Earn a Regular Income From Loyal Customers with the Free Membership 2 Plugin

Do you want to restrict access to your best stuff and make money with your WordPress website? With our free Membership 2 plugin, you can do that and more.

Since Membership 2 was launched we’ve added sooo much new stuff. Head over to the project page to check out all the new features! Check out Membership 2

Monetizing your website is a sure-fire way to elevate your site from a simple hobby or side product to a serious full-fledged revenue stream that puts cash in your pocket. And if you have exclusive content, all the better.

With WordPress and our Membership 2 pluginavailable to download for free from WordPress.org – you can easily set up your own membership site and charge users for access to your eCourses, webinars, eBooks and other restricted content. Basically, people pay a fee and you provide the goods.

Membership 2 is great for users who would like to set up a membership site but don’t want to commit just yet. Since it’s free, you’ve got nothing to lose, plus the plugin’s intutitive installation wizard walks you through everything you need to do to get your membership site up and running.

In this tutorial, we’ll look at some real world examples of how membership sites can be used, why Membership 2 could be a great fit for your website, and how to set it up.

Why Create a Membership Site?

Whether you want to set up a basic membership site for exclusive access to your guitar tabs or even to try your hand at building the next Facebook with one-of-a-kind Multisite integration, there are many reasons why you might want to set up a membership site:

  • Create a community around your product or service
  • Keep your premium content private
  • Photographers can sell their photos
  • A WordPress expert could charge an annual membership for access to tutorials and videos
  • A personal trainer could set up a 12-week gym program that drip feeds new weekly content to its members
  • A developer could allow exclusive access to his/her plugins using a club model on their site
  • A WordPress theme seller could provide new themes and support for a monthly fee
  • Create a free membership to help keep users interested in your future work such as upcoming books, plugins or themes
  • Give users access to exclusive content through a membership in exchange for joining your mailing list
  • Provide free bonus gifts through a membership to entice users to make a purchase from you
  • Businesses could set up a private membership for employees to communicate on projects
  • A membership site for teachers and professors to share class material and updates to parents and students
  • Life coaches can provide daily encouragement to clients through a private member’s area

Really, the list could go on and on because just about anyone can benefit. Adding membership capabilities is a great way to grow just about any site and the Membership 2 plugin can help you set one up in a flash.

Why Use Membership 2?

Membership 2 is a powerful plugin with so many features that can help you make quick work of your membership site:

  • Recurring payment options – Set users up on an ongoing automated payment plan
  • Admin-side protection rules – Protect elements inside the WordPress Dashboard
  • Fully-integrated coupon system – Offer special promotions and attract new users
  • Custom post-type protection – Protect post-types not native to WordPress core
  • Advanced media protection rules – More control when protecting media
  • Network Wide Protection – Manage membership on your entire Multisite network from one place
  • Re-built from the ground up – There’s a brand new, intuitive and easy to use back and front-end
  • Setup Wizard – You can get started and setup your site in just a few minutes
  • Drip-feed content – You can choose to time-release content or have it available from the get-go
  • Many membership types – You can create both free and premium memberships
  • Easy Payments – PayPal is fully integrated for a clean and simple checkout experience
  • Offer different payment types – You can choose from payments such as one-off, installments or subscriptions
  • Multiple Currencies – Includes 25 currencies you can accept out of the box
  • Probably more features than Batman’s utility belt – and counting with regular updates

Best of all, it’s free and you can easily upgrade to the Pro version if your site grows to a point where you need more features and capabilities.

Restrict Access to Anything You Want

A message is displayed notifying a user they don't have access to the page.
Visitors won’t be able to see membership content unless they’re logged in.

With Membership 2, it’s easy to restrict content to just about anything you want, including as pages, posts, categories, downloads, specific URLs and more.

It’s built right into the settings. You can customize your memberships to perfectly suit your needs. You can even protect parts of your posts, just like The New York Times.

Options for payment gateways
You can choose to accept payments through Authorize.net, PayPal or Stripe.

Multiple Payment Gateways

You can securely accept payments through PayPal, Authorize.net and Stripe and choose exactly when your user should pay.

You can also offer free trials to new users to help them decide on signing up.

The types of membership payments you can offer are entirely customizable with date ranges, reoccurring subscriptions for any amount of days, weeks or months and one-time payments.

Membership 2 is a flexible plugin that fits right into the styles of your theme so it’s easy to implement giving you more time to focus on creating fabulous content for your members.

Getting Started

After you’ve downloaded, installed and activated Membership 2, there are a few housekeeping things you should do before setting up the plugin.

The plugin creates a few new pages by default and it’s best to be prepared for their inclusion on your site. To do this, go to Appearance > Menus in your dashboard and select one of your menus from the drop-down list at the top of the page, under the Edit Menus tab, then click Apply.

