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By some accounts, about one-third of the world’s websites are built using WordPress–so it’s easy to understand why there’s a plugin for just about anything, including memberships and subscriptions.

Membership plugins give you the power to control who sees your content, and how– so If you want to monetize your content, a WordPress memberships plugin might be a great option starting out.

But not all WordPress subscription plugins are created equal. It’s important to understand the benefits and drawbacks of each one, to pick a solution with all the features you need right out of the box.

Here are the six best WordPress membership plugins, including free and paid options – plus everything you need to know to make the right choice.

The best WordPress membership plugins currently available

PluginProsConsBest for…
MemberPress
  • Integrates with Paypal, Amazon, and Stripe
  • Built-in payment gateways
  • Easy setup
  • Large- and small-scale content restrictions
  • Ability to “drip” restricted content
  • Online course setup and management
  • Limited payment options
  • Limited integrations compared to competitors
Those looking for a good all-round, middle-of-the-road membership plugin to get started with
Restrict Content Pro
  • Easy setup and day-to-day use
  • Straightforward user experience
  • Integration with forum plugins
  • Extensive documentation
  • Good support services
  • Fewer integrations than some competitors
  • No integration with affiliate marketing systems
Less tech-savvy individuals who need lots of documentation and possible help from support staff
OptinMonster
  • Integrates with popular email marketing services
  • Full range of pop-up types and triggers
  • Inexpensive entry-level option 
  • Limited to simple, two-step forms
  • No built-in landing page builder
  • Limited template customization
Those just looking to dabble in email courses, or established course creators who want to expand their email offerings 
WooCommerce Memberships
  • Integrates smoothly with existing WooCommerce stores
  • Heftier price than comparable plugins
  • Limited feature set
Course creators already using WooCommerce
Paid Membership Pro
  • Broad range of add-ons 
  • Add-ons are being continually added
  • Alternative  to WooCommerce Memberships
  • Some features that are part of the core feature set of other products are only included as add-ons
Course creators with medium levels of experience looking for flexibility.
S2 Member
  • More customizable than other options
  • Competitive pricing
  • Developer-friendly
  • Setup process is less user-friendly than competitors’
  • Complicated, non-intuitive interface 
Highly experienced, tech-savvy course creators who know what they want.

 

The challenge with plugins is that they’re more of a footnote than a full-fledged solution, so there are even better plugin alternatives to run your membership site that you won’t grow out of–particularly if you’re in the eLearning space, or looking to sell access to a community.

Related:

1. MemberPress

The best all-around option for course creators just finding their feet, MemberPress is easy to set up and use, and offers basic integrations for payment providers, email marketing tools, and other services. With unlimited membership levels, you have a lot of options for customizing students’ experiences. And you’re able to set up automatic reminder emails, keeping members in the loop when it comes to special events—an option some other plugins do not offer.

Pricing: From $129/year

Best Features

  • Unlimited membership levels, with different trial periods and payment options
  • “Membership Groups” let you plot user journeys according to different upgrade paths
  • Flexible content sharing allows you to restrict access at different scales—from parts of a single page to entire post categories
  • The MemberPress Reminders feature sends out automatic emails for important events, like subscription renewal deadlines
Pros

  • Integration with Paypal, Amazon, and Stripe
  • Built-in payment gateways
  • Easy setup
  • Large- and small-scale content restrictions
  • Ability to “drip” restricted content, releasing it gradually to subscribers
  • Online course setup and management, with the ability to track student progress
Cons

  • Limited payment options—while Paypal, Amazon, and Stripe are popular, they’re also the only ones MemberPress accepts
  • While it works with popular services like MailChimp, MemberPass offers limited integrations compared to competitors
Screenshot of Memberpess
Source: MemberPress

 

2. Restrict Content Pro

More than a runner up to MemberPass, Restrict Content Pro is an alternative route for course makers who want more flexibility and control. With each pricing level, you get a certain number of add-ons for a certain number of sites—so you can pick and choose only the features you need. Like MemberPress, Restrict Content Pro is short on integrations compared to competitors, but if those integrations aren’t important for your course, its smaller price tag makes this plugin appealing.

