Membership type websites are some of the most popular styles of site to create, and there’s more than just one membership model.
For instance, if you’ve ever been on the New York Times, that’s a membership site. Facebook? Sure you’ve heard of that, that’s also a membership site.
Linkedin? You guessed it. A membership site. See, a common misconception is that a membership website has to be a website that charges people for access; that isn’t actually true. Many of the most popular membership websites make their money through data and adverts.
In this guide, I’m going to show you how to build a WordPress membership website for the masses and go over the common problems with WordPress membership sites.
Let’s get started.
You’ve built the perfect site, you’ve opened the metaphorical doors, and the problems start. But what are the common problems? Here I break down what can (and often does go wrong).
Members Can’t Access Your Content
A rookie mistake, but we all do it. You set everything up and launch your site, and then you get users contacting you saying they can’t access the protected content.
But why does this happen? Most WordPress membership plugins include the ability for the admin to bypass the protection (see where I’m going here?), and often, as you’re building the site, you’re testing as the admin.
It’s crucial you log out and create an account as a member, go through your whole signup flow and check everything works correctly.
Your Website Doesn’t Work on Mobile
Even in times when mobile is becoming ever more dominant when building websites, its often an aspect that is overlooked.
By neglecting mobile users you’re turning off millions of users around the world who only use mobiles for browsing.
So next time you’re building a new membership site make sure you check your site on mobile before launching.
You Segregate Your Users
The fastest way to set up your WordPress membership website to rocketship success status is to build a strong community and focus on your members.
Neglecting your members and segregating them, making them feel like they are in individual camps isn’t a way to grow the community spirit.
The best way if you’re looking to build such a system is to go with the forum membership type website, where you have different forums for different interests. A popular example? IndieHackers one of the most well-known free membership websites for startups.
Picking the Wrong System
It goes without saying but what you choose to build your WordPress membership site is critical. There is a vast array of WordPress membership plugins available, and while they may share common functionality, some are better suited to specific tasks than others.
Ensure the tool you pick doesn’t leave you trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.
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Now for the best part, how to actually create your WordPress based membership site before you start you can be a total beginner to follow this but you will need to have WordPress installed and have a basic understanding of what a plugin is and what a theme is.
Step 1: Picking a WordPress Membership Plugin
Before you can get started you’ll have to pick which membership plugin you want to use for your site, there’s an abundance of great membership plugins but for the purpose of this tutorial we’ll be using WP User Manager (also known as WPUM).
If you aren’t familiar with WPUM here’s a quick rundown.
Simply, WP User Manager is one of the most straightforward to use WordPress membership plugins available.
If you’ve ever tried membership plugins before you’ll often find them cumbersome and difficult to use but WP User Manager makes the experience a breeze.
In short, it handles the following:
- User directories
- Restrict content
- Social login
- Mailchimp integration
- Custom field support
- Verify users
- And so much more.
Now we know what plugin we’re using, we can move onto the fun stuff. Getting our site created!
Step 2: Picking a Theme for Your WordPress Membership Site
A plugin is functionality, a theme is the design. In general I prefer to recommend starter themes, try to avoid all signing all dancing multiple demos in one type themes. A great starter theme is GeneratePress.
By using a theme like GeneratePress for your WordPress membership site you’re ensuring:
- A fully responsive WordPress membership website — works great from phone to desktop.
- A fast WordPress membership website — no bloat, performant and only includes what’s needed, allows your site to fly.
- A Gutenberg (block editor) compatible WordPress membership site — GeneratePress works perfectly with the block editor ensuring your site is future proofed for new versions of WordPress.
Step 3: Configuring Your WordPress Membership Plugin
Now we’ve got the core systems decided upon it’s time to go ahead and configure WPUM. Head on over to your wp-admin > Users > Settings. Here is where you configure the plugin.
The general settings are for setting your pages, these are auto created when you install WPUM, but you can also set a custom page if you want.
Go ahead and click on “Login Settings”.
Here you can set various settings related to login and I’d definitely recommend setting the lock access to wp-login.php. After you all it’s much easier to brand the front-end login pages of your membership site than wp-login.php.
Step 3A: Configuring Membership Emails
Now you’ve configured the very basic settings let’s make some changes to our email settings as email@example.com doesn’t look very professional, does it?
In your wp-admin > users > settings, click on “Emails” which will bring you to this page.
Here you can configure the following settings:
- From name — that’s the name that shows in your member’s inbox when you send an email from your site.
- From email — what email do you want to send emails from? This should be something like firstname.lastname@example.org. Try to avoid no-reply emails they generally get marked as spam by email service providers (ESPs).
- Email template — want to use the default template or create your own?
- Logo — your membership websites logo to include in all your official communication.
Step 3B: Configuring WordPress Membership Profiles
Time to configure the profiles for your membership site, when I talk about profiles in general I mean your users own profiles, so WPUM comes with a variety of options to help you configure the perfect community based membership site.
In your wp-admin > Users > Settings > Profiles you’ll see this:
The settings are all self explanatory so I won’t go too deep on them, the main thing to decide is if you want guests to view profiles or not.
One popular example would be Facebook where in general guests can view profiles but content on the users wall often has different privacy settings.
One option I generally wouldn’t recommend enabling is disabling strong passwords unless you want to be blamed by your members for getting their account hacked.
Step 3C: Configuring WordPress Membership Redirects
One important but often overlooked aspect of a membership site is the user journey, but what is a user journey? It’s the time from a user coming to your website, browsing and then registering.
To optimize your conversion rate for signups it’s important that the user journey makes as much logical sense as possible.
Coming to that WPUM makes it easy to redirect your members to specific pages. Head on over to your wp-admin > Users > Settings > Redirects.
To get the most out of these options you’ll want to first create pages in WordPress before configuring the redirects.
For example you can create a thank you page with details on how the user can access their account and any documentation you want to point them to and then set that page to be used as the “After Registration” redirect.
After login you might want to direct the user their profile and after logout you might want the user to just land on the main site.
Thanks to the redirects though you can build anything that you want!
You can also set up the same redirects for the backend.
And you’re done! The core settings are now configured. But there’s more to do, so let’s jump into step 4.
Step 4: Configuring your WordPress Membership Registration Forms
WPUM allows you to setup custom registration forms so you can tweak them to your niche. Head on over to your wp-admin > Users > Registration forms which will bring you to the primary page with the default form.
Go ahead and click on “Customize Form”. That’ll bring you to the form editor where you can create a custom WordPress membership form.
Here you can add custom fields, rearrange which order they appear on the form and capture all the information you need or want for your membership site up front.
Click on “Settings” and you’ll be presented with further options:
Such as the registration role (i.e, if you want to give the user custom permissions you can assign them a different user role).
Also perfect if you have different types of users such as wholesalers and customers so you can have a form for each and assign custom user roles (available with the Registration Forms addon).
Another useful option is “Login after registration” which as the name suggests automatically logs the user into your membership site after the registration is complete.
Finally there’s the terms and conditions which is vital to ensure you are GDPR compatible.
Congrats you’ve now successfully configured WPUM and have built your membership site! Now it’s time to tweak it to your niche and start marketing to get those signups.
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Building a WordPress membership site doesn’t have to be a task where you constantly bang your head. By choosing the right tools for the job you can build your site in record time and start getting signups.
Have you built a membership website before? Perhaps you’ve had trouble creating your WordPress membership site? Share your thoughts and comment below.
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