At the bottom of the page, you should see the Menu Settings with some checkbox options.

The checkbox to automatically add new pages to the menu is unchecked and highlighted in the menu settings section.
If you keep this box checked, you may see unwanted pages available in your site’s menu.
Your main menu should have the second checkbox selected, as shown in this image, but your other menus won’t and that’s normal.

Make sure the first check box to Auto add pages is not selected, then click the Save Menu button at the bottom of this section. Now, the new pages won’t show up on your site unexpectedly.

If you don’t have a menu created yet, enter a name for it in the Menu Name field, click the Create Menu button, then follow through with the same remaining steps.

As a rule of thumb, you should backup your site just in case. It may even be helpful to create a local test site so you can try out this idea in a safe environment where none of your important content will be lost and your site won’t break.

We have a couple articles that you may find helpful on this: No More Cowboy Coding: Improving Your WordPress Workflow and Stop Cowboy Coding: 10 Tips for Improving the Quality of Your WordPress Themes and Plugins.

If you have a Multisite install, you may find our Cloner plugin useful. It can copy any of your live sites so you can test out changes before transferring them to your live site – when you’re ready – in just a few quick clicks.

Once that’s done, install and activate the Membership 2 plugin from WordPress.org. It installs like most other plugins so you can also do this from the Plugins > Add New page of your dashboard.

Search for “membership 2” and it should pop right up. If you’re not sure how to do this, check out our handy guide Installing WordPress Plugins.

Now you’re ready to get started!

Upgrade from Version One to Two (for Free)

We have made many huge improvements to Membership 2’s user interface this year on top of the many features we’ve added since releasing the first version of the membership plugin some years ago.

The new user interface is intuitive and it’s incredibly easy to work your way through. The best part of all is we haven’t lost any of the features of the original plugin. In fact, we added more.

You may be wondering why you need to upgrade immediately after installing the plugin. It’s a fair question and it may seem odd at first glance, but there’s an important reason for it: We have made it optional to upgrade from the original Membership plugin to Membership 2, so anyone using Membership who isn’t ready to upgrade just yet doesn’t have to until they’re ready. That way, you can backup your site and get your ducks in a row before making the switch.

Keep in mind that this free upgrade is only temporary to help users make the switch to the new and improved version of the plugin, so it’s a good idea to get the upgrade out of the way now so you don’t have to worry about compatibility later on.

If you are currently using Membership, you can upgrade now. Your settings will be migrated except for your protection rules. You will need to re-enter them again in order for your selected content to be protected. Otherwise, everything is available publicly.

To upgrade to the free version of Membership 2, click the I understand. Switch to Membership 2 now button in the Membership 2 is Available message that appears after installing and activating the plugin.

Membership 2 is available upgrade button after activation.
Upgrade to Membership 2 before configuring the settings.

Next, click on Membership 2 in your dashboard. You should be directed to a page that asks you to import your old membership details.

The "Import Overview" page
You can import almost all your membership details to the new interface.

If you haven’t added anything to your site you can click the Skip button.

If you have an existing membership site and want to upgrade, choose a Small, Normal or Big import batch size from the drop down box. Just remember that the larger your site is with the membership content you created, the greater the chance your PHP memory limit could be exhausted. For larger sites, choose a small or normal batch size.

Check the box to replace current Membership 2 content with your original details you’re importing then click Import. Just remember your protection rules won’t be included.

Now that’s all settled, you can begin to plan your memberships.

Planning Your Memberships

Having a general plan can help you keep track of how you want to set up your membership site. Here are some ideas to help you get started:

  • Would you like to offer paid or free memberships or both?
  • Would you like to offer sample content as a teaser to help convert visitors to members? Your teaser shouldn’t give away all your knowledge, but should lead into it instead. If visitors would like to learn more, they can buy or sign up for a membership to your site.
  • Do you want visitors to sign up to your mailing list or your site to view protected content?
  • You can protect any page, post, category, URL, select content, custom post types such as ones created with our CustomPress plugin and more. Decide what you would like to offer your members.
  • Introducing your membership with an introductory page or in your newsletter can help boost interest in your site and business.
  • It can also be helpful to include testimonials to help sway visitors into purchasing a membership or signing up. If you would like tips on how to create the best testimonials, check out our post Why WordPress Testimonials Can Generate More Selling Power Than the Best Sales Copy.
  • You can use our Comments + plugin so your members can additionally engage with your site using their Facebook, Twitter and Google+ accounts.
  • Our Chat plugin can be formatted it to look like a comments section, but with the added bonus of having it update instantly so conversations in your members area could flourish helping you increase user engagement.

For this tutorial, I’ve created a fictional business called The WP Help Desk that offers WordPress and plugin support to premium members who pay for exclusive access.

