How to Make Money in WordPress with a Membership Site

WordPress

One of the things I like the most about WordPress is its plugin system–there's a lot you can do! For instance, you can download and install our new plugin, Nelio Content.

Some time ago I wrote a post sharing 5 tips to make money with your WordPress blog. Advertising, affiliate links, or sharing premium content were some of the examples I explained. Today we’ll focus on the latter: how to make money with a premium section that only paying subscribers can access. Discover what membership sites are and how to create one in WordPress.

Pay me bitch better have my money
Wanna see my premium content? Show me the money! Source: Giphy.

What You Need to Create a Membership Site

As I just said, a membership site is a website in which some content is restricted to (probably paying) members. To build one, you need the following:

  1. An option to specify who can access what content. This is usually achieved by having certain roles (such as, for instance, a “Premium Subscriber”) that only a few users (those who pay) have, and making sure that certain pages, posts, and any other content is only accessible to Premium Subscribers.
  2. A subscription procedure, so that users can become members of your membership site and therefore acquire the Premium Subscriber role.
  3. A login screen that allows premium subscribers to login as such and access premium content.
  4. Other improvements, such as specific menus for subscribers.

You can have all these features by installing independent plugins and making them work together (as described in this fantastic post) or you can install a Membership Plugin that already has them all, which is way easier. Let’s see how to install and configure a Membership Plugin, shall we?

Membership Plugins

As always, there’s plenty of plugins in the WordPress ecosystem to solve this problem. In August 2018, the Editorial Staff at WPBeginner published an interesting list with the top 5 best memberhip plugins for WordPress—if you don’t know which one you should choose, take a look at it, as it might answer all your questions. These are the plugins they reviewed:

  1. MemberPress. One of the easiest and most popular plugins available. It’s probably the best plugin for people who want a tool that works out of the box.
  2. LearnDash. A fantastic LMS (Learning Management System) plugin. You’ll be able to create and manage online courses.
  3. Teachable. Another LMS solution with subscription management, email marketing, etc.
  4. Restrict Content Pro. Another great plugin to build membership sites by the creators of Easy Digital Downloads and AffiliateWP.
  5. S2Member. A free plugin that allows you to create a membership site that only paying subscribers can access (managing payments and subscriptions via PayPal).

Most of the plugins aforementioned are paid plugins. If you’re tight on budget, the s2Member plugin is the best option: it has a completely free version, albeit more complex, with which we can set up our membership site (the alternatives are way simpler to configure and use). Restrict Content Pro also has a free version, but you won’t be able to charge visitors to access your content.

Step by Step Guide on How to Build a Membership Site with s2Member

In this post we’ll use the free plugin s2Member to demonstrate how to set up a membership site. Hopefully it will be simple enough to learn all the basics and help you decide whether you want to implement a membership plugin in your website or not.

#1. Install and Activate the s2Member Plugin

The first thing we have to do is, obviously, install and activate the plugin. You already know how to do it, right?

Screenshot of the s2Member plugin in a plugin search result list
Installing the s2Member plugin is as easy as installing any other plugin. No surprises here.

Just go to Plugins » Add new and look for s2Member. Install and activate it and you’re set!

#2. Read the Getting Started Guide

s2Member has a cumbersome user interface, but once you dive into it, it’s easier than it seems. The first thing you’ll see after activating the plugin is a getting started guide where the developers explain all the basic concepts of the plugin and how to create a basic configuration of the plugin.

s2Member's Getting Started Guide
s2Member’s Getting Started Guide.

Read it carefully and familiarize yourself with everything they explain there.

#3. Create a Welcome Page for Your Subscribers

Once we have the plugin running and we understand its basic concepts, it’s time to set it up. At the beginning of this post I explained what we need to have a functional membership website:

  1. Subscription Page
  2. Login Page
  3. Content Access Restriction

According to the Getting Started guide, the first page we have to create is the “welcome page” a subscriber sees when they log in. Just create a new page in your WordPress site and fill it with some interesting content:

Welcome Page in the s2Member Plugin
When a subscriber logs in, this is the page they’ll see.

