The Top WordPress Membership Plugins in 2016
Last year I looked at a ton of different membership plugins to pick the best one of 2015. Thirty plugins was a lot to review. The good news—many of them didn't change all that much, so I didn't need to write 30 more posts.
Instead, I thought I would cut to the final post of the 2016 series and just tell you the top three, in my opinion.
Of course, all of this is my opinion. But I should highlight that my opinion comes from not only testing these plugins but putting them into actual sites and working with companies that have used them for their own sites.
The best three—based on what you need for your site – are these:
What I should mention (other than there's no order to that list) is that for WooCommerce Memberships, you likely also want to get WooCommerce Subscriptions by Prospress.
Now let's get to the evaluation criteria this year…
The Evaluation Criteria
Like last year, I created a list of criteria first—without looking at all the plugins—and narrowed it down to the most essential. That's the group I used to compare all of the different plugins. And while no membership plugin did everything perfectly, these three were so ridiculously close that they all offer fantastic opportunities to whoever will use them.
Multiple Concurrent Memberships
A lot of people use membership plugins to protect their sites that are offering online courses. They simply put their course lesson content on pages and protect them. But that means a user has to be able to subscribe to more than one membership plan – if they're taking multiple courses at once.
So the feature I was evaluating here was a clear way for a member to be active in more than one membership and not have it be confusing during the subscription / purchase time. A bonus was if the membership plugin offered a “dashboard” or “member” home where they could see what they had access to and it wasn't jumbled up because they were active in more than one membership.
Umbrella / Group Memberships
Whether it's an association membership or a corporate requirement, the need exists for a single person to purchase a bulk quantity of membership accounts so that everyone in their group can be active with a membership. But the trick here is that when the parent account closes, all the children accounts also get terminated. So this can't just be a simple discount code shared with your members. Thankfully, membership plugin developers are bringing this feature to customers more and more.
Prorated Upgrades & Downgrades
Whether you want to upgrade or downgrade your membership plan, you don't want to be told that you have to cancel your account and start again with a new plan (which is what used to happen a few years ago). You also don't want to be told that your upgrade won't be in place until the beginning of the next month.
So this feature is all about allowing someone to immediately upgrade or downgrade and have the fees prorated and managed automatically.
Two to three years ago, this was a hard feature to find. Today it's everywhere and membership site owners are grateful. This feature continues to be a critical component of a successful membership site—where premium content is released over time rather than right away.
Past Content Restrictions
New to the list of features is one that I heard from several clients in the last year, and then suddenly saw appear from one vendor. It's fantastic because it's a realistic approach to memberships where there's a tremendous amount of historical content available. Companies create two levels of membership—one that looks forward and the other that allows a user to browse historical material while also giving them access to all the newly created content.
Integration with WooCommerce
More and more you see customers wanting to add a membership component to their store. So while this may or may not be a requirement you have, it is now part of my evaluation criteria. Two of the three have complete integration, but that doesn't mean the other doesn't. They also support protecting a user from buying products that they don't have the rights to.
Discount Codes & Coupons
Every membership site will have a need to give someone a discount. So this is a pretty basic feature that you'd be surprised isn't available by every membership plugin out there. Thankfully, all three of these plugins offer the feature.
Cart Discounts for Members
One of the features I've seen leveraged effectively in the last few years is a specific discount in stores for members only. I've written about it before—it's a powerful feature. Well now it's in my criteria and two of the three plugins offer it.
Every site wants to manage their on-boarding, their reminders, and how they send out other critical emails. Thankfully, all of these three are very effective in giving their users the ability to change the copy and make sure these emails get sent. I was specifically looking for those initial emails as well as reminders when a membership is getting ready to expire.
Ability to Import Members
Today people are making a move from one membership solution to another. So the ability to import members and data into a new plugin is critical. Again, the good news for you is that all three of the listed plugins offer this feature.
Support for SEO / First Click Free
When working on an enterprise membership site this past year, the question of Google's “First Click Free” program came up again. How do you implement it? What must you do? How do you do it? What do you track? Thankfully, while the material on it is limited, at least one of the plugins has made it a feature so that you don't have to worry about it at all.
Integration with BBPress
For as much as site owners don't always love managing forum software, most of them still feel compelled to create a forum inside their membership site. So the requirement is pretty straightforward – to support the integration between the membership plugin and the most common forum software out there for WordPress: BBPress.
Stripe & PayPal support
Lastly, instead of looking at every possible payment gateway out there, I looked across tons of membership solutions to see which supported PayPal and Stripe—and which did it for free (included with their plugin). Thankfully, all three of these guys do.
Here's a comparison chart to see how they stack up.
Feature Comparison & Pricing
|MemberPress||Restrict Content Pro||WooCommerce Memberships|
|Multiple Concurrent Memberships||Yes||No||Yes|
|Umbrella / Group Memberships||No||Yes||No|
|Prorated Upgrades & Downgrades||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Past Content Restrictions||No||Yes||No|
|Integration w/ WooCommerce||Partial||Complete||Complete|
|Discount Codes / Coupons||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Cart Discounts for Members||No||Yes||Yes|
|First Click Free |
(Paywall after x views)
|Stripe & Paypal||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Price||$99||$199||$149 + $199|
Some additional notes
I think one of the most important dynamics to note here is that Restrict Content Pro jumped from the middle of the pack to the top of the charts – in a single year. This suggests that there's still lots of room for growth and execution for all the plugins in the space.
Additionally, If you pay close attention to release notes, you'll notice that these three plugin developers have been pushing out releases all year long. They're not sitting back resting on whatever position they got to last year. That's great news for end-users who keep seeing more and more value placed into these plugins.
Third, you'll note that the price ranges from $100-350. This should not surprise you and you should welcome it. Unlike many of the other plugins out there for $29-69, you know these companies will be around for another year (or 10). You also know they have enough staff to offer support and answer your questions. If this is the core cost of running your site, your budget should be more than enough to cover the cost of any of these.
Lastly, the winner here is whoever you choose. You know what you need. My job is simply to restrict the list of options down to the very best so you can see which of these features you really need (or don't need) and then make your call from there.