How to Create a Membership Website With WordPress in 10 Steps + Best Plugins
Creating a membership site is one of the best ways to make money online. It allows you to sell subscription plans to website visitors so that they can access exclusive benefits or content on your site.
Depending on the platform, there are many ways to create a membership website. Many people use WordPress since it is a user-friendly platform with extensive plugins that make it easy to add membership functionality to any site.
In this article, we will explain what a membership website is and how to build one with WordPress. Plus, we’ll provide the best five membership plugins to consider for your membership site.
What Is a WordPress Membership Site?
A WordPress membership site is an online platform that gives users access to exclusive resources or content. These can include online courses, newsletters, articles, and videos.
In most cases, membership websites have these criteria:
- Only members can access the content.
- Users need to register and, in some cases, pay for a subscription to access certain content.
- Members have their own profiles, which are usually customizable.
- There’s a community built around the website.
Through a paid membership, you’ll also be able to earn recurring revenue every month or year, making it a profitable business.
Note that membership and subscription websites are different. A membership site can be either free to join or require payment, while a subscription site requires users to pay for a certain time to use a product or service.
For example, Spotify offers a subscription plan that charges users a monthly fee to use the service. On the other hand, Sephora provides a free membership that can be used to redeem rewards, receive exclusive gifts, and earn points.
In addition, membership sites can be utilized to restrict access to specific parts of a website for partners or employees. This way, only certain users can log in to view the information.
How to Build a Membership Website With WordPress
This section will show how to create a membership website with WordPress, from choosing your membership model and web hosting to promoting your site. We’ll use the Paid Member Subscriptions plugin to set up the membership site.
1. Decide on a Membership Site Model
A membership model refers to the business plan or the base of the program you want to run. This includes determining your pricing plan options, offerings, and benefits to the audience (whether they get access to a product, service, or content).
Choose a robust membership model that suits your goals and niche. Some of the most popular models include:
- Drip feed. This model gives new content to members gradually, making members unable to access resources all at once. For instance, online courses often use this model. The members must complete the first module before accessing the second one.
- All-in-one. These types of models give members full access to the content after they sign up for the membership website. However, remember to keep offering new, unique content to prevent people from canceling their membership in the future.
- Online community. This model provides a place for people with the same interest to engage, share ideas or talk. You can offer your audience exclusive access to a private forum or social media groups.
- Product sites. These types of membership sites allow visitors to download or use a product by becoming a member. For example, your online magazine is only available to members who pay a daily or monthly fee.
- Service sites. This model enables visitors to access service programs, such as coaching and web design. Usually, this model offers free exclusive tools, worksheets, or eBooks within their plans.
2. Get to Know Your Target Audience and Competitors
Knowing your target audience and competitors help you build a successful membership site from the start. By knowing who your audience is, you can develop the right content for your website and stay competitive, boosting your site traffic and conversion rates.
Successfully identify your target audience with these tips:
- Conduct market research – find the market gaps to help establish a unique selling proposition (USP) for your offer.
- Segment your audience – separate your target audience into different groups based on certain characteristics, such as age, demographics, and gender, to better understand your audience overall.
- Analyze your competitors – see who competitors are targeting and how they reach their audience. Learning from your competition can improve your own audience acquisition strategies.
- Interpret data – collecting relevant data allows you to see a bigger picture of the audience or a pattern that can be used to develop user personas.
Additionally, use Google Analytics to get valuable insights from your membership site, including data on your audience.
3. Establish a Strong Brand Identity
A brand identity is crucial for any website, and it’s often the base of a site’s overall look and feel. Since the web design is the first thing users see when they land on your membership site, it’s important to develop a site design that reflects the brand’s image and values. By creating a strong brand identity, you can improve brand recognition and build trust with the audience visiting your site.
Apple is a great example of a business with a strong brand identity. Upon hearing the brand name, people can visualize its logo and associate it with innovative and creative smartphones. With this perception, Apple has successfully built a positive brand image, increasing customer trust.
To establish a strong brand identity for your membership site, focus on these two main aspects:
Pick a Memorable Name
A short and unique domain name will help your audience to remember your brand. Make sure your site name is easy to pronounce to avoid misspelled words. Ideally, your brand name should be no more than two syllables and without any hyphens or special characters – for example, consider Google, Twitter, Zara, and Walmart.
If you still need help finding the right name, use a domain name generator. All you need to do is enter the desired name or keyword into the generator. The tool will check the domain availability and suggest available potential domain names.
