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How to build a Membership website using WooCommerce

Jon Jo Krupski
Jon Jo Krupski

Published: February 18, 2023

Last updated: February 20, 2023

Table of Contents

How to build a membership website for courses using WordPress and WooCommerce

Membership websites with recurring payments are popular ways to sell online courses.

The phrase “membership site” can refer to a broad range of interpretations. Examples of this might include:

  • An online platform allowing people to interact with each other
  • A website which provides educational content
  • A monthly subscription service delivering a package of items to members
  • A system granting particular customers special privileges

It can be difficult to decide which cms is the right one to use when it comes to designing a membership website. What choices are available? Also, what resources are available to use with the chosen setup?

Once you have established the goals of your WordPress membership site, you should figure out how you will communicate with your members. You should also consider what the interactions between them will be like as a user of your website.

What types of sites do not qualify as being a “membership” site?

Before diving into “what a membership website should resemble,” let’s take a brief moment to explain a few definitions: What is a membership site? What doesn’t count as a membership site?

Membership sites are distinguished by the fact that they offer particular benefits, advantages, or materials to certain visitors, not all. This is regardless of the manner in which access is provided, whether or not it is available for purchase, or how/if it is sold.

Using recurring billing to market an item is referred to as a subscription website. This is not always a membership site, although they may include a subscription component. Subscription sites, such as subscription boxes (e.g. snack boxes), magazines or deodorants that get delivered every month from Amazon or other items that are shipped at regular intervals, often rely on recurring billing to process payments. WooCommerce Subscriptions is a great place to begin when constructing a recurring payment model for a site.

Recurring billing is a common tool used by membership sites to make money; however, it is not the central component of a membership site. Rather, the primary factor that differentiates a membership site is the differentiation between its users, customers, or visitors. Of course another factor is to ensure that your wordpress hosting is PCI compliant.

If you’re trying to differentiate pricing or content access, then you should consider setting up a membership website.

I’ll try to elaborate more on this further down.

Advantages of utilizing WordPress for a membership website

No matter what type of subscription website you plan to create, there are a couple of principles that are still applicable.

In order to have a successful website, it is essential to have a collection of people. Whether they are guests, buyers or members, you need a way to store and organize information about them such as what their access level should be, what billing to use and other info.

We can definitely put a big checkmark beside WordPress! By having a built-in system for users and user capabilities, it makes it MUCH easier to create a membership website. WordPress already provides a dedicated system to manage users, so that’s a major plus – it just needs a few plugins. Not to mention it’s far superior to any other CMS platform in terms of SEO. Read more here on how to boost your WordPress websites SEO.

What varieties of WordPress membership websites exist?

Before we delve into discussing the appropriateness of WooCommerce for your membership website, let’s first determine the “type” of platform you are constructing. Here are some great examples of websites using WooCommerce as a membership platform.

Directories of members or organizations

In the realm of membership sites, there exists a unique sector referred to as directory or association sites. Members must usually pay a fee to be included in the list or to view the list of other members, and these sites generally contain registries or catalogs of members that can be publicly viewed or accessed only by members.

A good representation of sites of this type is the Summer Social, UK, which requires members to have a certification and join in events or socialize with each other. They are included in the directory of the site, given access to exclusive content, and other limited resources.

Summer Social - private festival membership website.
Summer Social (UK) website uses WooCommerce, VPS (virtual private server) Hosting and WooCommerce Memberships with M.E Calendar.

Online gathering places

Community sites are popular online gathering places where individuals can come together to share ideas, resources, and experiences.

Summer Social is a perfect example of a members only gathering for b2b guests in the hydroponics industry in the UK. A visitor has to be invited to gain access to the grounds. It is a “niche business” and event, so their website sends a private link sent to each and every guest. It uses a combination of WordPress, WooCommerce and M.E Calendar.

Websites for Learning

WordPress membership sites that specialize in online learning constitute one of the most well-known varieties. Generally, these websites provide access to courses, tutorials, video tutorials, mentoring, or webinars. They are usually coupled with a membership plugin and a course management plugin (such as WooCommerce Memberships, Tutor LMS, or Sensei). This combination then grants members access to the courses.

