WordPress Membership Plugins

July 3, 2014

So you want to sell your knowledge and to people online? This is a growing and interesting market that has some great opportunities. And the good news is that there are a number of top quality WordPress membership plugins that will help you develop a great membership-powered website. The bad news is that producing quality online materials is not easy. Also, figuring out what you need to offer for free, in order to give your possible new users real insight into what they will get for their hard earned cash, is not an easy balance act to work out.

I’ll address the planning and business questions in a future post. I plan, for this article, to stick to your options for WordPress membership plugins.

This article has been heavily influenced by the great series of articles and videos by Chris Lema. Chris is a big contributor to the general WordPress community. He is also amazing developer and trainer. What has also impressed me personally about Chris is his honesty about his own mistakes in becoming an elite web developer. Chris also has provided a much deeper article on membership plugins where Chris goes into great detail what he thinks you need to know when choosing the right membership plugin for your particular needs.

There must be 20 plus WordPress membership plugins that in some way deal with membership. I’m only going to look at what I think are the leading six membership plugins, of which I have some direct experience with three.

I’m also going to look at seven basic criteria connected to these membership plugins:

  1. Price
  2. Ease of Use
  3. Time to Learn
  4. Content Dripping
  5. Pausing Memberships
  6. Using Stripe
  7. Custom Coding 

Price

If price is very important, then you really can’t go wrong with Paid Membership Pro because you get the full plugin’s functionality for free.

So how do they make money? This is a important question: If you’re basing the core of your online business on this particular plugin’s functionality, you need to know that they are going to be updating and improving the plugin on an ongoing basis for the foreseeable future. The only way that this is going to happen is if the company that developed the plugin has a real ongoing method of making money.

Paid Membership Pro profits by charging for support at  $99. They will also install the plugin and set it up, which includes a number of hours for some customization, for $499. This particular service, I feel, is more offered to developers who don’t have the time to mess around with some particular customization that a client wants, and prefer to have the plugin developer do the work for them.

Ease of Use

Paid Membership Pro is also a very easy plugin to use, compared to a lot of the competition. Nevertheless, I don’t think it is the easiest on the market at the present moment. That goes to iThemes’ Exchange, a powerful and flexible membership plugin that also offers eCommerce functionality.

My only concerns about this plugin are that it’s from iThemes. iThemes is a well-established WordPress theme and plugin company; however, I personally have had some bad experiences with their leading backup plugin, BackupBuddy. That aside, here’s a list of the major things that Exchange will do for you out of the box.

  • Does it support more than just PayPal? Yes.
  • Does it support Stripe specifically? Yes.
  • Does it protect more than posts? Yes.
  • Does it protect pages and custom post types? Yes.
  • Can you create more than 3 or 4 membership levels? Yes.
  • Is it easy for someone to purchase said membership? Yes.
  • Can you drip the content out by day, week, or month? Yes.
  • Does it integrate well with a site already doing commerce? Yes.

Content Dripping

This is an important area for a lot of membership owners, and an area where Paid Membership Pro had some weaknesses until recently. It now has an additional plugin, which can give you this functionality. However, I would still say that it has some limitations in this area compared to other membership plugins, being that this functionality is not in the core of the plugin.

Exchange is very strong in these areas, and is very easy to use. Another plugin that is strong in content dripping is MemberPress. This plugin is well established and powerful, though quite expensive compared to the competition. If your requirements are more complicated than average when it comes to content dripping, MemberPress is probably a good choice.

Pausing Memberships

If this is very important to you, MemberPress and WP eMember are good choices. I’ve also heard that Digital Access Pass has a lot of the functionality you would need for pausing memberships. Here is a great article by Beka Rice with more information connected to this particular area. Interestingly, neither Paid Membership Pro nor Exchange cover membership pausing.

Using Stripe

Both Paid Membership Pro and Exchange work with Stripe, as well as the excellent membership plugin Restrict Content Pro from Pippin Williamson.

Custom Coding 

If you are running a large and powerful membership website where you’re making some serious money, and you want or might want to do some real custom coding, look at MemberMouse. For everybody else who needs just a little bit of extra customization, both Paid Membership Pro and Restrict Content Pro will be excellent choices.

However, there is another area that you should keep in mind: mixing your membership website with eCommerce. When you do this, you open a whole new area. Two the membership WordPress plugins that deal with this are Exchange and WooCommerce Subscriptions plugin system. As a pure membership plugin compared to the others we have talked about, WooCommerce Subscriptions is probably not the best. However, if you need a real integration with the leading eCommerce WordPress solution, you probably would be best to look at this membership solution.

Summary

I’ve only scratched the surface when it comes to WordPress membership plugins; you really are spoiled for choice. That can be a problem in its own right. What I have tried to do with this article is to point out some of the key things you should think about before you choose which WordPress membership plugin. If you want to read more, here’s a great article from Shawn Hesketh, creator of WP101.com, connected to his real world experiences with choosing the right membership plugin for his business.

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