One of the first choices you need to make when you’re starting a membership site is, which membership plugin do you use? There are lots of options out there, but after dealing with membership sites and clients for years I only every recommend three outside of the one I wrote.

Let’s talk about them in no particular order.

Restrict Content Pro

Restrict Content Pro is actually my favourite membership plugin to work with. I’ve known the founder of the plugin for years so maybe that’s part of it, but the code is easy to read and use. There have been a number of times when I’ve needed to accomplish something for a client and in communication with the developers had an answer and change to the core code for the next version done in under an hour so we can achieve the features we want.

On top of that, the customer support is awesome. I can’t think of a better company than Pippin’s for providing amazing customer support. You’re in good hands long term here.

Restrict Content Pro has just enough features built into the core plugin to get deal with any standards membership site. For some of the extra features you may want, there is a great selection of official add-ons and a number of 3rd party add-ons as well.

I’ve already mentioned this, but I’ll do it again. As a developer is very easy to dig in and create any custom functionality that my clients need as well.

WooCommerce and WooCommerce Memberships

WooCommerce and WooCommerce Memberships is probably the biggest player on the market. I get the most requests for this setup because that’s what clients feel they need already.

If you want to sell recurring memberships you’ll need to also purchase WooCommerce Subscriptions.

This plugin has some more complexity to it than RCP does but I don’t regularly get clients emailing me asking how the plugin works again because the documentation is decent.

The code under the hood is readable and has many options to customize it and WooCommerce.

Easy Restricted Content for WooCommerce

I wrote Easy Restricted Content for WooCommerce because at the time every single membership plugin for WooCommerce was terrible. They had 12 settings screens and 82 steps you needed to take to get anything setup.

It was a nightmare and my clients always had questions and updates needed and never understood how to use the plugin I had provided to them. This wasn’t good for my clients or for me.

I wrote Easy Restricted Content for WooCommerce to be easy. Purchase the plugin, turn it on and then go to the content you want to restrict and tell the plugin which product or subscription is required to have access to that content.

There are no other settings.

There is no prorating of accounts. It doesn’t figure out upgrades or anything like that. It just only shows content to users that have purchased the product specified.

Just like WooCommerce Memberships, if you want to sell recurring access you’ll need WooCommerce Subscriptions.

Paid Memberships Pro

Paid Memberships Pro is another good option for your membership needs. They have good support and a wealth of extensions available when you’re a paying member.

From the developer perspective, I find the code in Paid Memberships Pro a bit more frustrating than the code in Restrict Content Pro or WooCommerce Memberships. It’s not that it’s wrong, it’s just a step or two below my ideal quality.

Now this doesn’t mean that it’s going to break on you. Nor does it mean that they wrote bad code, I just always end up spending more time working around what Paid Memberships Pro does when I’m trying to extend it than I do with other options.

All the others???

So there are lots of membership plugins I haven’t even mentioned. I’ve worked with most of them and in short, they’re usually a pain. Some try to keep their code secure by doing fancy stuff to make it unreadable. That just makes my life harder as a developer since I have to email support to do anything with the plugin that’s not clicking settings in the admin area.

Others have terrible support that might get back to you 2 weeks after

So how do I decide on a membership plugin?

So, how do you decide exactly which option you should be using. The first place to start is to write down a list of your “must have” features. Then, you can probably trim a few of your must haves, because most people make that list way to long to start.

Then it’s time to look at which of the options solve most of those problems.

If you’re less technically savvy or want something without all the extra options, then look at my plugin Easy Restricted Content for WooCommerce.

If you have a bunch of access options required, then maybe WooCommerce Memberships is right for you.

If you feel like the options in WooCommerce are just too much, then look at a dedicated memberships solution like RCP or PMPPro. I lean towards RCP here, but if PMPPRo solves more problems out of the box for you then it’s the right choice.

If you’ve got any specific questions about your membership needs, let me know in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them.

Today we’re going to look at restricting downloads to members inside WooCommerce. I’m going to assume you’ve got some members and want to provide them with downloadable resources but you don’t want everyone to be able to download them.

We’re going to need three plugins to make this easy.

First, WooCommerce is installed. We’ll use WooCommerce to sell our products and subscriptions.

Second, Easy Restricted Content for WooCommerce. This is a plugin I wrote and is the simplest way to build a membership site on WooCommerce.

Third, you’ll need the WooCommerce Amazon S3 plugin. We’ll host our files on Amazon S3. This will secure them for us and get us out of the WordPress uploads folder which is hard to secure. Using S3 will also mean that we don’t have to worry about crushing our server if all our members download files at the same time. That means you’ll also need an S3 Account. Sign up for one now. They’re very inexpensive for hosting your files.

If you don’t have an S3 account, pause now and create one because I’m going to start assuming that you have our account created.

You should also have your product or subscription setup already in WooCommerce.

Setup WECR

Now, let’s start by adding a ‘members content’ page. Here is where we’ll host the links for our downloadable content for members.

We’ll need to restrict access to the page to people that have purchased our products or are valid subscribers. Click on the “restrict content” box on the right side of the page and select the products that you want members to purchase to see the content on this page.