I want to set up a premium membership with a one-day free trial for new members to test the waters. After their trial is up, their premium membership starts and they’re billed automatically.

Members are going to receive time-released bonus content as well. I’ll also set up a redirection so after logging in, members are directed to the member’s area with helpful links such as an account details page.

Creating New Memberships

Click the Let’s get started button to reveal the membership types you can choose to create.

The setup page for Membership 2.
You can choose between paid and free membership types.

You can choose from:

  • Standard Membership so only logged in users see your content
  • Dripped Content Membership if you want to make time-released content in intervals
  • Guest Membership so visitors can log in anonymously, or
  • Default Membership for users who sign up, but haven’t chosen a membership yet

The standard and dripped content options can be paid or free memberships and you can also name them while the guest and default memberships can only be free and can’t be named.

For The WP Help Desk, I’m going to start by setting up my regular premium membership so I’ll choose Standard Membership and enter a name for it.

Membership 2 setup page
You can choose a name for your membership and if you want to set a price for it.

I’m leaving the first box unchecked because I don’t want users to be able to register for this membership. I’m going to set up a different one next that users can register for and get time-released content. Once they receive everything, they are going to be automatically transferred to a standard membership, which I’ll create next.

I selected the second box, This is a paid membership, so users can pay for a regular subscription.

Once you have this information entered for your site, click the Save and continue button at the bottom.

Payment settings for a new membership.
You can choose between four payment types.

On the right-hand side of the next page, you can choose when you want to receive payments in the drop down box.

There are four options: One payment for permanent, finite or date range access, and recurring payments.

I’m choosing recurring payments.

The recurring payment settings area
You can choose when you receive members’ payments down to the day.

I set a payment amount of $59 every month with an unlimited amount of total payments, but you can choose to set a frequency of any amount of days, weeks, months or years.

You can also choose a set number of payments. If a user cancels their membership, they are discontinued access and only see what non-logged in users can.

The global payment settings
You can choose between many payment gateways.

On the left, you should see the payment settings. You can select one of 25 different currencies to accept payments and enter the name you want displayed on invoices.

Next, configure as many payment gateways as you want as long as you choose at least one, that is, unless you only want free sign ups.

To set up a gateway, click the Configure button next to the ones you want to use and follow the instructions. When you’re done, click Finish and your new membership has been set up.

If you see an error message at the top of the page letting you know you haven’t enabled a payment gateway yet, click the Fix it now link. On the payment settings page, click the slide button to enable the gateways you have already set up.

You can go back to the Membership 2 > Membership page and click the Create New Membership button if you want to, well, create other memberships.

For The WP Help Desk, I’m also going to set up a drip feed membership so I can send new members free bonus content for their first month.

I’ll select the Dripped Content Membership this time and click both checkboxes so users can register for this one.

The membership settings page
You can create a membership for content to be released in intervals.

After saving, I don’t have to configure the payment gateways again. I can just choose when I want to receive payments. I also clicked the Yes, enable Trial Memberships button so I can click the slide button to enable this option and choose the length of the trial period.

Payment settings for the dripped content membership
You can choose between the same settings for paid memberships.

I set the same payment amount and access time period as the other membership I created. This time, for the After this membership ends drop down box, I selected my other membership.

I did this so after members receive their bonus content, they automatically get switched to the standard membership since I won’t have anymore content to release to them by then.

This also ensures members can quickly get the latest content available to standard members so their subscription stays fresh and members don’t get bored.

I also set a free trial membership for one day, but if you decide to enable free trials you can choose to set one up for any amount of days, weeks, months or even years.

Once you have entered your desired details and double-checked that the payment gateways you want to use are enabled, click the Finish button to create your membership.

Protecting and Creating Your Content

Now it’s time to put together all the content you want to make available for your memberships.

For ease of use, there are a number of web pages automatically created by the Membership 2 plugin:

  • Account – Shows the current account member’s invoices, activity and editable information including their name, email and password
  • Membership List – An overview of membership subscriptions available on the website for guests who aren’t logged in
  • Protected Content – Displays the following message when protected pages are accessed by non-members: “The content you are trying to access is only available to members. Sorry.”
  • Registration – Lists available subscriptions with a sign-up button
  • Thank You Page – Notifies the new member that their request to join has been processed

Go ahead and edit those pages as you see fit. Once you have created everything you want only your logged-in members to see, you can protect them to make sure they are the only ones to have access to it.

There are two ways to protect your content.

The membership access settings in the page editor.
You can protect your content right in the page editor.

You can go to the page editor and enable protection from the Membership Access settings by clicking the slide button, then choosing which memberships you want to allow access.

For The WP Help Desk’s support page, I have given both membership types access since it’s something I want all members to see.

All that’s left is publishing or updating the page to protect it.

The other way you can protect any other content on your site is by going to Membership 2 > Protection Rules in your dashboard.

