Monetize Your WordPress Website in Five Minutes With Membership

Most sites you stumble across these days have some form of membership, whether it be a news site like The New York Times, an online community such as reddit or social networking sites Facebook or Twitter.

In fact, all of the world’s top 25 websites have a community of members. It’s big business and the easiest way to monetize your content and make your website profitable. After all, no one wants to give away their stuff for free.

The easiest way to add membership functionality to your site is with WPMU DEV’s Membership plugin. It’s a cinch to install and you don’t have to be a techie to get it up and running.

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

The idea of a membership site is simple: users sign up for free or, preferably, after handing over some cash and then they get access to your premium content. This revenue model allows you to take a WordPress site and transform it into a recurring income-generating business that makes big bucks.

So Why Create a Membership Site?

Aside from the fact it’s easy to do:

  • It makes sense to charge members to access your content.
  • It allows you to create a community of people around your product.
  • You can keep your premium content private.

So 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 basic news subscription site – The Daily Scoop – where visitors can access the latest news and members have to access to archived stories and video.

1. Download the Membership Plugin

First thing’s first – install Membership. Head to WPMU DEV for all the details.

2. Plan

“Plan, shman,” said no one ever. The most important part of setting up your membership site is planning it, so put your proverbial pen to paper. There’s no point diving into the plugin and getting lost amongst the settings if you don’t know what you want your site to do.

The The Daily Scoop, I want visitors to have access to the latest news stories, but if they want to real older, archived stories or watch video they will need to sign up.

So, I want two types of subscription:

  • Visitors – people who are passing through and just want to read today’s news
  • Members – people who want full access to new and old articles as well as video

To break it down further into who sees what:

  • Latest articles – Visitors and members
  • Archived stories – Members
  • Videos – Members

3. Using the Wizard to Get Started

So let’s get started. After you activate the Membership plugin in your WordPress installation, click on Membership in the admin panel on the left. The Membership Dashboard displays stats about your members to the right and details about your members on the left.

First time users will see a wizard to help guide you through the basic steps. The wizard asks you what type of membership site you would like to create:

WPMU DEV Membership wizard

There are three different kinds of membership you can use with this plugin:

  • Standard membership – You can choose to charge your members a regular fee, or not charge them anything at all.
  • Dripped content site – Allows you to move your members through different membership levels according to a set timeline you set. For example, in the case of the personal trainer mentioned above offering a 12 week gym program, the site might provide initial workout plans for members and then after a week the site reveals new workout plans for week two.
  • Advanced – If you select this option, the wizard will close, leaving you to custom build your membership levels in the plugin’s settings.

For The Daily Scoop I want to set up a Standard membership that allows visitors to access the site for free and asks members to pay a monthly fee of $9.95.

After selecting Standard membership site, click Next Step.

WPMU DEV Membership levels

Now you need to create your levels of membership. For my membership site, I want to create one level and I will call it “Member”. Then I need to tick “also create level to control what non-members can see?” This will automatically create a level for new visitors to the site.

Then you need to select how members will pay for their membership.

  • Free subscriptions gateway – Users can access your site for free without paying a fee.
  • PayPal Express Gateway – Users can make recurring payments for their membership if they pay a regular fee.
  • PayPal Single Payments Gateway – Users can make a one-off payment using their PayPal account.

I’m going to select PayPal Single Payments Gateway and click “Finish”.

4. Creating Pages

WPMU DEV Membership page options

You will need to create some new pages for your site so members can sign up, check their account details and update their subscription.

Go to Membership > Options > Membership Pages.

On this screen you can automatically create pages, including Registration, Registration Completed, Account, Subscription and Protected Content pages.

Go ahead and click “Create Page” next to each of the five options.

In the “Registration page” section you can choose whether you want a membership form to display on a page or a pop up to appear. I’m going to leave it as a form.

5. Setting Up Access

For The Daily Scoop I want only members to have access to archived news and video and there are a couple of ways I’m going to do this.

a) Categories

WPMU DEV Membership plugin

Setting up categories is the easiest way to sort which stories are the latest news and which ones are for the archive.

I’m going to create two categories: Latest News and Archived News.

To do this, go to Posts > Categories and create the two new categories.

b) Shortcodes

For the videos, I’m going to use shortcodes.

I want to embed videos with each story, but only members will see them. Visitors will get a message telling them they need to register for full access.

Go to MembershipEdit OptionsContent Protection.

WPMU DEV Membership plugin Content Protection Options

This screen will display Available/Legacy shortcode you can use on your site to enclose content you want to protect for each of you membership levels. These shortcodes are automatically created when you use the plugin wizard.

For example, for The Daily Scoop I want to display a sentence on the homepage welcoming members and another sentence welcoming visitors and asking them to register, so I would add the following to the Home page:

[level-visitors]Welcome to The Daily Scoop! Enjoy our latest news. For access to archived stories and video, SIGN UP NOW![/level-visitors]

[level-member]Welcome back, member![/level-member]

Visitors to your site will see only:

Welcome to The Daily Scoop! Enjoy our latest news. For access to archived stories and video, SIGN UP NOW! 

While only your members will see this:

Welcome back, member!

I also want to protect videos on The Daily Scoop so only members can see them. To do this, I will enclose each embedded video with [level-member] and [/level-member].

c) Pages and menu items

You can also choose which pages, posts and menu items visitors and members can access, as well as allow access to comments and URL groups. I’ll go over this a little later in the tutorial when we get to Access Levels.

6. Subscriptions

Next up, you will need to set up your subscriptions. Members on your site will move through various stages after they sign up.

Go to Membership > Edit Subscriptions. Click Add New.