If you want this page to show on the Account Page for your members, then leave the “remove content from My Account” checkbox empty. You might do this as a single spot that members can go to find the links to their custom content.

Now click the publish/save button on your page to make sure that your content is live where members can view it.

Setup S3 Plugin

Our next step is to setup the plugin that interfaces with S3. Open up your Amazon account in one tab of your browser and the S3 configuration settings in another.

You can find the settings under the WooCommerce Menu on your site.

We have four fields/options here. The first two are your access keys. They’re long numbers that Amazon generates for you so that you can securely access your S3 bucket without others being able to access it. We’ll go over how to get those in a second.

Third is the option to serve HTTPS or secure files. You should check this so that you only serve files over HTTPS.

Finally, you’ll need to set the URL valid period for the download links that are built by the S3 plugin. It’s set in minutes. I usually use set it for 1000 minutes which means that a URL is valid for just over half a day. If you’re having issues with people sharing the links generated for your content, change this to a lower limit so that the links don’t live as long.

Now, let’s get our two keys from our S3 account.

You can find a link to the documentation for setting up your S3 keys in the here.

Setting up the URLs for your site

Now that we’re setup with our S3 account, we’re ready to set up our custom download URLs. Go to the members page you created and create a link in the WordPress editor.

In the link field, add the shortcode that the WooCommerce S3 plugin uses.

You’ll need to get the link to the resource and you’ll need to know your bucket name.

You can get the link to your resource by going to your S3 account, navigating into your bucket and then clicking on the resource you want. On the right side you’ll see a popup. Here you need to click “copy path”. That will put the path to the file inside your bucket in your clipboard.

Now got to your shortcode. There are two parameters we need to add for it to work. First, we need to add our bucket name. Second we’ll need to link to the resource we just copied.

You can see that my bucket name is sfnmembersscreencasts. The resource path is becoming-master.pdf which links to a book that I provide to members on my site at

The shortcode we just setup will generate the URL we want for our download.

That’s it, we now have a download URL for members that is only accessible on a single page that is restricted to members.

If you have other questions about building membership sites, leave a comment to let me know what you’d like me to talk about.

My latest post at Practical eCommerce is up. This one is all about making your reviews awesome.

It is no secret that product reviews can help merchants increase sales. Reviews are proof that others found a product valuable, or not.

WooCommerce provides the structured data to display rating stars in search results. But product reviews, properly utilized, can do much more. They can greatly increase conversions. In this post, I’ll address four WooCommerce extensions that supercharge product reviews.

Read the rest at Practical eCommerce

After this tweet people asked me for more information on my thoughts.

Let’s start by looking at all the things that Photoshop, or any pixel design system doesn’t have to worry about.

  • the HTML markup of the site
  • the functionality that is present with the current tools on the site
  • readability of the actual font on the web in various browsers

That’s just a shortlist. Once you dig in to a site build there are so many more things to dive into. Even showing your developer some other site that did it doesn’t mean you can do it.

Maybe that site makes 40k a month and pays a full-time developer to build it all custom. They also don’t have to deal with the HTML markup of the tools that are in use on the site. They get to make it whatever they want.

So no, if you have a custom design your site may not look exactly like it. That’s why you hire a good developer that can build a theme for your WordPress Membership Site who will take into account all the little things that have to change.

They’ll make the decisions you need to have made so that the site is very close to the design. But don’t waste their time pixel peeping and measuring. If something is grossly out of whack, let your developer know.

Otherwise trust them. If you don’t trust them, you didn’t do your due diligence to find someone that you can trust and that’s on you.

Here is my latest post at PracticalEcommerce:

There is so much to manage with an ecommerce store. You need to maintain adequate stock. You have customer issues, server and hosting issues, and software bugs.

A store owner should focus on the big picture items, not managing every detail. In this post, I’ll address six WooCommerce plugins that can automate details of your store management.

Read the whole post

I wrote a new post for PracticalEcommerce on automating customer recognition:

Consumers who interact with ecommerce companies have many milestones. They spend their first $100. They purchase their 10th product. They spend the 1 millionth dollar with a store.

Consumers can also refer others. The first referral and the 10th and the 50th are all milestones. A customer who has earned $500 in referral fees has reached a milestone.

How do you recognize these milestones? What can you do to show appreciation?

Read the rest at Practical Ecommerce.

New post at Practical Ecommerce on abandoned cart emails, why you should do them and how to get them setup.

In “Optimizing Checkout Flow in WooCommerce,” my previous article, I offered tips on reducing abandoned carts by streamlining the checkout process. To be clear, however, you could spend years optimizing your checkout process and not eliminate abandoned carts.

There are options to bring shoppers back to your store once they’ve moved on to other things. One of the best ways is to send emails to shoppers about the products they’ve left in their carts.

Read the rest at Practical Ecommerce

Abandoned shopping carts are a hurdle for online merchants.

Abandonment rates range from 60 to 80 percent, depending on the study. Some of this is “window shopping” on the part of visitors. Some of it is due to the complexity of your checkout process.

