How to Set up an Online Membership Business on WordPress

Online Membership BusinessOnline membership businesses have the potential of being very lucrative. Customers are charged on an on-going basis, which means you bring in revenue from the same people monthly, quarterly, or annually — so long as they renew their subscriptions, of course. Many sites operate on this subscription model like Copyblogger and instructional sites like

Today, I’m going to discuss why the online membership format makes for a sound business model for WordPress site owners then offer up a few ways to get yours up and running in no time.

What Makes a Good Membership Site?

One of the key elements of any good membership site is that it’s two-tiered. That is, you give away some content for free — whether that’s articles, videos, or what have you — and offer the rest of the content via membership access. The free content gives people an idea of what it is you offer and entices them to purchase a subscription.

The very best subscription sites offer high-quality, exclusive content behind the pay wall that makes your customers feel like it was money well spent. It’s all about trading expertise for ongoing revenue, according to DIY Themes. In fact, they offer up several examples of how you can turn just about any area of expertise into a viable membership business.

For instance, a chef can offer videos on food preparation and recipes. A home improvement expert could create video and written tutorials for fixing things around the house and completing remodeling projects. You could even create a subscription-based stock photography site. You get the idea.

When you combine expertise and quality presentation, you get content that’s worth paying for. That’s really all it comes down to: Creating content that people would be willing to lay down cash for. Without that key component, you can kiss your dreams of running an online membership business goodbye.

But if you think you’ve got what it takes, there are many ways you can set up a site quickly and easily.

Membership Site Solutions for WordPress

With the above in mind, I’ve put together a healthy list of subscription and membership site plugins and services that can help turn your run-of-the-mill WordPress site into a full on membership business.

Just remember that whatever you choose, you need to use a plugin or external tool that offers metrics of some sort. You need to able to measure how you’re doing with regard to things like traffic and sales so keep this mind as you’re setting up your business.

Membership by WPMU DEV

wpmu-dev-membershipThe Membership plugin by WPMU DEV is robust right out of the box and offers membership access for a variety of business models from article-based content, videos, forums, software downloads, support and more. According to the plugin’s directory description, it will easily allow you to create a site similar to GigaOm or PSD Tuts.

There are two versions of this plugin. Membership lite works for single sites that require a membership pay wall. You can incorporate two different membership levels. There are several customizations available as well.

The Membership Pro version offers a fuller experience for those who have more complex membership site needs. You can add as many different membership and subscription levels as you want as well as establish BuddyPress and Admin rules.

Paid Memberships Pro

Paid-Memberships-ProAnother option you might consider is Paid Memberships Pro. It’s not as robust as some of the other plugins out there but it gets the job done and it’s free if you don’t require support or help with setup. It’s ideal for e-learning, coaching, and consultation subscriptions. You can set up memberships in any way you wish and can include trial periods, too.

Paid Memberships Pro works with all the popular payment gateways and can be configured to work on any theme. Another thing I really like is that you can export a list of your members and set up discount codes. Your members can also update their billing information or cancel their subscriptions directly on your site. This is highly convenient. It integrates with other tools like MailChimp and Infusionsoft, too.

While the basic plugin is free, there is a PMPro Membership available that provides a year’s worth of developer support and access to member forums for $97.

WishList Member

wishlist-memberAnother option to consider is WishList Member, which promises to turn “any WordPress site into a full-blown membership site.” Once the plugin is installed, you can set up your membership site, ensuring your subscribed-based content is protected. It offers a variety of features for both single and multi-site installations.

You can add as many membership levels as you want and it can be integrated with an existing WordPress site. Or, you can build a site from scratch with it. You can choose from several membership options like free, trial, and paid and easily manage subscribers. You can upgrade members, pause memberships, or delete them as well.

