The Best Free WordPress Membership Site Plugins Compared (2019)

The Best Free WordPress Membership Site Plugins Compared (2019)

Depending on what your business or client needs and is trying to do, there are a number of feature-rich WordPress membership site plugins you can use … completely free!

Are you trying to set up a WordPress membership site on a budget for your business or a client’s website? Should you use a free WordPress membership plugin to set up a membership site or members’ area? Which plugins should you use? What features can you expect from ‘free’ membership plugins for WordPress? Are there any downsides to using free membership plugins?

In this article, we explore ways to add a members area to your WordPress website, compare the best and most popular free membership plugins, list the most useful free membership plugin features to look for, and discuss what you need to know before using free membership plugins on your WordPress site or blog!

Before we start talking about ways to grow a membership site using free plugins, make sure you have completed all the planning steps in our membership site checklist, where you can also learn how to set up a simple membership site without needing a single plugin.

Tip: Don’t commit yourself to any membership plugins until you have a better understanding of how membership sites work and why you need one, what type of membership site you want to build, and the main features your site will need to manage and grow a membership effectively.

If you are looking for ways to protect your content and give different levels of access to registered users, there are many great plugins you can install and configure to create a fully functional and professional membership site or members-only area using WordPress. Some plugins are free, some are not and some offer partly free features with upgrades to more advanced options if required.

While the obvious plus side of using free membership plugins is the cost (or lack thereof), there are a number of potential downsides to be aware of.

Can Your Membership Site Handle Growth?

If you are building a membership site to generate revenue, what happens if membership numbers start to increase? Will the plugin be able to help you handle the growth, or will you just be burdened with more manual administration?

And what if members demand new features to improve their user experience and make sure they remain loyally subscribed? Will the free plugin you depend on to run and grow your membership site be able to accommodate members requests for new features? If not, will you be able to migrate easily from your existing plugin to a more robust membership platform with minimal to no disruption?

Being able to grow your membership site sustainably and handle sudden increases in membership numbers without a hitch is essential when choosing a WordPress membership plugin, especially if you plan to start with a free plugin.

Can Your Membership Site Be Customized?

In addition to providing valuable content, your membership site should be editable, configurable, or customizable enough to accommodate and suit your needs. While most settings and options can be configured using themes, plugins, and widgets, there are some aspects of setting up a membership site that will depend on the plugin being used.

For example, if you want new or existing members to experience or complete certain processes during registration or when accessing their content and other membership information, then you must make sure that the plugin you choose is flexible, configurable, or customizable enough to support the processes and the experience you would like to create for users.

What About Technical Support?

What happens if members experience issues inside their members area? Or new versions of WordPress reveal incompatibilities, security vulnerabilities, or expose bugs in the plugin powering your membership site? Will you have access to responsive technical support from the plugin developers, or will you be left stranded to deal with the problems and unhappy members on your own?

Something else to keep in mind when research free plugins for your membership site are the developers behind the plugin. Have they been around for a while? Do they have a good reputation?  Are they known in the WordPress user community? Is the plugin regularly updated? Are there any user reviews of the plugin? Are these reviews favorable? Are other users happy with the level of support they have received from the developer?

As with all free plugins, having access to technical support when you need it the most is crucial, especially if you plan to grow your membership site and actively promote it online. Paid plugins incentivize developers to support and maintain their plugins and add new features, whereas free plugins do not.

What Features Does The Free Plugin Offer?

If you have done your planning correctly and are currently researching features that will make running and growing your membership site easier, then free membership plugins can be an option, depending on what you want to do and offer to members.

For example, when thinking about features for your membership site:

  • Do you want to build a fully automated membership site?
  • Does your site need to provide several or unlimited membership levels?
  • Are you planning to set up multiple membership sites on different domains?
  • Will new members need to be redirected to different sections of your website according to their membership level?
  • Does the site need to restrict access to content on common membership pages to different member levels?
  • Do you need to start with advanced options like custom registration fields, download folder protection, secure RSS feeds, etc. and if not, will these options be required later?
  • If you plan to run a paid membership site, do you need to offer different payment options, trials, subscriptions, etc. to get new members signing up?
  • And what about integrating your membership site with third-party services, add-ons, payment processors, eCommerce, social media, or email services like autoresponders, newsletters, etc.?

When thinking about WordPress membership plugins and the features you’d like to use in your membership site, keep in mind that many advanced features are found only in Freemium, Paid, or Pro versions, and that different free WordPress membership plugins offer different features.

