How to Create a Membership Site with WordPress

How to Create a Membership Site with WordPress

If you are considering creating a membership site with WordPress, then there are many good reasons to do so. By restricting the premium contents to registered or paid users, you will be able to achieve the following goals eventually.

  • Increase user engagement.
  • Build an active community from the registered users.
  • Make money from your website by selling any premium content you like.
  • Increase your site’s value so as to make it easier to sell contents to new members.

Membership sites vary from one to another. Depending on what they want to achieve, some people build such a site simply to grow the community and they do not sell, while others aim to earn incomes by offering videos, training courses, digital downloads, etc. Most personal sites would start with the former way, while professionals need the latter.

In this tutorial, we will introduce the free ways to reach both of the goals mentioned above, so you can follow the guides that fit your needs exactly.

Create a Membership Site with WordPress That Doesn’t Sell

For this type of membership sites, the owners usually restrict the access to some posts or pages, so that the visitors have to log in before reading the content contained in them. Users without an existing account will need to register first. The common purpose of creating a site in this kind is to build a group of loyal readers and form a community.

WP-Members is a great free solution for creating a membership site with no need to deal with payments. It is easy-to-use and feature rich, and works with all properly-configured themes.

To set up a membership site, you have to install the plugin from your WordPress dashboard, and then refer to the guides below to make your site function in your preferred way.

Restrict posts/pages

As the plugin enables you to protect content, it gives you multiple options of the restriction. In the plugin options located in Settings > WP-Members, you can block/unblock all posts/pages as you like. Custom post types are also supported.

Protect Content

Our suggestion is not to set up the plugin to block all posts and pages here because you will not want to make the majority of your contents available to members only. Therefore, you’d better select “Do not block”. Then, you can block individual posts and pages before publishing them. This can be done by checking the “Block this post” option on the post editing screen. The setting here will override the default plugin options.

Block This Post

Create a custom registration form

Under the “Fields” tab of the plugin settings, there are multiple fields displayed among which you can decide the ones to display in the registration form, those to require, and those to delete by yourself. Doing these things only needs simple clicks on the corresponding checkboxes.

Basically, you need to require the name, email address and password. If you want to collect more information, you can also choose to display the fields like city, state and address. In the case you need a field that is not listed, you are able to create a custom field without much effort. Besides, you can drag the fields to change their orders. After making changes, remember to click on the “Update Fields” button.

Registration Data Fields

To display the registration form on your membership site, you can paste the shortcode [wp-members page=”register”] on a page to make a registration page, or add the shortcode to a sidebar widget to display the registration form in the sidebar. However, the former is more recommended if your form includes 5 or more data fields.

Registration Page

To make the registration page easy to be found, you can even add a menu item for the page.

Create the user profile page

For a membership site, it is better to allow users to view and edit their profiles on the frontend of your site instead of in the backend. With WP-Members, you can add an independent user profile page by creating a new page and pasting the shortcode [wp-members page=”user-profile”] in it. Then, publish the page and add it to the sidebar login widget or the navigation menu as you want.

Note that when creating the profile page, you have to unblock the page if you have set up the plugin to block all pages by default.

Profile Page

Add a login widget to WordPress sidebar

By default, WP-Members displays a login form on any blocked content. However, if you like, you can enable sidebar login so that your users can log into your site to view the premium content or edit their profile at any time.

As the plugin comes with a sidebar widget, you can finish the task here by finding the “WP-Members Login” widget in Appearance > Widgets, and then drag it to your WordPress sidebar. In the case you want to redirect logged-in users to their profiles, add the profile page URL in the widget.

Sidebar Login Widget

Moderate user registrations

Enabling registration moderation is always a good thing as this helps you fight against spam. With WP-Members, you have to enable moderations manually in the plugin options. In the “Other Settings” section, check the option for holding new registrations for approval, and optionally, you can enable email notifications to improve your efficiency of dealing with new registrations.

