Note: This post was originally written by Adam, however, has recently been updated by Colin as of 3rd March 2017.
Have you ever considered starting a membership site? Membership sites are a growing trend on the web. And rightfully so!
With a membership site, you’re fully in control of your revenue stream. You don’t need to worry about one of your big affiliates canceling their program or losing that huge advertising deal. Nope! You own your revenue stream.
Of course, you still need to find ways to actually build that revenue stream and optimize your site. But at least you’ve got the control!
And there’s another major benefit of the membership site boom:
We’re spoiled for choice when it comes to quality membership site plugins. There are heaps of great membership plugins out there. And in this post, I’m going to take you through the best of the best.
Then, at the end of the post, I’ll give you my picks for which membership site plugin you should choose.
What to look for in a WordPress membership plugin
Picking a membership plugin is a more invested process than most other types of WordPress plugins. See, no matter which plugin you choose, you’re going to spend a ton of time setting it up. It’s just the nature of the beast.
The plugin you pick could have the best interface in the world, but there are just a ton of settings that require human input with a membership site.
So when you choose a membership plugin, you want to pick one that has all the features you need. That way, you won’t get a nasty surprise after you’ve already spent 10 hours configuring your membership levels and restricting content.
Here are some things to consider:
How do membership levels work?
At this point, it’s pretty standard for a membership plugin to let you create unlimited membership levels. There’s really no difference there. Instead, consider things like:
- How much control do you have over what happens when a user’s membership expires?
- Can a user have multiple membership roles?
- How much flexibility do you have over trial periods?
How flexible is content restriction?
Again, all these membership plugins let you restrict content. So the question is more about how flexible each plugin’s content restriction is, as well as how easy it is to use. Consider features like:
- Can I restrict small portions of posts/pages? Or do I have to restrict the whole post/page?
- How easy is it to restrict/allow content for individual membership levels?
- Can I sell access to posts/pages on an individual basis? Or do I have to assign it to a membership plan?
Does it allow drip content?
With drip content, you can slowly release content as a membership ages. It’s like cable TV instead of Netflix. No binging! If you want a chance to drip some of your content, make sure your plugin supports it.
How do coupons work?
Coupons are another essential part of membership plugins. Most plugins offer at least some form of coupon creator, but make sure you ask questions like:
- Can I generate bulk coupons or just individual coupons?
- What kinds of things can I discount? Flat rate, percentage, X free months?
Does it have the right integrations?
Most membership plugins integrate with a variety of email marketing services, payment gateways, forums, and more. Always double check that the plugin has the necessary integrations for you. E.g. one plugin might support MailChimp but not Campaign Monitor. So if you love Campaign Monitor, that might not be the plugin for you.
Does the plugin lock you in?
Ok, I told you that you don’t want to switch membership plugins down the road. But sometimes it might just be unavoidable. So you should always double check whether or not a membership plugin lets you export your members lists in a format that other membership plugins can import. If it doesn’t, you’re in for a world of pain if you ever need to switch down the line.
Now, I’m going to dive into all the best WordPress membership plugins. Keep these considerations in mind as you move through the list.
1. Restrict Content Pro
Restrict Content Pro is one of the biggest names when it comes membership plugins. It comes from Pippin’s Plugins, the same team behind Easy Digital Downloads and AffiliateWP. Pippin has rightfully built a reputation for releasing high-quality plugins, and Restrict Content Pro is no exception.
Restrict Content Pro lets you create unlimited subscription levels. You can choose between free, trial, and premium subscriptions, which gives you a good deal of flexibility.
You can also get creative with pricing. For paid memberships, you can choose to charge a certain fee for a set period, as well as an optional one-time fee. This combination allows for some interesting pricing structures. For example, you could charge something like $20 per month with a one-time $50 signup fee.
If users want to move between plans, they can easily upgrade or downgrade and have the amount they paid prorated to their new plan. Only if you allow it, of course. Not many membership plugins offer this functionality.
To structure membership content, Restrict Content Pro lets you restrict content on a per post basis. Or, you can use shortcodes to only restrict specific content inside an otherwise available post/page.
You can create coupon codes, though only for a flat rate or percentage. Combined with restricting the codes to specific membership levels, this still allows you to create a variety of promotions.
And if you need to integrate with external services, Restrict Content Pro works with WooCommerce, Easy Digital Downloads, and a number of email marketing services and payment gateways.
All in all, Pippin Williamson consistently puts out great plugins, so you won’t go wrong with Restrict Content Pro.
Price: Restrict Content Pro starts at $99 per year
MemberMouse is one of the most feature-rich membership plugins out there.
First off, MemberMouse lets you create both membership levels and bundles. Membership levels are what you’d expect from any membership plugin, but bundles allow you to sell individual posts/pages (or groups of posts/pages) on a one-off basis.
So you could, for example, sell a one-time special offer to people who are already premium members.
