It’s difficult to believe that in a world where we expect everything for free that membership websites are still a thing. They are alive and well and many of them are performing as viable income. Chances are, if a membership website has paid membership, it will use Paid Memberships Pro or a WordPress plugin like it.
Paid Memberships Pro has been around since 2010 and has evolved alongside WordPress to become one of the most fully-featured, user-friendly plugins around.
$297 - 1 to 5 sites ($24.75 pm)
$597 - unlimited sites
What We Liked
|Very powerful membership plugin for WordPress.|
|Modular approach means you can build your own solution.|
|Includes over 60 addons and integrations.|
|Managing subscribers, levels and groups is simple.|
|The Memberlite theme is actually pretty good.|
What We Didn't Like
|The volume of options and features is disconcerting at first.|
|Doesn’t support video hosting, you need vimeo.|
|Some basic features required paid addons.|
|Addons cannot be purchased individually.|
|Some of the documentation and solutions require code knowledge.|
|The paid options are out of reach of smaller websites.|
Ease of use
What is Paid Memberships Pro?
Paid Memberships Pro is a WordPress plugin that enables you to set up a membership website and charge customers for access. It works as a paywall, to allow entry only to subscribers or members of a website. It helps support subscribers, manage them, drip-feed content to them and report on their activities and revenue.
With it you could run online courses, provide subscriber news, offer video content or provide access to a membership site of any kind.
Paid Memberships Pro has a modular setup where the basic plugin provides the framework for optional addons to build upon. You can pick and choose from those addons to build a membership solution that suits your needs.
Before we continue, check out this 2-minute video:
We have all come across websites with paywalls that say something like ‘log in or join up to access this content’. Paid Memberships Pro is likely one of the plugins behind that.
Why use Paid Memberships Pro?
Unlike Teachable, Thinkific, and Podia that are geared towards video memberships, Paid Memberships Pro offers more diverse membership business models such as fitness membership, client maintenance membership and members deal websites.
There is a lot of flexibility in how you implement the plugin and that is one of its key strengths.
Paid Memberships Pro is built as a core plugin with basic features and add-ons to add more functionality. Those add-ons add extra features such as payment gateways, content dripping, custom pages, advertising, email marketing integration and a whole lot more.
At the time of review, there are 75 addons to extend the core plugin. Some are free while others require payment or a higher-priced subscription.
This is both its strength and its weakness. More on that in a little while.
Some of the key features of Paid Memberships Pro:
- Themes and customisation
- Membership levels and directory
- Content dripping
- Custom content page for each member
- Custom menus per membership
- Group members
- Payment integrations
- Other integrations
Themes and customisation
Paid Memberships Pro has some built in customisation options that includes a wide range of colours, fonts, layout templates and page layout options. It also has its own WordPress theme called Memberlite. It is a decent theme that would work well for many membership websites. Memberlite also has customisation options to make your site truly unique.
If you're looking for more membership related themes for WordPress, check out our roundup post here.
Membership levels and directory
Membership levels allow you to control access to your website.
Members are added as a WordPress User at the subscriber level in addition to their selected membership level during registration to create a tiered system. You can then structure your membership site in the way that best fits your content, whether you are considering a hierarchical (gold, silver, bronze) or topic-oriented model.
Paid Memberships Pro provides for unlimited membership levels that can include free users, subscribers, time-limited trial users and more.
Content dripping is an essential part of any subscription website.
The ability to release content on a schedule as a steady flow of new material keeps your website fresh and gives those subscribers their value for money. It’s an essential element of any subscription and Paid Memberships Pro has an addon specifically for it.
That addon allows you to use shortcodes to define the release date, the availability time and duration of that content.
Custom content page for each member
Having a custom content page for each member is a real game-changer for Paid Memberships Pro users. It provides the mechanism by which you can create unique pages for each member. It allows any number of uses depending on the subject and scope for your website.
For example, a fitness site can create custom pages users can share with coaches.
On an educational site, you could create pages for teachers or instructors that aren’t available to students.
Custom menus per membership
Paid Memberships Pro Plus takes custom content pages a step further with custom menus. This is another powerful feature that can tweak the user experience specifically to the subscriber. For example, having menu items available to those coaches or instructors to make navigation to their custom or restricted content.
The Group Members option means an employer or club could purchase subscriptions to a website on behalf of all their staff or club members. That group admin could then allocate memberships as they needed, cancel particular members and manage the group easily within the website.