Create a Visual Identity
Visual identity can help create the right kind of first impression of your membership site. A visual identity often consists of logos, color palettes, imagery, typography, and other visible components of a web design. Through a visual identity, you can communicate your brand voice and story with a touch of emotion.
It’s also important to remember to build brand guidelines to keep your brand identity consistent across different platforms.
4. Choose a Web Hosting Service
After deciding on your domain name, it’s time to select a web hosting service for your membership site. Web hosting allows you to publish and store all the content on your website, making it accessible to visitors online.
When choosing a hosting service, it’s vital to select a provider with a good reputation, robust security, a high-performance server, and dedicated support. This is because opting for a non-reliable hosting provider can harm your website performance.
Each hosting provider offers various services to cater to different user needs. Some of the popular options for beginners include:
- Shared hosting – multiple users share the resources from the same server. This type of hosting is the most affordable option and is suitable for small business websites and blogs.
- WordPress hosting – similar to shared hosting but specifically optimized for WordPress sites, making it suitable for your WordPress membership site.
At Hostinger, both types of hosting plans come with a free SSL certificate, 24/7 customer support, and a 30-day money-back guarantee, providing good value for money.
5. Set Up Your WordPress Site
There are various ways to install WordPress, including using auto-installers and installing the platform manually. Each method is done slightly differently and requires different levels of technical knowledge.
For example, installing a WordPress site with an auto-installer is the best option for beginners or those who want to build a website quickly.
If you use Hostinger, install WordPress by following these steps:
- Log in to the web hosting account and go to the Hosting menu.
- Choose the domain name and click the Manage button.
- On the hPanel, navigate to the Auto Installer button under the Website section.
- Click the Select button under the WordPress box.
- Fill out the Install WordPress form and press the Install button.
Let’s also cover what else you need to do to finish your WordPress setup.
Install WordPress Themes
To attract more new members and improve site engagement, it’s important to select the best theme for your membership website. With over 10,000+ free WordPress themes, it’s easy to create a visually appealing design.
However, make sure to install a WordPress theme that matches your brand style and needs. Plus, check on the theme’s compatibility and responsiveness to ensure your membership site works on different devices. Some popular themes include Astra, Divi, and SeedProd.
Enable User Registration
To manage access to your membership site, you’ll need to enable user registrations. To do so, go to the Settings → General tab in the WordPress dashboard. Then, look for the Membership option, and click on the checkbox labeled Anyone can register.
After that, hit the Save button to change the new settings. Next, install a membership plugin for your WordPress site. This allows you to add membership features – like creating and selling subscription plans to paying members.
6. Add Payment Gateways
A payment gateway enables you to receive online payments through your membership site. It helps people to make transactions and informs them whether the payment has been successful.
After installing the membership plugin, you can select a payment gateway. Note that most plugins have integrated with popular payment gateways, such as PayPal, Stripe, and Square.
Here’s how to set up a payment gateway:
- On the Paid Member Subscription section, go to Settings.
- Choose the Payment tab and, navigate to Default Payment Gateways, select PayPal Standard.
- Enter your PayPal credentials at the bottom of the page and then click the Save Settings button.
Now, whenever someone registers on your website, they’ll need to choose one of your subscription plans and purchase it. Otherwise, they won’t have access to your paid content.
Additionally, It’s possible to add multiple payment gateways to your website and give members more options.
7. Determine the Pricing Structure
Creating a membership program enables members to select a subscription plan based on their preferences. This can contain multiple membership levels, which offer different pricing options, benefits, and access.
As for the pricing structures, many options are available. The three most popular models include a one-time payment method, a recurring rate, and tiered pricing. Choose the one that works well with your product’s type – for example, a recurring fee is suitable for membership sites that publish content regularly.
To build a membership level, follow these steps:
- Go to Paid Member Subscriptions → Subscription Plans.
- Click on the Add New button.
- Name the subscription plan and fill out the description box. Make sure to be detailed and offer relevant information to the user.
- Choose the subscription duration. If you set the Duration to 0, users can get lifetime memberships for a single payment.
- Decide the price for the subscription plan. You can also set up the Sign-Up Fee, Free Trial, and Renewal.
- Set your plan’s status to Active and select Subscriber as a user role to associate with your new plan.
- Press Save Subscription at the right-top of your screen. Repeat these steps to create multiple membership levels.
8. Create Essential Pages
When building a website, you must create main pages to house static content that requires no editing or only minor updates. Some common essential pages for membership sites are:
- Sign-up page – enables visitors to create an account on your membership site by collecting their personal information, such as name, email, and phone number.
