A paid content model is a less popular option, but one that can work quite well if you publish high quality content and think that people will be willing to pay for it. Rather than hiding all your content away behind a login like a membership site, a paywall blocks individual pieces of content, often allowing a little preview of what’s inside.
Payment for the content can be in the traditional monetary sense, or you can also setup a paywall that requires “payment” in the form of social sharing – more on that later.
What is a Paywall?
If you read online newspapers or visit big media sites, you’re sure to have come across a paywall before. The New York Times website is one example – you can access up to 10 articles a month for free, but after that they’ll be blocked with a large pop-up prompting you to subscribe.
Most paywalls are designed so that you can view a little of the content before the pop-up kicks in or the article is obscured in some other way. This can be a much more effective way to gain subscriptions than blocking content entirely, as users will want to finish an article that has already piqued their interest and they’ve already started reading.
Should You Use a Paywall on Your WordPress Site?
Paywalls aren’t suitable for every site. If you’re putting out content that a web visitor can find elsewhere, they’ll simply click off your site and go and get it from somewhere else.
However if you’re publishing high-quality, unique, and very useful content, people may be willing to pay for it.
Unless you run a big media site, it probably doesn’t make sense to paywall all your content. Instead, most blogs that use this system publish a combination of free content for casual visitors and premium content for their most loyal followers, or those who need more in-depth information.
Big name bloggers are also more likely to be successful with paywalled content as they’ve proven their authority and their ability to publish excellent content through years of producing free content. If nobody’s heard of you, they probably won’t be willing to pay to see what you have to say.
If you’re a smaller blogger or lesser-known brand, you could still have success with a paywall by using it more as a one-off for only your best and most useful content.
If your intention is to publish all or mostly locked content and ask visitors to pay a subscription fee to access it, you’re probably best implementing a membership plugin instead, which will offer additional functionality and be easier to manage than a paywall alone.
WordPress Paywall Plugins
I spent several hours testing out paywall plugins and found that decent simple paywall plugins are thin on the ground, with most of what’s available being buggy or several years out of date. I’ve included the best of the bunch in this roundup.
There are a couple of other promising-looking plugins that require signup to a payment processing service (Paywallz is one of them) that I wasn’t able to test for logistical reasons, but they may be worth investigating further if the plugins listed here aren’t sufficient for your purposes.
Finally, you could use a basic password protection plugin to lock your premium content and create a Paypal checkout page to request access. This is a quick and dirty solution but it’s not ideal as you’ll need to manually issue the password to users who’ve paid for it and so they won’t be able to access the content instantly.
1. Pay Per View
The Pay Per View plugin for WPMU DEV is a premium option but it’s one of the best plugins available to do the job of a paywall simply, and if you’re already a member it’s a no-brainer to use this option.
It can be used for posts, partial posts, video, audio, and files, you can request a one-time payment or recurring subscription, and it’s fully integrated with Paypal so there’s no need to sign up to any other payment gateways.
There’s a single configuration page for settings and as with all the WPMU DEV plugins it looks great and can be completely styled to your liking.
This plugin is available as one of the 100+ plugins that come with WPMU DEV membership, which also includes themes, backup, security, support, and more. Membership is $49 a month and you can try it out free for the first month.
2. InPlayer Paywall
This is a very basic plugin, produced by the team behind inplayer.com – a platform for selling digital assets. It’s simple to install and use but has a couple of drawbacks. For one, you have to create your content in the plugin editor and can’t simply protect existing posts. The plugin is also not fully automated and you’ll need to email inplayer to arrange how to receive your payouts, however the support team is very responsive.
You’ll need to setup an account on inplayer.com to manage your content sales and you can set pricing here as well as see statistics and customer information.
3. Leaky Paywall
Leaning towards the full membership functionality, Leaky Paywall is a free plugin with a number of premium “add-ons” including corporate subscriptions, MailChimp integration, automatic archiving, coupon generator, and much more. For basic paywall implementation, the free standalone plugin is fine.
The plugin is designed for the “metered” model of locking content, meaning users can view a certain number of articles in a set period of time before they are asked to subscribe. You can integrate Paypal or Stripe payment gateways and fully manage subscribers.