Obviously, it’s your responsibility to layout a decent page and move away from the page shown above this lines. And please make sure you’re using beautiful titles too 😉

Once we have created (and published!) this page, we have to go to the General Settings screen of the plugin:

General Options in s2Member
General Options in s2Member: a complicated and cumbersome UI…

and look for the appropriate option. I know they’re confusing, but don’t despair and follow me along. Just look for a section called Login Welcome Page and select the page we just created in the first green dropdown:

Login Welcome Page settings in s2Member
You can easily set up the Login Welcome Page using the plugin settings.

#4. Set Up Your PayPal Account

If we want to make sure our subscribers pay to access our premium content, we first need to set up a PayPal account in the plugin. We can do this easily if we go to s2member » PayPal Options and fill in the required information:

PayPal Setup in s2Member
PayPal Setup in s2Member.

#5. Create the Subscription Page

Once we have set up the account, we need to create the subscription page. This page can be as complex as the one we have on Nelio Content or something as simple as a small text like “Subscribe to access the premium content of my website” followed by the PayPal button. It’s your choice!

Now, you might be wondering how to insert said PayPal button. Well, just go to s2member » PayPal Button and create a shortcode for inserting it:

PayPal subscription button in s2Member
You can create a PayPal subscription button using this form, which you’ll find in the s2Member plugin settings.

Copy the shortcode and paste it in your page:

Subscription page in your Membership site with a PayPal button
Your Subscription page has to include the PayPal subscription button. Just paste the shortcode somewhere and you’re good to go!

and voilà! you already have your button ready:

PayPal button to subscribe
PayPal button in the subscription page, as a visitor would see it.

#6. Customize Your Login Screen

The next step we need in every membership site is a login screen. In this case, s2Member uses the WordPress login page itself (the one in /wp-login.php):

You can now tweak and customize the login screen
You can now tweak and customize the login screen.

As you can see, though, the login page looks slightly different than usual. That’s because, by default, the plugin customizes the appearance of the login page. Luckily, in the plugin’s general options there’s an option called Login/Registration Design that allows you to configure that appearance and use our own logos or, if we prefer, use the default configuration of WordPress:

Login registration design setup in s2Member
Login registration design setup in s2Member.

#7. Define the Premium Content of Your Web

Finally, we only have to decide what content will be premium. In this sense, the plugin offers a lot of different options: mark premium pages, posts, or custom content individually (using their ID), mark them according to the categories to which they belong or the tags they have, etc. I personally like marking my premium content using a specific category, so let’s take a look on how to do it.

First, create a new category in which all premium content will be placed. Let’s call it Premium (pretty obvious, right?):

Categories in WordPress
Categories in WordPress.

Now we need its ID. To know it, hover the category and click on Edit. Now look at the URL and look for a parameter named tag_ID:

/wp-admin/term.php?taxonomy=category&tag_ID=2&post_type=post

Right next to it you’ll see the category’s ID. In my case, it’s 2.

Then, go to s2Member » Restriction Options, expand the Category Access Restrictions section and add the ID you just found in the first field:

Content access limits in s2Member based on categories.
You can limit the access to certain content based on different criteria. One criterion is the category in which said content belongs.

Finally, add all the premium posts/content in this new category:

Screenshot of the edit screen of a post in the Premium category
Add the content in the premium category and it’ll be only accessible by your subscribers.

and you’re done!

#8. Create More Premium Content and Try Out the Other Options

From now on, all you have to do is generate more premium content to make sure you get new subscribers and the already-existing ones don’t cancel their subscriptions. Oh! And make sure to look at all the options the plugin offers: multiple plans, different restriction criteria, etc.

Summary

Creating premium content on our website can be a perfect formula to increase the revenue we get from it. There are several plugins to limit access to certain content in our website. I hope this post help you to understand how easy and useful it is to have a membership site. Don’t waste any more time and make money with your content!

Featured Image by Duy Pham via Unsplash.

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He obtained his PhD in Computer Science at UPC. David leads the analysis and design of our services and the user support area. He's interested in a variety of areas, including conceptual modeling, virtual reality, and 3D digital printing. He contributes to the WordPress community by participating in meetups, seminars, and the WCEU.

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