it is time-consuming to create a membership site that displays content only for users who have registered as a member.
Throughout the article, we will explain what you have to take into account to create a membership site. Also, we will go through various methods of setting up a membership site.
We will also introduce some useful plugins, which make the development process of a membership site easy. However, before jumping into the process of site development, let us understand what a membership site is and how it can be beneficial for you.
What is a membership site?
What does a “Membership site” mean, or what do we mean when we talk about benefits of a membership site?
Membership sites are defined as platforms where useful content is published with restricted access. Users can only enter by paying a fee to the membership site owner. Payments can be annual or monthly and it is normal for the user to get a discount if they choose the yearly option.
Sometimes the sites also offer different prices, as there are several levels within the community. After the contracted period, the user must pay again to continue access. The payment process is usually automated as the members have to share their credit card details while signing up and that gets stored within the site's database.
What are you going to find in these types of sites?
Each membership site is different, but there are usually some common points:
Forum: Both to provide support and for members to relate to each other, these membership sites work as a forum. There are also people who choose to create closed Facebook groups or use private Slack channels.
Personal account: Here the member can see their progress or their next targeted tasks. Many membership sites also create some functions that have social networks. You can add friends or create groups within these membership sites.
What are the benefits of building your membership site?
The great advantage of setting up a membership site is to obtain a new recurring revenue line that provides greater stability to your online business. Also, membership sites are the best ways of implementing trending internet marketing strategies. To grow your membership site and client base, you will have to integrate your site with Web 2.0 technology and promote the site on popular social media platforms.
Tutorial to Create a Membership Site with WordPress and WooCommerce
In this tutorial, we are going to need seven plugins. The plugins are:
- WooCommerce: Free
- WooCommerce Subscription: $199
- Groups: Free
- Groups 404 Redirect: Free
- Groups Ecommerce: $79
- Page List: Free
- Widget Context: Free
Step 1: Install all previous plugins.
Save time by installing and activating all the plugins listed previously. Download them from the link given or search the plugin repository directly from the WordPress dashboard. Not sure how to setup WordPress and install plugins? Follow our step-by-step guide!
Step 2: Create the Group or Groups that will have Access to Premium Content
Click on Capabilities within Groups in our side menu visible in the administration area of WordPress. Then, create a new Capability with the name that you want. For example, “Premium”.
Once the Capability is created, click on Groups to create a new group to which we will assign the Premium capability.
Within Groups, click on Options and select the Premium capability. This is what gives us the possibility to choose this group for assigning and sharing latest content. You can create content by restricting access to the new Premium group.
Step 3: Create Restricted Content for the Premium Group
While creating or editing a blog post or page on your site, in the WordPress edit window, on the right, there is a new field that allows us to select who can see our content.
If we leave it by default, our content will be visible to everyone, but if we select a group, the content will be visible to those users who are within the group.
If any user who does not have permission that tries to access the restricted content pages, will be redirected to a predefined page. Set this page up with the Groups 404 Redirect plugin, which allows you to redirect to the page you want, for example, to the login page. To do this go to Settings -> Groups 404 Redirect and choose Redirect to the WordPress Login or any other relevant page.
Step 4: Charge for Premium Content
At this point, you’ve successfully restricted content access but haven’t setup the payment system. This part will be handled by WooCommerce's Subscription and WooCommerce Groups. The setup of WooCommerce Subscription varies, depending on the nature of membership. Here are two common scenarios:
Scenario 1: Give access to content with a single payment (no recurring payment).
You make a course with content accessible from a member area and you want the users of your website to buy and consume online. If this is your case, then you do not actually need the WooCommerce Subscription plugin, since this plugin is designed for recurring charges.
Scenario 2: Give access to content with recurring payment.
If you plan to offer monthly memberships, you need recurring payment option so that the registered buyers are automatically charged on their listed credit card or PayPal payment method.
The essential step is to configure the payment method. There are several options for payment processor, such as Stripe or Authorize.net. Included with WooCommerce is the PayPal payment method, so we will describe that method. You will need a PayPal account created first to use this method.
First, we will sync PayPal to your copy of WooCommerce. To do this, go to WooCommerce > Settings > Checkout > PayPal. Login to your PayPal account and fill in the API credentials.
Once done, we enable the payment with PayPal and we add the email to be used in PayPal. To accept recurring payments, we will also have to fill in the Credentials for the API. In this link, PayPal itself explains how to do it.
After we have configured the payment method, we are ready to create the product that will enable automatic access to restricted content for the Premium Group. When creating a new product, we must select the Simple Subscription option.
