Top WordPress membership site plugins

Build your tribe

Before introducing plugins with membership features, you might not have realized that WordPress already offers the ability to restrict content based on a user’s registration and role on your WordPress site. The WordPress API offers functions to validate a user’s role, allowing you to wrap the feature around specific content or features to enable or disable viewing that content by role.

When you add users to WordPress, the lowest user role is Subscriber. This role only offers the opportunity to modify and update your profile.

wordpress-user-subscriber

It’s not a useless role, as some believe. Combined with some minor edits to your templates, you can easily modify content within your site to only be available if the user is registered on your site. Sample code might be:


Your content for registered users!

 to view this content.

In this example code, you must enable Settings > General > Membership and enable open registration for your site. WordPress installations typically have open registration disabled because of the number of SPAM bots that will register. Your sites may have thousands of registrations daily once you enable this. Additional plugins like email confirmation would be appropriate to thwart the onslaught of spammy registrations.

Another word of caution here: Hiding content from registered users also hides content from search engines by default. You may want to make some modifications to create alternate navigation menus, and load one for registered users and another for unregistered users. This will help avoid confusion by search engine crawlers as well as your users.

bbPress User Forums

Many WordPress users also do not realize that user forums are available via the fully-supported bbPress plugin from Automattic. bbPress expands user roles and allows you to integrate a full-featured forum directly within your WordPress installation.

bbpress-screenshot

If restricting content, acquiring members, and producing a user forum was the goal of your Membership site, that’s all you need! However, Membership site implementations typically include other key features outside WordPress’s default capabilities.

Key features of membership plugins

membership-features

Depending on what you’re trying to achieve, there are several features found across the board in membership plugins for WordPress. The most popular are:

  • Paid subscription management with recurring subscriptions.
  • Membership level customization and pricing.
  • Payment gateway integration to services like PayPal, Stripe and Authorize.net.
  • Restricted access to content or the ability to tease content without the need for writing code.
  • Security features to block paid accounts from sharing.
  • Email integration to customize and deliver messages to your community.
  • An API isn’t a necessity, but if the plugin developer is offering it, it most likely shows a level of detail and capability. As well, if you’re seeking to enhance your membership down the road, an API is a welcome feature.

Membership means different things to different people, so you may wish to evaluate additional plugins on the market. If you’re technically savvy, for instance, you may want to combine Gravity Forms with a payment gateway add-on and apply it to a registration page. Combined with custom templates that restrict viewing content based on the registration, you’ve got yourself the basics of a membership site.

With great development resources, you can produce some complex, highly integrated, and full-featured membership platforms. However, the cost of development and upkeep for proprietary integrations is likely outweighed by the robust selection of membership plugins already available within the industry.

For this article, we focused on specific plugins that are widely adopted and available through the WordPress plugin repository. There are other plugins available outside the repository that might be outstanding and exceed your expectations, the most popular examples being MemberPressMemberMouse and Wishlist Member.

Popular WordPress membership plugins

There are quite a few free WordPress membership plugins available within the WordPress Plugin Repository, but a few stand out:

Membership 2

Membership 2 is a rewritten and optimized membership plugin with more than 10,000 installations. It provides access to downloads, online content, videos, forums and support. It’s a basic plugin that offers a paid upgrade to Membership 2 Pro with much more robust features and support. With the incredible resources of the WPMU DEV team behind Membership 2, this is an excellent plugin but requires an ongoing subscription.

Paid Memberships Pro

With over 40,000 installations, Paid Memberships Pro offers unlimited levels, recurring payments, protected content and member management. It also supports integration with WooCommerce, the e-commerce platform that Automattic recently acquired.

S2Member

S2Member is also a freemium plugin with a Pro offering that integrates with PayPal and offers “Buy Now” or Membership access to your site. With S2Member, you’re able to restrict access to Roles, Capabilities, Posts, Pages, or anything else in WordPress.

Simple Membership

Simple Membership is a newcomer to the field but has already accumulated more than 9,000 installations. The aptly named plugin offers multiple membership layers that allow you to restrict viewing of posts and pages.

WP-Members

With over 60,000 installations, WP-Members is a well-supported and widely used membership plugin. The developers, RocketGeek Interactive, utilize a freemium model and sell a set of extensions through their site.

Don’t forget Woo

The last option that we’d like to mention is WooCommerce Memberships. Along with many of the membership features we’ve shared, WooCommerce Memberships integrates with other WooCommerce plugins, offering myriad opportunities to expand your functionality. In addition to content, the WooCommerce Memberships plugin can help you to control product sales, bookings and groups.

WooCommerce, of course, has integrations with virtually every payment gateway, a large selection of email platforms and an extensive network of other offerings through WooThemes.

Image by: eethompson via Compfight cc

Douglas Karr
Douglas is a marketing technology expert, working with key industry players, corporations and startups for over a decade. As the CEO of his consultancy, DK New Media, he consults and develops strategies for assisting marketing technology companies gain market share as well as enterprise corporations with vendor selection. He advises investors and venture capital firms. He's also been integrating, developing, and optimizing WordPress since version 1.5 when he founded his Marketing Technology blog.