What to Look for in a WordPress Membership Plugin
The exact features that you should look for obviously depend on your specific needs. But before I dig into the best WordPress membership plugins, I think it’s helpful to highlight some of the general features that most membership sites will need.
Paying attention to how the plugins in this list address these features can help you shape your search:
- Content restriction options – can the plugin restrict content in the way that you want? Can you restrict entire taxonomies? Custom post types? Parts of content?
- Content dripping – you’ll likely have situations where you don’t want to make all your restricted content available right away. Content dripping lets you “drip” it out on a set schedule.
- Payment options/gateways – does the plugin support the payment gateway(s) that you want to use? Can you set up automatic recurring subscriptions? Is it easy to refund people if you have to?
- Automatic account upgrades/downgrades – you definitely don’t want to have to manually intervene every time someone wants to upgrade or downgrade their account. A good membership plugin should handle this for you, including an option to prorate a user’s payment.
- Group memberships – if you want to sell group memberships (like to an entire corporation), make sure your chosen plugin offers that functionality.
- Free trials, coupons, discounts – if you want to offer special deals or coupons, make sure your chosen plugin can get the job done. The same applies to free trials.
- Affiliate program – do you want to create your own affiliate program?
- Price – this is pretty self-explanatory, but you’ll see a wide range of prices, and this might play an important role in your decision depending on your budget.
The 6 Best WordPress Membership Plugins in 2019
For each plugin, I’ll give you a brief introduction to its key features, as well as its pros and cons.
1. MemberPress – $149+
MemberPress is a popular WordPress membership plugin with a deep feature list at an accessible price point.
There’s no free version, but the price is competitive for what it offers, especially in comparison to other options.
- Unlimited subscription levels, along with unlimited pricing pages
- Lots of options for restricting content, including everything from restricting entire taxonomies to using shortcodes to restrict specific content
- Content dripping
- Flexible coupon functionality
- Integrates with bbPress to create member forums
- Integrates with Affiliate Royale to help you create an affiliate program. It also includes access to Affiliate Royale on higher tiers
- Has all the functionality most membership sites will need
- Competitively priced at $149
- They use fake evergreen pricing to create false urgency, which isn’t very honest in my opinion. The real list price is $149, not $298 – you’re not getting a special deal.
2. Paid Memberships Pro – Free to $297+
Paid Memberships Pro is a flexible WordPress membership plugin that comes in a free core version at WordPress.org, as well as heaps of free and premium add-ons that you can use to add all kinds of functionality.
By the numbers at WordPress.org, Paid Memberships Pro is active on 80,000+ sites, making it one of the most popular membership plugins. Its 4.2-star rating is ok, but not as good as some other options on this list.
- 14+ free add-ons and 64+ premium add-ons for all kinds of functionality
- Unlimited membership levels
- Members can manage their own subscriptions and upgrade/downgrade
- Flexible content restriction
- Content dripping
- 6 different payment gateways
- Flexible billing – collect recurring subscriptions, charge one-time setup fees, offer free or discounted trials, prorated payments, etc.
- Lots of integrations for Zapier, WooCommerce, bbPress, BuddyPress, and more
- The core version is available for free at WordPress.org
- Huge range of add-ons give you a ton of flexibility for setting up your site
- Has its own free Memberlite WordPress theme that you can use
- Pricey if you need the paid add-ons, with the cheapest plan starting at $297
3. Restrict Content Pro – Free to $99+
Restrict Content Pro is a freemium WordPress membership plugin from the same developer as the popular Easy Digital Downloads and AffiliateWP plugins.
It has a very basic free version available at WordPress.org, but most people will need the Pro version for a serious membership site. Depending on the functionality that you need, it can be one of the more affordable options on this list.
- Create unlimited restriction levels
- Multiple content restriction options
- Can create one-time or recurring plans
- Support for major payment gateways, including Stripe, PayPal, and Authorize.Net
- Customer dashboard for self-management, including prorated upgrades and downgrades
- Group accounts
- Discount codes
- Integrates with AffiliateWP plugin if you want to create an affiliate program
- Integrates with WooCommerce and Easy Digital Downloads
- From a well-known developer with other successful products (helps ensure future development)
- Has clean, extensible code
- Supports all the important core functionality that a membership site needs
- Members cannot have multiple concurrent subscriptions
4. LearnDash – $159+
LearnDash is more of a learning management system than a generalized WordPress membership plugin, but given that a significant chunk of people use a membership site to deliver course content, it still deserves a place on this list.
