What is a WordPress Membership Site

April 19, 2018

At its most basic, a membership website provides a way to track members and provide private content to those members. A WordPress membership site is a site built on WordPress that uses a membership plugin to manage the private member areas for premium content.


Many people only think of membership sites in conjunction with paid content and recurring subscriptions. Actually, WordPress membership sites can provide free or paid content and paid content may be a single cost or a recurring subscription.

Many membership sites are actually free sites designed to provide private information for the members. Examples include school teams who use membership sites that don’t charge for access but lockdown private content for the team. This might be contact information, schedules, and anything needed for the team members.

Small companies sometimes create and run membership sites to provide information to their workers. This can be particularly helpful when working with remote teams and virtual assistants. These types of sites frequently replace what was once called intranets. Intranets provide private networking areas within corporations to share information among company employees.

Selecting a WordPress Membership Plugin

When selecting a plugin for a WordPress membership site, it’s important to understand what you need the site to do in order to make sure you select the right plugin for the job.

For example, Paid Memberships Pro is a freemium option that makes it easy to quickly create a free membership site. This works well if you’re creating a site with a single membership level, something many free ones have, or several levels that build upon each other. Levels that build upon each other include plans of Silver, Gold, and Platinum where Silver has access to specific information, Gold has access to everything Silver has plus extra content, and Platinum has access to everything Silver and Gold have plus its own private content.

Screengrab of a membership controlled post allowing a free preview of the content.

Many WordPress membership plugins allow you to show an excerpt and require membership to get the full story.

Tiered levels are popular for both free and paid memberships. Free membership sites like the student sites frequently have a tier for students and one for coaches that holds content not available to the students.

Tiered levels for paid memberships often include a basic free option, a Gold option for a smaller amount and a Platinum option for higher quality content. A key to creating tiered content levels is to make sure that the content is of a value at or above the price.

For many WordPress membership site configurations, a tiered-only option doesn’t work. If you have disparate membership levels where people might buy A and C but not B, then you need to make sure that the plugin supports this functionality. For example, when I sell classes, people purchase each one independently.

They might want Introduction to Creating Course Content, and How to Install and Configure a Learning Management Platform, but they may not want or need How to Configure AffiliateWP because they may not be creating an affiliate program for their site.

In cases where you need disparate memberships without or along with tiered memberships, I recommend using MemberPress or Restrict Content Pro.

Note that there are many membership plugins available for WordPress. While I have not worked with all of them, I have worked with many including moving people from plugins that weren’t performing in ways they wanted. I have focused on several plugins that I consider best of breed. This is based on both the functionality of the software and the excellent support. Note that for Paid Memberships Pro, you may install and use the basic plugin for free. If you want support this is a paid upgrade which I highly recommend.

Membership plugins also provide reporting features to allow you to track memberships, revenue etc… This is particularly important when you have recurring revenue because churn (canceled memberships) can have a significant impact on your business.

Screen grab of a membership report showing sales.

Although these are best of breed for what they do, they don’t all have identical functionality, so it’s still important to plan your requirements before selecting a plugin.

Creating Content for Membership Websites

Many WordPress membership sites charge on a recurring basis. In this case, members tend to expect fresh content on a frequent basis. For example, if you have a monthly recurring charge, new information would be expected at least once a month. The time and effort to create ongoing content should be a consideration when planning your site.

Some sites do not have recurring fees. They have a body of information available for purchase as a one-time fee. In this case, updated content may not required.

WordPress Membership Sites versus Other Platforms

What’s the difference between a WordPress Membership Site and sites like Kajabi and Kartra or even Click Funnels?

This comes straight from my frequent questions. A WordPress Membership Site is a site that is built as part of a self-hosted WordPress website. Note that you cannot install these plugins on WordPress.com.

Sites like Kajabi, Kartra and Click Funnels are fully hosted for you solutions. They can provide web pages, email marketing, private membership areas and even online courses.

These do not work together with WordPress plugins.  They are separate platforms.

These platforms aim to provide multiple functionality within a single platform so you don’t have to worry about hosting, plugin updates, or even outside email campaign providers.  In this way, they are more convenient, however, with the convenience of having everything together in one place you frequently lose the ability to choose exactly the features you need. There are things you may not be able to add or do on these platforms. Sometimes even basic formatting options are not easily accomplished.

There are times when fully configured and hosted platforms are the best solution. It’s important to determine your requirements in order to select the best option for your membership website.

If you want to provide premium content to your audience, a WordPress membership site may be a perfect strategy for your business.

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