Pricing: From $99/month (12 features, one website)

Best Features

  • Pick-and-choose add-ons include custom redirects, drip content, restrictions on past content, expiration dates, and more
  • More integrations than its closest competitor, MemberPass
  • Users report excellent experiences dealing with customer service reps
  • Integrates with forum plugins like bbPress, giving you more options for community-building
  • Ability to export data as CSV files
Pros

  • Easy setup and day-to-day use
  • Straightforward user experience
  • Integration with forum plugins
  • Extensive documentation
  • Good support services
Cons

  • Fewer integrations than some competitors
  • No integration with affiliate marketing systems
Restrict Content Pro Screenshot
Source: Restrict Content Pro

 

3. OptinMonster

If you’re still settling into your role as a course creator, and don’t have a full course up and running, OptinMonster can help you collect leads and build simple drip campaigns to draw in your first students. It lets you build custom pop-ups inviting website visitors to subscribe to your newsletter or free course. But even if you’ve already got a course on the go with plenty of students, OptinMonster can help you launch a free introductory email course and capture new leads.

Pricing Starting at $9/month, paid annually 

Best Features

  • Runs in the cloud
  • Customizable, so different pop-ups appear to different subsets of website visitors (eg. users who have never been to your site see one pop-up, while users who have visited once, twice, or three times see different ones)
  • Integrates with a wide range of email subscription services
  • Wide variety of pop-up types, including lightbox and full-page
  • Multiple pop-up triggers to choose from
Pros

  • Can act as a great addition to existing membership tools, integrating with popular email marketing services
  • Full range of pop-up types and triggers
  • Inexpensive entry-level option for experimenting with drip campaigns
Cons

  • Limited to simple, two-step forms
  • No built-in landing page builder
  • Limited template customization
Optin Monster Screenshot
Source: OptinMonster

 

4. WooCommerce Memberships

If you’re already selling ebooks or other digital products through WooCommerce, WooCommerce Memberships is the natural choice for running your online course. It lets you sell course enrollments either as independent store items, or as tie-ins with other purchases. (For instance: a student who buys a set of guitar tablature could then be enrolled in an online course that teaches them how to play the tunes.) However, an overall lack of features makes this plugin a good pick only if you’re already using WooCommerce, and if eCommerce—rather than online courses—is your main source of revenue.

Pricing $199/year to enable recurring payments

Best Features

  • Allows you to restrict certain eCommerce products (eg. textbooks) to specific membership levels
  • Includes eCommerce features like coupons, discounts, and recommended products
  • Lets users upgrade, downgrade, and pause their accounts
Pros

  • Integrates smoothly with existing WooCommerce stores
Cons

  • Heftier price than comparable plugins
  • Limited feature set

 

Woocommerce Membership Screenshot
Source: WooCommerce

 

For a while, in terms of features, Paid Memberships Pro was lagging behind competitors. But recent improvements have brought it up to speed, and it now boasts a full suite of features that sets it toe-to-toe with other WordPress membership plugins. But, while it offers some unique functionality, Paid Memberships Pro lacks some basic features as part of its core package.

Pricing: Free version available. Paid plans start at $297

Best Features

  • “Add On” system gives you access to a large library of functionalities you can activate or deactivate as needed
  • Integrates with bbPress, affiliate tracking platforms, WooCommerce, Mailchimp, Slack, and multiple payment gateways
  • Includes optional Developer’s Toolkit
Pros

  • Broad range of add-ons puts it on par with other membership plugins
  • Add-ons are being continually added
  • Can serve as alternative to WooCommerce Memberships
Cons

  • Some features that are part of the core feature set of other products (eg. the ability for members to hold multiple membership levels) are only included as add-ons in Paid Membership Pro
Paid Memberships Pro Screenshot
Source: Paid Memberships Pro

 

6. S2 Member

If you’re looking for a free WordPress membership plugin, then S2 Member is your best option. The basic features offered as part of the free version are enough to get your online course up and running and let you experiment with different options. And when it’s time to get serious, S2 Member Pro offers competitive pricing for single or multiple websites.

