How to Build a WordPress Membership Site Using Paid Memberships Pro

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One of the biggest benefits to running a membership site is that it can provide you with a more predictable and steady stream of income. But in order to achieve this, you'll need the right set of tools. In this post, we talk about how to build a membership site with WordPress and Paid Memberships and is also free. This means it is budget friendly for anyone interested in building a membership site. And hopefully I turn the sometimes complex task of building a WordPress membership website into a simpler process.
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If you craft compelling content or offer helpful services to your community, you’d probably like to get paid for it. But what you might like even more than that is to get paid for it on a recurring basis.

One of the biggest benefits to running a membership site is that it can provide you with a predictable and steady stream of income. You give your members the content they seek, and they pay you every month (or year).

It’s a true win-win.

But members can do more than just generate revenue; They can also provide you with useful feedback on new products or services, website user experience, and more. After all, you need to understand your members if you want to give them what they want and need.

In fact, memberships are all about relationships. When you know your members, you can provide them with what they truly value. When they feel that they are receiving this value, they are more engaged—and when members are fully engaged, they will help your business grow into its very own community and ecosystem.

So, how do you go about building a membership site that will help you cultivate these relationships? The first step is to create a solid foundation with the best infrastructure available.

While there are many membership platforms out there, they can be limiting, and can also get expensive quickly. For people looking for a highly flexible, scalable, and affordable solution, using WordPress with the Paid Memberships Pro membership plugin is a particularly good choice.

Paid Memberships Pro is the best free membership plugin for WordPress—and it’s flexible enough to cater to any type of membership website. So, whether you want to sell subscription access to premium content, sell online courses, or run an association online, PMPro gives you a complete set of tools for building a robust membership site with WordPress.

Building a membership site might seem like a complex task. In this post, we’ll break it down into a simpler process to help you get your WordPress membership site up and running with Paid Memberships Pro.

Traits of a Typical Membership Site

Choosing which WordPress membership plugin to use depends heavily on the features and functionalities you are looking for. However, most membership sites share a few similar traits.

Here are a few of them:

  • Restricted Content. Content that requires a purchase or registration to access.
  • Membership Levels. Free, paid, and/or tiered levels that appeal to different audience segments.
  • Front-End Registration. User registration and account creation on the front-end of your website.
  • Member Dashboard. The central hub where members can go to see their account information, membership details, and content.
  • Member Profiles. Editable profiles for each member, including customizable profile information fields and a photo or avatar.
  • Email Marketing. Emails that are targeted at new or existing members and deliver information appropriate to various audience segments.
  • Secure Payments. Online payment methods that allow customers to securely transact with your membership business, such as Stripe and PayPal.
  • Communication Tools. Tools that enable members to interact with each other, such as a chat feature, messaging, and/or forums.

Of course, your needs may vary, depending on which type of membership website you want to create. You may require additional features, or a different plugin altogether.

However, we think you’ll love Paid Memberships Pro for many reasons. Let’s talk about them.

What is Paid Memberships Pro?

Let’s take a quick look at what Paid Memberships Pro offers WordPress website owners who are interested in creating a membership website:

  • Total Control Over Your Content. With unlimited content restriction, membership levels, and members, you get maximum control over what your members can access and who can access different types of content.
  • All the Power of Other Paid Solutions. PMPro is, quite simply, better than paid alternatives. You can use PMPro to do just about anything from simple content restriction to building a full-featured membership site.
  • A Membership Plugin that Grows with You. Some membership plugins charge 10% or more on each sale. That means if your site was making $100,000, you’d have to pay $10,000 in service fees. No thanks!
  • Unlimited Use and Customization. Paid Memberships Pro is 100% open source under the General Public License (GPL). This means you can run it on as many sites as you want—and customize it to fit your project’s needs.
  • 30+ Add Ons to Supercharge Your Business. Connect your membership site with popular WordPress plugins and third party services. Even the paid Add Ons can be used for free.

Paid Memberships Pro gives you more than other membership plugins—for free. It comes with everything you need to restrict your content and start charging for access to your membership site right away.

Building a WordPress Membership Site

Now that you know a little about what Paid Memberships Pro can do for you, let’s see it in action.

Step 1:  Installation and Activation

In your WordPress dashboard, go to Plugins > Add New and then search for “Paid Memberships Pro”.

Click Install Now, wait for the installation to finish, then click Activate.

In your WordPress dashboard, you should now see Memberships on the left-hand menu. When you hover over it, you will also see a submenu that will take you directly to different PMPro pages, like Members, Orders, and Reports.

