We recently took a high level view of some of the best membership plugins for WordPress. That article provides enough information to help you weigh up the pros and cons of each option, while also comparing their features in order to decide which plugins are a good match for your needs. However, we’ve also decided to follow it up with a series of in-depth reviews of membership plugins in order to help you really decide which option is worthy of your investment.
First up on the list is the WishList Member plugin which is available from the WishList group and is their membership site creator. The plugin has been available for just over five years so it’s had plenty of time to settle in and mature since its first release.
WishList Member is packed with features and is one of the strongest contenders in that respect. It gives you a very high level of control over how your membership site will function and how your content will be protected and how access is granted.
Due to this, there are a lot of options and settings with this plugin and this can make it seem a bit daunting to anyone new to membership sites and advanced WordPress plugins. However, the core components of a membership site, which we will get to in a second, can be very easily walked through and setup in a short amount of time in order to turn your WordPress site into a membership site in minutes rather than hours.
Creating a wall around your content, where people have to register or pay to gain access is the purpose of this plugin, and thanks to its list of features, it achieves this very efficiently. This means your site can contain a mixture of content that is available for anyone to access, as well as having content that has restricted access.
Some of the standout features of WishList Membership Site Builder plugin include:
- Create unlimited membership levels and groups
- Allow member self-registration with auto or manual approval
- Protect individual posts and files, or blanket protect whole categories or entire sites
- Use teaser tactics to show the first part of a post before prompting the user to register for full access
- Ability to protect content within a post such as a single sentence
- Grant access to content on a sequential schedule for on-going content release
- Integrates with many payment processors including PayPal
- Integrates with email marketing services such as AWeber for building your mailing list
- Set subscription length with auto-expiration of memberships
As you can see the list of features is pretty impressive. But the success of your membership site will largely come down to the content you offer and your marketing efforts. However, once those two areas have been covered, WishList Member can ensure the management of your membership site is easy to put into place and largely hands off once implemented.
Core Components of a Membership Site
To give you some guidance on setting up a membership site using WordPress, it’s important to look at the three core components involved in making the transition from regular blog to restricted access membership website. Once explained, we will take a look at how easy these key modules are to implement using WishList Member.
This feature or component of a membership site allows you to create membership levels which when a user joins, gives them access to certain pieces of content or areas on your site. You must create at least one member group when setting up a membership site and the WishList Member plugin is no exception.
Common choices for membership levels include bronze, silver and gold. Using this example, gold members would have access to all the protected content on the site, while silver would have less, and bronze would be the lowest level of access to protected content. This is an example of a hierarchical structure, but you could just as well create groups for different membership structures. This could include red, blue and green groups, with each have access to unrelated and non-overlapping protected content.
Content Protection and Access
Once you’ve setup at least one member grouping or membership level, you can begin protecting content on your site with WishList Member. Content, such as individual blog post, or categories for example, can be selected and then the access level can be set. If you are using multiple member groupings in a hierarchical structure, then your most valuable content would be restricted to gold level, or top tier members only.
Once you’ve created the access levels or member groupings, and then started creating content or restricting access to existing content, the third step in the process is to setup the member registration functionality. For a membership site to be successful and manageable, the member registration process must be automated.
Thankfully WishList Member makes this easy to automate by providing a registration process that allows users to self-register and also make a payment if required, to gain access to your members only content. Depending on how you configure this process, users can also self-select the level of access or membership grouping they would like to sign up to.
As the registration process is totally hands off, once setup, new users can sign up and gain access to the content without any involvement on your part. If you are selling access to premium content then this is an effective way to generate a passive source of income from your WordPress site.
So with the key components covered, let’s take a look at how easy it is to implement this functionality on a WordPress site.
Quick Start Guide to Setting up a Membership site with WishList Member
To give you an idea of just how easy this plugin is to use in order to setup a membership site, here is a quick walkthrough tutorial for WishList Member.
Once the plugin has been downloading from the vendor and installed, you might be tempted to walk through the various settings and options and start testing things out. However, if you follow this WishList Member tutorial, you could have a WordPress membership site setup in no time at all, leaving the advanced options for further investigation at a later date.
Add a New Membership Level
To start your site off on the right track, go straight to the ‘Levels’ tab on the WishList Member plugin page on your site.
The first step is to create a new level and give that membership level or group a name. It’s best to make this descriptive for your own records as well as for helping your members identify what they are signing up for and their place in the hierarchy on your site. Again, popular choices include gold, silver and bronze, or in some cases a more descriptive name is a better option. This could include things like ‘Java Programming Course’ or ‘PHP Coding Course’ and so on.
Here you can customise the registration URL by entering your own suffix or accepting the default choice. You can also preview the registration page that this URL corresponds with.
The next option is to set the redirects. The first option relates to the page that is shown after a user logins into your site. WishList Member allows you to choose one of your existing pages to be displayed once a user has logged in. A good choice is your member’s area dashboard, showing the latest updates, announcements and new content.
The second option is to select the page that is shown when a new member registers. Here you can set an introduction page with a welcome message and some help on navigating the content including links to popular sections of your membership site.
At this point, you can set which content the members of this group will have access to. If you are using a hierarchical structure then the top level might have access to all pages and posts. Other lesser or more specific groups might only have access to posts in specific categories or even just individual posts (which you can set later).
With WishList member you can easily give a group access to one post category only, which can then be used to put a wall around that content for that group only. This makes it easy to protect new content created at a later date as it can simply be added to that category when publishing a post. You can at this point elect to click the ‘Detailed Access’ link and define the protection of content on a more granular level.
