Build an Online Community With WordPress and Membership 2 Pro

Build an Online Community With WordPress and Membership 2 Pro

Most sites you stumble across these days have restricted content, whether it be a news site like The New York Times, an online community such as reddit or social networking sites such as Facebook or Twitter. In fact, all of the world’s top 25 websites have communities of members and require you to sign up for free or with a paid membership.

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

There are many reasons why you may want to restrict content on your site from being viewed by the public. You may want to encourage user accounts, offer exclusive content for sale or even hide confidential information. Whatever the reasons, using a membership plugin allows you to control who sees what.

The best way to add membership functionality to your own site is, of course, with our Membership 2 Pro plugin. In this tutorial, I’ll show you how to set it up.

Why Create a Membership Site?

Restricting access to your content allows you to do the following:

  • Charge users for access to your content
  • Create a community of people around your product or service
  • Keep your premium content private

If you’re thinking about setting up a membership site, what do you have to offer? Here are some examples:

  • A photographer could grant members access to images for a monthly fee
  • 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

In this tutorial, I’m going to create a quick membership site for my imaginary blog Chef’s Table, allowing members to access all my gourmet dessert recipes.

Sample five-star recipe site with premium recipes shown to paid members.
With the Membership 2 plugin, you can have your own paid membership site set up in no time.

Membership 2 Pro is a fantastic tool for not only protecting a few pages, but to set up a membership site and protect virtually anything on your site easily and intuitively.

Here are just some of its many features:

  • Offer tiered paid memberships
  • Time released content
  • Front end invoicing and billing history
  • Automated or manual subscription management
  • Hide pieces of content within a page
  • Download protection
  • Global currency toggle
  • Custom page for alerting access restrictions

For this tutorial, I’ve created an imaginary blog called Chef’s Table to show you the ropes and help you set up your own membership site, though, you don’t have to be a blogger to benefit from offering memberships.

Just about any business can benefit. You just need to start with a little planning.

Planning an Outline

Having a general plan can help you better understand how 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?
  • Decide whether or not you would 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 for 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 my blog, I’ll set up a free membership and offer a few basic recipes. I’ll also offer two different kinds of paid memberships: A dripped content membership that releases premium recipes on a set schedule and another premium membership that includes all recipes with immediate access.

When users log in, they’ll be redirected to a welcome page where they can access the basic recipes or their premium subscription.

The Membership 2 plugin will limit access to recipes for everyone except logged in users – that way I’ll also be able to send email newsletters to promote my blog further.

Before You Get Started

The Membership 2 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 "auto add pages" checkbox is highlighted, but not checked in the "Menu Settings."
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.

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 called 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 Pro plugin. If you’re not sure how to do this, check out our handy guide Installing WordPress Plugins.

Now you’re ready to get started!

Membership Setup

Head over to your admin dashboard > Membership 2. Click the Let’s get started button on the welcome screen to begin.

On the next page, select the Default Membership radio button from the list. This will allow my clients for my imaginary business to sign up for free and be able to automatically see my free mini-course.

The first setup page of Protected Content to choose the membership type. There are four choices: Standard, dripped content, guest and default membership.
You can create multiple membership types later so you don’t have to worry about choosing only one option to fit all your needs right this second.

With this option, your membership will be available by default to your free members only, but this can also be easily be made available to paid members by creating a new Standard or Drip Content Membership and adding the course to it.

A standard membership can be either paid or free, can be made available to visitors or members and gives access to all the content you choose at once while the dripped content membership releases your content on a schedule of your choice.

Fill in the name of your membership below the selection you just made. This will be viewable by your visitors so make sure you type in something nice and recognizable.

The membership name field and default selection to offer a free membership. The latter is not changeable and is faded.
You can create multiple free or paid memberships. Protected Content is very flexible that way.

Finally, click the Save and continue button below all those fields. You will notice that the option to Allow users to register for this membership is checked and This is a paid membership isn’t selectable.

This is simply a part of the membership type you chose and is the setting you need for this set-up. You can set up a paid membership later on that they will be able to upgrade to from this base account.

Next, choose the pages you’d like to show up in your navigation menu. The choice is completely up to you and depends on how you would like advertise and display your memberships.

A membership has been successfully set up. The inline pop-up now asks which pages you'd like to add to your navigation: Memberships, register and account are your choices. You are also shown that the following default pages have been added to your site: Memberships, register, account, protected content and registration complete.
You can choose to update the pages that were created automatically now by clicking the “Edit Page” links if you don’t want to wait to do it later.

For example, I have the Memberships and Register page set to show in the menu, but I have deselected the Account page. This is so I can create a separate menu later specifically for members who are logged in.