Paid Memberships Pro works with most primary payment gateways including Stripe, Braintree, PayPal, Authorize.net, CyberSource, 2Checkout and Payfast. There is also the default credit card payment method too. Whatever method you want to use, there is likely the mechanism to accept it.
Paid Memberships Pro also works with other plugins to enrich the user experience. Plugins include Aweber, Constant Contact, GetResponse, bbPress, BuddyPress, Holler Box, Infusionsoft, Kissmetrics, Mailchimp, WooCommerce, Zapier, and others.
With 75 addons currently available, this is one of the most flexible membership plugins around.
There are no special hosting requirements for this plugin.
Paid Memberships Pro should work on any host that supports WordPress 3.0 or higher. The developer does recommend a Linux-based server at the equivalent of a “Virtual Dedicated Server” or higher when choosing a hosting plan. Shared hosting plans that rely heavily on caching are not a good fit because membership sites cannot be cached as aggressively as standard sites.
The developer also strongly recommends a hosting environment that uses PHP version 7 or greater, MySQL version 5.6 or greater, SSL and CURL. You may need your web host to enable CURL for you as it isn’t enabled or available by default on many hosting plans.
As always we would recommend checking out the host we use and love - InMotion.
The support offered by the people behind Paid Memberships Pro is good. You gain access to a member support area with ticketed support and a knowledge base with a ton of documentation.
That documentation is hidden behind registration but once you sign up for the plugin, you can use those same details to register.
The documentation is plentiful but can be a little complicated at times.
The developer is exactly that, a developer, and has written some of the documentation as a developer. That’s fine if you know code but if you don’t, you may struggle a little. Fortunately, most of the setup guides also include videos that describe each process, so even if you don’t understand something you can see how to do it in the video.
While we didn’t use the support ticket function during testing, it does seem very responsive.
Paid Memberships Pro is one of those WordPress plugins that makes it easy to set up an initial membership website but includes much deeper levels of customisation if you need it. The core plugin covers the very basics while the free addons add more features.
Go all the way with the premium subscription and you get access to up to 75 addons in all.
Initial setup and membership creation take just a few minutes. We found it very straightforward to set up, add a payment gateway and add membership tiers. As long as you know where to find the verification keys or APIs from within your payment vendor of choice, it’s easy.
From there, you can build up your membership website by adding membership tiers and more and more features and options.
As mentioned above, the documentation is mostly very good. Some elements do require some WordPress or code knowledge but most guides also have videos to walk you through each process. Overall, it’s a very straightforward plugin to use.
How to set up a membership site
Paid Memberships Pro can quickly become very detailed in its execution. Fortunately, you can begin with the basics, get a membership site set up, create membership tiers and add a payment gateway without too much effort.
Before you sign up and install the plugin, you might like to plan how you are going to set up your site. For example, you will need to know how many membership tiers you’re going to use, what content you’re going to allow access to, how much you’re going to charge and what payment gateway you plan to use.
Setting up Paid Memberships Pro
The plugin uses the standard installation method. Once you sign up and pay for your first year of access, you will be able to download the plugin zip file. From there, you can upload to your website, enter the registration key you get with the file and set everything up.
If you’re starting with the free version, you can upload that from the WordPress Plugins dashboard.
- Sign up for Paid Memberships Pro and select a membership tier.
- Download the zip file to your computer and locate your registration code.
- Open your WordPress dashboard, select Plugins and Add New.
- Select Upload Plugin at the top of the centre pane and select Choose File.
- Navigate to the zip file you downloaded and select Install Now.
- Select Activate once upload has completed.
Now the plugin is installed and activated, we can begin configuration.
- Select the new Memberships menu item in your WordPress dashboard and select Membership Levels.
- Select Add New Level.
- Enter a level name, informative description, confirmation message after signup, cost of the membership level, set a recurring subscription, or not and set a free trial option if you’re using one.
- Set an expiry date for the membership if you’re planning recurring subscriptions.
- Check the box next to This is a Category if you are planning to limit access to some web content only to subscribers. You will then need to mark posts and pages as a Category for this to work.
- Save your changes.
If you set a recurring billing amount in Step 3, you don’t need to set membership to expire in Step 4. You set a recurring schedule, day, week, month and year so expiration is not necessary.
Add membership levels
To add further membership levels, just repeat the above and give each one a unique name, informative description, unique confirmation message and set the subscription cost and recurrence as you see fit.
