14 awesome WordPress membership plugins to earn recurring revenue in 2020
Can you make money online? Sure. Is it easy? Not quite. However, one of the more consistently predictable ways to secure online income comes in the form of a membership site. Although it generally requires a lot of work upfront, it's one of the best scalable and profitable ways to earn money with your website. Building a successful membership website requires picking the right WordPress Membership plugin and blocking some, or all, of your content, only allowing users access when they pay either upfront or a (monthly) recurring fee. And that’s the key to stable, predictable income: Recurring revenue.
When you're selling individual products or services, you need to convince every visitor that they should become your client. And then you need to repeat that cycle with each product or service that you launch. Sure, existing clients will more likely require less effort than someone who's coming to your website for the first time. But regardless, you'll need to make use of methods like email marketing, abandoned cart messaging, social media...
Companies that thrive on automated payments or subscriptions (like Netflix, Apple Music, Spotify, your gas or electricity company...) don't have to put as much effort into sales or marketing. They're more focused on increasing their customer satisfaction and keeping churn as low as possible. And let's not forget, even when people are not actively using their service or product, they're still paying. I think we've all been there, paying for a gym membership we never use, of paying for a streaming service that we only watch a few days a month.
In short, membership websites can earn you the big money, as long as you find the right niche, focus hard on providing quality over quantity, and choose the right WordPress membership plugin to help you achieve your goals.
What types of membership websites are there?
There are multiple options when you want to create a membership website, the most known format is most likely the online course or streaming service. But let's go over a few other options:
An online course with one or multiple topics. Courses might include projects, documents (like PDFs or Word documents), worksheets, videos, and quizzes.
A product membership, where digital or physical items are sent to members on a recurring basis or as a one-off situation. This could be a food box delivery or things like one dollar shave club.
A fixed-term program where the customer pays for a short membership. For instance, a business coaching program that might end after three months.
An online community with discussion boards, chat rooms, articles and other resources that aren’t available to the public. Users pay membership fees to have full access.
The everything-at-once membership, where the members pay fixed or monthly fees to receive everything you offer on the site.
The drip-feed model, where content is slowly revealed to members. New content is often 'dripped' on a weekly or monthly base, or when a member completes a previous section.
This list isn't exclusive, and there do exist other variations, but it's likely to assume that they will lean very hard towards any of the above.
What features do you need to consider in a WordPress Membership plugin
The majority of WordPress Membership plugins boast most of the 'essential' features listed below, but I would suggest to take this list, and write down what you need or want the most. As it will provide a good checklist for when you go shopping for a membership plugin.
The most essential features of a membership plugin are as follows:
Content drip tools
Support for Digital downloads
User login and profile management
Multi-level subscriptions (so that users can up- or downgrade)
Third-party logins (social / Google)
Coupons and (recurring) discounts
Built-in Email marketing and other communication tools
Course building tools
Support for multiple payment gateways
Templates to design your membership site
Discussions tools like forums or live chats
The 14 best WordPress Membership plugins
Below, we'll list up all the plugins that we consider to be amongst the top in their field on WordPress. These are the plugins we'll be discussing in the rest of this post:
Ultimate Membership Pro is a WordPress plugin that can be purchased through CodeCanyon, and markets itself as the "most complete membership plugin". It gives you the tools you need to sell multiple subscriptions or memberships. It integrates nicely with WooCommerce for (semi) automatic bulling and subscriptions to your regular products.
Ultimate Membership Pro allows your visitors to sign up for a free (or paid) trial, or purchase multiple variations of subscriptions. And on top of that, it still looks well organized, despite the wide array of features this plugin has.
Main benefits of using Ultimate Membership Pro:
It lets you restrict all WordPress content (pages, posts and even custom post types)
You can configure recurring payments to happen daily, weekly or monthly
You can let your (potential) customers log in through their social accounts (e.g. Facebook or Twitter)
You can hide (parts of) the menu until they have an active subscription
You can drip content and make use of email notification in case new content is available
You can use a multitude of custom fields and restriction on forms
It integrates nicely with 9 email marketing tools
You can restrict accounts sharing the content or their account credentials to others
Integrates with BuddyPress so you can create an online community within your website
Main disadvantages of using Ultimate Membership Pro:
The feature set of this plugin is HUGE, so it can be really intimidating if you're taking this for a spin the first time.
