WordPress As A Membership Site

The other day I wrote about using WordPress As A Website Platform and I received a question, in the comments, about how to use it as a Membership Site and where they could get more information.

I have spent literally the last 12 months trying several different options – working out the best way to create a WordPress Membership site – and I’m still not sure I have succeeded in finding the one best way.  I’ve found several excellent variations – and each one has different strengths and weaknesses – so it depends on what you’re trying to achieve.

I’m going to provide one piece of advice and ask several questions, before I talk about the different solutions I found and have implemented, used personally and managed for others as well.

My first piece of advice is to Define, very clearly what you want to achieve from your membership site:

  • How do you want to deliver content to your visitors – through posts, or pages?
  • Do you want to be able to provide a ‘sneak peek’ of the content to all site visitors – so they can get a feel of what they are missing as not being members?
  • Do you want to ‘drip feed’ information to your members, rather than giving them access to all the content at once?
  • How many membership levels do you want?
  • Does each membership level build on the previous one? e.g If you have Free, Silver and Gold… does the Silver membership have access to the Free resources and does Gold membership have access to the Silver and free resources… not all sites do.
  • What is the renewal periods for the memberships?
  • Do you want registration and payment automated?
  • Do you want renewal payments automated?

By clearly defining the intent of your membership site and answering the questions above (there are more…) you will be able to choose the best solution for your site.

Some WordPress Membership Solutions

A private blog

This is the least expensive in terms of $’s outlayed, but possibly the most time consuming option.  Depending on how big your membership base is and how big you want it to be, this option could truly suit you.

It’s not elegant though…

Here’s what I would do:

1.Through WP-Admin , go to Settings -> Privacy and select “I would like to block search engines, but allow normal visitors”

Please note: This works BEST with a new blog installation. If you have already installed your blog and added content before changing this setting, you’re blog will most likely already be found in the search engines

2. Through WP-Admin, go to Settings -> General and check the box next to membership – so that ‘Anyone Can Register’.  For New User Default Role, select Subscriber

3. When writing a post, you can now mark your membership content as private by locating the publish box and clicking on Edit next to Visibility, Select Private and click OK and only logged in users will see it

There are several drawbacks with this method. Firstly, there is no tie in between payment and registration.

Secondly, visitors can register whenever they like, so if someone ‘finds’ your blog or is given the address, they can register and immediately have access to your members only content.  You can alleviate that by removing the ‘anyone can register’ function and manually registering users yourself.

Really, this method is only good for sites with a small user base.


aMember is a flexible membership and subscription management PHP script that supports multiple payment systems including PayPal.

This script allows you to setup paid-membership areas on your site and integrate them with WordPress.

aMember will literally place your membership blog in a protected directory on your webserver and manage the user names and passwords.

Until very recently, this was my preferred method of creating a membership wite with WordPress – even though it was fiddly to install and integrate.

Using Membership Plugins

One of the main benefits of WordPress is that it is open source – which means that literally ANYONE with coding experience can write ‘add on’ code to extend the base functionality of the WordPress system.  These add ons are known as plugins.

I am aware of two plug-ins that provide excellent membership functionality for WordPress.  Neither are free – but considering that a Membership site is typically a source of income for you, then having a paid plug-in, with real life tech support is a very welcome thing.

The two wordpress membership plug-ins that I have used – successfully, are:


WP-Membership is a plug-in that will protect Pages on a WordPress blog.  This means that you can blog normally using Posts – and gain all the lovely SEO benefits and then deliver your membership content through Pages.

WP-Membership provides:

  • controlled access to the membership site either in its entirety, forcing everyone who wants to access site content to enroll as a member, or on a page-by-page basis
  • The ability to process recurring subscription payments through multiple merchant/payment gateways
  • The ability to set-up multiple subscription levels with various length of subscription & pricing options
  • The ability to offer free and paid trial options as well as full recurring membership registration that can be re-billed in a variety of time periods
  • Optional merchant/payment gateways as add-ons for® & YourPay?
  • The ability to develop “teaser” content to attract visitors, while still being able to monetize the site by requiring membership to access the protected areas

This plug-in is simple to use and the tech support is excellent.  I have had several discussions with the developer regarding features, and ‘nice to haves’ and problems that I was experiencing at the time.

At the time of writing, this plug-in was available for under $30 with lifetime updates.

Wishlist Member

WishList Member is extremely powerful and appears to do everything.