Step 2: Create a New Membership Level

On the dashboard, go to Memberships > Settings > Membership Levels.

    1. Click + Add New Level
    2. Select the Monthly template
  • General Information
      1. Name: The name of your Membership level (public)
      2. Description: Optional content shown on the checkout page.
      3. Confirmation Message: Optional content shown on the checkout confirmation page.
    1. Billing Details: In this tutorial we are creating a $50/month plan
      1. Initial Payment: The amount charged at checkout. Enter 50.
      2. Recurring Subscription: Check the box to set up a recurring payment.
      3. Billing Amount: The amount to be billed one cycle (day(s), week(s), month(s), year(s)) after the initial payment. Enter 50 per 1 Month.
    2. Content Settings: Select categories to bulk protect posts. Any post in a restricted category is protected for members of this level. You can control whether non-members see posts in archives or are shown excerpts using this guide. If you have any Categories that should be locked down for members, you can check them off in the “Categories” setting. Note: the site admin does not automatically have access to protected content.
  • Save Level

Important: At least one membership level must be open to signups (“Allow Signups” = Yes) or your customers will be redirected to your membership levels page when they try to register or checkout.

Read more PMPro documentation on Membership Levels »

Step 3: Setting Up Pages

The Page Settings in PMPro allow you to generate and manage all frontend pages needed for your Paid Memberships Pro site, including:

  • Account Page
  • Billing Information Page
  • Cancel Page
  • Checkout Page
  • Confirmation Page
  • Invoice Page
  • Levels Page

Create Membership Pages

  1. From the WordPress dashboard, go to Memberships > Page Settings.
  2. Click the Pages Tab.
  3. Paid Memberships Pro can generate these pages for you: Click the “Generate Pages For Me” button.
    1. If you don’t see this button, click here for a helpful tutorial on how to set up you plugin pages.
  4. You can also manually create these pages. It is important that you put the required shortcode or block on your assigned page. This is optional for the Membership Pricing page, which can be designed using your favorite builder or pricing table plugin.
  5. Save Settings.

You can choose a redirect page for each page in PMPro. For example, you can specify where a member redirects to if they cancel their membership. If you’re not sure about this step, click on the “Generate Pages For Me” button and PMPro will generate these pages automatically. From there, you can make any additional changes and select Save Settings.

Click here for information on how to customize these pages.

Step 4: Configure Your Payment Gateway

If your membership site has paid membership levels, you need a payment gateway. If you haven’t chosen a payment gateway, click here to learn about the payment gateway options for PMPro.

  1. Click the Payment Gateway & SSL Tab. (From the dashboard, go to Memberships > Settings and select Payment Settings)
  2. Payment Gateway: Click the drop-down and select one of the payment options available. In the tutorial, we’ve chosen Stripe, which is free and quick to set up. Make sure to set up your account before you do this step.
  3. Gateway Environment: Choose the test or live gateway. For the tutorial, we’ve selected Sandbox/Testing, but typically you want to set this to “Live”.
  4. Complete the fields for your chosen Gateway: For Stripe, click the “Connect with Stripe” button to configure your gateway in one-click. Other payment methods have different processes.
  5. Currency: Select your preferred currency. This should match the default currency you have selected in your gateway account. All of your membership level pricing, invoices, and reports will reflect this currency. Members can complete checkout using their local currency and the gateway will handle the conversion. If your currency is not listed here, read this companion article on adding a new currency.
  6. Sales Tax: For this example, we are not charging Sales Tax. Always check with your accountant or your state tax office to see if tax is required and the tax rate for your memberships. More Information: Non-US Taxes | VAT Tax.
  7. SSL: An SSL certificate can be set up by your website hosting provider. Learn more about setting up your SSL here.
  8. SSL Seal Code: Display an image and link so users can recognize your site’s SSL Certificate validity on membership checkout. (Note: if your provider’s seal graphic displays via a script tag, you must use custom code to display the seal.) This is different from the “SSL Certificate”, which is the private key certificate that must be installed by your web host.
  9. Note: You may see additional fields below, such as a webhook or a service url you might need to reference for your gateway.
  10. Save Settings

Step 5: Email Settings & Email Templates

With Paid Memberships Pro you can customize and control all emails sent from your site, which helps you provide great customer service and keep your members informed and up-to-date.