If you’d like to do something similar to this, you can either create the menu in a custom sidebar such as with our Custom Sidebars Pro plugin or you can create a new menu with a bit of coding and our article How to Add More Navigation Menus to your WordPress Theme.

Once you’re done deciding on your selections, click the Finish button to return to the list of your memberships.

Creating Your Paid Memberships

This plugin can do it all. Creating paid memberships is a breeze and it works in essentially the same way as creating a default membership. All it takes is choosing different settings.

On the Membership 2 > Memberships page, click the Create New Membership button. You’ll see a familiar page where you can choose your membership type, options and name.

A dripped content membership has been selected and both options have been checked.
You can choose the membership which works best for your specific needs in the first section of this page.

No matter which of the two memberships you choose, be sure to check both boxes for Allow users to register for this membership and This is a paid membership. These options, when checked, create a membership that visitors can sign up for at a cost.

The global payment settings.
You can choose to link up as many payment gatways as you would like, but the minimum is one.

When you’re done, click Save and Continue. The next page is where you can configure the payment options.

On the left you can choose your preferred currency, the name of your business as it will appear on member invoices and the payment gateways with Configure buttons next to them.

This is where you can choose which forms of payment to accept and connect your gateway. You can choose from Authorize.net, manual payments, PayPal Single and Standard, Stripe and a slew of others.

Clicking on the Configure button will bring up the applicable options to connect your gateway accounts so that you can get paid.

On the right, you should see further options for setting the price of your membership and how often payment should become due. It may look like a simple configuration, but it’s incredibly powerful.

Payment settings for a monthly membership.
You can choose between four different payment styles, each with their own set of options.

You can choose to assign permanent access for the lifetime of your site, a membership that’s around for a limited time either by a set number of days, weeks, months and years or by a date range. You can also create a subscription or have members pay in installments.

You can even choose what happens to the membership once it ends or members stop paying such as lowering them to a free membership level. When you’re ready, click Finish to save your changes.

You can also create another standard free, private membership to keep all your premium content safe while you developing them. Just follow the same steps, but choose a standard membership, keep both the Allow users to register for this membership and This is a paid membership options unchecked.

Click the Save and Continue button. An in-line pop-up should load where you can then choose to click Set up Access Levels where you can immediately choose the items you wish to protect or click Finish to choose later.

The success message of a successfully set up private membership.
If you have already created content you want to protect right away, it’s best to choose the Set up Access Levels button now or else click Finish.

Protecting Your Content

Choosing the Set up Access Levels button will bring you to the Membership 2 > Protection Rules page where you can bulk select pages, posts or other content types to protect.

The Membership 2 > Protection Rules page with the "Bulk Actions" drop down box and "Apply" button highlighted.
Bulk protecting your premium content is a quick and easy way to keep your content safe from visitors without an active membership.

Start by choosing a type of content from the left menu, then select the check boxes for the items you want to protect. From here, click the Bulk Actions drop down menu, select the membership you would like to add (or choose a pre-existing one to drop) and click the Apply button. Your content is now safe.

You can also keep content private as you’re creating it. To do this, you should look for a box at the top, right-hand corner of the page or post editor. In it you’ll see a section called Membership Access.

The image shows the "Membership Access" options box above the "Publish" box where you can save and publish pages. There is a button to enable protection and a list of the available membership levels to enable or disable protection on.
This is a quick way to protect pages while you’re working on them and limit access to just admins or to visitors, members or both.

To add the page to your membership and hide it from visitors that are not logged in, click the sliding button under Enable Protection and choose the membership level you created for the course.

Publish the page or post and you’re all set.

There’s one more way you can keep your content safe and that’s with the use of the shortcodes that are generated automatically when you create your memberships. You can see them listed on the far right on the Membership 2 > Memberships page.

The memberships page. The "Membership Shortcode" section is highlighted on the far right.
You don’t even have to protect whole pages or posts. With shortcodes, you can protect single or multiple selections.

When you wrap your selection of content beginning with the shortcode listed and ending with [/ms-protect-content], you can choose who sees it. Including a few options in the shortcode will determine who exactly has access to the content you chose.

Here is a list of the optional tags you can include in your shortcode:

  • id (ID list) Required. One or more membership IDs. Shortcode is triggered when the user belongs to at least one of these memberships.
  • access (yes|no) Defines if members of the memberships can see or not see the content. Default: yes
  • silent (yes|no) Silent protection removes content without displaying any message to the user. Default: no
  • msg (Text) Provide a custom protection message. This will only be displayed when silent is not true. Default: “”

Here’s an example of how you can set up your shortcodes with these tags.

If I want to only display about half of a recipe I created for my imaginary blog Chef’s Table, and have the rest of the recipe available to all premium members, I would use the shortcode [ms-protect-content id=”44″ access=”no” msg=”Want to see the rest of the recipe? Join now and view them all!”].