Leaky Paywall is a very flexible plugin with lots of different options and is great for adding subscription options to a site, however it’s a bit of a complex solution for implementing a basic paywall.
The LaterPay plugin is super simple to set up and allows you to set a global price for all posts or all posts in a particular category, set pricing on individual posts, or sell time-limited access bundles or subscriptions.
You’ll need a LaterPay merchant account to use the plugin and take payments (you can use it in test mode without an account to try it out) and they take a 15% cut of the revenue for the service.
Social Paywall Plugins
As mentioned previously, not all paywalled content needs a credit card to access it. Another option is to put your content behind a social paywall that allows users to “pay” with a tweet, a like, or a follow.
This can be a pretty successful strategy for growing your social media presence and you’ll probably get more people actually reading your content, as they’re more likely to post a quick tweet or like your Facebook page than get out their wallets, even if it’s only for a dollar.
There are various free and premium social locker plugins available for WordPress, but I’m just going to recommend one: OnePress Social Locker. This was the easiest to use and nicest looking of all the free plugins I tried out and the developer updates it regularly. There’s also a premium version if you need additional functionality.
How to use the OnePress Social Locker Plugin
OnePress Social Locker is a very popular content locker plugin, with over 20,000 active installs. It allows you to add a set of social buttons for Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ (with additional social networks supported in the premium version) part way through a page or post and won’t load the rest of the content until one of the social actions is taken.
There’s built-in analytics so you can see which pages are performing best and the content is still visible to search bots, so it’s SEO friendly.
As well as the option to add buttons for extra social networks, the premium version has additional themes, the ability to hide the locker for logged-in users, a countdown timer, and several other extra features. The premium plugin costs $25 for a regular license.
1. Find the plugin
Go to Plugins > Add New in your WordPress dashboard and search for “onepress social locker”.
2. Install and activate the plugin
You’ll be taken directly to the plugin information page which gives you more details about creating either a social locker or a sign-in locker (this will give you access to the user’s contact data via their social media account but should be used with care, i.e. you shouldn’t sign users up to your site or mailing list without permission). In this case we’re only interested in the social locker.
3. Setup the plugin
Access the global settings for the plugin from the menu. You need to change the Facebook App to yours if you’re using Facebook share or Facebook sign-in (the plugin instructions talk you through creating a Facebook app). If you want to use YouTube subscribe or Google sign-in buttons, you’ll need to create a client ID.
It’s also recommended to create a Twitter app and use you own API. Click the button at the bottom of the screen to save changes when you’re finished setting everything up. You can also explore the rest of the global settings here and see if there’s anything you want to change.
4. Create a new locker
Click + New Locker in the main menu and click the “Create Item” button under Social Locker.
5. Edit locker style and settings
You’ll be taken to a page that allows you to edit the style and options of the locker. You can leave the settings as they are, or edit as you wish (you must enter a title). Some of the things you can change are:
- Header and message for the locker
- Visual style (only 2 themes available in the free version)
- Overlay mode and position (full or transparency with blurring available in premium plugin, and a choice of top, middle, or scrolling position)
- Social sharing options such as page you want to share and tweet text, as well as choosing the social buttons you want on the locker.
6. Publish the locker
When you’re finished editing, hit the publish button and copy the shortcode directly underneath where it says Manual Locking.
7. Insert social locker shortcode into your post
You can then go and find the post you want to put behind the social lock and paste the shortcode tags around the content you want to lock. It’s usually best if you do this part way through the content, to give your readers a little taster of what they can expect.
8. View your locked post
As soon as you publish your post, the locker should be in place. Clicking the buttons will like the content on Facebook or pop-up a box with a pre-written tweet.
If you want to start charging for your best content, there are a few different ways to go about it, and using a paywall plugin is one of them. There are a few free plugins available to do this, but if you’re after a really slick looking solution with lots of options, the Pay Per View plugin by WPMU DEV is by far the best option.
For social paywalls, Onepress Social Locker is easy to set up and works well.
If you’ve had success with any other paywall plugins or methods, please share them with other readers in the comments.