Unlike many other LMS plugins, it still includes built-in payments and membership management, which makes it one of the best options for creating paid courses.
- Create online courses, complete with progress indicators, quizzes, assignments, etc.
- Drag-and-drop course builder makes it really easy to set up courses
- Built-in payment functionality that supports one-time and recurring payments
- Option to sell membership access to all your courses, or create course bundles
- Content dripping
- Private or public course forums
- Certificates and badges for gamification
- Great for online courses
- Has more advanced LMS functionality that other generalized membership plugins don’t offer
- Has integrated payments, which not all LMS plugins offer
- Not a good option if you aren’t planning to offer online courses. This isn’t really a con…just a fact about where LearnDash focuses its features.
5. Paid Member Subscriptions – Free to $69+
Paid Member Subscriptions is a solid membership plugin that has a viable free version at WordPress.org, as well as a premium version with a lot more functionality.
According to WordPress.org, it’s active on over 10,000 sites with a stellar 4.8-star rating on over 110 reviews.
- Create unlimited subscription levels, including fixed-period memberships
- Multiple subscription levels per user
- Flexible content restriction options, including support for custom post types
- Create one-time or recurring subscriptions, including an option to offer free trials or charge one-time sign-up fees. There’s also a “pay what you want” feature
- Discount codes
- Content dripping
- WooCommerce and bbPress integrations
- AffiliateWP integration if you want to create an affiliate program
- Has a free version at WordPress.org
- The premium version is still one of the most affordable options on this list
- Has most of the important core features you’ll need
- No group membership plans, though not every site will need that feature
6. WooCommerce Memberships – $149+
As the name suggests, WooCommerce Memberships adds membership site functionality to WooCommerce.
This approach makes it an especially good option if you want to create a group purchasing site or some other type of membership site rooted in eCommerce.
- Create unlimited membership levels
- Content dripping
- Only supports one-time payment plans by default, but you can integrate it with WooCommerce Subscriptions to create recurring plans
- Offer better WooCommerce shipping options to members (e.g. members get free shipping)
- Connect membership plans to WooCommerce products or sell them as standalone products
- Tons of payment gateway options because you can use any WooCommerce gateway
- Special WooCommerce restriction options that let you restrict who can see products or just who can purchase products.
- Using WooCommerce as the base means you can benefit from the huge WooCommerce extension ecosystem
- Has some nice features for integrating membership functionality into your eCommerce store. E.g. free shipping for members
- Can get pricey because you’ll probably need to pair it with other extensions, like WooCommerce Subscriptions. Additionally, WooCommerce no longer offers renewal discounts
- Not really a con, but the fact that it’s based on WooCommerce might turn some people off
How to Choose the Best WordPress Membership Plugin for Your Needs
There’s no single plugin that’s best for all scenarios, so the plugin that you choose will depend on your unique situation.
However, we can run through some scenarios to help you decide…
If you want access to the absolute most functionality/flexibility, I think the winner is Paid Memberships Pro. Though it’s a little pricier than the other plugins at $297, you get access to so many add-ons that give you a lot of flexibility.
If that’s a little bit out of your budget but you still want deep functionality, MemberPress and Restrict Content Pro both also offer stellar feature lists at lower price points – $149 for MemberPress and $99 for Restrict Content Pro.
If you want the best free membership plugin, then I think Paid Memberships Pro is also a good option there (4.2-star rating). Paid Member Subscriptions also offers a solid free product that you should consider (4.8-star rating). Based on the WordPress.org ratings, people seem to be a little happier with Paid Member Subscriptions, though this obviously depends on your specific needs.
If you’re specifically looking to create and market online courses, then LearnDash might be the best option for you because of its dedicated LMS functionality.
And if you’re already running a WooCommerce store, or like the idea of using WooCommerce as your foundation, then WooCommerce Memberships might be more your speed.