What I have done here is chosen the shortcode for my default, free membership and refused access to these types of members while also including a call to action to register as a member. Here’s what it looks like in action with the default Twenty Thirteen theme:

The custom message appears instead of the premium content for non-paid members.
You can also set a custom default message in the plugin’s settings page.

Pretty cool, right? There are also even more shortcodes you can customize to further protect content on the Membership 2 > Settings > Shortcodes page. You can go so far as to protect or grant access to content on a per member basis.

Now that you have your content all set up to be viewed by the members of your choosing, you’re ready to customize the rest of your membership site.

Setting Up Your Membership Pages

It’s now time to set up the default pages the Membership 2 plugin added for you. Editing these is the same as updating any other page on your site – a piece of cake.

The Register page automatically populates once you add memberships to your site, but you can add additional content or edit the default text to suit your needs. Don’t forget to click Update to save your changes when you’re done. This page is also styled the same as the Memberships page so you can be sure your members will get a seamless experience.

The Memberships page is intended for logged in users to see their current subscription plan and upgrade if they wish. Feel free to edit the default text or add more content if you need. This page also contains shortcodes that will display a member’s account information when they’re logged in.

A sample registration page.
The register page is displayed beautifully right out of the box, but feel free to customize it as much as you would like.

The Account page is set up with shortcodes to display all the membership details for a logged in user from their name and email to their invoices and activities on your site.

The account page viewable to members.
Your members will be able to conveniently keep track of their details, invoices and dite activity all from the account page.

The Protected Content page is the default page where your premium content can be held, but you can also create other pages, posts, URLs and more that you can protect as well.

The default messge shown after successful registration.
You can customize the message and the entire page if you would like.

As you might be able to guess, the Registration Complete page also contains shortcodes with default text your can customize to your heart’s content to let your new members know they have successfully signed up and that their payment is being processed.

Once you have all these pages set up, you can start enabling even more tools to make your membership site that much more powerful.

Login Page Redirection

You can also create a welcome page that displays a message explaining the ins and outs of navigating the member’s area. You can even send your members to this page automatically after logging in using an add-on for Membership 2.

Go to Membership 2 > Add-ons in your dashboard and find Redirect Control listed. Click the toggle button to install the add-on.

The "Redirect Control" add-on box with the on/off toggle switch highlighted on the top, right corner.
This is also where you can find the add-on for creating multiple memberships.

To customize the redirection, go to Membership 2 > Settings > Redirect. You’ll be able to choose the page you wish to be displayed when a user both logs in and logs out.

The redirect settings options. After login, users will be redirected to the welcome page and the "good-bye" page on log out.
The settings has a whole host of other options and shortcodes for you to use on your site.

Redirecting your members when they log out isn’t the only option you have. To view all the many other helpful tools you can use, go to Membership 2 > Add-ons and enable as many of them as you would like.

Testing Your Membership Site

There’s one more cool feature I want to show that can dramatically help you develop your membership site and that’s the testing feature. With it, you can safely test any aspect of your site from the perspective of any one of your membership levels.

The "Test Memberships" button is highlighted in the admin bar.
Testing your membership site has never been easier.

To access this feature, view any page on your site and click the Test Memberships button in the admin bar. A menu will appear on the right of the page where you can select and apply a membership to view how the page looks to members of that level.

It’s a powerful tool that shows you exactly which settings are being applied and you can even choose the date to preview changes that should take place in the future, such as when a subscription expires or ends.

When you move your mouse away from the Simulation Overview window, it fades away a bit to conveniently reveal more of the page. You can also click the arrow on the top-right corner to hide the overlay to see even more of the page.

When you’re done testing, just click the Exit Test Mode button at the bottom of the simulation window to end the test and go back to regular admin access.

Conclusion

That’s it! Now you’re ready to create your own powerful and fully featured membership site easily and without any coding. You’re also well on your way to helping drive attention, traffic, sales and user engagement to your site and business.

If you run into troubles and need extra help, check out the page under Membership 2 > Help for tons of tips and the Usage tab of the Membership 2 plugin page. With our membership comes some excellent perks such as expert 24/7 support that you can also access whether you need a few pointers or you’re facing much harsher situations.

With your newly enhanced network, you might even get a lot of questions that can be easily managed with an awesome support ticking system. You can learn about setting one up quickly and easily with our post Give Your Customers Top-Notch Service with Support System.

If you’re interested in more ways you can create interest in your business and services, check out our post Using Appointments + to Setup and Streamline Client Consultations.

What are other creative ways where you could see yourself using the Membership 2 Pro plugin? Feel free to share your ideas and experience in the comments below.