A friend of mine asked me if I could help him bring online a website where he could share some of his ideas. After some discussions, it became clear to me that a blog would be the best format. However he does not want to share his ideas openly on the public internet, but rather in a controlled manner with a few associates with the future possibility of opening up the site to a paying membership.

Since I’m familiar with WordPress, using a hosting service with his own URL was the quickest way to get up and going. I just needed a way to restrict access to the information, handle the payment process, and manage the user subscriptions. Thus began my search for WordPress plugins that control could several levels of user access and provide a way to manage user subscriptions including the payment process. What I found was an overwhelming array of WordPress plugins which handle some or all of the requirements. WordPress Membership plugins fit the requirements the best and many provides features we originally had not thought about.

There are a lot of WordPress Membership plugins out there. I found over a dozen. For my review, I compared the features of nine plugins. I never intended to look at so many, but after I started the comparison process, I kept finding additional Membership plugins with new features.

After reviewing the marketing material and in some cases the documentation and/or online product videos, I came to the conclusion that there is no one best WordPress Membership plugin. The one that will work best for me (or work best for you), is the one the handles the most requirements and perhaps provides a few additional features that may prove useful in the future. For my feature comparison analysis, I looked at:

CMS Members

Your Members

WP Members

Wp-Member

MemberWing

S2Member

Digital Access Pass (DAP)

WishList Member

MagicMembers

All the plugins provide basic membership functionality; multiple membership levels, hiding of content, and payment processing. If your needs are simple any of the plugins will work great. The differences come with the more advanced functionality and matching with eCommerce, autoresponder, affiliate, and web marketing services you may be using or considering on using.

WordPress Membership Plugin Feature Comparison (note: there is a feature comparison table at the end of this article).

Price

In general, the more a plugin costs, the more user friendly (i.e. easier installation and less programming involved) and more features the plugin provides. I suspect that the lower priced plugins (below $60) were originally based on similar or the same open source code. Most of the $97 and up plugins mention that they were designed from the ground up to better meet the requirements that were not being addressed a year or two ago. The good news about price is that there are so many players in the WP Membership plugin space that prices have way come down over the last several years.

Membership Functionality

All the plugins provide basic membership functionality. If you need no more than 4 membership levels, all the plugins will work. Several of the plugins provide a member management interface beyond the WordPress user interface for managing the member subscriptions. If you want to capture custom member information, a couple of the plugins allow you to add custom fields to the membership subscription forms. A few plugins provide subscription control length which expire subscriptions after a pre-specified amount of time. And one plugin, DAP allows members to suspend their subscription and continue at a later time.

eCommerce

The de facto payment interface for all the plugins is PayPal. They all handle PayPal subscriptions and PayPal buy now. Most handle membership payment automation with PayPal. With membership payment automation, when a new member registers, they are automatically given access once payment is complete. Likewise, if the member cancels the subscription, PayPal automatically notifies the WP plugin and the member status is change so they can no longer access the “premium” content. Payment automation is all automatic meaning you are not burdened with managing member subscriptions. DAP has an interesting feature where when a member cancels the subscription, they still have access to all content they had access to before the cancelation, but not new content.

The higher priced membership plugins have interfaces with several other merchant account services including 2CO, Clickbank, WorldPay, PayDotCom, and Google Checkout. See the feature comparison at the end of this article to determine the membership plugins that handle your favorite merchant account services.

Several of the plugins offer per post pay. This can be used to sell individual articles or groups of articles.

Autoresponder Interface

Autoresponders are used to handle membership list emailing. Many virtual hosting services put limits on email usage from their servers. This restriction forces many to use 3rd party autoresponder services like Aweber and MailChimp. Several of the membership plugins have premade interfaces while others require programming for interfacing with autoresponders so make sure you read the documentation. DAP has an interesting email manager where multiple email servers can be specified and emails are throttled to meet the requirements of the host provider. For example, if a host providers restricts emails to 100 per hour, that can be specified the email manager.

Affiliate Functionality

Affiliate functionality keeps track of affiliates, their commissions, and payments. A few plugins have their own stand alone affiliate functionality and MemberWing interfaces with iDevAffiliate.

Content Functionality

All the WordPress membership plugins restrict access to published content. Most also protect downloadable digital files. Gradual release is interesting functionality provided by several of the plugins. With gradual release, content can be pre-written and released on a schedule over time. For example, this could be used by a course provider that wants to release one lesson a week over a 3 month course.

Several of the plugins offer First Click Free or Sneak Peek functionality. This functionality allows a user to try before they buy and locks them out the next time they visit the content.

WordPress Membership Plugin Feature Comparison

Below is a table I created to help me compare and evaluate the features of nine WordPress Membership Plugins. There is no significance to the order of the plugins in the table. The information was gathered by going through each plugin’s marketing website. For further clarification on some issues, I would go through the online manual or watch a few videos. I did my best to capture comparable information, but I cannot guarantee that no mistakes were made or functionality of any plugin was missed. Use the comparison as a springboard for your own evaluation. It should help you narrow your search based on your specific requirements.

Click on link for the WordPress Membership Plugin Feature Comparison Table