Registration Moderation

When these are done, you can manually approve new user registrations in the Users menu in WordPress dashboard. All the registrations that are pending for moderation are categorized under “Not Active”.

Create a Membership Site with WordPress That Sells

Unlike those membership sites that build communities, many other sites simply aim at selling instead of sharing. Due to the different business purposes, the features needed by those sites are quite different, too. For a membership site that deals with eCommerce, it will require not only the content protection features, but also membership level control, downloadable content protection, payment gateways, and content dripping.

Most of the WordPress plugins coming with these features are released with a fee. However, Paid Memberships Pro is certainly an exception as it is free yet really feature rich. The support is great, too.

As one of the best WordPress membership plugins, Paid Memberships Pro can meet most people’s needs successfully, and below is a simple guide for getting started with it. Of course, you will have to install it first before doing anything else.

Add and configure the membership levels

After the plugin is activated, it adds a Memberships menu item in WordPress dashboard from which you can set everything up. The first task to complete is to add the membership levels you need. Simply navigate to the Membership Levels sub-menu, and click on “Add New Level”.

Add New Membership Level

On the new page, you need to enter the name of the membership level and the initial payment you’d like to charge. If you accept recurring subscription payments, check the option for “Recurring Subscription” and configure the payment, billing cycle and trial. Besides, you can set the membership expiration date and the content settings as you like. All things are easy to handle.

Configure Membership Level

At last, save the level and create more based on your selling plan. Then your users are able to select a membership level during registration.

To upgrade or downgrade the membership level of a user, you can find the user in Users, edit it, and make changes in the “Membership Level” section.

Change Membership Level

For a paying member, selecting “None” for the “Current Level” will cancel his/her membership and stop billing him/her. Your users can also change their membership level or cancel the membership from their account page.

Generate the necessary pages

As you will need certain pages to make your membership site function, such as the user account page, billing page, cancellation page, checkout page, invoice page and the membership level page, you have to go to Memberships > Page Settings and let the plugin generate the pages for you automatically. Alternatively, you are able to create these pages manually by using the corresponding shortcodes.

Generate Pages

Configure the payment gateways

Paid Memberships Pro is built with the support for multiple popular payment gateways including credit cards, PayPal, Authorize.NET, 2Checkout and CyberSource. For credit card payments, you can select the card types that you’d like to accept, and for other gateways, simply select them and paste the API information. These can be done in Memberships > Payment Settings.

Configure Payment Gateways

Restrict content with the plugin

The plugin offers rich tools for you to restrict posts, pages or any other piece of content to any level of membership. To manage the access to individual posts or pages, edit the post/page and check the membership levels that are required to view it on the editing screen. If no level is selected, the post/page is viewable to everyone.

Restrict Posts/Pages to Membership Level

And to restrict a membership level’s access to a certain category, edit the membership level, and in the “Content Settings”, check the categories that are visible to this level.

Restrict Categories to Membership Level

Another simple way to control the access to content is by placing the proper shortcode around the content that you want to protect. For example, with the following shortcode, the content is visible to all members.

All-Member Visible

And for the shortcode below, the content is restricted to the membership level whose ID is “1”. You can change the levels by using different IDs which can be found in Memberships > Membership Levels, but you will need to separate multiple IDs with commas.

Restrict Content with Shortcode

These shortcodes can be used in posts, pages as well as widgets, so that you are able to use them to protect any content you like, for example, videos and downloads.

Until now, you have learned the basic uses of the Paid Memberships Pro plugin. But in fact, this plugin is far more powerful than what introduced above. Other things you can do with it include:

  • Setting up email templates for user communications.
  • Creating coupon codes for different membership levels.
  • Forcing SSL for payment processing.
  • Exporting the member list to CSV.
  • Managing orders.
  • Getting reports for the views, logins, sales, and revenue.
  • Expanding the functionalities by installing other free and paid add-ons.

The list goes on, and you can explore more to find the exact features you want. The plugin is powerful enough for most small and medium sized WordPress membership sites. More importantly, it is completely free.