Selecting Simple Subscription gives you the new subscription payment options. With this setting, you can also offer a free trial of X number of days.
Once the payment methods are setup and functional, move to the Groups tab and select the Group that we want to give access to when buying the subscription. That's it!
Step 5: List Your Premium Content Automatically
This step is not necessary, but helpful if you plan to update your premium content list. It uses the Page List plugin to create a page where all the lessons of a course appear automatically.
Create a page with the name of “Premium Content List” or something to that effect. This page will be the one that contains all the Premium content. Once you save it, take note of the page ID (listed in the URL, while editing that page). Once you know the page ID, you add the following shortcode line in your page:
[pagelist_ext child_of = "your page ID" show_image = "1" image_width = "image size" image_height = "auto"]
Save/update, then take a look. All of your premium content should now be listed for access!
Step 6: Add the Agenda
To achieve this use the Context Widget plugin. This plugin allows us to make visible or hide the widgets that we want in different places of our page.
Create a menu (under Dashboard > Appearance > Menus) for each list of premium content, and later add it as a widget in the corresponding topics. To start with, create the menu with all the pages of the topics of your site and go to Widgets. Each widget has new options that allow us to show or hide any plugin.
However, before adding your new menu, you need to remove all the widgets that you do not want to make visible.
Now that you have hidden the widgets that you do not want to be seen, you will add the widget to the menu of the agenda to the corresponding topic.
This is just one of many ways to create a WordPress-powered membership site. There is a wealth of plugins and resources to expand upon this basic idea. We have also included a few alternative, free membership plugins below. Good luck!
Three Additional Free Plugins to Create a Membership Site with WordPress
WordPress functions for user registration and information protection are limited, so for most projects to create a membership site in WordPress, you will need to use additional plugins to improve the basic features.
Here are top 3 free plugins to create a membership site with WordPress:
More Info & Download the Plugin
Membership is a plugin created by the creative group of “WPMU” – also available in a paid premium version. When using Membership, you will realize that it includes all the functionalities that a membership site needs. It is the ideal plugin for sharing texts, tutorials, downloads and videos with the subscribers of the site since it includes support to protect different types of content.
- Includes integration with “BuddyPress.”
- Includes integration with the payment gateway “PayPal” (PayPal Express and PayPal Single Payments).
- Support for Content Dripping functionality (allows subscribers of a site to access exclusive content in a pre-programmed way).
- This free version allows to create up to 2 levels of memberships (free or of payment).
- The Premium Membership version is available from $19.00 (monthly payment).
More Info & Download the Plugin
S2Member is one of our favorite plugins to create a membership site with WordPress as it includes, “Custom capabilities.” The custom capabilities are personalized capabilities that can be assigned to a user manually or automatically, depending on the subscription level to which the user belongs. This increases or decreases the restriction and access to the content of the membership site per the users level.
- Includes integration with “BuddyPress” and “bbPress.”
- Includes integration with the payment gateway “PayPal” (PayPal Standard).
- Preliminary support (via PHP) of “Content Dripping” functionality (allows subscribers of a site to access exclusive content in a pre-programmed way).
- This free version allows you to create up to 4 levels of membership and custom capabilities (more available for paid memberships).
- The premium version of s2Member Pro is available from $89.00 (single payment).
#3 Paid Memberships Pro
More Info & Download the Plugin
Paid Memberships Pro is a plugin that seamlessly integrates the management of membership levels, reports and affiliate program. Thanks to its 100% GPL license, Paid Memberships Pro is one of the most complete plugins today, with the most integrations and all its code and add-ons available to WordPress users for free.
- Includes integration with payment gateways: “Stripe”, “Braintree Payments”, “Authorize.net” (with Automated Recurring Billing – ARB support), “PayPal” (PayPal Standard, PayPal Express, PayPal Website Payments Pro, PayPal Paflow, PayPal Advanced) and the option “Payment with Check.”
- Support (via add-on) of “Content Dripping” functionality (allows subscribers of a site to access exclusive content in a pre-programmed way).
- Create unlimited membership levels.
- A unique support service is available for $47.00.
This selection of various methods and top 3 free plugins to create a membership site with WordPress, will guide you to decide which plugin is the ideal fit to integrate into your website. The final decision will always be yours, but keep in mind the type of project carried out and the goals you want to achieve. We find the premium plugins often pay for themselves with improved support and functionality, whereas free plugins do make it less expensive to jump right in and experiment.