Julia Fensom, the baby consultant is another great example of a membership website that provides members with tutorials showing how to get a baby to sleep consistently using organic methods.

This super woman really is a super mom and gives you the recipe!

Baby Consultant - educational support membership website requiring subscriptions
Julia Fensom Baby Consultant solely uses WooCommerce Hosting by Elite and Elementor Pro

Another perfect example is Breathe With Steve, who specialises in courses to help deal with high stress day to day life and to refocus that bad energy into fuel to power through your day. This used a combination of WooCommerce Hosting and Tutor LMS which we HIGHLY recommend for those wishing to give that “University” style teaching experience.

breathe work membership, subscription course website using WooCommerce Hosting by ELite and Tutor LMS Plugin
Breathe coaching membership and subscription based course website using WooCommerce Hosting by Elite and Tutor LMS Plugin with the ability to book events synced to Google Calendar and much more.

Sites that provide information or stories

Sites that host news or other materials often provide their members with special or unique material. These websites often stem from a big blog or social media group and offer their members access to posts or content that is not accessible to the common followers or readers.

Bemebob is a website that provides guidance on travelling around the world, offering books and select advice for non-members in the blog.

bemebob adventurer website selling books behind a paywall using WordPress Hosting by Elite allows you to read his blog for free, telling stories of his remarkable adventures and keeping his book behind a paywall for those wanting to purchase.

A good example of a content membership site built solely with The Elite Web Co’s purpose built WooCommerce Hosting is Genesis-Gym in Marlow, where members get exclusive access to class syllabus’s and tuition videos for various martial arts behind a paywall.

Genesis Gym Members area example shown above.

Membership access to products

Many eCommerce websites provide either a special purchasing privilege or discounts to those who sign up for their membership.

Jaz Lopez is a perfect example. Jasmine’s Muay Thai website allows you to purchase certain books that cannot be bought by the general public in the store. Members of of her website can get reductions on goods and event seminar tickets held by her.

Another great example is Vibes Sound System in Bangkok whereby event tickets are sold, items are hired and event organisers/members have the ability to upload their own events. Members can even sell tickets via the Vibes Sound website and earn money for a commission. The possibilities with WordPress truly are endless.

Muay Thai coaching and membership area for mindset coaching.
Jaz’s website shown above uses WooCommerce Hosting by Elite to sell her e-book and Mindset courses.

Joining as a company

Organizations can become members by signing up for corporate memberships. This allows for multiple people within the company to access the benefits of membership.

We have discussed B2C vendors extensively. What about those who offer their services to other businesses? Such websites require the capability to enable a buyer to take control of a collective of members of their company. This feature is commonly used for corporate training websites or wholesalers, so that multiple customers from one “organization” or team can be connected together.

GreenPlanet Wholesale is a distinct membership site using WordPress for retailers requiring equipment at a wholesale rate: they offer access to their product space to businesses within respective sectors upholding a particular criteria. Companies can purchase credits and then have those credits converted to physical stock items, once they have been approved manually.

wholesale website in Canada - approved retailers only
GreenPlanet are a Canadian based wholesale website which allow approved retailers to purchase their products only. This site is somewhat complex and requires a lot more attention than a DIY website.

What are the benefits of using WooCommerce for a WordPress membership site?

WooCommerce is a useful platform to construct membership sites. It allows you to make sales of WooCommerce products; offer one-time or recurring billing; limit access to blog content, custom materials, goods, or discounts; and vend access to individuals or groups of members.

Because WooCommerce lacks a profile-management system, it may not be the best fit for associations or directory sites. Although users can update their checkout information, it is not designed to create registration forms with custom fields. This is possible by using Gravity Forms and User Registration, but you may still want to consult a WooCommerce expert to help create the site. The Elite Web Co.’s very own WordPress Lab is a membership website which allows subscription access to their wordpress developers. This allows you to pay a monthly retainer fee and get expert WordPress development and consultancy at a lesser rate.

Can I use a WooCommerce membership website as a community website?

WooCommerce is an excellent choice for both community and learning sites, with built-in integrations such as WooCommerce Memberships and bbPress being compatible with a plethora of other plugins. Moreover, WooCommerce is also suitable for news or content sites. All the restrictions for courses, posts, pages, products, and other content can be managed from the same place.

