How to Set Up a Paywall on Your WordPress Site (And Why You Should)

How to Set Up a Paywall on Your WordPress Site (And Why You Should)

If you have a WordPress site that offers premium content, one of the best ways to monetize it is by adding a paywall or offering membership. Fortunately, there are plenty of solutions available for either option.

In this article, we’ll explain what a paywall actually is, and cover the different paywall models that you could implement on your site. We’ll also cover membership solutions and when to select a membership over a paywall. Finally, we’ll present you with the best solutions for setting up either option.

What Is a Paywall?

According to Google, a paywall is a system that prevents users from accessing webpage content without a paid subscription. Technically, it means locking the content on your site. With most websites, anyone can visit, browse, and read posts. However, a paywall prevents people from accessing content unless they have the proper credentials.

Many popular news website that implemented pay walls to encourage readers to subscribe.
Many popular news websites that implemented paywalls to encourage readers to subscribe.

Of course, those people will be charged a fee for those credentials. That’s the “pay” in paywall. Many popular news websites, such as the Wall Street Journal, have implemented paywalls as a means to generate income.

The Pros and Cons of Using a Paywall

If you opt to put a paywall on your WordPress site, you’ll get money from people who wish to access your content. This might seem like a fantastic way to generate some additional income until you realize that your content has to be absolutely outstanding and/or in high demand for anyone to want to pay money just to read it.

One of the pros of using a paywall is that you’ll almost certainly get more revenue per-view than with traditional advertising, especially if you’re using AdSense. Also, it’s good marketing to use a paywall because it’s an implied statement that you’re offering premium content.

Among the cons of using a paywall solution is that if your content is sub-par, you should expect to earn no income. A paywall also introduces more software to maintain or another dependency, depending on whether you opt for a local or a cloud-based solution.

Paywall Versus Membership

Some people think that a paywall is the same as offering a membership subscription for your site. There can be, and often are, noticeable differences.

Usually, there are degrees of membership for a site. You might have the “basic” membership, for example, that gives people access to content not available to those with no membership. However, there may also be some type of “premium” membership that gives people access to content unavailable to those with a basic membership.

Paywalls, on the other hand, are typically single-level models. With a paywall, people either have access to the content or they don’t. There aren’t typically degrees of access as there are with membership models.

When should you select one or the other? Typically, it comes down to marketing.

The New York Times asks readers to subscribe after reading 10 free articles.
The New York Times asks readers to subscribe after reading 10 free articles.

A membership solution is often offered as a way to make visitors feel special and foster improved relationships with access to premium content. However, it can be difficult to find the right price point for membership.

A paywall, on the other hand, offers a scalable solution for monetizing content. For example, if you write an article that goes viral, and you’re offering a pay-per-view paywall solution, then your content gets monetized with each view. With membership, people who are members will get to view your content for free because they’ve already paid.

The bottom line is this: If you’re interested in developing relationships with your visitors, follow the example of Amazon Prime and opt for a membership solution. If you just want to monetize content and are unconcerned with developing relationships, opt for a paywall solution.

Various Paywall Models

Not all paywalls are the same. There are varying kinds based on the type of content that is being locked and the overall business model of the site. Here are five of the most popular paywall models.

1. Pay-Per-View

The Pay-Per-View model is exactly what it sounds like. Visitors are shown the title of the article, as well as the lede or an abstract if it’s a scholarly piece, and prompted for payment if they want to read it.

This model is generally reserved for sites that feature research information that’s in some level of demand. A medical journal offering articles about correlations between certain behaviors and health issues would probably opt for this model. That’s because visitors to the site are often there to read only one article for research purposes. There are not too many people who “browse” medical journals.

2. Free for a Time

This model gives visitors free access to the site for a specific period of time (maybe a month) before requiring a subscription. This way, visitors can get an idea of the type of content that’s on the site before they decide to pay for it.

3. Subscription

The subscription model is just as it sounds. People pay a fee and get unlimited access to the site for a period of time. Once the subscription runs out, the content is locked for that person unless he or she renews the subscription.