Configure Email Settings

    1. Navigate to Memberships > Settings and click the Email Settings Tab.
    2. From Email and From Name: Use these fields to change the email address and name used. WordPress sends email communications to your members.
    3. Email Deliverability: Optionally connect SendWP to improve email deliverability.
    4. Other Email Settings: PMPro does not send the default WordPress user notification email since this information is covered in the membership checkout confirmation email sent by PMPro.
  • Save Settings

Click here for more information on Emails/Member Communications.

Edit Email Templates

    1. To get started editing emails in your membership site, navigate to Memberships > Settings > Email Templates.
    2. From this page, select a template to edit in the dropdown.
    3. Once selected, you can modify each template’s subject line and body text for your needs.
    4. Personalize email content using the included variables shown on this screen.
  • Save Settings

The Email Templates screen also allows you to run a test by sending yourself a copy of the message or disabling the distribution of any single email template.

Step 6: Add User Fields

The User Fields admin page allows you to set up user profile fields for members or admins only—with loads of customization settings.

Add a Field Group

Field groups organize user fields with similar settings like ‘show at checkout’ and ‘show on profile’. Groups can be shown for users on the frontend user profile page or be visible and editable for admins only.

  1. Navigate to Memberships > Settings > User Fields in the WordPress admin.
  2. Edit the default field group or create a new field group by clicking the + Add Field Group button.
  3. For a full list of field group settings, see our documentation on User Field Groups here.
  4. Click Save All Changes to save your progress.

Add a User Field

  1. Navigate to Memberships > Settings > User Fields in the WordPress admin.
  2. Create or edit fields in the default field group or use the documentation above to create a new field group for your user fields.
  3. Click the + Add Field button to insert a new field. Or, toggle to expand an existing field to modify settings.
  4. For a full list of field types and settings, see our documentation on User Fields here.
  5. Click Save All Changes to save your progress.

Step 7: Configure Advanced Settings for Your Membership Site

The advanced setting options in Paid Memberships Pro allow you to customize all kinds of things, from directing a message toward logged-in users and non-members, to setting up reCAPTCHA or setting a Terms of Service Agreement.

From the dashboard, go to Memberships > Settings and select Advanced Settings.

    1. Restrict Dashboard Access:
      1. WordPress Dashboard: Choose whether to block all users with the Subscriber role from accessing the Dashboard.
      2. WordPress Toolbar: Choose to hide the Toolbar from all users with the Subscriber role.
    2. Message Settings:
      1. Message for Logged-in Non-members: Change the message shown when a logged-in non-member tries to access members-only content.
      2. Message for Logged-out Users: Change the message shown when a site visitor tries to access members-only content.
      3. Message for RSS Feeds: Change the message shown for members-only content in your site’s RSS feed.
    3. Content Settings:
      1. Filter searches and archives? Optionally hide members-only content from appearing in an archive view (category, tag, author, etc.) or in search results.
      2. Show Excerpts to Non-Members? Select whether to show or hide excerpts to logged-out visitors or non-members. It’s a good idea to show excerpts on member pages as a teaser for new members to sign up and keep reading or for SEO to index a portion of your content.
    4. Checkout Settings:
      1. Require Terms of Service on signups? If you have a Terms of Service page on your site, select it in the dropdown here. This will add a box on your checkout page containing the TOS content and require the registrant to accept your terms prior to registration.
      2. Use reCAPTCHA?: Requiring a credit card is the best spam prevention. To have more protection, turn on reCAPTCHA for all levels.
    5. Communication Settings:
      1. Notifications: Notifications are occasionally shown on the Paid Memberships Pro settings pages. You can set this to show all notifications or only security notifications.
      2. Activity Email Frequency: Specify how often you would like to receive sales and revenue updates from this site to the administration email address.
    6. Other Settings:
      1. Hide Ads From Members? If you are running ads on your site, you can hide them for members (note that this requires additional configuration).
      2. Uninstall PMPro on deletion? To delete all PMPro data from the database, set it to Yes, deactivate PMPro, and then click to delete PMPro from the plugins page.
      3. Note that any settings added by other plugins will be added here.
  • Save Settings

A Choice Alternative to WooCommerce

If you don’t want to use Paid Memberships Pro to build your membership site, or you’re already using WooCommerce for your eCommerce store, you could use WooCommerce Memberships instead.

Just remember that with WooCommerce Memberships you can only charge one-time payments. So, if you want to charge recurring payments, you’ll have to purchase WooCommerce Subscriptions as well.

