A simple WordPress membership plugin lets you publish exclusive content, sell membership subscriptions, and accept payments from members. While you can certainly use a full-blown membership plugin to set up your membership site, it might be overkill for your needs.
In this article, we’ll walk you through a step-by-step tutorial explaining how you can add simple WordPress membership to your site and hide your WordPress members area and content from regular visitors. We'll explain how you can do this using the Password Protected Categories plugin.
Let’s put everything into context before we begin.
What is a membership plugin and what is it used for?
There are many reasons why you might consider creating a membership website. You might want to offer a training program, provide access to a premium forum, or share exclusive content with members.
Creating a private WordPress members area on your site used to be a daunting task. Typically, it involved creating and maintaining separate user accounts for each member. As you can probably imagine, managing this sort of setup can be difficult considering you also have to accept registrations, enforce membership levels, and regularly publish fresh content.
A membership plugin lets you restrict access to your site’s content and make it accessible only to paying members, hiding it from public view. By restricting access to exclusive membership content, you can charge members a recurring (or one-time) membership fee.
This is how a WordPress membership plugin is typically used:
- Restricting access to content. Membership plugins give you control over which parts of your site are visible to the public and which parts only members have access to, i.e. the WordPress members area. You’re able to restrict access to posts and pages, categories, or your entire WordPress site.
- Creating membership levels. A membership plugin allows you to offer a free membership package along with paid plans. These are called membership levels.
- Facilitating registrations. Membership plugins let you monetize your membership site by accepting recurring (or one-time) fees from your site’s members. Most popular WordPress membership plugins let you accept member registrations and support PayPal, PayPal Payments Pro, and Stripe payment gateways.
The good news is that simple WordPress membership plugins exist that can help you do all of these things easily.
Why you might want a membership plugin for your website
There are many scenarios where you might be better off with a simple WordPress membership plugin rather than a full-blown solution that offers features you don’t intend on using. Most membership plugins offer features that you probably don't need, like:
- Creating assignments or quizzes.
- Drip feeding content to students and members.
- Social media and CRM integration.
- Certificates and badges.
These features can make the back-end unnecessarily complicated to use – especially for users who aren't particularly tech savvy. If you're looking for a simple WordPress membership site, it's probably better to go with a lightweight plugin.
The first step, of course, is to take a step back and evaluate your needs. Let’s take a look at some use case scenarios:
Scenario #1: You publish blog posts and articles on your website that you’d like to make available to subscribers only
With a simple WordPress membership plugin, you can simply create blog posts as you would on a regular website and add them to your members area. This makes it easy and intuitive to share content with members.
This also makes it easy for members to access the content. Instead of navigating a complex dashboard, they can simply login to your members area using a password and gain access to the content. The best simple membership plugin even lets you create user specific content!
To make things even simpler, you could use the Posts Table Pro plugin to list content in a neat table layout:
Scenario #2: You’ve built a community around a specific topic and would like to charge for access to discussion forums
Some membership site owners charge for access to an exclusive community that’s interested in similar topics. If your main membership offering is exclusive access to, say, a discussion forum, then you probably don’t need most of the features that traditional WordPress membership plugins offer such as assignments and quizzes or membership tiers.
By using a simple WordPress membership plugin along with a forum plugin for WordPress, you can set up a members area on your site. You can also pair this up with a registration form plugin that lets you accept membership fees.
Scenario #3: You’re a consultant or online course instructor and need an easy way to sell services or products
If you’re an online course instructor or consultant, you might need to offer different sorts of membership products. For example, you might need to make course content or training programs available to paying members in exchange for a recurring monthly fee.
A lightweight membership plugin makes it easy to set everything up and gives you the option to integrate with any e-commerce plugin. For example, if you sell digital products, you might consider using Easy Digital Downloads. But if you’re looking to sell physical goods through your membership site (like a planner), you might use WooCommerce or a WooCommerce add-on instead to simplify checkout.
Related plugin: Check out our WooCommerce Protected Categories plugin to sell WooCommerce products to members.
If you’re looking for any of these implementations or something similar, you might be better off using a simple WordPress membership plugin (like Password Protected Categories) to restrict user access to content. Let's quickly take a look at the key features on offer with the simple membership plugin before we jump into the step-by-step tutorial.
