Membership Sites can deliver a major revenue stream to your business
In this article I’ll review the Paid Memberships Pro plugin, and show you how I use it to build membership websites with WordPress.
|Product name:||Paid Memberships Pro – Membership Site Plugin|
|What it is:||A highly flexible, highly customisable, powerful WordPress plugin to create profitable membership sites.|
|Where to sign up:||Paid Memberships Pro|
I believe in being open and transparent
Please assume any links on this page are affiliate links. An affiliate link means I will get a small commission if you decide to buy the product. This helps to offset the cost of running this website, but it will not affect the price you pay.
In case you want to jump to specific sections here’s what I’ve covered:
Introduction: why I use Paid Memberships Pro
A while ago I pitched for a website project for a financial investment consultancy.
The client wanted a customers’ area in their website where they could present investment opportunities and other data that was restricted to their customers.
Importantly, they also wanted to be able to give individual customers secure, confidential access to reports on the performance of their own individual investment portfolios.
At the time I researched all the top membership plugins, and Paid Memberships Pro was the only one that enabled me to deliver an individual member’s own private page, with information that only they could see.
In the event, that project did not go ahead. But since then I have developed membership sites for other customers, always using Paid Memberships Pro, and with each project I’ve discovered new flexibilities that have enabled me to exactly meet the clients’ requirements, quickly and easily.
Paid Memberships Pro architecture and approach
The team at Paid Memberships Pro has followed a philosophy of keeping the core plugin reasonably small and using addons, of which there are currently 76 (yes, that’s right, 76 addons!), to provide different functionality and customisations.
I love this approach because it means you have only the code you need to deliver the functionality you want – no more, no less. That means there’s less to go wrong and no excess, unused code weighing down your website.
As someone who focuses strongly on page load speed when I build websites, this philosophy exactly fits with my approach.
There are definitely plenty of people who want everything in one package – one installation for everything. That’s fine but, if that’s you, then this plugin is not for you!
Installation and setup
The base plugin can be installed from your
Plugins > Add New screen in your WordPress admin area.
The Free plugin will give you a basic membership solution that would restrict content behind a payment gateway for one-off and recurring subscriptions.
But in many cases you will have unique billing and membership functionality in mind, and for these you will need to upgrade to one of the other plans.
This will bring you access to all 76 of those addons and opens up the full flexibility and power of the plugin.
One thing you may find when you first install the plugin is that there is no styling in some places. This depends on your theme, of course, and what the author of your theme has provided for in the CSS.
However, if you install Paid Memberships Pro and your registration page looks something like this:
. . .it’s because there is no table styling in your theme’s CSS.
I have a block of CSS that I add to every membership site that I build, and which gives structure to that table – that’s important because it’s the first thing a prospective new member will see, and it looks like this:
If you buy Paid Memberships Pro after clicking one of the links on this page, I will happily give you that block of CSS, which you can then tweak to fit your needs and the design of your site.
(If nothing else, that will save you from having to search through the page to find all the relevant CSS selectors!)
Aside from that, installation is the same as for every plugin.
Addons that open up the full potential of this plugin
As I said earlier, there are currently 76 addons that are available to Plus and Unlimited customers, that enable you to do just about anything with your membership site.
I’ll discuss the addons that I used on the most recent site that I built, but I won’t go through all 76 here because I would probably send you to sleep!
So I took a screenshot of the addons page. It’s too big to display sensibly in this post, so you can download it separately and view it in your image viewer:
You can also view the addons on the Paid Memberships Pro site, where they’ve been separated into different categories – click here.
Here, then, are the ones that I used on the most recent membership site I built:
Custom Level Cost Text
This is a fairly simple addon that enables me to be specific with the currency description and customise the text that appears wherever the price is mentioned.
As you know, there are many countries that use the word ‘dollar’ to describe their unit of currency and you get everything from A – Z: the Australian dollar through to the Zimbabwean dollar.
So this addon enables you to be sure of using the correct, specific symbol of the currency you are using. You can also word the description that appears wherever the price is mentioned in any way you like.
For example, you could make the site display
US$2.99 every 60 days or
$2.99US every 2 months – or anything else you like.
This is also a pretty simple addon. It enables you to edit the system generated emails that are sent out to your members, so you can word them in a manner that is warmer, friendlier and in keeping with the writing style of your site.
Here’s a screenshot:
You can remove unnecessary links or references in those emails, or add whatever content you like, or that better fits your business.
For example, a gym owner may want to word their customer emails differently, and include different information, from a church association.
Membership Manager Role
This is a useful addon where the site administrator takes care of all site technical maintenance, but is not the site owner.
The site owner, in the case of my most recent build, is my customer.
The Membership Manager addon creates a new User Account role that allows my customer (in this case) to access the Paid Membership Pro screens, financial reports, and view and/or edit individual member’s details.
Following sensible security practices, my customer is set up as an Editor (I am the Administrator).