- Pricing page – shows the different membership plans you offer, so potential members can select the plan that best suits them and proceed to the payment stage.
- Members page – allows visitors to read or download exclusive content on the membership site. You can also display member testimonials and the site’s latest updates on this page.
- FAQ page – helps visitors to find answers related to your membership plans, like their benefits or plan upgrade requirements.
To build a WordPress page, simply go to your Dashboard → Pages → Add New. From there, add your content with various elements, including images, videos, and buttons, using the block editor.
In addition, use a WordPress page builder, like Elementor or Beaver Builder, to customize web pages easier. Most WordPress page builders provide a drag-and-drop editor and pre-made designs for fast and easy editing.
9. Publish Members-Only Content
Members-only content is gated content that is not accessible to public users – instead, it’s only available for registered members.
To create members-only content, open the page or post you want to hide. At the bottom of the page, you’ll see the Content Restriction. There’ll be the option to restrict that page or post either to all logged-in users or to specific types of subscribers.
You can configure a single page or post to be accessible for multiple types of users or reserve it for those who subscribe to a particular plan.
Also, it’s possible to notify non-members to register first by adding a custom message. To do that, go to the Enable Custom Messages option and tick the box. Then, you’ll be able to type in a message you want the users to see.
Finally, click the Update button to save the changes. Now, only users who have the correct membership plan can access your content.
Moreover, you can restrict access in bulk to different types of content using Global Content Restriction. This way, you can hide content with a certain tag or category.
10. Promote Your Membership Website
Once you have a fully functional membership site, market it to your target audience. Promoting your site helps you increase brand awareness and attract prospective members to join your membership site. Without any promotion, your website might be difficult to find, and your user base won’t grow much.
Fortunately, many methods are available to promote a website. Here are some popular ways to do it:
- Improve search engine optimization (SEO). SEO is used to increase site visibility and page rankings on Google. This helps people quickly find your site, resulting in higher site traffic. Some SEO best practices include adding meta descriptions, optimizing images, and increasing site performance.
- Create high-quality content. This strategy attracts the right audiences to your site and keeps them engaged. Conduct keyword research to determine the best topics for your target audience and keep the content relevant.
- Build a social media presence. Reach a wider audience by creating social media posts to introduce your membership site. However, remember to pick the right platforms based on your target audience and their preferences.
- Use email marketing. This marketing strategy is an effective way to nurture prospective and existing members. You can build a long-term relationship by keeping them up-to-date with membership news.
In addition, use various email marketing tools, like MailChimp and Yoast SEO, to maximize your marketing efforts and campaign effectiveness. Most marketing tools offer automation and valuable campaign insights.
Top 5 WordPress Membership Plugins
After conducting thorough research based on various factors, such as features, usability, and ratings, we’ll show five of the best WordPress plugins for membership sites.
1. Paid Member Subscriptions
- Rating: 4.7/5
- Price: freemium with paid plans starting at €69
- Best for: drip feed membership models
Paid Member Subscriptions is an all-in-one solution that provides various content restriction options and subscription plans creations. For example, you can display only partial website content and set up multiple membership levels.
With its integration with WooCommerce, this plugin allows you to hide products from non-members. It’s also possible to create schedules for your content, making posts or categories available for your members only after a certain time has passed.
Moreover, you can collect recurring payments through the PayPal Standard gateway. This setting can be forced or manually done by letting members choose their options.
- A free trial – allows members to access the premium content for a limited time.
- Popular payment integration – the plugin supports PayPal and Stripe gateways.
- Elementor integration – help users easily set up their membership profiles with an easy-to-use page builder.
- Extensive documentation – enables users to find various resources to help them set up the plugin.
- Limited integrations – provide only essential add-ons, making it suitable for building a basic membership site.
- Rating: 4.6/5
- Price: free
- Best for: exclusive content or blog posts membership sites
WP-Members is a user-friendly plugin that enables you to hide your site content, limiting access to non-members. It has over 120 actions and filter hooks to customize the plugin’s features, making it scalable for growing membership sites.
With this plugin, you can also set up a dedicated login page using a shortcode. This way, you can redirect members to a specific login page. Furthermore, this free plugin allows you to show teasers of restricted content, which can entice visitors to sign up.
Note that this plugin offers a broad range of premium add-ons that are available individually.
- API function library – enables users to extend the plugin’s functionality.
- Content teasers – use teasers to increase user registrations.
