There's no right or wrong way to build a membership website using WordPress. It's actually an amazing platform to take your business to the next level by protecting certain content and only making it available to logged in users (members) for free or for a premium monthly, annual or one-time fee.
I'm going to break down the plug-ins that my team and I have used over the last several years (from simplest to most complex) for building different kinds of free and paid WordPress Membership Websites, along with an overall recommendation on which to use for Free and Paid Membership Websites.
1. Simplest Way To Build A Membership Website: Use "Simple Membership Plug-in."
It's super plug-and play with any WordPress Theme. It allows you to protect content on a per page basis, manage users, create and manage membership levels (free or paid). It's a solid plug-in for NOT requiring online profile creation. In other words, if you have a simple way of communicating with your members and providing them a username and password outside of making them register on the website itself, this may be the plug-in for your business. The reason why is because it's free, and easy for your web developer (or us) to set up for you. This method is great for company "intranets" or groups, meet regularly or simply need to protect content to members only or from the general public or competitors.
1. Best Way To Build A Paid Membership Site: Use "MemberPress"
So you want to run digital marketing campaigns and/or acquire customers that you don't necessarily have to talk to or communicate with intimately in order to get them access to your membership site?
You basically want people to be self sufficient and register and pay on their own to access your awesome content?
MemberPress is super easy as it integrates will all payment gateways, allow for easy user profile creation, automated email confirmations and messaging, member management, self-serve member dashboards, but the best part is that it's really all you need in order to have a membership website.
It has dozens of integrations, but you don't NEED them in order to have a very functional and solid membership website experience to host your online courses, content, etc.
Adding Membership Levels, Content Protection Rules, Recurring Payments are all super-turn key. Building Membership Registration and Log-in Pages are all easily done by shortcodes.
Navigation Menu Toggles between users that are logged in or not logged in using an additional plug-in called If Menu - Visibility control for Menu Items.
The best thing about MemberPress, is that you don't really NEED anything else. You can use integrations with CRMs, Email Marketing Platforms and Learning Management Systems if you want, but you don't have to. You can keep it simple.
1. Best way to Integrate a Membership Site with InfusionSoft CRM: Memberium.
Don't get it confused, Memberium is a WordPress plug-in that basically does one thing - Integrates your InfusionSoft account with your WordPress Website. You can't use Memberium as a membership plug-in without InfusionSoft. InfusionSoft manages ALL of your member information, credentials, payments, etc. When Memberium is installed in WordPress, the entire site is automatically password protected.
Memberium works well, and is well supported by their helpdesk, but it is extremely resource intensive. You need a cPANEL or dedicated server to run it. It will likely break Managed WordPress.
Another thing about Memberium is that you'll need some other supporting plug-ins for content management / course management
1. Best way to build a Membership Site With CRM Integration: Access Ally
So, Access Ally is the most robust, expensive, feature rich, heavy to set-up but potentially user friendly and ROI rewarding of all the WordPress Membership Website Development methodologies mentioned in this post.
You'll definitely need a web developer for this, but if you find someone experienced with Access Ally, you won't be overcharged.
It's about 10-12 times the cost of MemberPress, and here's what else you need to know...
-Access Ally FORCES CRM Integration with either Ontraport, InfusionSoft, ActiveCampaign, ConvertKit or Drip.
The integration includes "forcing all emails through CRM" - none sent via WordPress, including Registration and Password Delivery.
The password is actually created by the CRM, NOT by WordPress, which is a main difference of this platform.
-It has it's own awesome built-in Course Management Functionality so you don't need to add LearnDash, like you do for Memberium or MemberPress.
- It easily integrates with Stripe and PayPal.
- Great shortcodes to use for all functionality in order to allow web designers maximum options.
- Phenomenally smart three-step registration process where an email is gathered in Step 1, and logged into CRM as a Contact for follow-up drip marketing if the user doesn't register and pay.
For a small business to really pull this off, they'll need to engage with a web development team AND a digital marketing team to manage the email communications out of their CRM. This can be done in-house, but the point is that Access Ally is an investment that requires additional time investments either in-house or outsourced in order to get true value.
Overall, we LOVE Access Ally, and it's sister plug-in Progress Ally (which adds Quizzes and Certificates) and PopUp Ally (a great way to increase conversions by adding Pop-Ups to your site), but it is a beast.
Contact me at email@example.com for help with any of these Top WordPress Membership Plug-ins.
Thanks for reading, and have a great day!
Paul Hickey, Founder / CEO / Lead Strategist at Data Driven Design, LLC has created and grown businesses via digital strategy and internet marketing for more than 10 years. His sweet spot is using analytics to design and build websites and grow the audience and revenue of businesses via SEO/Blogging, Google Adwords, Bing Ads, Facebook and Instagram Ads, Social Media Content Marketing and Email Marketing. The part that he’s most passionate about is quantifying next marketing actions based on real data.