A Killer WordPress Membership Site in under 1 Hour

By Ian Chandler

No matter what type of business you’re in, creating a membership is a lucrative method of increasing your income. You can create recurring revenue, get ongoing support from your audience, and expand your brand’s reach. You can use memberships to sell online courses, coaching, and anything else you can imagine.

It’s surprisingly easy to create a fully functioning membership site using nothing more than WordPress. In fact, you can use just one plugin and have an entire WordPress membership site up and running in less than an hour.

In this guide, I’ll explore the different options you have to create a WordPress membership site, then I’ll show you exactly how to set it up.

Which WordPress Membership Plugin Is for You?

There are several robust membership plugins on the market, and they all provide a ton of features. Here’s a brief overview of some of the most popular choices:

s2member

s2member gives you everything you need to start a membership site using WordPress. It gives you a wide range of customizable options, nicely integrates with PayPal, and uses shortcodes to make the entire process as easy as possible. There are both free and paid versions, but the free version has more than enough to get you started.

Membership 2

The team behind the Membership plugin have revamped it into its current version, Membership 2. This plugin comes packed with all the abilities you’d expect from a membership plugin: access to downloads, automated recurring payments, paywall options, and several membership types, including dripped content membership. While there’s also a Pro version, the free version is a great framework that doesn’t cost a penny.

Simple Membership

As the name implies, this plugin offers an easy solution to a WordPress-based membership site. It has all the bells and whistles, with various membership levels, recurring payments, and PayPal integration. One nice feature unique to this plugin is a login widget you can place in the sidebar so members can easily access their accounts.

There are several other options as well, but these three are some of the most popular contenders. For the purposes of this guide, s2member will be our plugin of choice, but any membership plugin you use should have similar features.

Getting Started

After you’ve installed and activated your plugin, the first step is to set up the basic memberships. You need to make some important decisions here:

  • How many membership levels will you have?
  • What will you call each level? (ex. Silver, gold, etc.)
  • How much will each level cost?

Once you’ve answered these questions, you can go through a few steps to bring those answers to life. You can complete these steps in any order.

As I mentioned above, for this tutorial we’ll be using s2member.

s2member Membership for WordPress

Step 1: Modify the Membership Page

The Membership Options Page is a page on your site where readers can purchase memberships. You’ll need to create a new page for this. s2member recommends calling it Membership Signup, but you can call it whatever you’d like.

After you’ve made the page, you can tweak your options in the Membership Options Page section in s2member. Navigate to s2member > General Options > Membership Options Page. Make sure that the Membership Options Page is the correct one, and you’re good to go here.

Step 2: Modify the Login Welcome Page

Head over to s2member > General Options > Login Welcome Page. Like you did with the membership page, you can create a new page that members will see after they log in. Alternatively, you can specify a redirect URL. s2member also provides a helpful knowledge base article here in case you get stuck.

Step 3: Customize Registration

Go to s2member > General Options > Registration/Profile Fields & Options. Here, you can customize the registration process new members will go through. You can set up custom fields, toggle custom passwords, select a minimum password length, force personal emails, and more.

Step 4: Registration Design

This step is optional. It allows you to change the design of the login interface. Users will login just like you do, at http://yoursite.com/wp-login.php. If you want an aesthetic advantage, this is the page for you. You can change fonts and colors, insert your logo, and create a custom footer.

Step 5: Create Memberships

Now it’s time to create the different memberships you’ll offer. In s2member, you can do this by going to s2member > General Options > Membership Levels/Labels. Here, you can create specific memberships for different levels of access. s2member gives you the ability to allow free memberships, and it also has 4 levels of paid membership. (You’ll see how these work in a moment.)

For now, choose how many memberships you’ll have. Then decide what kind of content each level will have access to. You’ll use that information a bit later on.

Step 6: Integrate Payment

s2member works with PayPal, which is one of the most popular payment processors for most membership plugins. In s2member, you can link your PayPal account by going to s2member > PayPal Options. In the PayPal Account Details tab, you’ll need to input your basic details, such as your PayPal email, merchant ID, and API credentials.

Next, go to the PayPal PDT/Auto-Return Integration. You’ll need to find your PDT Identity Token on PayPal, but don’t worry – s2member kindly tells you exactly where to find it.

You can also change the signup confirmation email, post/page confirmation email, and change EOT (end of term) behavior. Modifying the EOT behavior is crucial, as you can decide what happens to customers once their membership is over.

Step 7: Create a Custom Buy Button

Now, you need to create a specific buy button that members can use to sign up. Navigate to s2member > PayPal Buttons. s2member leaves no stone unturned; it provides you with custom button generators for each level of membership.

To create the Level 1 button, click on “Buttons for Level #1 Access.” You’ll see the button generator. Change the options to reflect the price and duration of your Level #1 membership, then click “Generate Button Code.” The code will be displayed in the WordPress Shortcode section below the form. Copy this and paste it onto the page you made for new members to sign up. When a reader visits the page, they’ll see the custom PayPal button. You will need to add some text to describe the membership.

You can then simply repeat this for Levels #2, #3, and #4. You have the option of placing all of the PayPal buttons on the same page or using different pages for different levels of membership.

Step 8: Finalize Your Pages

Recall the pages you set up earlier – your membership signup and login welcome page. Make sure these are to your liking.

Step 9: Create and Protect Content

Whenever you create a page or post, you’ll see a section for s2member protection at the top right. Here you can choose which levels of members can see the content. You’ll mostly be concerned with the restriction option, as custom capabilities are outside the scope of this guide.

It’s important to note that if you make content available to a certain level, all of the higher level members will also be able to view it. So if you publish a post and require Level #3 membership, then Level #4 members will also be able to see it.

With s2member’s protection functions, you have multiple options for displaying content. You can make an entirely members-only site so that people have to register to see content, or you can publish both public and members-only content.

Conclusion

And there you have it – you’ve now got a working membership site, and it took less than an hour. I didn’t go over all of the features, and there’s so much more you can tweak if you’d like. What you have right now is fully operational and ready for new members to sign up.

Please use the comments below to tell us what are your favourite membership plugins and why?

  • I think s2Member is great choice for creating membership site, even their backend UX is horrible.

  • It really depends on your projet, and the size of customisation you need. Keep in mind that not to do much coding, is really different from not coding at all.

    I don’t know Yithemes, but after browsing the repo, it seems to be great, thanks for sharing !

    Don’t fee guilty, it’s a good thing that anybody can build his idea. Maybe the best thing of this year for now ;)

    • Well, subscription business model, whether its SaaS or physical goods, is the trend right now.

      More and more businesses are realizing that subscription business model pulls in serious money.

      So I wish you the best of luck. I think you’ve made a smart move by jumping into a very hot sector.

      Just out of curiosity, why did you choose PHP to build your service?

      Don’t you think ROR (Rails) would have given you bigger bang for development hours you’ve spent?

      I hope you realize even WordPress is moving away from PHP.

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