How to Build a Membership Website with WordPress

Are you thinking about building a WordPress membership website?

Do you want to generate revenue by selling exclusive content to your members? There are countless membership websites that run on WordPress and it’s not hard to create your own.

When your goal is to restrict access of content to paid members only, you won’t find software easier than WordPress, especially if you’re already familiar with this CMS platform.

The revenue potential is huge, so you’ll want to get started quickly. Here’s what you need to know about building a WordPress membership site.

What is a WordPress membership website?

A membership website provides membership levels with access to premium content not accessible outside of a membership. A WordPress membership site can be free or paid, but generally, members register for an account and must log into their account in order to access their premium content.

While some WordPress membership sites are free, others are paid. Some paid membership sites offer different membership levels, each with a different price. For example, many sites offer silver/gold/platinum levels. As the levels increase, the cost goes up and members enjoy more perks.

The kind of content restricted to members can include:

  • Live support.
  • Online courses.
  • Discussion forums.
  • Special downloads.
  • Premium video content.
  • Research documentation.
  • Stock images/videos.
  • And more.

These are just some examples of content you can restrict to members of your website. Technically, any type of content can be restricted. What you choose to offer will depend on your business model.

Why build a membership website with WordPress?

There are several key reasons to build a membership website on the WordPress platform. Here are the most important:

You’ll generate more income

When you charge for memberships, you’ll generate more income, provided you can formulate the optimal pricing structure for what you have to offer.

Be careful about restricting too much of your content, though. It’s important to offer high value content to all of your visitors. Some of your regular visitors will never become members, but many of them will over time if they see the value in upgrading.

You’ll generate passive revenue

Owning a membership website is the ultimate way to generate passive revenue. When your members-only content is enticing, you’ll get more signups. However, you won’t need to do much work. That’s the benefit of having digital content.

You only need to create your exclusive, digital content once, place it behind a paywall, and you can theoretically generate revenue from that content forever without having to lift a finger. As long as your shopping cart system is running smooth, it’s truly passive income.

Your site/brand will earn authority

Having a membership site can help your brand earn authorityin your industry. Whether or not you experience this will depend entirely on your marketing strategy, but here’s the secret. When your paid content is top-notch, word will get around that you’re an expert in your industry and the content you offer is worth the fee.

You’ll grow your email list

Simply offering memberships to people will help you grow your email list. Anytime someone signs up for a plan – free or paid – they’ll be added to your database. From there, you can nurture your leads through a strong email marketing campaign.

These are just some of the reasons to create a membership site. You might have other reasons as well.

Things to consider regarding your membership website

Before you dive into creating your membership website, it’s important to ask yourself some questions regarding your plans, ideals, and goals. For example, you might consider the following points:

  • Will your membership options be free, paid, or both?
  • How many subscription tiers will you have?
  • How much will you charge for each subscription tier?
  • What are the perks for paid memberships?
  • Does your paid content provide extensive value?
  • What value will you provide to free members?
  • What content will you provide to non-members?
  • What is your monthly or annual revenue goal for membership fees?
  • How many new members would you like to generate each month?
  • Can your web hosting plan handle your membership site goals?
  • Are you willing to change hosting providers to get more resources if necessary?
  • Which payment options will you accept?
  • How will you manage your welcome emails?
  • Will you encrypt your website?
  • How will you manage data privacy, like GDPR requests?
  • Are you ready to create a detailed privacy policy to be compliant?
  • Under what terms will you offer refunds or cancellations?

Set your pricing structure intentionally and test, test, test

When you build a membership site, next to a functioning site, the most important thing is that you set up your pricing structure correctly. You won’t sell many memberships if your prices are too high, and you won’t generate the revenue you deserve if your prices are too low.

You may want to run a test where you offer memberships at different prices to find out which prices will generate the most members. However, be careful when you do this because you don’t want to publicly offer different prices. Your members will be upset if they find out other people got a better deal for no reason.

Here’s how to test your membership prices without insulting your existing members. Create a PPC ad campaign and run ads that offer memberships at special prices for a limited time. This way, the varied prices will be special offers only seen by the people who click on your ads. You’ll need to create corresponding landing pages that display the special membership prices, but a web developer can set that up for you.

Run your ad campaign for however long you need to get enough data to determine the ideal pricing structure for your memberships.