Other noteworthy features include sequential content delivery, the ability to control viewed content, shopping cart integration, payment integration, and multi-level access. WishList Member will cost you an annual fee, however. For single sites you can expect to pay $97 and those with multi-sites, you will need to pay $297. It’s definitely an investment but it may be worth it for your particular business model.


memberpress-screencapMemberPress is a very powerful software and plugin combo for WordPress that can turn your basic site into a membership site in just a couple of minutes following installation. What MemberPress offers is simplicity, and that’s definitely appreciated around here. According to the plugin’s description, there isn’t any page flow setup involved and you certainly won’t have to copy and paste a ton of information here and there. The only thing you’ll need to do manually is insert API keys and the Webhook URL. That’s it.

Another thing I really like about this option is the payment gateway stays synced. What does this mean for you, the site owner? It means that you don’t have to manually unsubscribe or pause someone’s membership because they didn’t pay one month. All of this is handled automatically on your behalf.

Then you can add Membership Products, create rules to restrict access to specific pages on your site, add a product registration page, and more. There are two plans available for this plugin as well. The “Business” plan works on one site only and costs $99 per year. The “Developer” plan can be used on as many sites as you want and will set you back $199 per year.


Online membership businesses are a goldmine when executed correctly. And while the main thing you need to think about is producing quality content on a consistent basis, you also need to think about how you make your content available to the public. On a WordPress site, this is made simple thanks to the plugins and tools you can install. Make sure you do some comparison shopping before you install and/or purchase a plugin or piece of software for your site though. Keep your needs in mind!

Do you currently run a membership or subscription site? Do you use any of the tools described above? How have they panned out for your so far? Or, do you use something different. We’d love to hear about it!

Image source: Howard Lake

Tom Ewer

Tom Ewer is the founder of He has been a huge fan of WordPress since he first laid eyes on it, and has been writing educational and informative content for WordPress users since 2011. When he's not working, you're likely to find him outdoors somewhere – as far away from a screen as possible!


  1. James

    Hello Everyone,
    This article is very helpful.However, I want to add something, and recently I just released the membership plugin in the wordpress repository who is called “rs-members”. Before developing I just studied existence all membership wordpress plugin.I got many problems from the those.As a result; I just tried to include many useful features.Without programming skill any guys can easily maintain this plugin. I hoped this plugin will be helpful fill up your all demand. .Guys you can visit my “rs-members” from wordpress repository.
    Thank you gentleman for patiently reading.

  2. Seamus Anthony

    Hey Tom – thanks for this info, I am setting up a membership site for a client using wp and of course managed & backed up by the excellent managewp! Just wondering, out of these choices – do you recommend one in particular?

    1. Hamza Ghani

      Seamus, my recommendation would be MemberPress, I simply liked it 🙂

      Hidden Wonder

    2. Tom Ewer


      Hey Seamus,

      To be honest, I think it’s a case of checking out the features of each and deciding what you think matches your requirements the best. They’re all good plugins!



  3. Peter Netz Lassen

    Hi Tom,

    I enjoyed your post. I do run a membership site with video tutorials for my Herbalife distributors

    I use S2Members plugin – they have all I need…
    The importance for me to start a membership site was to make sure the plugin could be used in my local language (translated by .po files) and that it could support my country’s payment gateways not only Paypal.

    Also content dripping is something I appreciate and do… 🙂
    I am currently looking it Ithemes Membership plugin

    Thanks for your info Tom

    Best regards


    1. Tom

      Thanks Peter! Hope everything works out for you.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Over 65,000 WordPress professionals are already using ManageWP

Add as many websites as you want for free, no credit card required. Sign up and start saving time!

Have questions? Get in touch!

Over 65,000 WordPress professionals are already using ManageWP

Add as many websites as you want for free, no credit card required. Sign up and start saving time!

Have questions? Get in touch!

Over 65,000 WordPress professionals are already using ManageWP

Add as many websites as you want for free, no credit card required. Sign up and start saving time!

Have questions? Get in touch!

Over 65,000 WordPress professionals are already using ManageWP

Add as many websites as you want for free, no credit card required. Sign up and start saving time!

Have questions? Get in touch!