WordPress is an incredibly versatile CMS. You can use it to launch a blog, an online store, a photo gallery and more. While it’s probably not its typical use, you can also easily turn WordPress into a membership site, too.
In order to run a membership site with WordPress, you need one of the numerous, free or paid, WordPress membership site plugins. You can’t say one plugin is better than the rest – it simply depends what you need it for. Here’s a roundup of the best free WordPress membership plugins you can start using on your website today.
WP-Members is probably the first WordPress membership site plugin that comes to mind. This isn’t strange because it’s a very popular plugin – it has 60,000+ active installs.
The list of its features is rather impressive. In a nutshell, it has all the features you will need to manage your members and the content they can access. Some of the features you won’t find in all other plugins are inline login/registration (i.e. from the page itself, not from the WP login page), custom registration and profile fields, automatic creation of post excerpts, and so on.
2. Paid Memberships Pro
With its 40,000+ active installs and lots of add-ons, Paid Memberships Pro is one of the most popular free WordPress membership site plugins. It has unlimited membership levels and is 100% GPL.
Among the best features of Paid Memberships Pro are its great integration options. The plugin integrates with MailChimp, Constant Contact, AWeber, KISSMetrics, Infusionsoft, WP Courseware, LearnDash, Post Affiliate Pro, bbPress, WooCommerce, and many more popular third party tools. There also paid add-ons for more advanced features, such as PayPal Express Checkout, or affiliate tracking.
With Paid Memberships Pro you can accept payments via Stripe, Authorize.net, Braintree Payments, and PayPal. These payments can be one time or recurring payments. You can also set trials with a duration you choose and have the corresponding payment set in the system.
3. Simple Membership
Simple Membership is a simple to use plugin but it offers everything you need for a membership site. For instance, it offers free and paid memberships, as well as unlimited membership levels. You can hide all content, or you can show teaser content to prompt users to register or login.
Simple Membership doesn’t offer numerous payment options – it works with PayPal only – but since with PayPal you can accept any major credit and debit card, for most of us this is all we need. You can also have one time or recurring payments. Finally, Simple Membership comes with translations in close to 20 languages, which makes a difference, if you want a non-English membership site.
4. Membership 2 from WPMU DEV
As you probably guess from its name, Membership 2 is the successor of Membership, one of the first WordPress membership site plugins. Based on the number of the active installs (10,000) as stated by the WordPress.org site, this isn’t the most widely used plugin, but still it’s a popular one.
Membership 2 comes in two varieties – a free and a pro version. Of course, the paid versions (at 49 a month) offer more but even the free version comes with enough functionality to run a membership site, including a multisite one. The free version offers four membership options (Standard Membership, Dripped Content Membership, Guest Membership, and Default Membership).
With Membership 2 you can protect anything on your WordPress site: “pages, posts, comments, content below the “read more” tag, categories, menus, URLs, special pages, content by user role, media files, forums, downloads, videos, support…you name it”. Additionally, you can receive payments via PayPal, Stripe, Authorize.net, or manually accept payments in 25 currencies.
s2Member is another free and very popular membership framework. It has a Pro version as well that comes with more features, more notably unlimited membership levels, coupon codes, and integration with more payment services.
You will find all the standard features, such as protect pages, posts, tags, categories. In addition to these, the plugin also offers some not so common features, such as the ability to protect portions of content within posts, pages, themes, and plugins, as well as downloadable files and streaming audio/video.
I also like the flexibility they give when you want to offer your users access to any particular page. With other plugins it’s usually based on the membership level, while here every user can choose every page/post and pay for it to be unlocked.
6. Mini Membership
If you don’t need a full-fledged membership site, but rather a quick solution without any frills, then you might want to try the Mini Membership plugin.
It doesn’t come with tons of features, integrations, and configuration options, but if you don’t need anything beyond basic locking of content for members and non-members, this plugin is just for you.
A good use for this plugin is when you are not sure if your membership site will do well and you want to quickly test the waters first. Later, when the number of subscribers grows, you can switch to a more powerful plugin, if the options offered by Mini Membership aren’t enough anymore.
The Groups plugin is slightly different from the rest. The major difference is that it offers group memberships – i.e. you assign users to groups (one user can be assigned to as many groups as you need) and manage them as one. In a sense, groups are similar to access levels, but they offer more precision in who sees what.
Groups comes with a few extensions. However, even without the extensions, the core functionality provides most of the basics for managing groups of users.
If you compare the Groups plugin to other membership site plugins, there are many differences in the way it functions, so if you are used to other membership site plugins, at first you might have difficulties figuring out how things are done with Groups. This is just in the beginning, though – once you become familiar with it, things are pretty straightforward.
As you see, there are quite a lot of WordPress membership site plugins to choose from. Even free plugins alone are numerous and quite often the functionality they offer is more than enough to meet your needs.
Of course, paid plugins, such as MemberMouse, MemberPress, or Restrict Content Pro, generally offer more, though this isn’t always so. If the functionality you’re after isn’t available with a free plugin (and you are serious about running a membership site), you can always go with a paid one.
Also, if you need a niche membership site, you might want to look if there is a plugin especially for this purpose. For instance, ZippyCourses is great for a paid online learning community. The are similar plugins for other niches, just check what’s available and decide which one fits your needs best.
Ada is a fulltime freelancer and Web entrepreneur with more than a decade of IT experience. She enjoys design, writing and likes to keep pace with all the latest and greatest developments in tech. In addition to SitePoint, she also writes for Syntaxxx and some other design, development, and business sites.