The protection rules settings page
Hover over one of the items to modify access.

On the left, you can select between the different menu options such as pages, categories, menu items and read more tags.

Hovering over one of the items listed on the right reveals the Modify Access link you can click to select which memberships can have access to it.

Since I want my bonuses to be released one-at-a-time when a user registers, I can do that for all the bonuses I have granted access for my dripped content membership.

To set the date your content becomes available, work you way down the list and click the Set date link on the right of each drip membership item.

The protection rules settings page
You can set the day your members have access to content for dripped memberships.

In the drop down box that appears, you can choose to display content instantly, on a specific date or on a day relative to the supscription. I chose the last one since I want my bonus revealed at the same time for all my members, even if they sign up at different times.

I set my bonuses to be released one week at a time, but with this option, you can choose any amount of days, weeks, months or years. If you select the date range option, you can choose the exact date you want the content to be available for everyone who is registered for your dripped content membership.

Once your content has been protected, you’re ready to go, although, there are other great tools that you can use to extend the functionality of your membership site.

What About Those Add-Ons?

No two membership websites are the same. Your content addresses the needs of a specific audience, so you have to design your membership community around those needs. And Membership 2’s add-ons help you do that.

To see and enable addons, go to Membership 2 > Add-ons. You can click the slide button for any add-on that you want to enable. Once you do that, the settings appear in the corresponding areas of the plugin’s settings.

I want my members to be directed to the welcome page I created after they log in so I’m going to enable the Redirect Control add-on.

The redirect control add-on has been activated.
There are 14 add-ons to choose from in the free version.

Go to Membership 2 > Settings and configure the log in and log out URLs by clicking the Redirect menu item on the left. Your settings on this page are automatically.

There are 14 add-ons you can choose from in the free version of Membership 2:

  • Trial period enables members to test out your content prior to fully committing to join your online community.
  • The URL protection add-on overrides protected content parameters.
  • With Taxamo, you remain in keeping with European Union VAT regulations.
  • Redirect URLs to display customized pages once a user logs in or out.
  • Multiple memberships permits each member to sign up for any and all of your program offerings that fit their needs.
  • Protect unconventional pages by assigning alternative protection parameters.
  • Increase member capabilities according to individual assignment.
  • Assign protection parameters to individual blog posts and to categories.
  • Protect media content from non-members.
  • Integrate MailChimp, or send automated emails to promote more events from your dashboard.
  • Cloak menu items, or replace menus and/or their locations.

There are many more available if you decide to upgrade to the Pro version including coupons, invite codes and WPML Integration add-ons, to name a few.

Testing Your Membership Site

When you’re logged in as an administrator, you see everything even if you’re not a member, including shortcodes. There’s a quick way you can test your site to see exactly how it works for regular visitors and members.

To access this tool, click the Test Memberships button in the admin bar at the top of the page.

The Test MEmberships button in the admin bar.
You can test your memberships in one click.

Once activated, you’re free to test to your heart’s content. When you’re done or want to tweak things a bit more, you can click the Exit Test Mode button that appears in the top-right hand corner of the page.

Exit test mode button
It’s easy to toggle between testing and editing.

In Membership 2 Pro, there are a lot more test mode features, including being able to choose the date and time to test drip feed content.

Need More Features?

If you’re ready to take your membership site to the next level, Membership 2 Pro will cater to your every need.

Membership 2 Pro
Tons of upgrades are available in Membership 2 Pro.

The Pro version of Membership 2 is compatible with WordPress’ Multisite network. You can manage membership from the entire network in one place. There’s advanced protection of media content and you can create promotional offers using the coupon system that’s incorporated into the Pro version’s settings.

You also can use the Stripe Recurring Payment Gateway, customize even more automated email responses, more custom protection messages and include upgrade paths.

The Pro version also boasts additional customizable add-ons, including WPML translation, BuddyPress integration, customizable member profile fields, and the option to create an invitation code for private sign-ups.

Not to mention you have access to our expert WordPress support team to help you if you ever find you’re in a jam. You can find out more about the pro version here.

Membership 2 was developed with more than the essential features needed to create, grow, and maintain membership options on your website. With this plugin’s customization options, you can create a unique membership community catered to your niche. Membership 2 Pro takes the plugin a step further with additional protection and member attributions.

If you want to see Membership 2 Pro in action, you can check out one of our other posts called Build an Online Community With WordPress and Membership 2 Pro.

Which ever plugin is right for your needs, you can seamlessly switch at your leisure if you decide you need to in just a few clicks.

Our aim is to build solid plugins that are so easy to use even a beginner can take full advantage of all the most potent features. Give Membership 2 a go and see for yourself. If you have any questions about how to use Membership 2, or you’ve used the plugin for your own project, let us know in the comments below.