WordPress is a powerful platform to build and maintain membership sites. As with anything related to WordPress, there are many different plugins available to build a membership site. There are free and paid options. I am going to compare some of the free plugins to help you decide which one works best for your site. Before I go into the different plugins and their features, I want to talk a bit about membership sites.

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What are Membership sites?

Generally any site with pages, posts or other content protected by a login is considered a membership site. This is the simplest form of membership site. There are many different types of membership sites.

  • Sites with online member directories
  • Sites that give benefits to members based on membership level
  • Chambers of Commerce
  • Visitor guides/Travel Bureau sites
  • Websites offering courses/tutorials

Since there are many different types of membership sites, there will obviously be many different types of membership plugins as well. So, how can we choose the plugin that will work best for the site we want to build.

Requirements of Membership sites

If you want to build a membership site, first you need to come up with the requirements for your site. Each type of membership site has a different requirement. So, until you have a clear idea of all the things you want or need on your site, you cannot decide which plugin you can use.

Here are some of the requirements of membership sites. You can download this list here.

Register new members and event attendees

Most of the membership sites will need to register members. So, you will need a registration form for the users to add themselves as a member on your site. These members can be individuals or businesses.

Display members

Displaying members is not a requirement for all the membership sites. Websites that offer courses or tutorials do not need to display their members.

Update member profiles

If your website has a lot of members, it might be easier to have them update their own profiles. This is faster and more accurate as well. In some cases though, you might not need this feature all the time. So, if this feature is available in the free version, it is beneficial, but otherwise, you might want to think before you shell out the money.

Give instant access to members only content

If you want to have some content protected by a login, you need to be able to give your members instant access when they sign up on your site. So, being able to restrict content based on user role or membership level is a huge bonus. Having this feature as part of the membership plugin makes it very easy to set it up.

Email members and/or send out newsletters

One of the major requirements of membership sites is the ability to email members or send out newsletters. Having all your member emails in your email marketing program is beneficial. It saves you a lot of time and is less prone to errors. This feature is available in many of the membership plugins, but it might not be pro feature.

Add contacts (CRM)

If you have a site like chamber of commerce or a visitor bureau site, your members will most likely be businesses. These businesses can have multiple locations and can have multiple people as the point of contact. In this case, it will be nice to have a CRM feature in your membership plugin that will let you add these contacts for each business. Then when you display these members on your site, you can also display the people with their phone numbers and email addresses.

Process monthly/yearly dues or donations

One of the main reasons for having a membership site is to make recurring revenue. So, payment processing is very important. Many of the plugins provide PayPal options in the free versions and other options are available in the paid versions. If you are not sure what payment option you like, it would be best to try out the free version first.

Create reports

Creating monthly and quarterly reports of your revenue is quite useful. While it is true that you can transfer all of the payment information into QuickBooks or other software, it is definitely beneficial to have to this feature as part of the plugin.

You might want to see the difference in revenue from last year and this year or revenue from a particular category of members etc.. Being able to see this information in the WordPress admin would be nice.

Content dripping

Content dripping is making the content available in a pre-scheduled timeline. If you have a website that has some courses, you might want to give access to the first couple of course videos in the first week and one or two videos every week after that.

Now that we have seen the major requirements of membership sites, let’s look at what plugins are available to build these sites.

Free Plugins

  • WP Members Plugin
  • S2 Member
  • Chamber Dashboard Plugins
  • Simple Membership
  • Ultimate Member
  • Restrict Content
  • Members Plugin

Premium Plugins

  • WP eMember
  • WPMU Dev Membership
  • Member Press
  • Magic Members
  • Member Mouse
  • WC Groups/WC Subscriptions
  • Digital Access Pass (DAP)

Below is a comparison chart for the free plugins and some of the major features they support.

Features/PluginWP Members PluginS2 MemberChamber DashboardSimple MembershipUltimate MemberMembers PluginRestrict Content
Register New MembersYesYesYesYesYesNoYes
Login FormYesYesYesYesYesYesYes
Membership LevelsYesYes (5 levels in the free version)YesYesNoNoNo
Membership ListingsProProYesYes (Some pro options)YesNoNo
Process PaymentsProPayPal StandardPayPal Standard, PayPal SubscriptionsPayPal, StripeNoNoPro
Restrict ContentYes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Create ReportsNoNoYesNoNoNoPro
Update Member ProfilesNoYesProCan Delete ProfilesNoNoNo
Newsletter IntegrationProYes (MailChimp, AWeber)Pro (MailChimp)Yes (MailChimp),
Pro (AWeber, ConvertKit)
Pro (MailChimp)NoPro
Content DrippingYesProNoNoNoNoPro

Looking at the chart, you can determine which features you need for your membership site and choose the plugin accordingly. If a feature is not available in a plugin, it is not necessarily a bad thing. If you do not need that feature on your site, you can still go ahead and use that plugin.

Most of these free plugins provide premium options with more features. I think it is always better to try out the free plugins and see which ones you like. Then, you can go ahead and purchase the premium versions.

List of plugins for different types of membership sites

Restrict access to content

  • Restrict Content
  • Members
  • Ultimate Member

Online Member Directories

  • Simple Membership
  • Ultimate Member
  • Chamber Dashboard

Restrict Content based on Membership Levels

  • Simple Membership
  • Chamber Dashboard
  • S2 Member

Courses/Tutorials

  • WP Members
  • Simple Membership
  • S2 Member

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