Although you can translate the plugin completely, it can't be used to run a multi-lingual membership website.
Although the developers provide a set of tutorials, this is by far not enough to use all features. Their support is also not the best in the market and CodeCanyon comments show that they have quite the attitude.
Membership by Supsystic - Freemium
Membership by Supsystic is a freemium WordPress membership plugin. This essentially means that the base is free, and there are additional Premium Extensions available. Membership by Supsystic mainly targets people who want to build an online community, but also comes with (premium) eCommerce functionalities.
Amongst the free features you'll find things like:
Friends & followers amongst members
Private messages between members
Custom user profiles
Login & Registration features
The premium extensions allow you to add features like:
eCommerce / Woocommerce
Social network integrations
Restrict content per user Roles
There's a full feature comparison table on their product page.
Main benefits of using Membership by Supsystic:
The base is completely free. And offers a wide variety of features, so chances are you don't even need to upgrade
Any additional extension can be purchased separately, so you don't need to purchase anything that doesn't serve your goal
Users can register and login from the front-end of the site
You can drip content using the free version
Users can find & interact with each other
Main disadvantages of using Membership by Supsystic:
Marking tools (think email marketing) are limited and will most likely need third party tools to get the most out of your membership website
Some competitors have subscription & social logins built-in by default and don't require any extensions. However, the extensions are reasonably priced, at $39 per site
ARMember has a powerful demo that gives you a good insight into what kind of features you can expect with this plugin. Furthermore, ARMember has a beautiful form builder that allows you to create stylish WordPress Registration and Login forms with a few predefined templates.
The pricing of ARMember is a one-time fee of $49 and to be honest, this plugin has one of the most minimal looking dashboards we've come across. Users can easily manage the profile & settings, see their info and manage their subscriptions.
Apart from that, there is also a wide set of extra free & premium addons to add more functionality to the ARMember plugin. By using addons, you can extend the functionality with things like:
Affiliates Pro & Affiliate WP
Digital Download addon
Main benefits of using ARMember:
Some of the addons are free, others are premium. But the majority of features a membership site needs, are built-in. Additional addons will further extend the website to match specific needs or desires
The plugin comes with a powerful and good looking form builder that allows you to fully customize the forms on your website
You have ample freedom over how and when you want to distribute and drip your content
You can specify the content you want to restrict (using shortcodes), and modify the message that is displayed to non-paying users
There is built-in support from free and paid trials
Main disadvantages of using ARMember:
Although it's unlikely you will need a lot of addons, but buying multiple can increase the price quite fast, as they range from $10 to $49 apiece
Addons are bought on the website itself, the main plugin is sold on CodeCanyon, which can lead to confusion
Automated messages aren't always as accurate and well worded as we would desire
Accessally - starts at $99/month
Accessally is one of the most expansive and well-thought-out membership plugins on the market today but comes at a fierce price. That said, you only need 1 single plugin, no extensions or addons and it can integrate with plenty of CRM tools seamlessly. As demonstrated in their showcase, you can design it any way you'd like.
Main benefits of using Accessally:
Accessally offers all the right features: quizzes, video bookmarks, gamification...
You can take payments with PayPal & Stripe for digital products, one-time courses or recurring memberships, including trials, payment plans, coupons, taxes and much more
You can offer group licenses and bulk course enrollments
Built-in integrations for marketing automation with Infusionsoft, ActiveCampaign, ConverKit and many more
Can be integrated with Elementor, Gutenberg, Divi and Beaver Builder
The team supporting Accessally is awesome and they really set the standard
Main disadvantages of using Accessally:
At a starting price of $99 a month, it isn't a cheap option
There is no integration with a community or forum solution like BBPress
LearnDash - $159
LearnDash is one of the leading Learning Management Systems (LMS), meaning that it really focusses on helping you create and publish courses for your users. It's still considered a membership plugin but really focusses on delivering video courses.