We’ll refer to the above points when comparing various free WordPress membership plugins (see further below).

Why Set Up A Membership Site In WordPress Using Free Plugins?

Before we present various free membership plugins you can use in WordPress, let’s briefly explore some of the reasons for using free plugins to build a membership site:

Budget Constraints

If you have a great idea for a membership site but have little to no money to get started, choosing a free WordPress membership plugin makes sense … kind of (see the section above on things to watch out for when choosing to use free plugins!).

Since most WordPress paid (i.e. pro/premium) plugins tend to be reasonably low priced, if you are starting a membership site on a low budget, we recommend choosing free (or freemium) membership plugins offering paid upgrades for more options, advanced features, and access to support.

Simple Membership Required Only

As discussed in this post, one of the strongest reasons for choosing a free WordPress membership plugin is that you or your client only needs a simple or basic membership setup. If this is the case, then one of the free WordPress membership plugins listed in the ‘Free WordPress Membership Site Plugins’ section below should do the trick.

This all relates to better membership site planning and doing enough research before investing your money into building your site. The better you understand your business model and how to achieve your goals, the easier it will be to recognize the plugins, software, or solutions that will help you get there faster, more easily, and more cost-effectively.

If all you need is a way to protect some of your content, then make sure to see the mini-tutorial in this post: How To Set Up A Members-Only Area In WordPress On A Budget.

Build A List

If you want to use a membership site as a way to build a list, then any free WordPress membership site plugin will work just fine, even if it has no email subscriber option. All you have to do is make sure that new members sign up to your list before they can register as a member, as shown in the diagram below …

How to build a list using a free membership plugin.
How to build a list using a free membership plugin.

Here is how the simple process shown above can be used to build a list using a free (or any) membership site plugin:

  • Subscribe to an email marketing service (e.g. MailChimp, Aweber, etc.)
  • Set up a membership site or a member-only area on your site using a plugin.
  • Add your content (e.g. a downloadable report or video) to a post or page and protect it using your membership software or plugin’s protection settings.
  • Set up a landing page with an embedded email capture form (use Forminator Pro to help you with this step).
  • Send all prospective members to the landing page with the email capture form.
  • Direct your newly registered email subscribers to the member registration page.
  • Redirect newly registered members to the download page where they can access or download the content.

Users get access to exclusive or protected content and you’re building a list. Simple and effective!

Test Your Membership Model

Another reason to build a membership site using a free WordPress membership plugin is to test whether the plugin is the solution you need or even if the business model can be profitable.

One of the benefits of building a membership site using WordPress is that you can easily export member data to other applications, so if you start with a free or even a freemium membership plugin and decide that you need to upgrade to a more robust and fully featured plugin or a different solution altogether, you should be able to transfer your member community easily across to the new membership setup by exporting and importing data.

Free WordPress Membership Site Plugins

Below we have compiled a current list of over a dozen of the most popular free WordPress membership plugins you can use to build a membership site, with a brief description of main plugin features, number of active installations, ratings by the WordPress user community, and whether the plugin is compatible with the latest WordPress version (at the time of writing), with links for more information and downloading.

Ultimate Member – User Profile & Membership Plugin

Ultimate Member – User Profile & Membership Plugin
Ultimate Member – User Profile & Membership Plugin

Ultimate Member is a fairly comprehensive yet lightweight user profile & membership plugin for WordPress. The plugin is designed to help you create advanced online communities and membership sites with a focus on easy member sign-ups, beautiful user profiles to your site and a number of customizable features allowing you to create almost any type of site where users can join with ease.

Ultimate Member is free to install, well documented and supported and offers a number of paid extensions that allow you to enhance your membership site, including a purpose-built theme for websites with logged in and logged out users.

Paid Memberships Pro

Paid Memberships Pro - WordPress Plugin
Paid Memberships Pro

Paid Memberships Pro is a complete members management and membership subscription plugin for WordPress, designed for premium content sites, clubs/associations, subscription products, newsletters and more! If you are looking for a way to add a new revenue source to your site, then this plugin is flexible enough to fit the needs of almost all types of businesses.

This plugin can be used for membership sites that need unlimited levels with flexible membership pricing (including accepting recurring payments), a choice of payment gateways (PayPal, Stripe, Authorize.net, Braintree, and 2Checkout are built-in) and the ability to offer product subscriptions or members-only product discounts. It also offers extensive options for content restriction, customizable reports, and member dashboards, over a dozen Gutenberg blocks, and more!