Introducing Password Protected Categories
The Password Protected Categories plugin provides two easy ways to add simple membership areas to WordPress:
- Simple password protection - Assign a password (or passwords) to categories on your WordPress site. This is the easiest way to set up a private WordPress members area. You can use this sort of implementation to restrict access to content and keep entire categories hidden from your public website.
- User and role protection - If your members have accounts on your WordPress site, then you can create members-only pages that only they can access. This is super-flexible and you can create a hidden area that is visible to all your members, or show different content to different members.
There are a number of benefits of using Password Protected Categories as a simple WordPress membership plugin. For starters, it’s easier to set up than most traditional membership plugin. All you have to do is install the plugin – no configuration necessary!
Password protected categories don't require individual user accounts since it uses password protection instead. This sort of simple implementation requires a lot less management overhead and makes it easy to accept new members. Plus, you won’t have to worry about your site slowing down.
On the other hand, if your members have accounts then it's easier to enable the user or role protection. That way, they just need to log into their account and will immediately see the hidden members-only content.
The plugin lets you put all of your membership content behind a single category or multiple categories depending on how you’d like to set things up. This is the simplest way to create a membership site as it is easy to set up, maintain, and scale.
Now that we have a better idea of what Password Protected Categories brings to the table, let’s take a look at how you can use it to add simple membership to your site.
How to set up Password Protected Categories as a simple WordPress membership plugin
Password Protected Categories lets you create a secure, private WordPress members area. Here’s what you need to do to create a simple WordPress membership site using Password Protected Categories.
Step 1: Install Password Protected Categories on your WordPress website
Get the Password Protected Categories plugin and install it to your WordPress website. You’ll find the license key in the email you receive along with the plugin’s zipped file. After the plugin is installed, click the Activate button.
Next, you’ll need to activate the plugin’s license key. To do this, navigate to Settings → Protected Categories from the admin panel and enter your license key.
Click the Save Changes button at the bottom of the page to proceed.
You can also configure the plugin’s settings from this page. It lets you change the title, password label, form message, button, and placeholder text for your front-end membership login form – more on this later.
Check out the plugin’s documentation for more information about the available options.
Step 2: Create the protected category (or categories)
There are two different ways you can create protected categories in WordPress:
Method 1: By following this method, you can include one protected category which contains the content you’d like to keep private for all members. The protected category can have as many sub-categories as you’d like. Members can navigate through the sub-categories without having to re-enter the password.
Method 2: The other way to go about it is to create separate categories and assign each one a unique password, or make it available to different users. This is an ideal solution if you’re looking to offer multiple membership tiers. As we mentioned before, this is much simpler than using a traditional WordPress membership plugin because each tier is separate. In other words, you don’t have to worry about dealing with membership hierarchies.
Create protected categories
Next, we’ll explain how you can create categories and sub-categories for your site’s members. You can follow the steps outlined below to either implement a Method 1 style membership site or go with a Method 2 style membership site instead.
From the WordPress admin panel, navigate to Posts → Categories to create a parent category. It’s worth mentioning that Password Protected Categories works with custom post types, as well. If you’re using a custom post type, head over to the relevant Categories screen for the custom post type you’d like to include in your WordPress members area.
Once you’ve reached the Categories screen, enter a category name and slug.
For example, if you’re creating a private area for your site’s members and would also like to have a public-facing site, you can call your category Members Area.
Once you’ve done that, scroll down to the Visibility section and click on the protected option. Choose the type of protection you require and click the Add New Category button to proceed.
Tip: If you're creating a password protected members area then you can assign multiple passwords to a single category. This lets you give out different passwords to different members for accessing the same members area, without needing an individual account for each person. The benefit of this is that your WordPress members area will become more secure than having shared passwords Additionally, you can revoke a specific member’s access without affecting other members.
Create protected sub-categories
After you’ve created the main category (also called the parent category), you can choose to create as many sub-categories as you need to organize the content you want to share with your site’s members. The process is exactly the same except that you will need to set the Parent Category to Members Area.
For example, if you’re looking to share content about cooking, you might have sub-categories on freezer meal planning, meals for kids, meals for vegetarians, and pro cooking skills.
You don’t have to change the visibility settings for sub-categories as they’ll already be protected. In other words, they’ll only be visible to members who have access to the parent category.