4. Metered Paywall

The metered paywall solution is popular with some well-known companies. For example, The Washington Post allows just five articles per month for free before requiring a subscription. If you browse a couple of articles at the site, you should see a pop-up window appear in the lower left-hand corner of your browser that will warn you that you can only read a few more articles before you have to subscribe. The metered paywall is another model that enables visitors to get an idea about the type of content being offered before making the financial commitment to read it regularly.

The Washington Post uses a metered paywall to encourage readers to subscribe for more access to content.
The Washington Post uses a metered paywall to encourage readers to subscribe for more access to content.

5. Micropayments

People deal with numbers in funny ways.  You tell someone something is $404 dollars and they’ll never pay. Tell them it is only a buck and a bit a day and they’ll buy a subscription to the New York Times with Digital Access (ahem).

What if your blog could make use of that same vaguely innumerate impulse in the human mind?  Rather than trying to take large payments that make people nervous, what if customers could instead make small payments that put them at ease?  “It’s only a buck,” they’ll say.

Why does this work?  As Apple discovered with iTunes, people are more willing to make small purchases many times if they see that they will get their money’s worth.   Why spend $20 on an album you might not like when you can spend $3 on three songs to figure out if you like it and then decide to get the whole album if you do?

This is the value of micropayments and how they can help you to monetize your WordPress website: you can put the buyer at ease while demonstrating the value that makes your product worthwhile.

Local vs. Cloud-Based Paywall Solutions

Once you’ve decided on your model, but not before you’ve decided on a specific vendor, you’ll need to select your architectural solution. Would you prefer local or cloud-based functionality?

With local functionality, the paywall software is part of your site, typically as a plugin. A local solution offers greater control over the functionality and less dependency on a third-party host than a cloud-based solution. However, you’ll be responsible for system maintenance.

With cloud-based functionality, the logic to handle your paywall implementation is hosted by a third party. This means that you’re introducing a dependency on another host, which could lead to unpredictable results if that host is down or there are network issues. However, a cloud-based solution is typically a turnkey implementation that requires nothing more than a little snippet of code in your posts and relief from the burden of ongoing maintenance.

Paywall and Membership Solutions

There are plenty of paywall solutions that you can use for your WordPress site. Here are some of the best.

  • 1. Pay Per View (Pay-Per-View, Subscription, Micropayments)

    Pay Per View is an excellent option if you’re looking for a comprehensive paywall plugin. It’s a local solution that will enable you to charge people either one-time, per-post, for a period of time, or for a subscription. Whether you’re selling access to text posts, informational pages, tutorials, videos, audio clips, eBooks, or anything else, Pay Per View has a paywall model that you can use.

    This plugin also lets you create day passes and accept micropayments.

    To start earning money, you just link the plugin to your existing PayPal account. When visitors opt to pay, that’s where the money will be deposited.

    One particularly nice feature about Pay Per View is that it enables visitors to log in with their social media accounts. This means they won’t have to remember yet another additional name and password just to access your locked content.

    With regards to accepting micropayments, this is the cheapest, easiest, and most direct solution available.  Simply install it, adjust the settings, and enter your PayPal info

    It isn’t quite as feature-rich as some of the other plugins/services but makes up for that with a strong focus on integrating smoothly with WordPress, BuddyPress, and WordPress Multisite.

    A WordPress Payment Plugin From premium.wpmudev.org
    A Screenshot of WPMUDEV’s Pay Per View Plugin In Action

    Interested in 1. Pay Per View (Pay-Per-View, Subscription, Micropayments)?

  • 2. Leaky Paywall (Metered Paywall)

    ZEEN101 is offering the Leaky Paywall plugin, a local solution for people who want to monetize their content. As the name implies, it favors a metered model. In other words, you get to “leak” your content out to people for free until they’re required to pay.

    However, Leaky Paywall goes even further than that. The plugin enables the Googlebot to locate your content, meaning your site appears in search results. It also enables sharing of content on social media. That way, if you have a post that goes viral, people can share and view it for free. It’s only when people want to view additional content on your website that they’re prompted about your subscription model.

    Leaky Paywall is the best of both worlds. It monetizes your content from people who know that it’s worth the money, and it enables you to build your brand by facilitating freely disseminated and shareable popular content.

    Interested in 2. Leaky Paywall (Metered Paywall)?