The full version of Paid Memberships Pro is offered with no restrictions or more licenses required and over 60 premium add-ons to extend and customize your membership site.

  • Active installations: 80,000+
  • Tested to the latest version (at time of writing): Yes
  • Rating & Reviews: 4 stars (330 users)
  • More information: Paid Memberships Pro

Simple Membership

Simple Membership - WordPress Plugin
Simple Membership

Simple Membership is a flexible, well-supported, and easy-to-use WordPress membership plugin that lets you easily protect your posts and pages so only your members can view the protected content, and can be used to offer free and premium content from your WordPress site.

This plugin lets you set up unlimited membership access levels, the ability to protect posts or pages while creating or editing these, one time and recurring/subscription payments, and more!

Additional features include membership payments log, prompting non-members to log in or register for accessing protected content, enabling email activation or email confirmation for free memberships, sidebar login widgets, language translations and a host of other features.

Setup documentation and plugin support is also provided.

  • Active installations: 40,000+
  • Tested to the latest version (at time of writing): Yes
  • Rating & Reviews: 4.5 stars (215 users)
  • More information: Simple Membership

Membership & Content Restriction – Paid Member Subscriptions

Membership & Content Restriction – Paid Member Subscriptions WordPress Plugin
Membership & Content Restriction

Paid Member Subscriptions offers a complete membership solution, allowing you to accept member payments, manage members, create subscription plans and restrict access to premium content.

The plugin integrates with WooCommerce, allowing you to restrict product viewing and purchasing to members-only as well as offer special discounted product prices based on subscription plans.

It also includes features like shortcodes for member registration, login, content restriction and managing membership plans, and various membership modules (content restriction, membership payments, subscription plans, members management, member emails and messaging, free trials and sign-up fees, reports and exports, WooCommerce integration, and other powerful add-ons).

WP-Members Membership Plugin

WP-Members Membership Plugin
WP-Members Membership Plugin

The WP-Members membership plugin turns your WordPress site into a membership site by restricting selected WordPress content to registered site members only. You can restrict premium content, create custom registration fields, and more!

WP-Members puts the registration process on the site’s front end so it is part of your content instead of the native WP login page. The plugin requires no modifications to your theme, yet it’s also customizable and scalable so you can change the look and feel and restrict only some of your content.

The plugin includes a number of features, such as the ability to restrict or hide posts, pages, and custom post types, integrate user login, registration, and profile into your theme, login widget, custom registration and profile fields, admin notifications and manual approval, automatic post excerpt teaser content creation, and more.

A full Users Guide is available outlining the installation process, and how to use all the plugin settings. An upgrade paid option provides access to premium support and all of the plugin’s premium extensions.

  • Active installations: 80,000+
  • Tested to the latest version (at time of writing): Yes
  • Rating & Reviews: 4.5 stars (197 users)
  • More information: WP-Members Membership Plugin

WP User Frontend – Membership, Profile, Registration & Post Submission Plugin for WordPress

WP User Frontend – Membership, Profile, Registration & Post Submission Plugin for WordPress
WP User Frontend

WP User Frontend is a frontend builder plugin for WordPress. It includes a frontend dashboard, frontend editor & publishing, and frontend uploader for WordPress user profile, post submissions, and memberships.

The plugin includes many free features, such as frontend post and guest post submission, membership, profile builder & WordPress editor, upload attachments, drag and drop form builder, Gutenberg block, shortcodes, drag-and-drop form builder, specifying user roles that can post, build customized forms with custom post types, set post status, custom redirection after login and submission, ability to earn with subscription-based posting, set email reminders, schedule forms & restrict entries, integrate with Advanced Custom Fields (ACF), create subscription packs, pay-per-posts & receive payments from users, manage transactions, custom login & registration form, and more!

The plugin includes 20+ upgradeable premium modules with full membership functionality features and extensive resources like documentation, video tutorials, and online demos.

WP Private Content Plus

WP Private Content Plus
WP Private Content Plus

WP Private Content Plus lets you protect content on posts, pages, custom post types, navigation menus, widgets, and post attachments, and provide access to protected content to guests, members, specific user roles, and selected user groups.

Additional features of this plugin is the ability to add user-specific content to unique private user pages, which only those users can access, and the ability to display different menu items to different users based on their login status and user roles (pro version lets you enhance this functionality with the ability to add private discussions (private messages) and private files to private pages).

This free plugin includes a host of content restriction and protection features with additional Pro features available and many premium add-ons. Support forum tickets are replied weekly for free version users or priority response for PRO version users.

