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
|Plugin||Pros & Cons|
Those looking for a good all-round, middle-of-the-road membership plugin to get started with
|2. Restrict Content Pro|
Less tech-savvy individuals who need lots of documentation and possible help from support staff
Those just looking to dabble in email courses, or established course creators who want to expand their email offerings
|4. WooCommerce Memberships|
Course creators already using WooCommerce
Integrates smoothly with existing WooCommerce stores
|5. Paid Membership Pro|
Course creators with medium levels of experience looking for flexibility.
|6. S2 Member|
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.
- How To Create A Wildly Successful Membership Website
- The Top 5 Membership Retention Strategies For Sustainable Growth
- 25 Ways to Increase Customer Retention in a Membership Site
- See examples of membership sites built on Thinkific
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
- 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
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)
- 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
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
- 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
Access Thinkific’s powerful tools and features for free
All of the tools and features you need to sell online learning products. None of the risk.
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
- 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
5. Paid Memberships Pro
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
- “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
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
- Customize your login and signup process
- Full access to source code
- Many options for allowing or blocking access to content
- Compatible with WordPress Multisite
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 launch your online course and community with confidence? Sign up for your forever-free Thinkific account today.
This article was written Feb 2021 and was refreshed Mar 2023.