Length of Subscription
Unless you are offering a limited trial or fixed length access, then leave this filed blank and check the ‘No Expiration Date’ checkbox. Even if you are charging for membership on a recurring basis, this should still be left blank as the plugin works with your chosen payment processor to handle recurring payments.
WishList Member also automatically discontinues access should a scheduled payment be missed or cancelled, preventing you from having to manage and track which payments have been received or not.
While the above steps are easy enough to walkthrough, you might be wondering if they are powerful enough to manage a full blown membership site. Well WishList Member has included another set of advanced settings that give you more control over how your gateway and access levels work.
These settings include things like whether or not to use a Captcha registration image to prevent non-human users from signing up. Requiring an email confirmation to complete a user registration can also be enabled.
Registrations can also be set to be manually approved for new members. This is a great way to vet applicants and also if you want an extra layer of protection between your restricted content and the wider world. The Grant Continued Access option allows members to retain their access rights, even when they have cancelled their payment plan or recurring payment subscription.
There is also the option to give new members of a particular access group a specific WordPress user role. By default WishList Member gives members of your site the WordPress Subscriber role. However, you could just as easily give them another role such as Author which would allow them to publish content, amongst other capabilities. If you’ve created custom roles on your site, these too will be available for selection at this point.
The advanced settings of the WishList Member Levels also allow you to remove members from an existing level and put them on a new level or grouping. This is handy if someone is upgrading from one level to another and no longer requires access at the lower level and is particularly useful if you are offering trial memberships.
That about covers the process for setting up groups and levels in WishList Member. This is the first stage in creating your membership site and allows you to begin restricting access to your content.
Depending on your content and access strategy, you may want to restrict and define access at the individual post level. If so, this approach is very easy to implement using WishList Member.
Simply edit an existing post or create a new post, and then locate the WishList Member metabox on the post editor page. Here you can easily choose whether to protect the content or not, and if so, which level of member has access to it.
All membership levels are displayed here so you can simply choose which level or levels get access. As the levels that have already been created are displayed here, it’s a good reason as to why you should create all your levels before starting to protect your content. Otherwise you may have to go back and change the settings for any new levels you create at a later date.
A nice feature of the WishList Member plugin is that you can grant access for individual users. This is great for giving a user a preview of content and overruling the group level access, or letting registered site users, but not members gain access to a particular piece or series of content.
For the access restriction settings to take effect it’s simply a case of clicking the Update or Publish post button, so make sure your post content is ready for consumption when doing so.
Free Member Registration
In order to allow users to self-register on your site, you will need to create a registration page. Each membership level or group needs its own registration page. But again, with WishList Member it seems the developers have thought of everything, as doing so is very easy.
Simply create a new page in WordPress as usual and give it a descriptive title. Then click on the blue WishList icon on the post editor and use the dropdown menu to find the shortcodes sub-menu. Now find the shortcode that corresponds to the membership level you are creating the page for.
This will insert the shortcode into your page and when viewed by a user, it will display the registration form that will allow them to sign up.
Paid Member Registration
If you are offering paid membership then there are a few extra steps required to setup your site to handle payments. Again this is pretty straightforward stuff with WishList Member.
To setup your sites ability to handle payments, go to the WishList Member sidebar menu and then click on Integration. Then select the shopping cart option you would like to use, such as PayPal and then click on the button to confirm your choice.
Once you’ve entered the setup details for the payment processor you are using, your site will now be able to feature a button that takes users wishing to sign up to that payment processor, before returning them to a custom registration form on your site, once the payment has been made. With this approach, you are not taking any payments directly on your site, but are still able to have funds transferred into your account by allowing users to pay via your chosen payment method.
WishList Member Tutorial Conclusion
WishList Member has many more advanced features, but by following this guide you will have become familiar with the plugin and most importantly, actually setup the three core components of a membership site: member grouping, content protection, and member registration.
By following the above WishList Member tutorial you can see how you could realistically have a WordPress membership site setup today very easily. If you are ready to start your membership site today then head over to WishList Member and get the plugin now.
The plugin is very well supported and even includes a setup wizard to help you get started. There are many video tutorials available to help you walk through the many options and settings of the plugin. The written documentation is vast but is also well segmented to help you find your way around.
When it comes to seeking support on an individual basis, there is a support desk which is manned during office hours. The price of plugin includes one full year or support and upgrades.
When it comes to purchasing WishList Member, there are two pricing plans:
- Single Site License: $97
- Multi-Site License: $297
The main differences are of course the number of sites you can use the plugin on, but the multi-site license includes some other features such as membership themes and audio guides. There is also a 30 day money back refund available should you not be happy with your purchase.
WishList Member Review Conclusion
Hopefully this review and quick start tutorial will have told you enough in order to decide whether this plugin is for you or not. It’s certainly one of the most feature rich plugins of its type on the market. In fact we barely had time to scratch the surface of the features of WishList Member in this review.
However, despite all the options and settings, it is very easy to get started with. This means you can get your membership site up and running very quickly then take your time getting to grips with the more advanced features. The admin interface is easy to use and follows the standard WordPress admin UI for seamless integration.
One gripe with this plugin is that it obfuscates or encrypts its code. This means it’s not possible to modify the plugin in order to make any adjustments to help it better meet your needs. While this plugin is very configurable via the dashboard, if you demand more flexibility from your tools, this might not be the best option for you. However, saying that, the WishList Member Extensions team offer a custom extension service for the plugin.
Overall, WishList Member is a plugin I would happily recommend to others and use on my own sites. It’s very easy to get started with and has enough depth to meet any needs I could envision when setting up a membership site.
Have you used WishList Member? What has your experience been like?