Pricing: Free basic version. For Pro, $89/year per site, or $189/year for unlimited sites

Best Features

  • Customize your login and signup process
  • Full access to source code 
  • Many options for allowing or blocking access to content
  • Compatible with WordPress Multisite 
Pros

  • More customizable than other options, so you can set it up with precisely the features you need for your online course
  • Competitive pricing
  • Developer-friendly
Cons

  • Setup process is less user-friendly than competitors’
  • Complicated, non-intuitive interface with many options

 

S2 Member WordPress Plugin Screenshot
Source: S2 Member

 

What to Look for in a WordPress Membership Plugin

When you’re shopping around for WordPress subscription plugins, keep the following in mind.

  • Ease of use. How much technical knowledge do you need to get your plugin up and running?
  • User interface and experience. From the user’s perspective, is it easy to register with and navigate your membership site?
  • Content fit. What types of content are you sharing with students? How does it need to be delivered? Some plugins offer more options than others.
  • Community features. For many students in online courses, it’s important to be part of a community. Will that be part of what you’re offering? What do you need to build an online community?
  • Drip release. Do you need to gradually release information to individual students on a set schedule? Some plugins let you do this, others don’t.
  • Integrations. What other tools or systems are you using (eg. social media, video)? Do they need to integrate with your membership features?
  • Payments and coupons. Does the plugin work with your payment provider? Do you have the ability to offer coupon codes?
  • Affiliate tracking. Will your plugin track affiliate referrals?
  • Analytics. What kind of insights will you get into user behavior and engagement? Will you be able to track payment status?
  • Learning management system (LMS). Bottom line—will the plugin you’re considering function as a complete LMS for your eLearning content? What is it missing, or what does it include that you don’t need?

Problems with using WordPress plugins to manage your membership site

During your earliest days as an online course creator, WordPress membership plugins give you the tools to get up and running. But they come with drawbacks that might make a dedicated membership solution more attractive to you.

First of all, no single plugin is likely to offer all the features you need in one place. For instance, none of the WordPress membership plugins currently available give you the tools you need to set up and work with an online community of students. The best they can do is integrate with bbPress—a separate tool you’ll have to install and manage.

Second, “memberships” is a broad category. While your online course may count as a “membership,” so do stock photo websites and online magazines. At the end of the day, WordPress membership plugins aren’t designed specifically for teaching, so they may not offer the detailed features you need.

Finally, WordPress suffers from security loopholes. If you don’t make sure to keep all of your plugins up to date, you can leave your site open to attack—and your members open to having their information stolen.

The best WordPress membership plugin alternative

There’s an alternative for hosting and managing your membership site: Thinkific

Tens of thousands of entrepreneurs are already using Thinkific to monetize their content. You’ll enjoy the benefits of a system that is continually being improved based on success stories and feedback from businesses just like yours.

Thinkific gives you all the functionality of a WordPress membership plugin, and more—including integration with a huge selection of apps. (Including WordPress, naturally.)

If you thirst for customization, Thinkific’s open API gives you the opportunity to customize it even further to your needs. It’s specifically designed for course creators, membership site owners, and online community creators. Since Thinkific is continually updated, you don’t face the same security vulnerabilities that out-of-date WordPress plugins have.

But it takes a lot more than tools to build a successful business. With Thinkific, you’ll get access to educational resources, and a community of like-minded digital entrepreneurs who face the same challenges as you.

Ready to ditch the plugins and start selling memberships? Try Thinkific for free. It’s easy to set up, and infinitely customizable.