Those looking to offer product access or corporate purchasing as memberships will find WordPress WooCommerce Hosting an excellent choice. It offers $6000 dollars a years worth of subscriptions to Premium WordPress Plugins. Integrating membership components into an existing store is a breeze when using WooCommerce. It allows you to create a unified environment for both product and membership sales.

WooCommerce offers extensive team management options through the Teams for Memberships add-on which is also included in Elite’s WordPress E-commerce hosting found here. This feature is not limited to individual memberships, and allows websites to sell team-based memberships with team account management.

Requirements to construct a WooCommerce subscription site.

This query has a simple reply: It all depends. There are various ways to set up membership sites, and the plan you choose will depend on numerous factors. Thus, it is important to decide on the kind of membership you want to offer:

  1. What advantages come with being a member?
  2. How does your organization interact with the members? Do you offer material, classes, or have other contact?
  3. What kind of relationship do members have with each other? Are there any social aspects to the membership?
  4. How do you grant someone access to the membership? Do they register or pay for it?
  5. And if they have to pay, what should billing be like i.e manual or automatic renewals.

Plugins and WooCommerce Extensions Required to build a membership website:

For starters you will need a installation – not a website! If you’re not sure on the difference, read our blog explaining VS here.

Below are the best plugins to use when constructing a WordPress membership site:

WooCommerce (free): This is the foundation of your store when you are selling access to a membership. It will manage your product listings, including the memberships and/or subscriptions you offer, as well as your checkout process.

WooCommerce Memberships ($199): Use this when you want to limit access to certain parts of your site such as blogs, pages, products, or custom content. You can also sell access via a product in the store and grant membership access upon registration. Plus, it provides discounts and free shipping.

WooCommerce Subscriptions ($199): This is necessary if you want to offer recurring billing. You will also need a subscriptions-compatible payment gateway ($0 to $199).

Teams for WooCommerce Memberships ($129): This adds corporate, family, and team capabilities for your memberships. It allows you to sell to a group of members instead of an individual. It allows the owner to manage billing and access for the team.

MailChimp Sync for WooCommerce Memberships ($49): This plugin synchronizes the members list with MailChimp, so you can organize emails according to membership data.

Also available are free add-ons for WooCommerce Memberships to improve Sensei compatibility, add a shortcode for a members directory, and more.

You will also need a good, fast WordPress theme to use with your membership website. You can read here on the best WooCommerce themes in this blog by one of our leading WordPress Developers.

How can I afford all of the above if my budget is too low?

The above can sound expensive, so let me reiterate that the Purpose built Woocommerce hosting includes all of the above. As official WooCommerce approved partners, the plugins are completely free and currently on sale for $24.99

WooCommerce and WooCommerce Memberships are built on WordPress and can interact with many other plugins.

How much will a Membership Website on WordPress cost?

The yearly expenditure for constructing a Membership Site is typically around $398(USD).

The price to create a membership site varies from $199 to $626 annually based on the add-ons and payment approach chosen. You can incur more costs if you require more extensions or courseware management plugins. From my experience of working with many membership sites, the norm is $288 in total using discounted rates offered by WooCommerce Hosting. If you don’t opt for this package then extra charges apply for hosting services on top of each month, although most sites are able to meet their requirements with the Memberships, Subscriptions, or both plugins plus the hosting package of their choice which would cost substantially more.

You can read our unbiased blog comparing the best WooCommerce hosting options here.

I hope you enjoyed the read and if we’ve missed anything, pop a comment below. If you’re still unsure on whether WooCommerce memberships is for you then read our blog explaining 10 reasons why you need a WooCommerce website here.

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Jon Jo Krupski
Jon Jo Krupski
Jon aka JJ joined the Elite team in 2015 and helped build our product line until 2019. With a keen understanding of all aspects of marketing, from SEO to email, Jon now writes for the Elite blog. Previously, he worked in advertising and journalism, writing for local newspapers in the UK before pursuing his career in digital marketing. Jon is a huge fan of the MCU and is a keen advocate of the future of the web world.

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