MemberMouse also lets you drip out your restricted content. And they include this really cool feature that lets you experience your course as a member would. Basically, you can manually change how “old” you test account is to quickly see things how new subscribers would.
It also includes a widget that lets subscribers see what content they have access to, and what restricted content is still to come.
As for that restricted content, MemberMouse lets you restrict by posts, pages, custom post types, and categories.
MemberMouse also includes a ton of neat tools for optimization. You can split-test prices and test both upsells and “save-the-sale” downsells. All built-in to the core plugin.
You can also offer tons of different coupon codes and integrate with heaps of third-party email marketing services and payment gateways. MemberMouse even includes an API for you to sync in custom ways.
Honestly, discussing MemberMouse’s features deserves a whole 3,000 word post of its own.
Just be aware, while MemberMouse does have all of these cool features, you get them by sacrificing developer-friendliness (that is, MemberMouse is not GPL). So if you want to make little code tweaks to how MemberMouse’s features function, you can’t do that, whereas with other GPL membership plugins, you can.
Price: MemberMouse starts at $19.95 per month for up to 1,000 members
MemberPress is another popular membership plugin. It includes all the standard features you’d expect plus a few nifty tricks.
First off, you can create unlimited membership levels with all kinds of trial periods and payment options. And you can even categorize different membership levels into “Membership Groups” to create predefined upgrade paths. That’s definitely a unique selling point!
You can restrict content in a number of ways. You can go broad and restrict whole categories or sets of child pages, or you can go granular and restrict only parts of a post/page. You can also restrict access to individual files to help you manage downloads.
And like the previous plugins, MemberPress lets you drip out your content on a predefined schedule.
MemberPress gives you all types of reports to see how your membership site is performing. And it also has a nifty feature called MemberPress Reminders which lets you send out emails when specific events occur, like an upcoming subscription renewal.
As far as integrations go, MemberPress hooks up with most major email marketing services, as well as the major payment gateways like PayPal, Authorize.Net, and Stripe. And you’ll really love this integration if you run an online course:
MemberPress can integrate with LearnDash, a popular learning management system for creating online courses using WordPress. That unlocks some powerful online course functionality.
Unlimited coupons and a built-in affiliate program round out the feature set.
Price: MemberPress starts at $99 per year
4. iThemes Exchange Membership Add-on
Unlike the previous plugins, iThemes Exchange Membership isn’t a standalone plugin. Instead, it’s an add-on to iThemes’ Exchange eCommerce plugin. Later on, I’ll discuss another eCommerce add-on in WooCommerce Memberships.
iThemes Exchange Membership lets you set up unlimited membership levels (sense a theme, here?). You can create both free and paid membership levels. And if members want to switch between levels, they can do that and automatically have their previous payment pro-rated like with Restrict Content Pro.
You can also assign membership hierarchies – so some membership levels can be children of a different membership level, which is pretty neat.
For content restrictions, you can restrict content by posts or pages, as well as categories and tags. And one thing I like about iThemes Exchange Membership is that you can easily integrate paid digital products into your membership site. So if you want to blend membership subscriptions and one-off digital purchases together, this is a great option.
You can also drip out your content like the other plugins. Together, all these content restriction options make for some neat combinations.
Just be aware that because iThemes Exchange Membership is an add-on, you might need to purchase some other Exchange add-ons to get all the functionality you need. For example, the MailChimp integration add-on costs $30. Or, you can purchase all Exchange add-ons for $197.
Price: Starts at $97 for the Membership add-on. Includes the Recurring Payments add-on for free.
5. Magic Members
Magic Members is a plugin that I’ve played around with quite a bit on my test site. So I want to start by getting one bad thing out of the way. Then I’ll talk about all the good stuff!
So what’s the bad thing? The interface seriously looks like it was transported here from the 1990s. But if you can get past working in an ugly interface, the rest of the features are very cool.
First off, you can create unlimited membership levels with different trial options and pricing. And you can manage all of your members from one helpful dashboard.
As for restricting content, you can choose to restrict whole categories, individual posts/pages, or use shortcodes to just restrict specific portions of your content. And if you want to release your content on a drip schedule, that’s similarly easy to do.
Another nifty thing about Magic Members is that it has a “pay per post” feature. So rather than exclusively selling memberships, you can also sell individual post/pages. And you can choose how many views are included in the price. So if you wanted to, you could even charge per view for individual pieces of content!
Magic Members also includes another nice feature:
A download manager. With it, you can prevent unauthorized users from downloading files on your site. And Magic Members also includes a feature to prevent multiple people from logging into the same account.
When it come to integrations, you’ll find most services you’d want. Magic Members integrates with a huge number of payment gateways and has a similarly robust email marketing service integration list.
Magic Members offers a 7-day free trial, so you can play around with it on your site without risking any money.
Price: Starts at $97 for a single-site license
6. Paid Memberships Pro
Paid Memberships Pro is yet another popular option for creating a WordPress membership site.