Set up your payment gateway
The next logical step in the process is to set up a payment gateway so members can subscribe. Paid Memberships Pro is compatible with many gateways but will only work with one at a time. You will need an account with the gateway provider to make this work.
- Select Memberships from the WordPress dashboard and select Payment Settings.
- Select your payment provider at the top of the page with the radio button.
- Enter your verification key or details into the next window. This differs by gateway and could be a keycode or just an email address and API key.
- Set your gateway to be Live under Gateway Environment. Sandbox is for testing only.
- Set your currency and add any sales tax.
- Set SSL and add your SSL certificate details.
- Save your settings.
The specifics of setting up the payment gateway differ depending on who you use. For example, PayPal uses an email address and API keys while Stripe uses a verification key.
Setting up your pages
Now we have our membership levels in place, we need to set up some pages for those subscribers to access.
- Select the Memberships menu item in your WordPress dashboard and select Page Settings.
- Select the ‘click here to let us generate them for you’ text link at the top of the Pages tab. This will generate each of the required pages.
- Otherwise, create each page on your website and inset the corresponding shortcode into that page.
- Save your settings.
For example, create an Account Page and copy the ‘[pmpro_account]’ shortcode found by the setting on Pages. Create a Billing Information Page and paste ‘[pmpro_billing]’ into that page. It is easier to let the plugin do it for you but if you want to do it yourself, it’s still very straightforward.
Email setup configures how your website communicates system messages. This helps keep you informed of everything that’s going on with your site and ensures you receive an email every time a user does something included within the filters.
- Select Memberships and Email Settings from the WordPress dashboard.
- Set the From email address and From name to your website domain and username.
- Check the boxes for the type of alerts you want to receive emails for.
- Save your settings.
To begin with, it makes sense to be alerted to every happening but as your subscriber numbers grow, you may like to reduce those to something more manageable.
Customise theme templates
Paid Memberships Pro lets you tweak pages and its appearance. Like many plugins, it does integrate into your existing theme but also lets you force compatibility using CSS or plugins. Some plugins have templating options but you can also modify ‘frontend.css’ if you prefer.
You can also modify the appearance using stylesheets. PMP has a blog post that explains all about this feature.
To modify CSS, you will need access to the root of your website via FTP.
- Navigate to your Themes folder and create a new folder called ‘paid memberships pro’.
- Create a new folder within paid memberships pro and call it ‘CSS’.
- Navigate to your Paid Memberships Pro folder and copy the file ‘frontend.css’.
- Go back to your new CSS folder and paste ‘frontend.css’ into it.
- Make any changes to CSS in the copied frontend.css in the CSS folder.
If you would prefer to use your own theme templates to change appearance, this page shows you how.
Now you have the basics set up, let’s have a quick look at the advanced settings options within Paid Memberships Pro.
- Select Memberships and Advanced Settings from the WordPress dashboard.
- Set the messages you want to be presented to non-members and logged-out users.
- Set a message for your RSS feed if you’re using one.
- Select the option to restrict searches and archived content if appropriate and restrict excerpts, or not.
- Choose to use reCAPTCHA or not and set to display Terms of Service.
- Save your settings.
These are all customisable settings and you can pick and choose whatever works for your site. Using reCAPTCHA is always a good idea to minimise spam and showing excerpts is often a good way to gain new subscribers so we would suggest using those.
Controlling member content
Controlling member content is at the heart of Paid Memberships Pro and the reason you will be able to charge people for access. The system is fairly straightforward and allows you to restrict content on a page and post basis. You can also use a shortcode if you prefer.
You control member content once that content has been produced. For this example, we used an existing page we created and modified the setting from within the page creation page.
- Open a page you want to restrict within WordPress.
- Check the right menu for Require Membership. It should appear above or below Set Featured Image.
- Check the box next to a paid membership option.
- Select Update.
If you don’t change this setting, the page will be accessible to anyone who lands on the page. Changing the membership setting will restrict that page to the relevant membership tier. If a user is not a subscriber, the plugin will present the option to subscribe to access it.
You can do the same with posts. You can also create a member category within blog posts and restrict content via the category. It’s a neat solution that works equally well for post-based websites. If you choose to go the category route, make sure to check the Categories box on your Membership Levels page.
Finally, you can also use WordPress blocks or shortcodes to restrict content. This allows a much more granular approach and could work well if you want to show an initial couple of paragraphs of a page and then show a ‘Subscribe to read more’ option. Full details on these can be found in the PMP documentation.