Main benefits of using LearnDash:
You can quickly launch and sell your courses using their templates
You can 'reward' your students as they progress
Drip content based on a pre-defined schedule
Multi-tier courses broken up into lessons
Offers quiz functionalities
Has a dynamic and users friendly forum section that allows interaction between students
Main disadvantages of using LearnDash:
Lacks proper documentation
LearnDash builds and organizes your course, but the site design itself is fully up to you. Which might be challenging for WordPress novices
Lacks some reporting features
More expensive than the majority of membership plugins
MemberPress - $149 per year
MemberPress provides a very thorough suite of functions with an unlimited amount of members, digital products, drip content, and coupons. The price tag is higher than your average WordPress membership plugin, but it's packed with features.
Main benefits of using MemberPress:
Comes with Affiliate Royale built-in, a plugin that costs $85 on its own
Doesn't require additional add-ons or extensions to work with Stripe
Integrates with BBPress and other community plugins
Integrates with multiple marketing tools like AWeber, ConvertKit, Mailchimp and more
Offers a member's only area for discussions
Coupons and reminders to keep members active
A lot of configuration possibilities using access rules and membership groups
Main disadvantages of using MemberPress:
Although the Basic subscription offers a wide set of functionalities, you'd have to pay at least $249 for the Plus Edition to get the BuddyPress integrations
Pricing is on the higher end of the spectrum
Paid Memberships Pro - Freemium
Paid Memberships Pro has been around for a while, and is one of the best-supported plugins around. Packed with a lot of features to get your website off the ground.
It comes with a free version that boasts 14 free addons. With the help of these free add-ons, you can extend your site with (amongst others) bbPress, ConvertKit, WooCommerce, Zapier, and Mailchimp.
Main advantages of using Paid Memberships Pro:
The free version packs enough power to satisfy those with a simple membership site
You can set your own membership levels
Integrates with most current payment gateways
You can set up flexible pricing and trials
Possibility to include ad spaces
You can send out emails notifications to members
Main disadvantages of using Paid Memberships Pro:
You get a few basic reports, but nothing fancy
Customizing the design can be quite technical, as it needs to be done through CSS manipulations
Pricing is a bit higher and requires to be paid yearly if you need any support whatsoever
Restrict Content Pro - $99 per year
Restrict Content Pro is a content hiding plugin first, but can also be used to manage members and create subscriptions. It comes with 14 free addons that allow you to integrate with Mailchimp, GetResponse and offers other useful features like strong password enforcing.
Main benefits of using Restrict Content Pro:
14 free addons included with any subscription
Built-in payment integrations for PayPal, Stripe, Braintree, and others
You can easily import and export CSV lists of members and payments
Create unlimited subscriptions and variations
Sends welcome emails and other types of automated messages
Main disadvantages of using Restrict Content Pro:
You can't drip content, it's either all or nothing
It's not straightforward to up or downgrade a user's membership
S2Member - freemium
S2Member has plenty of features for a free plugin, and if you'd need to have a premium version, it's a lifetime license. So no recurring expenses here.
The free version comes with content protection and PayPal buttons to purchase content. It also allows you to create custom login pages, but it's fairly limited and simple. It's recommended to upgrade to the pro version if you need more complex functionality.
Main advantages of using S2Member:
You can manage WordPress roles and capabilities
Allow every user to register and restrict content appropriately
Premium lets you integrate with PayPal Pro and Strip
Premium supports multisite networks
It can be integrated with affiliate tools and marketing services like MailChimp, GetResponse & Aweber.
Main disadvantages of using S2Member:
The free version is quite limited and doesn't allow for a lot of customization
Doesn't look as modern and slick as it contemporaries
Would love to see more integrations
Is not compatible with WooCommerce
WooCommerce Memberships - $199 per year
WooCommerce is the undisputed leader amongst eCommerce plugins for WordPress and can match itself with platforms like Shopify. So it stands without question that it can also be turned into a fully-fledged membership solution. The WooCommerce Memberships plugin allows you to combine content and products and create an expansive membership solution. You can sell or assign memberships, grant access to products depending on the membership and turn your store in a purchasing club (like Dollar Shave Club).
