One of our readers – Beeba – asked a question regarding this topic: “How can I sell files online and protect the download link?” Beeba was afraid that people who bought his digital product will just share the download link and others could download the product without paying. Among many answers, there was one proposing the use of memberships to sell products. The basic idea is to put the download link in the members area which can only be accessed by paid members.
The membership itself is also something that you can sell. There are people who create new products on a regular basis and instead of selling each product individually, they put everything inside a members area then give ongoing timely access to members who pay regularly. Something like magazine subscriptions.
But it’s not always about money. Membership-only sites can also be utilized as online education centers where registered students can access their learning material; exclusive clubs where different level memberships will allow different access; or maybe a place to gather ideas for a project which restricted to team members of the project only.
This idea of a membership-only site raised more questions in my mind. How difficult it is to build your own membership-only site? Is it even possible for common people like us? What about the security issue? To answer those questions and more, let’s explore the possibilities of creating membership only websites..
Building a Membership-Only Site In WordPress
The first things that came to my mind about building a membership-only site is a self-hosted WordPress and a membership plugin. Actually, any WordPress blog is already some kind of members-only site. But a plugin specifically built to handle membership will surely enhance the functions.
So I go to one of my experimental WordPress blogs and do a quick search for a good membership plugin.
I launched the plugin page and click the “Add New” button. You can also use the “Add New” link from the plugin sidebar.
To save you the searching time, I’ll just tell you what I chose: a membership plugin called s2Member. Enter the name into the search field:
And you will go directly to the plugin.
Click the “Install” link at the right of the box.
Click the “Install Now” button in the lightbox confirmation window.
Please note that s2Member plugin is tested to work with WordPress version 2.9.2 and above. Use it under lower version of WordPress at your own risk. And it also requires PHP version 5.2 or higher.
After the installation, click the “Activate Plugin” link at the lower part of the notification.
Due to the complexity of the membership site management, the first greeting that you will get after activating the plugin is an advice to read the Quick Start Guide.
And I personally think that you should at least take a peek at the extensive guide.
Some basic settings
Up to this point, your membership-only site is already up and running, but there are several adjustment that you need to make. The plugins has tons of settings that you can customize to shape your site to near perfection. You can access the settings from s2Member sidebar.
But before you modify anything, you would want to create a WordPress page that would serve as “Membership Option Page”. This is the page that your future member will see whenever they try to access materials which are restricted as “Members only“: the product that you are trying to sell.
To create a page, simply click the “Add Page” button from the “Pages” sub-menu of the sidebar.
After the page is set, go to the plugin’s General Options.
Open the “Membership Options Page” and choose the page that you’ve just created.
Customize the PayPal Options by following the instructions one by one, then you can continue with generating PayPal buttons.
The generated PayPal button should be placed in the page that you use as “Membership Option Page“.
To restrict the content based on membership level, go back to the “General Options” and adjust the settings in several of the “Restrictions” options.
With this basic settings, your membership-only site is ready to take new members, accept payment and provide access to restricted content.
We will cover more advanced settings of the membership site in the next discussion. Meanwhile, you can play along with the basic settings, then share your thoughts and opinions using the comment below.