Final Thoughts

Now you know how to set up a working membership website with one of the most popular, complete, and budget-friendly WordPress membership plugins available. If you’re ready to boost your supplemental income, offer your audience access to premium content, or create a community around your products or services, start building your WordPress membership website for free with PMPro today.

PMPro also offers several premium plans that include support and updates for single sites, multiple sites, developers, agencies, and more.

Download PMPro and start making money today—for free. You won’t be forced to switch platforms as your site grows, either.

Have you already built your own WordPress membership website? Which tools and/or plugins have you used? We’d love to hear your insights and feedback in the comments below.

Jessie Brown

Jessie is a former Editor at WP Mayor. With her vast WordPress experience having used it since its early days, she has a knack for knowing which products and companies are worth your time.

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12 Responses

  1. Any help? I didnt receive all the data of form in email, missing some fields. How I can check this? or update membership signup form

  2. Love to read it, waiting for more new updates
    I found this post by searching for some related information on my blog research.
    This is a good post
    Keep posting and update information.

  3. Good to see how to use multiple plugins for this purpose, although even here – as well as with most other membership plugins – I miss the very important double-option during the registration process.
    It would be nice if you would show us how to complement the standard user-registration with a double-opt-in feature, so that any new user who registers need to verify the ownership of the email address, that he has entered during registration, prior to confirming the registration

  4. WordPress is no doubt one of the best tools when it comes for the creation of membership websites, but its a nightmare when you have to maintain it. Also changing or updating it once in while in accordance with new trends is an additional headache. So I switched to an another option and hired a professional to do the same for me. After that I was able to concentrate on the content generation of my website. People who helped me are here: Hope they will help others too.

  5. Thank you for the information!

    I am using Paid Memberships Pro and GeoDirectory (GD), do you know how to stop non-members from reading my GD listings?

    I can only stop them from reading posts and pages but not listings…

    Thanks a lot in advance,

  6. Hello Lindsay,

    Truly, Paid Memberships Pro is powerful but it can be more with a GUI form builder to customize the forms. Luckily, there is one

    PREMIUM (just $15.99):

  7. Thanks for this detailed tutorial. I am a happy user of PMP since a half year and I spent much time on finding a solution to control ads on membership sites. One week ago, I Finally found a very comfortable solution which provides the option to me not just to hide all ads globally on PMP-pages, but to show/hide ads in relation to the user role and to the required membership level on the specific pages.

    They show some scenarios how to manage ads on those sites in this article:

    I need to abate webmasters hope a little bit: this solution was developed by Advanced Ads and is only available in the Pro version of the free plugin. But if you have been looking for a solution like me, you are possibly interested into it.

    1. Hi Thomas,

      I am so glad you enjoyed the tutorial…that always makes my day! I am also glad to hear that you have been using Paid Memberships Pro for some time now, and that it works for you.

      In addition, I appreciate you recommending a solution for managing ads on your website. I am sure there are plenty of website owners just like you that have been looking for a way to remedy this issue. And, despite it being a paid version, if it helps and fits into someone’s budget it is probably well worth it.

      Thanks again for stopping by!

      ~ Lindsay 🙂

  8. HI Lindsay thanks for the article.

    A question I have and hopefully you can help. I am offering two options to a blog membership, monthly pricing and yearly. I have set up the two levels to give the same access without a problem. In order to have people go for the yearly price I would like to offer one of my products/services free of charge for signing up for that yearly payment. I know how to offer a discount or even make a product or service free of charge, however is there a way to limit the number of times they can purchase that free product or service to once yearly?

    1. Hi Richard,

      Unfortunately I am unsure as to how to answer your question. That said, I have reached out to the support team of Paid Memberships Pro and will get back to you as soon as they respond.

      In the meantime, thanks for stopping by WP Mayor!

      ~ Lindsay 🙂

  9. Hi Sakthi,

    Thank you so much for stopping by WP Mayor. And your kind words have really made my day. I am so pleased you felt the explanation was thorough and helpful. That is ultimately my goal and I am so happy to hear it worked for you! In addition, I am happy that you have found a solution for your upcoming membership site. Having a solid membership site solution is the key to success and I am sure you will be well on your way in no time. Good luck!

    ~ Lindsay 🙂

  10. Hi Lindsay,

    You have nailed the topic by explaining all the details to create a membership site using the WordPress. I was searching for a perfect guide in implementing the same.

    As I’m a WordPress theme designer, I would like to start a template site and monetize it with a membership plugin. Good to know the details of paid memberships pro, I’ll get it for sure.

    Thanks for your comprehensive guide, have a good day!

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