  • Active installations: 9,000+
  • Tested to the latest version (at time of writing): Yes
  • Rating & Reviews: 4 stars (23 users)
  • More information: WP Private Content Plus

Memberful WP

Memberful WP
Memberful WP

Memberful WP is a WordPress membership plugin that integrates and connects your WordPress site with Memberful, a hosted membership service that provides a service for selling subscriptions on your website with Stripe. The plugin also adds content protection, membership management, and single sign-on features to your WordPress website.

Once installed, activated, and set up, WordPress content is protected via a restrict access meta box where you can set specific permissions for every page and post on your site. Several helpful functions are also included for use in WordPress themes or plugins.

  • Active installations: 1,000+
  • Tested to the latest version (at time of writing): Yes
  • Rating & Reviews: 4.5 stars (10 users)
  • More information: Memberful WP

s2Member Framework (Member Roles, Capabilities, Membership, PayPal Members)

s2Member Framework (Member Roles, Capabilities, Membership, PayPal Members)
s2Member Framework

With s2Member, you can sell “Buy Now” and recurring (or non-recurring) membership subscriptions with access to specific posts/pages, portions of posts or pages, or just file downloads.

This configurable & highly extensible plugin lets you restrict access to roles, capabilities, posts, pages, or anything else in WordPress. You can easily protect your WordPress posts, pages, tags, categories, URIs, BuddyPress/bbPress forums, and portions of content within posts, pages, themes, and plugins and even protect downloadable files and streaming audio/video. Files can be stored locally, or on Amazon S3/CloudFront using s2Member’s integration.

Restrict User Access – Membership Plugin with Force

Restrict User Access – Membership Plugin with Force
Restrict User Access – Membership Plugin with Force

Restrict User Access lets you restrict content and contexts to control what your users get exclusive access to or drip content over time. The plugin lets you create an unlimited number of access levels with the ability to override user and role capabilities with no coding skills required.

Use this plugin to quickly set up a membership site with different user levels and restrict access to information using unique criteria such as posts that include specific tags, articles written by specific authors, or all your free products.

Users Ultra Membership Plugin

Users Ultra Membership, Users Community and Member Profiles With PayPal Integration Plugin
Users Ultra Membership, Users Community & Member Profiles With PayPal Integration

The Users Ultra plugin lets you create advanced user communities in only a few minutes using modules that require no coding skills to customize. With this plugin installed, you can quickly and easily build a talent community, model agency website, social community and other types of user community websites. The plugin integrates with any WordPress Theme, handles one-time and recurring payments, and allows you add as many fields as you want using a Fields Customizer Tool with built-in reCaptcha capabilities.

In addition to the many features included in the free modules, extensive upgradeable functionality and integrations are available for Pro version users.

WP User Manager – User Profile Builder & Membership

WP User Manager – User Profile Builder & Membership
WP User Manager

WP User Manager was developed to make managing users on WordPress websites like advanced portal websites, online marketplaces, and communities, listings directories, etc. easier using advanced front-end functionalities. The plugin lets you create highly customizable user profiles with custom user registration, login, password recovery and account customization forms on your WordPress website.

WP User Manager is powerful and flexible, yet easy to set up and use with almost any type of website where visitors can join and become members.

MembershipWorks – Membership, Events & Directory

MembershipWorks – Membership, Events & Directory
MembershipWorks – Membership, Events & Directory

MembershipWorks is an advanced all-in-one membership, directory, events, and donation platform for chambers, associations, professionals, networking, and other membership groups.

If you have a MembershipWorks account, use this plugin to integrate your account with your WordPress site, and set up membership forms, events calendars, member directories and more on posts and pages using shortcodes. The plugin supports many third-party integrations with payment gateways, accounting software, email marketing services, forums, etc.

The plugin provides useful membership, events, and directory features, including the ability to receive payments and process billing and accounting transactions. Extensive documentation is provided for this plugin.

Free Membership WordPress Plugin by Supsystic

Free Membership WordPress plugin by Supsystic
Free Membership by Supsystic

Membership by Supsystic lets you easily build online communities and membership sites with with options like custom user profiles, front-end registration and login, eCommerce integration, members directory, private messages, members and community social activity, friends and followers, real-time notifications, custom user roles, membership groups, custom form fields, mailing and notifications, and more!

Please note that features like content restriction, content dripping, subscriptions, social login, and integrations (eCommerce, WooCommerce, Social Network Integration, etc.) are included in the Pro version of the plugin only.