WPMU DEV Membership Subscription Plans

A “Member” subscription has already been created, thanks to the wizard. We don’t need subscriptions for visitors because they don’t have memberships. Now, click on Member.

WPMU DEV Membership Edit Member

In the text field, enter a description for this subscription. This is what visitors will see when they register to become a member.

Next, you will need to set up the levels that a member will pass through as part of their subscription. For example, a visitor signs up and becomes a member. Simple. But for sites with varying content, a visitor might become a bronze member and might upgrade their membership to become a silver member, and again to become a gold member.

Drag the Members level from the list on the right-hand side to DROP HERE. We want to charge Members $9.95 for a full year’s access and the subscription will last just one year.

There are also options to set up an indefinite (ongoing) or serial (automatically renewed) subscription.

Click Add at the bottom of the page and don’t forget to ensure the subscription is activated and made public. The options are available under Member in the Subscription Plans section.

6. Creating levels

I’m going to have two membership levels to match my two subscription types:

  • Visitors – Get free access to latest news
  • Members – Have full access to all news stories and video

To set up your levels, go to Membership > Access Levels. The wizard will have already created two levels: Visitors and Member. Let’s start by clicking on Visitors.

a) Visitors

WPMU DEV Membership Edit Members

I want visitors to have access to the latest news so I need to drag the Categories box over to the Positive rules area and tick Latest News. Then scroll down to the bottom and click Add.

b) Subscriber

I want members to have full access to all of my content, so rinse and repeat the last step. Click on Member in the Access Levels area and drag the Latest News and Archived News categories.

Scroll down and click Add. Once you’ve done all that, make sure each of the levels is activated in the Access Levels section.

7. Add Membership Pages to Your Navigation

You will need to show visitors to your site where to sign up, and for members you will need to create links so they can login, access account information and check their subscription.

For The Daily Scoop, I’m going to add Account, Register and Subscriptions to my navigation. Go to Appearance > Menus to add those pages to your menu structure.

WPMU DEV Membership login

You will also need to create a link to your login page so members can sign in. Members will be logging into your WordPress site, so the link will be, for example, www.yourwebsitehere.com/wp-login.php

I’m going to create a link in my menu to the login page.

8. Edit Your Membership Pages to Your Liking

You will probably want to edit the Account, Register and Subscriptions pages, along with the Welcome and Protected Content pages that you automatically created earlier.

Go to Pages in the admin bar on the left and for each of the automatically created pages add any formatting or extra text or images.

9. Almost Done!

WPMU DEV Membership enable

Now all that’s left to do is let the plugin do its work. Go to your Membership dashboard and click Enable It.

11. Create Some Content

Last, but not least, I need to create some news, or rather, report some. The story includes a video, which I’ve enclosed in the [level-member] shortcodes so only members will see it. Here is what it looks like on the backend:

WPMU DEV Membership news

Don’t forget to select the correct category for your post before you hit publish. In this case, I’ll tick Archived News.

And this is what is looks like on my site, The Daily Scoop, before I log in as a member:

WPMU DEV Membership news front end

After I log in, the video replaces the bold text.

All Done!

Now wasn’t that easy?

If you get stuck at all or you accidentally close the Membership wizard, you can always turn it on again by going to Membership > Options > Extras and ticking Show membership wizard.

And don’t forget to test your website in a different browser where you’re not logged in as a members. Otherwise, the WordPress bar at the top of the page will tell you whether you are logged in or not.

Other Features

Membership is a feature rich plugin with advanced features if you want to go beyond the basic wizard setup.

Widgets

WPMU DEV Membership Subscription text

There are two widgets available to display information to your members: Membership Subscription Text and Membership Level Text.

Both widgets allow you to display text to members, depending on their subscription or level. These widgets come in handy if you want to remind members to renew their subscription or urge a visitor to register on your site.

All Members

You can edit information about your members by going to Membership > All Members.

Under each member’s name you can choose to activate or deactivate a membership and by clicking on a name you can edit their personal details.

Edit URL Groups

You may want to prevent access to certain URLs on your site. You can do this by going to MembershipURL Groups. Click on Add New to create a new group of URLs.

This option comes in handy if there is content on your site that you want to restrict from public access, for example an archive of news stories at The Daily Scoop that I want only members to see.

Remote Pings

This is an advanced feature that allows you to ping another website whenever a member signs up for your site, changes levels or ends their membership. It’s a feature that you may want to use if, for example, you want to use Mail Chimp with your site. It’s best to check out the Membership Manual for details on how to use remote pings.

Payment Gateways

WPMU DEV Membership payment gateways

You can check your payments and edit gateway settings by going to Membership > Payment Gateways. On this page you can also switch your payment gateway to another method by activating the option you want to use.

Stranger Settings

You can set the membership level you want a “stranger” to have when they visit your site by going to Membership > Options > General. A stranger is someone who visits your site and is not logged in or does not have an active membership. For The Daily Scoop, it’s best to set this to Visitors.

A “stranger” is a visitor to your website who is either not logged in, or does not have an active membership or subscription to your website.

Protect Media

You can protect downloads and media files by remapping their perceived location. Go to Membership > Options > Download / Media to see these settings.

There are three types of protection:

  • Basic – Masks your media directory but leaves any filenames the same.
  • Complete – Marks the media directory and hides the filenames.
  • Hybrid – If you are using a host or server that has a problem with the system (such as some installs of nginx).

Other options

Other advanced options in Membership > Options include the ability to change your payment currency, set the number of days before membership renewal and verify membership tables if you are experiencing any issues.

Have you used the Membership plugin? What kind of site do you use it for? Tell us about it in the comments below.