How to build a free or paid membership site with WordPress

There are two general ways to build a membership website with WordPress. You can use a theme specifically created as membership sites, or you can use a membership plugin.

There are pros and cons to both options, which will be discussed below. However, in general, membership themes generally require less customization because the entire design is built around membership needs. Member plugins add membership features to an existing site, but the user experience across the site can sometimes be awkward.

WordPress membership themes

A membership theme contains the entire website’s design as well as all WordPress plugins required to run a membership website.

When created by a professional developer, the plugins function smoothly with the theme and the entire theme is member-friendly. For example, it will come with a login page, a members area page, and any other type of page you might need to run a membership website.

All of these pages will be designed as part of the theme.

On the contrary, when you use a membership plugin, you’ll need to create a membership website with specific pages, like login pages, members area pages, and more.

If you prefer to use a membership theme, you have two options: buy an existing theme or hire a developer to create a custom theme.

The ideal solution is to hire a WordPress developer to create a custom theme for you.

This way, you’ll get everything you want and need in terms of design and functionality.

However, if you have a small budget, you’ll need to find an existing theme.

One of the most popular WordPress membership themes is BuddyBoss. With this theme, you can create any kind of membership website.

Used by several industry leaders, this theme was specifically designed to work smoothly with popular membership plugins, including:

  • WishList Member
  • WooCommerce Subscriptions
  • Memberium
  • MemberPress

There are other WordPress themes that work well as membership sites. Most of them have been created specifically for that purpose. However, many of them only work for a certain type of membership site. For example, some themes are designed for courses, while others are designed for communities.

If you’d rather stick with your current theme or use a specific theme you feel is best, you’ll need to use a membership plugin.

WordPress membership plugins

Technically, the feature already exists in the core WordPress installation, but you can’t use it for paid memberships out of the box. To do that, you’ll need some plugins.

There are tons of plugins for WordPress that will help you run a membership site. Some of these plugins are free, but they’re limited in terms of features. Others are paid plugins and come with more comprehensive features.

membership plugin for wordpress

MemberPress is a popular WordPress membership plugin that is relatively easy to set up, including their custom WordPress form builder plugin.

If MemberPress isn’t what you’re looking for, there are plenty of other plugins to choose from, including:

  • Restrict Content Pro
  • LearnDash Review
  • S2Member Review
  • Paid Memberships Pro

Although price matters when you’re on a budget, don’t make price the deciding factor. Plugins aren’t that expensive in the grand scheme of things, so don’t hesitate to pay for a plugin that does exactly what you need. Skipping important features will also diminish your revenue and member satisfaction.

4 things to do after setting up your WordPress membership theme or plugin

When you set up your membership website theme or are looking to find the right WordPress membership plugin, here are some things to consider.

Test and verify your restricted content

If you already have content on your website when you add membership features, be sure to review every page and post to make sure your content is only visible to the right people.

Once your membership features are set up, test all of your pages while logged into each membership level (and not logged into any account) to make sure everything is programmed as you wish.

Make sure your payment integrations work

Ensure that all your payment integrations work smoothly.

Whether you’ve connected your membership site to PayPal, Stripe,, or anything else, test each payment method to make sure everything works.

Test your refund process

There will always be members who will request a refund. Test the process to ensure it works smoothly. People tend to get frustrated over complex and lengthy refund processes.

Make sure your members-only pages are never indexed

If at any time your paid members-only content ends up public, it won’t take long for search engines to index that content. To prevent this from happening, make a list of your restricted content URLs and write your robots.txt fileto exclude those pages and directories.

Need a membership site?

Website.Design can help!

If you can’t seem to find the right membership theme or you need a unique design, contact us and tell us what you need.

Our team of professional designers and developers can create a custom WordPress themefor your membership site that will integrate with the membership plugin of your choice. Or, our developers can create a completely custom membership plugin for you, complete with:

  • Web hosting
  • User registration
  • User login form
  • Payment gateway
  • Recurring payments setup
  • Integrated pricing page, where we create multiple tiers

We can even create membership levels or role-based administration for your site.

Whether you need help choosing and installing a theme, setting up your WordPress website and WordPress plugins, or you need a custom design, we can help. Reach out to our development team today– we’d love to discuss your project!

Ethan Emerson