As with WP-Membership, Wishlist Member provides multiple membership levels.

What WishList Member does do, that WP-Membership doesn’t, is:

  • Sequential Content Delivery

If you want to time the release of content to your members, so they only access certain bits of content after they’ve been a member for a period of time, this functionality is great.  For example, members start at “Month 1? and after 30 days they are automatically upgraded to “Month 2? etc.

This functionality is excellent for extending the longevity of your membership.

  • Control Viewed Content

Sometimes, you will have content that you don’t want your members to see and with Wishlist Member, all you have to do is click the “Hide” button.

  • Total Content Protection

With Wishlist Member you can grant access to specific posts, pages, categories and comments for each membership level. This is incredibly powerful and gives a lot of freedom in evolving your membership site.

  • Secure RSS Feeds

Many people prefer to use RSS feeds and their fave RSS reader to access their memberships.   With Wishlist Members secure RSS feeds – your members can do this AND non-members can’t access the feed.  If a person stops paying, their feed automatically stops working.

Support for Wishlist Member is excellent as well.  Fully supported via a Helpdesk system, the developers of Wishlist Member have also created a series of Video tutorials to show you EXACTLY how to install and setup the plug-in and to create your membership site.

At the time of writing, WishList Member was $97 for a single site use – more than WP-Membership – but with different functionality.

I have reviewed four ways to make your WordPress blog into a membership site.  There are any number of other ways as well.  I have tried most of them and found them to be tedious in managing them, or lacking in functionality.  These methods are effective, not overly expensive and they work.

Do you have a WordPress Membership site using any of these methods – or a different one?  Share your story.

About Charly Leetham

Charly Leetham is a Small Business Coach and Online Business Implementation Expert who helps small businesses take their business online. With her amazing team, she provides services to solopreneurs and small business who wish to sell or promote their products and services online.

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74 Responses to WordPress As A Membership Site

  1. Igor April 13, 2010 at 3:56 pm #

    What is the best way to control access to your on-line e-learning content?
    I am developing Flash-based software training modules. I want to control access to these and the period or access to these training modules. I also want to protect these modules from being copied while they being viewed. There are some very expensive schemes out there; being a start-up this is too cost prohibitive. I am considering using a CMS system to accomplish this. Does anyone have better suggestions and experiences with this challenge?
    Can wordpress and plug-ins that are described here help?

  2. joomla birmingham May 12, 2010 at 1:17 am #

    Interesting. I had not thought about using membership on my site but I may look deeper into WP membership plug-ins. It would help with the site I’m trying to build but I wasn’t aware of the options.
    .-= joomla birmingham´s last blog ..Homepage – main content =-.

  3. Hi Charly,
    I am currently developing a niche music promotion website and I’m looking to do something that I haven’t really seen before in my niche. I’d like to make all the content free, but add a membership option which would allow paid members to create their own posts.

    This would be a huge selling point, since (approved) member posts would automatically be included in our feeds/newsletters–essentially giving artists, indie labels and promoters the ability to market their music and events directly to the website’s mailing list. They’d also get the benefit of linking back to the sites/pages of their choosing.

    I guess the best analogy would be selling editorial space instead of advertising space.

    Do you think either of these plugins would fit my purposes?

    • Charly Leetham July 10, 2010 at 3:27 pm #

      Hi Barry,

      I’m just about exclusively using Wishlist Member now – it is very flexible and with the API just being published it’s even more so.
      By setting up Wishlist Member to assigning members to a specific WP-Role you can give them access to the WP publishing windows so they can post content.


  4. Neethi July 9, 2010 at 6:14 am #

    Hi Charly,

    Iam working with wishlist now. The login box of wishlist has a Register link which goes no where but the homepage. And I don’t see any registration form.

    The main purpose of the wishlist I’m using is users can subscribe for the newsletters and some protected content on the site.

    I have integrated Paypal subscription option in admin.. and don’t know how to use that and where I see that on the site.

    Do you have any ideas..


    • Charly Leetham July 10, 2010 at 2:33 pm #

      Hi Neethi,

      High recommend you refer to the Video tutorials to help you set up your site, these have proven invaluable to many people.
      The register link on the widget can’t go to a registration page – because site owners have multiple levels and one registration link doesn’t work!

      To use paypal you need to create a payment button using the information shown in the integration section of the window.

      We are able to assist you setup your site if you are still having issues.

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