  • 3. Cleeng (Pay-Per-View, Subscription, Micropayments)

    Cleeng offers a little bit of everything to everyone. If you are a publisher, you can sell your content as single items, offer a day pass, create specialized bundles, or have users sign up for a subscription, depending on how you think your content can best be packaged.  However, it is also a great option for the user: they can easily register with only their social network; all content they buy is automatically added to their Cleeng account’s library for future access; and users can gain commissions from sharing links.  

    If your website is predominantly made up of video content, then you should consider using the cloud-based Cleeng solution. It’s a paywall that will enable you to create your own Video-On-Demand website similar to the service provided by your satellite or cable TV provider.

    With Cleeng, you can literally host your own live Pay-Per-View event. If you’re planning to broadcast some type of sporting event or concert online and you want to monetize it, this is your plugin.

    You can also lock recorded video content so that people have to pay to see it. In short, if you’re a video curator of any type who wants to monetize the content, consider Cleeng as your paywall solution.

    With a wide variety of payment options that accommodate different payment systems (especially direct deposit), Cleeng is an especially good choice for the European publisher.

    Interested in 3. Cleeng (Pay-Per-View, Subscription, Micropayments)?

  • 4. MediaPass (Subscription, Metered Paywall, Micropayments)

    MediaPass is a cloud-based paywall solution. Once you’ve signed up as a MediaPass publisher, monetizing your content is as easy as adding a little snippet of code to your posts, just as you’ve likely done with AdSense code.

    This solution offers four different styles of subscription prompts that are presented to people who try to access your premium content. You can request a subscription with a page overlay when the visitor tries access premium content, a pop-up that appears when the visitor clicks to launch premium content, an in-page prompt that just covers the premium content or a video overlay for video content.

    MediaPass is an all-around good turnkey solution that doesn’t require you to have a merchant account. It is especially worthwhile for publishers managing multiple, related publications.  You are able to offer users the option of creating membership/subscription plans that work across all of your sites and much like other major publications, they also allow you to meter usage.

    If you would like finer control, you can charge by user, category, and tag allowing you to only charge for a certain popular writer, topic, or series of articles.  That they also allow you to include your logo in the overlay, so you can manage the branding and use your reputation to drive conversions, is an additional, surprisingly rare bonus.

    Interested in 4. MediaPass (Subscription, Metered Paywall, Micropayments)?

  • 5. Pigeon Paywall (Subscription)

    WordPress purists will have a problem with the fact that the Pigeon Paywall solution calls itself a “plugin”. It’s not a plugin in the traditional sense of a WordPress plugin. In other words, you won’t install Pigeon Paywall like you installed your SEO plugin or newsletter plugin.

    However, Pigeon Paywall offers a powerful solution if you’re interested in a subscription model. The price isn’t cheap ($1,500 just for setup and training), but that’s because it’s a premium offering.

    One of the best selling points of this paywall is the administration console. The company goes out of its way to advertise how easy it is to manage your subscribers using its intuitive user interface.

    Pigeon Paywall seamlessly integrates with WordPress, offers a quick turnaround in payments, and feature a user-friendly login interface for visitors.

    Interested in 5. Pigeon Paywall (Subscription)?

  • 6. WP-Members (Membership)

    What WP-Members lacks in the way of a good marketing logo, it makes up for in functionality. With over 60,000 downloads to date and a 4.5 star rating, WP-Members is a local solution that’s also one of the most popular membership plugins available for WordPress.

    WP-Members makes use of the tag to bury the content instead of the lede. Everything above the tag is viewable to all visitors. However, only members can view what’s below the tag.

    The plugin is designed as an out-of-the-box solution for people who just want to get up and running with a membership offering.

    Interested in 6. WP-Members (Membership)?

  • 7. Members (Membership)

    Members is a local solution that’s more than just a membership plugin. It extends the inherent role functionality of WordPress, giving you more control over the site.

    Using Members, you can add, edit, create, and delete your own roles. You can also grant various roles access to specific content. This is a great solution for a tiered membership site.

    Members has more than 100,000 downloads as of this writing and enjoys a 4.8 star rating.

    Interested in 7. Members (Membership)?

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Aileen Javier
Aileen Javier A past writer for WPMU DEV
Have you ever used a paywall plugin? What do you think is the best way to monetize your online content? Let us know in the comments below.