Normally, Editors would not be able to see and manage the Paid Membership Pro membership screens and financial reports, but this addon gives users with the Membership Manager role full control over those items.
Since they own the site, and all responsibilities for the members, this gives my customer the access and control they need without having to create another Administrator level user.
This addon enables you to add as many fields as you like, of any type, to the registration page so that you can collect as much information as you need from your new members.
However, this one does not have a user-friendly interface for the admin area of the site.
Instead, Paid Memberships Pro makes available code snippets (called recipes) and code templates that you copy and paste (or edit as needed) in order to add the fields you want to the registration screen.
The traditional way of adding custom code to a WordPress site is to edit the theme’s functions.php file. However, this has two big disadvantages:
- If you make a mistake with your syntax you will crash the site
- If you change your theme the customisations are lost
Therefore, I strongly recommend you install the Code Snippets plugin.
This is an excellent plugin that solves both of those points:
- If your syntax contains an error the plugin will tell you and will not activate the snippet, so your site does not crash
- The snippets are completely independent of any theme, and so will work with whichever theme you use.
I use that plugin extensively and I highly recommend it – you can install it from the
Plugins > Add New screen in your WordPress admin area.
Back to the Register Helper
For the Register Helper addon there is a detailed training video, extensive documentation and, as I said earlier, code snippets (they call them recipes) and templates that you just need to copy and paste into the Code Snippets plugin.
It’s all very straight-forward and the support team at Paid Memberships Pro will take you through the process step by step.
Again, though, I’d be happy to do any of that work for you, for up to two hours, as long as you bought Paid Memberships Pro through any of the links on this page. Just contact me using the email you used when you bought Paid Memberships Pro.
This is the addon that creates the private, member-only page for each member, and which can only be viewed by that individual member.
The only place the link to the member’s private page is displayed is on their ‘Account’ screen.
This is the feature that first made me go with Paid Memberships Pro, and exactly met the needs of the financial investments company for that project I referred to earlier.
It’s a simple addon that, once activated, creates a private member-only page for all new members when they join.
If you add this addon after you already have members, you can also check a box to make it create member-only pages for all existing members.
With this addon active, Administrators and Editors can add content that is specific to a member to their personal member page, that only that member can view.
It was the perfect solution for that investment consultancy I referred to earlier, that wanted to be able to give their customers confidential access to their own individual portfolios.
This is a simple addon that enables you to offer free trial periods by delaying the first billing of subscriptions.
This addon augments the basic functionality, in the screenshot below, in which you can specify a trial period, along with a trial period price, before the full subscription price kicks in:
This addon, in conjunction with the basic trial period functionality, gives you almost limitless options for trial periods or discounts.
For example, you could give the first month’s membership free, the second month at a reduced price, and charge the full price from the third month on.
Although I do not use this addon, it is definitely worth a mention here because it is one that you will almost certainly want to use.
The Nav Menus addon enables you to define the navigation menus that are displayed to visitors, depending on whether they are logged in or not and, if logged in, depending on their membership level.
For example, paid members will be shown a different navigation menu from free members, which will be different again from the navigation menu shown to non-members.
I do not use this addon simply because I add my own snippet to the Code Snippets plugin, and that takes care of different menus for logged in users.
But since I’m not able to give you my personal experience of using this addon, you can see the details here.
Those are the addons that I used on my most recent membership site project.
As I said, I’m not going to go through all 76 addons, but let me attempt to summarise them:
There are addons that:
- Create integrations with Email service providers (Aweber, Mailchimp, etc)
- Create integrations with forums (bbPress, BuddyPress)
- Enable the addition of PayPal Express as a second option payment gateway at checkout
- Create integration with Woo Commerce
- Create integrations with WP Affiliate Program, Post Affiliate Pro and provide affiliate tracking
- Create integrations with other popular plugins (that don’t have a specific addon) with Zapier
- Enable you to set up drip-fed content
- Enable you to print membership cards and badges
- Integrate with WordPress multi-site
- Enable you to define different navigation menus by membership level
- Allow for multiple membership levels per user
- . . . and many more
To see the full range of addons please view the addons page.
As part of the core plugin, Paid Memberships Pro has integrations with 10 different payment gateways:
- Pay by cheque
- Stripe (all credit cards)
- PayPal Express
- PayPal Website Payments Pro
- PayPal Payflow Pro
- PayPal Standard
- Braintree Payments
As I mentioned in the previous section, there is also an addon, which I have not used, that enables you to add PayPal express as a second-choice payment gateway in addition to whichever one you have chosen from the list above.
In the most recent membership site I built, I used the PayPal Website Payments Pro gateway, and the set up was simple, straightforward and quick.
In order to make signing up new members as painless and as easy as possible, my most recent customer asked me not to require the ‘Subscriber’ level users to choose strong passwords or use 2 Factor Authentication.
This went strongly against my instincts!