You can test as you go by opening a page or post after setting the restrictions or set everything up and go through the entire process from beginning to end. There is a test phase for the payment gateway or you could use live and perform the entire process as a user.
While simple to set up, we would recommend performing a couple of full tests before going live to ensure everything works smoothly.
Spending an hour testing your site is more efficient than handling complaints and losing subscribers because you missed something!
PROs and CONs
Paid Memberships Pro has a lot to recommend it but also falls short in a couple of places.
There is a lot that Paid Memberships Pro has going for it, including:
- Very powerful membership plugin for WordPress.
- The modular approach means you can build your own solution.
- Includes 75 addons and integrations.
- Managing subscribers, levels and groups is simple.
- The Memberlite theme is actually pretty good.
There are downsides to Paid Memberships Pro though:
- The sheer volume of options and features is disconcerting at first.
- Some basic features require paid addons.
- Addons cannot be purchased individually.
- Some of the documentation and solutions require code knowledge.
- The paid options are out of reach of smaller websites.
Paid Memberships Pro has a free version of the plugin and two subscription tiers. As mentioned above, you cannot buy the addons to the core plugin individually so if you need some of the more advanced features, you’re going to have to pay.
Paid Memberships Pro Free includes:
- The core plugin.
- Access to 6 payment gateways.
- The Memberlite theme.
- 19 addons.
- All documentation.
Pro Plus - $297 per year
Paid Memberships Pro Plus includes all the freebies, plus:
- Can be used on up to 5 websites.
- Access to all premium addons.
- Unlimited support tickets.
- Full product support and updates.
- 1-click install and updates.
- Advanced code recipes.
Pro Unlimited - $597 per year
Paid Memberships Pro Unlimited includes everything in Plus with the addition of being able to use the plugin on an unlimited number of websites.
Paid Memberships Pro offers a full money-back guarantee. If you’re not completely happy with the plugin you can get a full refund within 30 days.
Discount / Coupon
You won’t often see discounts on Paid Memberships Pro. If we can find any, we will list them here!
Lindsay Liedke @WPKube said:
‘Paid Memberships Pro is one of the top contenders when it comes to membership site platforms. And if you’re looking to create an extensive membership and hope to generate a lot of revenue, this platform has everything you could possibly need (plus some) to help you.’
Beka Rice @SellItWithWP.com said:
‘Paid Memberships Pro is a flexible, developer-friendly solution for creating a membership site using WordPress. The fact that the plugins and add-ons are free is awesome, and I think that support is reasonably priced, especially since solving one major issue per year via support could essentially pay for itself.’
Chris Lema said:
‘What the folks at Paid Memberships Pro have done is create an incredible solution for people who want a powerful and customized membership site and are willing to touch a bit of code to get it to be perfect. The number of hooks they’ve made available, the amount of code Jason has written in gists for customers to leverage, and all those add-ons – all speak to that reality.
‘But they haven’t stopped there. If you don’t have unique or custom needs, their plugin will do pretty much all of what you want it to do and they’ve gone a step further to help your site get launched and look good.’
Alternatives to Paid Memberships Pro
Paid Memberships Pro has a lot of competition. Other plugins that do similar things in slightly different ways include MemberPress (which we've looked at here), LearnDash (which we've also checked out), Teachable (you may want to see what we think of it), Thinkific, Podia, Restrict Content Pro (which we love!), S2Member and many others. Each goes about managing subscribers in their own way but few offer the same number of options or addons as Paid Memberships Pro.
Paid Memberships Pro is a very powerful and user-friendly WordPress plugin.
In our time with it, we were able to create a membership website, configure content dripping, create tiered memberships and custom pages for different members. All without using any code.
The plugin itself is awesome.
It does everything well and has the option for a huge number of addons to be bolted on. You could genuinely create a one-of-a-kind subscription website using the plugin and a few addons.
We do think that some of the addons locked behind the premium versions should really be free. PayPal Express, adding first and last names to checkout, an auto-renewal option, the ability to make a charitable donation and failed payment limitations are all that we would regard as basic functions but you need the paid version of the plugin to use them.
Then again, everybody has to make a living. And if you're going to use your website to earn your living, there's no valid reason why the infrastructure used to power this shouldn't also be paid nicely.
Paid Memberships Pro is a well-produced, well-coded plugin that delivers maximum control over a subscription website and it is hard to think of a competitor that does it better.
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