Main advantages of using WooCommerce Memberships:
It allows you to create a purchasing club, where you can limit the visibility on products depending on the membership level
You can rewards members with special discounts
Display member perks in the member's area
Import or Export member lists
Send out canned messages to members
Restrict access (partially) to pages, posts, custom post types
Main disadvantages of using WooCommerce Memberships:
Support can be quite limited and you might have to scour over forums or comments about WooCommerce
Anytime you're expanding WooCommerce, you're adding a lot of plugins, making the total harder to oversee
WooCommerce sites can be tough on performance when deployed on shared hosting environments
Not the cheapest solution at $199 per year
Paid Member Subscriptions - freemium
Paid Member Subscriptions is quite easy to configure for a membership plugin. And allows you to create an unlimited amount of subscription plans, restrict content and get paid fast. And it integrates with WooCommerce.
Main advantages of using Paid Members Subscriptions:
Uses shortcodes to create login, register and accounts pages
Integrates with builder tools like Elementor
Restrict content based on membership
Integrates with WooCommerce
Customizable email templates
Reporting and export features are present
Prevents account sharing
Main disadvantages of using Paid Members Subscriptions:
You'll need to upgrade to be able to use recurring payments
Free trials and sing-up fees will cost you $149 a year
Membermouse - $19.95 per month
Membermouse targets the not so tech-savvy users amongst us and allows you to easily create membership levels, bundles, and one-off purchases. It also comes with easy up- and downgrading and offers automation of customer service.
Main advantages of using Membermouse:
Works with shortcodes to populate most pages
Has an easy to configure checkout
Allows you to restrict and drip content
Has built-in split testing
Integrates with most email marketing tools and billing solutions
Using the API you can send emails and SMS notifications to members
Main disadvantages of using Membermouse:
pricing is based on the number of members you have, so as you scale it can become more expensive
If you want to add in-depth reporting (like churn & retention) or social login functionality, you're looking at $99 per month
WishList Member - $149 per year
WishList Member has a lot going for it and makes it easy to restrict content and accept payments and integrates properly with most email services. It also comes with a ton of documentation and video tutorials that will help you set it up perfectly.
Main advantages of using WishList Member:
Easy to implement, you can get a working website within minutes
Ample documentation and guides available
You can offer content "sneak peek"s or display it partially
You can create free, trial or paid memberships (and anything in between)
Intuitive and modern dashboards
Extensive data privacy options
Main disadvantages of using WishLish Member:
It's not possible to create coupons from within WishList
Not the cheapest option out there
aMember Professional - $179.95
aMember is one of the most comprehensive membership plugins that was built fully in PHP but allows to be integrated within WordPress. The plugin gives you full flexibility over your subscriptions, content distributions and has a lot of features built-in.
Main advantages of aMember Professional:
Comes with a lot of features built-in: forums, helpdesk and ticketing systems
Has the biggest number of payment integrations on the market (200+)
Is fully translated into 6 languages
Comes with a built-in affiliate system
Create mailing lists from within aMember and allows them to be sent throttled
Can control and protect a lot of different formats
Main disadvantages of aMember Professional:
It doesn't look like it's built for modern times
Runs natively on PHP, so it integrates with WordPress. Which might cause compatibility issues
Although it's being sold as a lifetime license, you'll only receive updates during the first six months
Choosing a WordPress Membership Plugin: which one is best for you?
You've made it to the end of our post! Woohoo! Now that you've seen multiple options, it's time to decide which route you want to take. Here's a short advise on what to chose when depending on your focus:
Best value: Membership by Supsystic
Simplicity: either WP Membership or Paid Member Subscriptions
The most features: Ultimate Membership Pro or aMember
Best reporting: WP membership
Courses: LearnDash or Accessally
Best customer service: Accessally, Paid Memberships Pro, WP Membership, Paid Member Subscriptions or Membership by Supsystic
Best WooCommerce integrator: WooCommerce Membership, Membership by Supsystic or Ultimate Membership Pro WordPress Plugin
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