WooCommerce

WooCommerce - WordPress Plugin
WooCommerce

WooCommerce is developed and supported by Automattic, the company behind WordPress. Install the WooCommerce plugin to turn your WordPress site into a full-featured eCommerce site with extensive membership capabilities and flexibility.

With WooCommerce installed, you can sell anything and set up any kind of membership site with complete eCommerce functionality.

  • Active installations: 5+ Million
  • Tested to the latest version (at time of writing): Yes
  • Rating & Reviews: 4.5 stars (3,365 users)
  • More information: WooCommerce

In addition to the free WordPress membership plugins described above, there are also free add-ons you can install for certain plugins that allow you to extend the features of your membership site.

For example, check out the add-ons below:

WCFM Membership – WooCommerce Memberships for Multivendor Marketplace

WCFM Membership – WooCommerce Memberships for Multivendor Marketplace
WCFM Membership – WooCommerce Memberships for Multivendor Marketplace

If you are looking for a membership plugin with multi-vendor marketplace functionality, WCFM Membership is a simple WooCommerce memberships plugin add-on that lets you offer free and premium subscriptions for your multi-vendor marketplace (WC Marketplace, WC Vendors, WC Product Vendors & Dokan).

With this plugin, you can set up unlimited membership levels with different pricing plans, capabilities and commission structures for every membership level. The plugin also lets you set up free and/or paid memberships on your site with one time and recurring/subscription payments and even a ‘pay for product’ option where vendors pay you to add their product. Payments are handled securely using various payment gateways.

Simple Membership After Login Redirection

Simple Membership After Login Redirection
Simple Membership After Login Redirection

If you install the Simple Membership plugin, this add-on allows you to configure an after login page for each membership access level you create. It will automatically redirect members to the appropriate page after they log into your site.

After installing this add-on, edit your membership levels and specify the redirect pages and the add-on will take care of the rest.

GoUrl Bitcoin Payment Gateway & Paid Downloads & Membership

GoUrl Bitcoin Payment Gateway - WP Membership Plugin
GoUrl Bitcoin Payment Gateway

Do you want to set up a membership site and sell products on your website and get paid with cryptocurrency? This plugin allows you to do this. It integrates with a number of popular platforms and eCommerce and payment solutions, such as WooCommerce, WP e-Commerce, BBPress, PaidMemberships Pro, Give Donations, AppThemes, and more!

  • Active installations: 6,000+
  • Tested to the latest version (at time of writing): Yes
  • Rating & Reviews: 4.5 stars (52 users)
  • More information: GoUrl Bitcoin Payment Gateway

Which Free Membership Plugin Should You Choose?

As you can see, there are plenty of free WordPress membership plugins to choose from and this is by no means an exhaustive list. To view even more free membership plugins, just log into your WordPress dashboard, go to ‘Plugins’ > ‘Add New’, and type in ‘membership’ or ‘membership site’ into the Keyword search field.

Before you settle on using a free membership plugin, make sure that you have done your due diligence on the following points:

  • Price. The plugin may be free initially, but will it still be free once your membership site grows and you need additional features or functionality?
  • Features. Ensure that you have done your membership site planning and know exactly what kind of features your site will need.
  • Popularity. Make a shortlist of the plugins you like and compare the number of active installations for each plugin. The more a plugin is used, the more incentive developers have for updating and improving their plugin.
  • Ease of Use. Make sure the plugin is easy to install and easy to use. Check out user reviews, forums, plugin documentation, and tutorials. If you can, install the plugin yourself on a test website before using it to launch your membership site and getting members to sign up.
  • Support. Running a membership site is nothing like running a blog. when something goes wrong, you’ll hear about it… from many people! Make sure the plugin you choose is well supported.
  • Security. Avoid downloading free WordPress membership plugins (and all other kinds of plugins) from unverified sites. We recommend sticking to free plugins from the WordPress plugin repository only. User data protection is kind of a big deal and it’s better to be safe than sorry.

To learn more about how to set up a membership site with WordPress and ways to grow your business online using membership sites, see our related posts section below and make sure to subscribe for fresh WP updates sent directly to your inbox.

Good luck with your new membership site!

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Martin Aranovitch
Martin Aranovitch Martin believes that we can all live sustainably in a WordPress-centric digital universe and spends most of his time taking copious notes and creating epic tutorials to prove his theory. Before joining WPMU DEV, Martin authored many WordPress guides and courses for beginners.
Have you tried any of the membership plugins and add-ons described above? Share your thoughts and your experiences with membership site plugins in the comments section below.