One thing I like about it is that, on the highest tier, it comes with its own dedicated WordPress theme. Sometimes themes don’t play nice with membership plugins out of the box, so this is a nice touch.
Paid Memberships Pro also allows you to create unlimited membership levels with flexible payment terms. You can choose a price, recurring billing cycle, membership term, and specify free or reduced-price trial periods.
To restrict content, Paid Memberships Pro adds a metabox to your posts/pages which allows you to restrict them on an individual basis. Or, you can also choose to restrict whole categories.
And here’s one more thing I like about Paid Memberships Pro:
It lets you display an excerpt of your restricted content to non-members. Why is this important? Because it still gives you a chance to rank in the SERPs, even if your content is restricted.
Paid Memberships Pro also allows for some interesting advertising options. For example, you can choose to display ads to some membership levels while hiding them for others. So you could, for example, only display ads to free membership tiers, while hiding them from premium memberships.
Finally, the plugin also includes plenty of integrations with email marketing services and payment gateways. And if you need to tweak functionality yourself, Paid Membership Pro is 100% GPL, so you can customize its code as much as necessary.
Price: Starts at $97 for core version
s2Member is a popular free membership plugin. It has a surprising variety of features for a free plugin, though they are limited.
As is the standard, you can restrict posts/pages, custom post types, and categories. s2Member also adds a couple of other neat restriction methods, though. You can restrict BuddyPress, specific URL fragments, as well as specific pieces of content inside full posts. And you can also restrict streaming media and file downloads.
You’ll also get helpful tools like email templates, custom login welcome pages, IP restrictions, and brute-force protections.
Unfortunately, the free version is limited to 4 paid membership levels and lacks the ability to create coupon codes or drip content, among other feature restrictions.
So if you’re serious about creating a membership site, you’ll almost certainly need to go with one of the premium versions to get those restricted features. And at that point, you’re probably better off with choosing one of the other premium options on this list.
Price: Free. Pro versions start at $89
8. WooCommerce Memberships
Like the iThemes Exchange Membership Add-on, WooCommerce Memberships isn’t a standalone plugin – it’s built on WooCommerce. Of course, WooCommerce is free. But the fact that you’re tying your site’s functionality to yet another plugin is something to consider.
Of course, if you’re already selling products with WooCommerce, then that’s actually a huge bonus!
Because of this integration, you get some neat options for memberships. You can either sell memberships as standalone products, or tie them to part of a product purchase. For example, you could grant everyone who buys your eBook access to a membership level with bonus content.
Like the other plugins, you can drip out your restricted content over time. And you can also give out special discounts to lure in new customers.
Unfortunately, if you want to bill members on a recurring basis, you’ll need to purchase WooCommerce Subscriptions, another add-on which costs $199.
All in all, WooCommerce Memberships fits some niche situations. But for most normal membership sites, it’s probably not the best fit.
Price: The Membership Add-on starts at $149
WP-Members is another “free” WordPress membership plugin. Why is “free” in quotations? Because like s2Member, you’ll almost certainly need some of the paid extensions to get the functionality that you want. But the paid extensions are still fairly affordable, so don’t worry too much!
By default, WP-Members works opposite to the other plugins. Instead of restricting certain content, WP-Members restricts all of your content. Then, you mark the content you want to be available to everyone. You can reverse this setting. But that’s how it functions by default.
WP-Members also makes it easy to add custom registration and login forms specific to your membership site. You can use these tools to create specific URLs for your registration page, which is great for acting as a landing page for your ads.
For the devs among us, WP-Members is highly customizable…if you know some code. It also includes a number of premium add-ons to add integrations, subscriptions, and more.
All in all, WP-Members is not as powerful as the other plugins out of the box. But if you’re a dev, you’ll enjoy how customizable it is.
Price: Free. All add-ons are available as part of a $59/year membership at Rocket Geek.
Which WordPress membership plugin should you choose?
Because you have quite a few choices, I’ll try to throw out some suggestions to help you winnow down the field.
If you don’t care about the ability to make code modifications, go with MemberMouse. I think it has the best default feature list of any of the membership plugins. Just remember that it obfuscates its code and isn’t GPL, so you won’t be able to dig into the code yourself.
If you want the best combination of price, features, and flexibility, then I think Restrict Content Pro is the winner. Pippin’s plugins are well designed, it’s flexible, and it has most, if not all, of the features you need in a membership site.
MemberPress, Magic Members, and Paid Memberships Pro are all quality options. But I don’t think their core features do anything to differentiate them from Restrict Content Pro or MemberMouse. If one of their niche features tickles your fancy, they’re certainly not bad options, though.
Have you ever created a membership site with WordPress? If so, which plugin did you end up using?
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. This means we might receive a commission if you make a purchase. Our opinions are our own and we only recommend plugins that we believe will genuinely help you.