Anyone who has ever tried to create a membership site or has ever Googled for suitable plugins will surely have asked the same question as I did: Which WordPress membership plugin is right for my project? With so many options, it’s difficult to pinpoint the right solution.
The following list of the best-known, most popular, and best-rated membership plugins with their respective advantages and disadvantages should serve as a guide.
We will first go into what exactly is meant by a member’s site, what problems you have to face if you want to develop a membership site, and what possibilities there are in the form of membership plugins to open such a site in WordPress create.
With each plugin, you will find my recommendation for which type of member site you can use it. In addition, I would also like to ask you, dear readers, to share your experiences and thoughts on this topic in the comments below.
What is a membership site?
Let’s take a look at what constitutes a member’s site, how it is differentiated from similar names, and what different considerations one must make in advance before starting to create such a site.
Membership vs. Community vs. Social network vs. ForumForum?
A membership site, internet community, social network, or online ForumForum – isn’t that all the same? What is the difference here?
Internet community / social network
An internet community or a social network is a group of people who share experiences via a platform (portal) and develop a certain sense of togetherness. Another characteristic of an Internet community is the social interactions between users, such as following, sending private messages, publishing status, or social articles.
An online forum is, roughly speaking, a platform for exchanging ideas. Or as Wikipedia puts it:
An Internet forum (from Latin forum, marketplace), a web forum, discussion forum, computer forum, online ForumForum, or bulletin board, is a virtual place for exchanging and archiving thoughts, opinions, and experiences. Communication in forums is asynchronous, which means that a contribution is not answered immediately and immediately, but with a delay.
A member page usually contains one or more password-protected member areas accessible to users after successful registration/login. Since you also have to register with a community or ForumForum, no difference can be seen yet.
The main difference with a member’s site lies in the management options for the different membership levels or membership packages (upgrade, downgrade, cancel Membership, etc.) and in the integration of payment and newsletter providers.
A special form of a member’s site: a platform for online courses
If you want to offer video content to your members, there are probably better options than creating a membership page. In this case, it is worth taking a look at the so-called Learning Management Systems (LMS). In the WordPress environment, there are two very popular LMS plugins, LifterLMS and LearnDash, for setting up a website for online courses.
After the LearnDash upgrade to version 3.0, there is only one option for me in WordPress, and that is LearnDash. From my point of view, WordPress users can finally create platforms for online courses with LearnDash in version 3.0 that can easily keep up with the big players outside of WordPress.
The membership function has been available in LearnDash since July 2020. This makes it possible to assign online courses as well as other sub-pages that were not created with LearnDash to different groups. Instead of selling access to an online course, you can now offer your members access to a group.
Questions that you should ask yourself in advance
With or without a payment function?
It is important to make this decision in advance. Because if you should decide to offer a paid membership, you will have an additional challenge to master (more on this below).
Complete website for members only or just individual content?
Membership pages are primarily about blocking individual areas of a website and not making them accessible to every visitor. If, on the other hand, you want to block the entire website for non-members, you can actually do without a Membership WordPress plugin.
A good Coming Soon plugin with an integrated login and registration link would probably be sufficient for this. There are certainly better solutions for this case. One of them is the Members plugin presented below.
Anyway, we assume the following starting point for the rest of the article: We want to make certain areas of our website accessible only to members. In addition, our scenario is a paid membership.
The pros and cons of the most popular WordPress membership plugins
The choice of the right membership plugin always depends on your own requirements that you place on a member’s site. For smaller websites with improved management of users and their access rights, e.g., B. the Members Plugin is very good.
Strictly speaking, Members is not a membership plugin, because this plugin alone cannot be used to create complete membership pages. This extension restricts access to the individual content and extends the WordPress standard user roles. In order to be able to build a member page with members, you need still the plugin Profile Builder (available as free & PRO).
I haven’t tested this plugin yet, but it makes a nice impression on me because it doesn’t try to sell the PRO version in a more or less intrusive way. As far as I’ve seen, there is no PRO version at all, just premium support. As the name suggests, the plugin is aimed more at the operators of simple member sites, and if that is your goal, it is definitely worth a try.
Ultimate MemberMember is definitely one of my favorites when it comes to creating a membership site. Even the free plugin offers many functions that make even some premium plugins look pale.
The easy creation of registration, login, and profile forms with the drag & drop tool and predefined fields, such as B. a drop-down selection list for countries. This feature could be helpful in solving the challenges mentioned above.
Despite its remarkable free features, the plugin offers additional functions in the form of addons that are inexpensive but can be used with other plugins such as BuddyPress can be integrated for free.
Challenging the market leader in creating social networks in WordPress in this way is probably what the plugin author wanted. However, I believe that a different form of monetization, together with simple BuddyPress integration, would have been a better strategy.
Therefore, I would recommend Ultimate Member to everyone who wants to create a top membership site but who can do without social interactions among members, such as sending private messages, following other members, displaying activities on a page, etc.
In the event that you also have a forum plugin in your WordPress member area, e.g., want to install bbPress, you should know that a paid addon is necessary for this. Without this addon, the registered members of Ultimate Member will not be synchronized with those of bbPress.
The Paid Member Subscriptions plugin is one of the best-rated membership plugins ever. Here, too, it makes sense to expand the functionalities with the Profile Builder plugin mentioned briefly above. Both plugins come from the same development team and therefore harmonize very well with each other. Thanks to the plugin combination, newsletter registration can at least be integrated with MailChimp.
The best thing about the Paid Member Subscriptions plugin is the easy integration with the best WordPress Page Builder Elementor. The membership plugin can be easily connected to the free version of Elementor. On the Cozmoslabs blog, you can read how you can create a membership page with Elementor and Paid Member Subscriptions.
Even if the name doesn’t immediately suggest, Paid Memberships Pro (PMP) is also available as a free version. This also has a surprising number of features. According to the download numbers on wordpress.org and the net’s tutorials, it is one of the most widely used membership plugins.
One of the biggest disadvantages of Paid Memberships Pro from my point of view is that with the standard WordPress registration process, the new users are not automatically assigned to a member level, as is the case with Ultimate Member, and these are not assigned subsequently as is the case with Paid Member Subscriptions. There is a code snippet to implement this, but it can only be accessed with a paid membership.
At this point, I would like to draw your attention to an interesting addon. Another disadvantage of Paid Memberships Pro, as with most other membership plugins, is that the billing address is not requested during the payment process.
With this addon, however, the memberships can be sold as products, and the full power of the WooCommerce platform can be used.
The only drawback is that you can only claim the cost of Membership once from your members. However, if you want to offer the memberships as a subscription and thus generate continuous income, you need the paid addon “Subscriptions” from WooCommerce.
The Premium Plugin MemberPress is the all-in-one solution when it comes to creating a member area in WordPress. The biggest plus point of this membership extension are the numerous integration options with other popular plugins. This can be used to create an all-encompassing membership page with a newsletter, payment service (also for recurring payments), learning management system, ForumForum, and many other functions.
With individual fields (Custom Fields), profile and registration forms can be easily supplemented, for example, to query the billing address. The large number of notification emails that can be sent to the user and the admin on certain events is also very positive. So, notify members when their credit card expires.
What is your opinion on this topic?
Have you already gained experience with the creation of member sites? Which plugins did you use for this? Did you face the same challenges, and if so, how did you solve them?