- Various shortcodes – add a specific function to your site without coding.
- Content restrictions – hide posts, pages, or custom post types from non-members.
- No dripping content feature – make it unsuitable for those who want to build drip feed membership sites.
3. Ultimate Member
- Rating: 4.4/5
- Price: freemium with paid plans starting at $249/year
- Best for: private forums membership sites
Ultimate Member is a powerful plugin that focuses on user registration and subscriptions. It comes with a front-end registration tool that helps members to join a membership plan quickly. You can create multiple forms for different membership levels, making each level look unique for potential members.
Moreover, Ultimate Member lets you configure member profiles. Members can easily customize their user profile by adding a user bio, cover photo, and profile photo. This will make your membership website more engaging and attractive.
On top of that, you can add user registration sections to your pages and restrict parts of your website to members only.
- A drag-and-drop form builder – allows you to easily create a customized user login form or a profile form.
- Custom form fields – gather information from members with various field types.
- Advanced member directories – include many features, from sorting users and search filters to social icons, to encourage members’ engagement.
- Full access controls – restrict any access to a site globally and per page or post.
- Limited functionality in the free version – requires extensions to integrate with other platforms, such as WooCommerce and ForumWP.
- High cost – the premium plan might be costly for users with a budget.
4. Simple Membership
- Rating: 4.5/5
- Price: free
- Best for: premium eBooks, videos, and tutorial sites
Similar to Paid Member Subscriptions, Simple Membership allows you to create different membership levels and accept payments. The plugin enables members to access specific content based on their subscription plan.
With its content protection functionality, non-registered users will be prompted to become members when they open a certain page. This plugin also supports one-time payments through Braintree, which can be helpful if you don’t want to run a subscription service.
It also has detailed logs for every user payment, enabling you to track your income.
- Multiple payment options – support three payment gateways, including Stripe and PayPal.
- Members-only area – protect pages and posts with a password available only for members.
- User management – check members’ account status and subscription plans from the dashboard easily.
- Translation ready – available in over 25 languages, including Chinese, Arabic, and German.
- Limited extensions – has only a few premium add-ons and integrations, such as member data exporter, dynamic menus, and ConvertKit integration.
- Rating: 4.9/5
- Price: free
- Best for: premium support forums
Created by MemberPress, Members is one of the best WordPress membership site plugins focusing on user management. It features powerful tools, like role editor and clone roles, to create new user roles and customize their permissions.
It’s also worth mentioning that this WordPress plugin enables you to make your entire website a private area. This means visitors won’t even be able to access your home page unless they’re registered and logged in.
- Content permission – protect content and control who can access it.
- Explicitly deny capabilities – remove specific functions to a certain user role.
- Private website – make your entire website private.
- Multiple roles – assign more than one role to any user.
- Not support any membership payment – you need to integrate this plugin with MemberPress if users want to sell memberships.
A membership site is a website that contains gated content that is accessible only to members. This means that you can make extra cash by offering subscription plans to your site visitors.
This article has shown you a step-by-step guide to creating a membership website with WordPress, from choosing the membership model and web hosting to promoting the site. We’ve also listed our top five membership site plugins to help you manage your members and extend your site’s functionality.
Now that you’ve learned what a membership site is and how to create one with WordPress, it’s time to set up your own site and start making money online. Good luck!
Discover Other WordPress Techniques
Why Use WordPress for Small Business
20 Great Resources to Learn WordPress
WordPress Tutorials for Beginners
How to Upload SVG to WordPress
How to Add PayPal Donate Button to WordPress
How to Hire a WordPress Developer
How to Set Up PayPal on WooCommerce with PayPal Identity Token
How to Create a Membership Website FAQ
In this section, we answer some common questions about creating a membership website.
How Much Does It Cost to Make Membership Sites?
Depending on the platform and the package you choose, building a membership site can cost between $65 and $722 per month. Note that the initial setup might cost more due to the membership tools acquisition and website development.
Are Membership Websites Profitable?
Yes, they can be highly profitable if you know how to encourage people to join your membership site. We recommend promoting your site and providing valuable content suitable for your target audience.
November 12 2018
This is great and really timely for me, as I’m considering starting a membership site in the parenting field. Thanks!
November 12 2018
That's great, Ray! Good luck with the website ;)
March 18 2020
That's a great read! One of the detailed and concise pieces on building membership websites. The best thing about executing a membership website with WordPress is the fact that, it becomes extremely easy to execute the wordpress plugins in a way which eases the whole effort of setting up different elements of the website.