Thus optimizing your checkout will likely increase sales. In this post, I’ll review methods to streamline and simplify a checkout process. I’ll cite examples from the WooCommerce platform. But the broader points apply to all merchants, on all platforms.

Read my latest post at Practical eCommerce

There is a lot to keep track of when you’re starting a membership site.

What is the right way to reach your potential members?

Is your pricing right?

Will your members stay around?

What other tools do you need that you don’t know about yet?

Today we’re going to look at three plugins that all membership sites need as soon as they get started. No skimping and saying you’ll get to it later. If you don’t plan the time now, you won’t get to it.

1. Drip

Drip is an email automation service. It’s not only email marketing like you see elsewhere, it’s automation.

It can do stuff like tag a customer that visited a page and then send them an email to advertise the product if they didn’t purchase within 2 days.

It can email prospects that abandoned their carts.

And so much more.

If you want to have the ability to knock your marketing out of the park, you need to get Drip on your membership site.

2. Optin Monster

Yes Drip comes with some forms you can use to get subscribers to your email list, but OptinMonster is so much more powerful.

With OptinMonster you can set different calls to action on different posts and feed them all to Drip. You can have a popup that shows on click in a single post and then if someone is leaving the page, show them a different call to action.

All of my clients use this to make managing their email calls to action easy.

3. Facebook Conversion Pixel

Maybe you’re not going to dive in to Facebook and it’s marketing potential today. Maybe it won’t be next week. But you’ll want to do it. That’s why you put the Facebook Conversion Pixel on your site right away.

By adding it the day you get started, you start getting data on the people visiting your site right away. Later when you start getting serious about your marketing you can use this data to build an effectively targeted campaign.

When you start a membership site make sure you use these three plugins and services to build the site you’ve dreamed of.

PS: If you need help getting your marketing right, we should talk.

photo by: fallentomato

In my last post I talked about the importance of building your marketing to speak to all levels of your prospective customers. You can’t only focus on the experts and those that know you well. You need to spend time nurturing those that are getting to know you.

This task of speaking to all your prospective members is easier once you’re already established. You can pick people you’ve met right out of your community and use their traits in your persona’s. If you’re developing a new membership site, it’s a much harder endeavor.

You don’t have members that you can draw on for inspiration. Instead you need to build up these persona’s from scratch.

Here is the research strategy I use with my clients when we are looking deeper in to their market to develop their marketing strategy.

Develop your keywords

Before you can dive in to the research phase you need to know what you’re looking for. You’ll need a few keywords to use in your content research.

For this site I’ve used:

  • WordPress Membership site
  • Membership site
  • WordPress Membership
  • and a few others

I walked through each of the terms using the research template below. Now I wasn’t new to the WordPress Membership site market so it didn’t take me long to work through each term. In many cases I didn’t even need to click through the search results because I knew what the site was about.

The newer you are to your market the longer this should take.


It all starts with blogs. Yes there are many other social networks and media channels that can bring in prospects, but blogs are king. Blogs are text that’s easily read by search engines. This is going to help you now because you’re going to use Google to investigate other sites in your niche.

Start by going go Google and typing blog: $keyword where $keyword is one of your search keywords.

Make note of the names of the site. Check the comments and make note of the names of the people that have something good to contribute.


Next we’re going to dig in to the forums for your industry. Again, go to Google and search forum: $keword. Make note of the sites that come up.

Visit the forums that come up and make note of the names of the participants. Make note of the brands that are mentioned.

If the forum has a search function use it to search for ‘help’ or ‘question’. Doing this can help you see what problems your customers suffer from.


YouTube is the second biggest search engine. While the medium lends itself to less text, you can still glean lots of information by watching the top videos in your market.

Use each of your keywords in the search field. Watch the videos and make note of the people that are doing them. It’s likely you’ll start to see some overlap here between the blogs and those that produce video.

Also note the brands and products that are mentioned.

Take a minute to look at the comments to see if the viewers are asking any questions. Make note of these questions because they are problems that your possible clients are having.


Next up let’s dig in to podcasts. Use the following search with your keywords to find podcasts in your field.

"$keyword (incontent:podcast OR intitle: podcast OR inurl:podcast or inurl: episode)"

As with the other search’s, make note of the names you see. What brands are mentioned? Who makes comments on the episodes?

As you see repeats across your research, add stars beside the ones that keep coming up.


If you’ve don’t the rest of this well then you’ve likely amassed a list of influencer’s. It’s time to dig a bit deeper in to them. Start by using their name to see if they have a site. If you they do and they dominate the results for their name (and they likely will) then add to your searches to exclude their sites.

With this research in hand you’re ready to dive in deeper to your marketing. You know the podcasts you should be trying to get on. You should have seen the same brands and sites come up a number of times. Target these as the relationships you want to build.

You’ll also have a great handle on the users in your industry. You can use this to develop the persona’s that you need to be marketing to.

Every time I tweak my content marketing or business positioning I work through the process above to make sure that I’m targeting my prospects properly.

PS: If you need help digging in to your market we should talk.

photo by: edwicks_toybox