Have you grown substantially in recent times? Or just starting out with a model that allows secure access to your clients and suppliers? WordPress membership plugins provide a lot more than just a separate account on your WordPress website for a limited amount of people. They can be used in a number of other services other than buying and selling.
Adding a membership area on a WordPress website can depend on a variety of factors.
But how can you choose the right membership plugin? What common errors do you need to avoid?
How to pick the right WordPress membership plugin for your website
WordPress comes with extensive membership plugin availability you can choose from. These plugins, whether free or premium (paid) products, can usually be configured without much hassle and will work just fine with your WordPress site’s membership theme. That doesn’t mean it’s going to be an easy call to determine which one is the best fit for your website and business strategy.
So, the very first thing you need to do is evaluate possibilities. And to do that, you might find it helpful to ask yourself (or your business partners) these questions:
- What is your budget?
- How will content be available and delivered? (all at once, dripped, etc.)
- Will you need to charge users?
- How deep will your membership go?
- Do you need to integrate your membership area with WooCommerce?
These five questions will support your evaluation process by highlighting core aspects that will work as discriminating factors. If you feel lost, Chris Lema created a really helpful Q&A infographic that hand-holds you through the process:
The Best WordPress Membership Plugins in 2023
As you might have already anticipated, the hardest part of picking the right membership plugin isn’t finding one. There are several plugins that enable membership access and features quite well. The difficult part is choosing the right one for your business and website. For example, they might be different if you intend to sell something or simply provide access to different stakeholders for accessing certain information.
Nevertheless, there are some membership plugins that are worth mentioning because they not only are well-known but also they’ve been around for years and have good documentation to support them:
MemberPress is a learning management system (LMS) that lets users create a membership site that’s professional and functional. MemberPress works great for content restriction, with content dripping and expiration dates on memberships. Automated payments make billing a breeze and integrations with bbPress, and other plugins engage students using password-protected forums, coupon codes, and more.
With Member Mouse, you’ll give members access to exclusive content and products. Users have a sign-up login and profile where they can even use social login options. Member Mouse has a variety of prices starting at $29 per month.
This plugin also allows users to create a membership site from scratch and offers a customer dashboard for member management, pdf invoices, and more. As with other plugins, you can offer different membership tiers, free trials, and take payments with Paypal, Stripe, and 2Checkout. A big pro of this plugin is its proration feature which allows users to move up in membership tier with a prorated fee. You also get monthly performance reports, transaction tracking, and a great deal of add-ons, including drip content, group memberships, expiration dates, and more.
Paid Memberships Pro is one of the more expensive options on this list, starting at $247 for single-site use, but it’s full of features that can make the plugin worth it. It’s primarily for content restriction and allows you to show sneak peeks to drive subscriptions. Create unlimited membership levels and allow payment on or offline. The plugin also generates sales and revenue reports and integrates with AffiliateWP to create affiliate programs.
WooCommerce memberships can be used for a members-only site, an online magazine to offer exclusive content, an eLearning business, and more. You can drop content, restrict certain pages, and even create a whole section of your site just for members. Seeing as it’s a WooCommerce plugin, it’s easy to manage and fully integrated with other eCommerce features on your WooCommerce site.
LearnDash is a learning management system plugin allowing users to create a membership-only eLearning website. Sell access to your online courses for a fee or subscription. While it’s a similar concept, it’s not a subscription-as-a-product kind of service. LearnDash is a WordPress membership plugin that also offers group management and integrates with Easy Digital Downloads and Zapier to offer a good membership experience.
Ultimate member gives users their personalized registration and login page, taking care of membership management. You can also use the plugin’s job board functionality, integrating JobsBoardWP and ForumWP. Add-ons include Google reCAPTCHA and T&C agreement. You’ll benefit most from this WordPress membership plugin if you’re a small-medium site looking to try out membership content.
For websites that don’t intend to sell anything and only gather and disperse information, MemberPress is the weapon of choice. WordPress developer and Codeable expert Josh Morley says:
MemberPress & WooCommerce-based plugins are a great starting point, both smooth and streamline. They offer systems where people can log in, they can add content, and there are a lot of extensions for MemberPress & WooCommerce Memberships that will increase the functionality. Starting here would really set you off in the right direction.
Top 3 mistakes people make with membership plugins
When adding membership areas, there have been a number of mistakes that people make due. These mistakes mean that your website will suffer a lot in terms of performance, and when a new update for WordPress comes along, maintenance will require more time and resources than it should.
There are times when a certain membership plugin doesn’t offer all the features that are required, and, as a result, you might end up adding extra features over the plugin’s primary functions. This complicates things even more. As Josh points out:
A membership plugin can be quite rigid at times so some clients try to overly customize them to get the functionality they want. That isn’t a solid solution as, most of the times, it just ends up causing so many problems when updates roll around and something changes or a hook is no longer used. A potentially catastrophic result could be a crash of the entire website. If you really need something unique then its better to build something from scratch.
Yep, customizations are part of WordPress and what a good developer can provide you with. But that doesn’t mean they’re always your best option, nor your cost-effective solution. That’s why it is important to go through a set of questions (those listed above) to understand what available solutions are the closest to your needs.
2. Using multiple plugins
The sister issue of over-customization is trying to do that with the help of several membership plugins. Yes, another mistake that people make is that, instead of having features custom-built with the help of a developer on top of your plugin, they just pile up multiple WordPress membership plugins at the same time. Josh explains with an example:
They’ll use a membership plugin, right? But it doesn’t fully do what they need, they install another one that gives them that extra functionality. Problem is, more often than not, they would just end up clashing with each other. This never works out well. So, unless you have a good budget and you know exactly what you want to build now and how it’s going to expand, I would suggest working within the framework of MemberPress, WooCommerce membership, and so on, to lower the chances of experiencing issues.
3. Not using WooCommerce Membership (if you run a WooCommerce store)
If you have a proper WooCommerce store that is fully functional and up-to-date, there isn’t much required to add a membership area to it other than using the official extension WooCommerce Membership. In fact, WooCommerce Membership is an extensive plugin extension that caters to almost all needs for adding membership areas to a store with little left to be desired in terms of functions. As Josh further explains:
For the same reason I build stores with WooCommerce, I build a membership website using WooCommerce: it’s always up-to-date, it’s always on the cutting edge for security and WordPress Updates. There are lots of extra plugins you can buy to add functionality and, if you have a WooCommerce store and you add in the WooCommerce Memberships, you already have all your customers data right there.
If you run a WooCommerce site, sticking with WooCommerce Membership might be the most effective solution. Even if you need some custom functionality added to it.
Get Started With Memberships Using the Plugin of Your Choice
Adding a membership area on a website or WooCommerce store could enhance your offer and your UX. And the large number of membership solutions available for WordPress might trick you into thinking that’s an easy choice. Unfortunately, it’s not. As with crafting a project brief or thinking about a new feature, your job shouldn’t be pondering about technical solutions (which plugin is better than others). Rather, you should be focusing on what you want to achieve by clearly defying how a membership area will enrich your website or store.
If you have that done properly as your first step, then all technicalities involved will be a piece of cake for an experienced WordPress developer.
This blog post features Josh Morley, who is the founder of MarketingTheChange, a small digital agency that uses its profits to support charities, non-profits, and unfunded startups. He’s been designing & marketing websites for the past 4 years, with a focus on WordPress web design, online marketing, and SEO, PPC, keyword research, link-building, and lead acquisition for local businesses.