Step 3: Create a member login page
Your site’s members will need a way to login and gain access to the member’s area. The easy way to do this is by creating a centralized login page. The method for this is different depending on whether you've password protected your simple membership area or restricted it based on logged in users or roles.
Password protection member login
If you're using password protected categories then here’s what you need to do to create a member login page:
First, navigate to Settings → Protected Categories and check to make sure that the box next to the Show Categories option is unchecked.
Next, head over to Pages → Add New to create a new login page. You can call it something like Member Login. Enter the shortcode [
Hit the Publish button to proceed.
Preview this page on the website’s front-end to make sure you can see the centralized login page. It should look something like this depending on the WordPress theme you're using:
When a member enters the password you’ve provided them, they’ll only see the content that is included in the membership plan they’ve registered for.
User and role protected members area
Alternatively, if you've set up your member-only categories to unlock for logged in users or roles, then they need to log into their user account on your WordPress site. This means that you can use any type of WordPress login form, such as:
- Send logged out members to the default WordPress login page at /wp-login.php. I don't recommend this because it's not professional for members to see any page that is styled like the WordPress admin.
- If your WordPress theme comes with a front end login form then you can use that as the member login page.
- For the most professional result, use the Profile Builder plugin to create a front end login form, plus registration form if required.
- If you'd prefer a free login plugin, then I recommend Theme My Login.
Either way, create a login page and link to it from somewhere prominent such as the navigation menu or header. Label the link something like "Member Login".
Step 4: Add content to your members area
Now that you’ve added simple WordPress membership to your site, all that’s left to do is create content. The key benefit of using Password Protected Categories is that it makes it easy to manage content in the back-end. It’s as simple as assigning the correct category to each new piece of content you create.
Following our example, let’s say you publish content for members who’ve signed up for advanced cooking skills content. All you’d have to do is assign the correct sub-category to the blog post once you’ve created it. Once you publish the article, members who’ve signed up for the advanced cooking skills plan will have access to it.
Similarly, if you have a custom post type for your meals for vegetarians category to share recipes, all you have to do is make sure each vegetarian recipe is assigned the correct category.
Pro tip: You can create members-only pages with the Password Protected Categories plugin, as well as posts and custom post types. Check out the knowledge base for detailed instructions on how to set this up!
Bonus: Create a member registration form
Password Protected Categories is a lightweight plugin that works seamlessly with other WordPress plugins. You can easily bolt on a member registration form so that people can sign up. As with the login form, the exact method depends on what type of protection you've added to the simple WordPress membership area.
Registering for a password protected membership area
You can use any WordPress contact form plugin to create a simple WordPress membership registration form to your site. If you want to charge for memberships, you can even link it with payment gateways like Stripe, PayPal, or PayPal Payments Pro.
To automate things further, you can use the form’s ‘success’ message or an email auto responder (with Mailchimp) to share the members area password and URL with new members. This way, members can log in straight away without having to manually request login details.
You might also want to moderate new members first or check to make sure they’ve paid for their membership. To do this, you can manually send them the password after receiving their filled out registration forms and payment.
Registering for a user or role protected membership area
Alternatively, if you're unlocking the simple members area for logged in users with an account, then you can use any WordPress registration plugin - or even the basic one that comes with WordPress itself.
Bonus: Offer trial memberships
With password protected categories, you can also set a password expiration date. This is useful if you want to offer trial memberships. For example, you could give a prospective member access to your members area for a period of 14 days.
To do this, navigate to Settings → Protected Categories and set the Password Expiration field to 14 days.
If you've set up user or role protection instead of password protected categories, then the free Expire Users plugin offers an easy way to revoke access after a certain period.
Set up your WordPress membership site today
Password Protected Categories is a simple yet powerful WordPress membership plugin that lets you put any category on your site behind a password. By following the step-by-step guide given in this article, you’ll be well on your way to adding simple WordPress membership to your site and making your members area and content hidden from non-members.
The best part is that your membership site will be incredibly easy to maintain. You can add new content to it whenever you’d like and drip feed it to members. In addition to this, you can take things to the next level by using Password Protected Categories with additional WordPress plugins (for example, for accepting member registrations or membership fees).
What are some of the features you look for in a simple membership site plugin? Let us know by commenting below.