However, there are two check boxes under the ‘Advanced’ link on the Settings page that enable you to lock members out of the WordPress admin screens, and to prevent display of the admin toolbar to logged-in members:
Even when members want to edit their profile, this is done on a Paid Memberships Pro page, not the WordPress user screen.
In short: by checking those two checkboxes members have no way to access the WordPress admin screens.
It is definitely not ideal allowing members to use weak passwords, but the customer insisted that this be the case as they did not want to make it too difficult for new members to join.
Being able to completely lock members out of the WordPress admin screens does improve the security.
Defining content that’s only available to members
You can define any page (or post) on your site as being available to anyone, or restricted to members by level (e.g. Paid members will see different content from Free members).
You can restrict it by blog category (check a category to restrict it to members only) and by individual page.
Each page and post on the site has a check box module on the page edit screen that enables you to restrict it to different levels or to release it to everyone:
Checking both check boxes requires the viewer, in the case above, to be either a Free or an Elite member in order to view the page.
To allow only Elite members to view the content on this page, just uncheck the Free checkbox and leave the ‘Elite’ checkbox checked.
That will allow only Elite members to see this content and restrict it from Free members and non-members.
This approach allows you to define, with great precision, which pages site visitors or members can view, and which they cannot.
A simple example of the plugin’s flexibility
When you install the plugin, you need to set up a number of pages that the plugin requires in order to do its job.
You can either do this yourself and tell the plugin which pages to use, or the plugin will do it for you automatically.
One of those pages is where you present the different plans (or options) to your prospective members. In effect, it’s a sales page.
The default page renders a table of the plan options, like this:
The visitor then chooses the plan they want to sign up for and are taken to the sign-up page.
This forces you to sell the differences between the plans either above the table, or on a separate page.
If you’re using a separate sales page then, after deciding to sign up, new members would be sent to the default membership levels page (above), to choose an option from the table, before being sent to the sign-up page.
In this case you would be forcing the new member to go through an additional, and unnecessary, step in order to sign up.
If you’re using a sexier sales page, maybe with a features comparison chart, where the member can click the ‘Buy now’ button under the plan of their choice, it would be better to send them straight to the sign-up page, bypassing the default page we saw above.
In the example below, the prospective member can click the ‘Join us’ button, under the plan of their choice, and go straight to the appropriate sign-up page:
Although the two panels in the example above are not full feature comparison charts, the same process would be used.
All you need to do is insert the URL for the appropriate sign-up page within each button.
On other pages in this site, for example where a non-member attempts to access some member-only content, the plugin automatically renders two buttons: ‘Login’ and ‘Join now!’ (along with a message that you can edit).
On those (and other) pages, where appropriate, the ‘Join now!’ button takes the visitor to the default membership levels page (the one with the table).
So you can send your visitors to whichever page best fits their current location within the site.
The support I have received from the Paid Memberships Pro team has been superb.
As a Plus or Unlimited member you get access to their Slack channel or, of course, you can raise tickets through the ticketing system.
And their response to the tickets I’ve raised has been quick, clear and solved my questions first time.
But it’s not just about responding to requests – they are very proactive with their customers.
Their YouTube channel has hundreds of demo and training videos, their Facebook page is very active and a great way to quickly hear about new releases or fixes to problems, and they periodically run webinars that are recorded and uploaded to YouTube in case you’re not able to attend the live event.
All the major plugins that I use (WPML, iThemes, Sucuri, etc) have good support, but none are as proactive as the Paid Memberships Pro team.
Pros and cons
So what is the downside, you’re probably asking at this point!
Let me summarise what I see as potential pros and cons for every day users:
- Efficient architecture approach that minimises code bloat on your site
- Almost limitless functionality options through the range of addons
- Excellent support, both reactive and proactive
- Some addons require that you copy/paste code
- Initial installation may require some styling work (depending on your theme)
- Information overload for new users (76 addons)
Summary and an offer
There’s no question that operating a membership component on your website will bring in a new revenue stream.
Given the recurring billing that is typical with membership sites, you can build up a steady revenue stream over time that can underpin whatever other projects and revenue streams you have going.
Paid Memberships Pro is undoubtedly in the top flight of WordPress membership plugins and has the ability to support almost any business model you can imagine – so I’m very happy to whole-heartedly recommend it.
I mentioned earlier that I am happy to provide the block of CSS that I use to create that layout on the registration page, as long as you buy the plugin after clicking one of the links on this page (they are affiliate links).
The support provided by Paid Memberships Pro is superb (much better than I could provide!), but I’d also be happy to answer questions and provide help (for example copy/pasting that code for plugins that require it) for up to 2 hours.
Again, though, you need to have bought the plugin after clicking one of the links on this page.
If you wish to take me up on either of those offers please contact me, after signing up, using the same email address that you used to sign up with Paid Memberships Pro.
And if there are any questions I can answer to clarify anything on this page, or to cover points that I haven’t addressed here, please let me know in the comments below.
I will respond as quickly as I can and, hopefully, others will benefit from the additional information.