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A Quick Guide to Building a Private Community with WordPress

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WordPress is an excellent tool for creating a community that is open to the public. It allows anyone to join in the discussion on blog posts, and allows for forum interaction with plugins such as BBPress. But what do you do if you want to have a private, members only website?

With the use of specific plugins, creating a private, members only community has never been easier. WordPress can be transformed into a private website for premium courses, forums and any other content you desire.

Let’s take a look at what you need to know when creating your own private community.

Before You Begin

Before you go out and spend money on premium plugins to create a private site, you really need to know what you want to achieve. Ask yourself these three simple questions:

  1. Does this community need to be private?
  2. Am I going to charge for access to this community?
  3. Do I want this community to be social and engage with each other or are they just accessing content I supply?

Choosing a Membership Plugin

There are numerous plugins out there these days that allow you transform WordPress into a membership site. Rather than go through them all, I’ll take a look at a small selection.


Premise by CopyBlogger MediaPremise is a plugin developed by StudioPress. It is used by many of the major sites online to create membership areas and landing pages to sell products.

As with most premium membership site plugins, it can take recurring payments from your members, automatically drip content out over time, and allows for the integration of vBulletin forum software. Other forum software isn’t supported out of the box but should be easy enough to add to a member only area.

Premise costs $165 for unlimited updates and usage.

Buy Premise.


wpmudev-logoMembership is developed by the WPMU DEV team and comes in two options:

  1. Lite — less functionality but free to download
  2. Pro — more functionality.

Membership is used by some major sites and also has all of the options you would need for this type of plugin. These include recurring payments, the ability to drip content out over time as well as the other standard features of a plugin of this type.

Membership integrates with various forum plugins as well as BuddyPress. While the Lite version is more limited than the Pro version, it may be a useful plugin to test out to see if Membership is suitable for what you want to achieve.

You can buy Membership for $19 for the plugin and one month’s support. Additional support is $19 per month. You can also become a full WPMU DEV for under $40 per month and access their full range of premium content.

Download Membership Lite or buy Membership Pro.

Wishlist Member

logo-wlmWishlist Member is another really good membership plugin that is used on some well known sites. As with the others, it allows for membership level management, various member payment options and the ability to drip content over time or by level and forum integration.

Wishlist Member costs $97 for a single site license or $297 for a multi-site license.

Buy Wishlist Member.

Which One to Choose?

All three options give you a lot of similar configuration options and your choice really comes down to your personal requirements and preference.

You should spend some time investigating which plugin provides the features you require for your site before committing to buying any of them. If none of the plugins meets your requirements then a quick search online will introduce you to a vast array of other member site plugins.

Configuring Your Membership Site

Once you have made your choice and installed the plugin into your WordPress installation there are several things you will need to configure. The specifics of these configurations will depend on the plugin you have chosen, however there are common themes that  run through them all:

  • Decide on your Member Levels — You will need to decide on the membership levels you provide. That can be one single level for all members or multiple levels that vary in price and have access to additional content.
  • Create a Login and Registration Area — Your members will need somewhere to register for your site and somewhere to login once they have registered. This can vary depending on the plugin, and will either be an individual page or simply a login box in a sidebar. Regardless of which method you use you must make sure it is simple and obvious for your members.
  • Adding Value For ClientsConfigure Payment Options — Assuming you are creating a site that requires a fee to access, you will need to configure payment options for your members to use. The most common of these is PayPal, and setting up an account with them to receive payments is free and straightforward. This is where you will decide whether the fee is a single payment or recurring payments for monthly or annual access to the site.
  • Site Information and Guidelines — You should create an initial page that your members arrive on once they’ve logged in. This page should give them information on what your community offers and how to use it correctly. If you include a forum or social aspect to your site then add guidelines on what is and isn’t acceptable behavior in the community. Ideally this aspect of community management won’t come up, but it always pays to be prepared for someone breaking the rules.
  • A Cancellation Policy — It’s always a good idea when people are paying for a membership that you have some form of cancellation policy or money back guarantee. This builds trust with your members. Your members may not stick around forever and so giving them an easy way to leave is another important trust building exercise.

Growing Your Community

Once you have the site up and running you should begin think about what additional benefits you can give your community.

If for example you added a forum initially, why not look at creating exclusive content for your members and adding a section for that? Or add a forum for your members to connect with each other if you don’t already have one.

It may also be worth polling your members from time to time and asking what they want to get from your site, and adding the additional functionality depending on their feedback. The additional features you add over time will depend entirely on the reason for your site, and the niche it exists in. Your site needs to continue to be relevant to your members, especially when there’s a fee involved.

Have you created a private community on your WordPress site? What plugin did you use, and what has been your experience of it? We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

Article by Tom Ewer author
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  1. Anne-Sophie

    Hi! I’m a bit confused, I thought bbPress was for great for Forums and similiar and better to use BudyPress for communities. So, what are the differences between one and another??

    • AJ Clarke | WPExplorer

      No, you are correct. bbPress is for forums and BuddyPress is for the actual membership aspect. But you can combine them to create a really powerful membership site. But generally I would use bbPress if all I needed was a forum and I would use BudyPress if I needed a site more like “Facebook”.

  2. Anne-Sophie

    Oh, OK! Thank you 🙂

  3. Grace Bell

    Hi Tom, I googled and got your post, even though it’s six months later 🙂 I find this very helpful–thankyou so much. I was wondering if you’d recommend the best way to have a membership site clearly displayed on my primary website URL (which would not be entirely private). I’d love people to be able to continue to come to my wordpress blog, check my programs and upcoming classes…but I thought it would be handy to have one page for members only who sign up to one of my programs. I’m assuming the plugins you’ve suggested here make the entire site a membership site, is that true?–Thank you! Grace

    • Tom Ewer

      Hi Grace,

      With plugins such as this you should have the option to make certain pages free to view 🙂



  4. Ton in 't Veld

    Hi Tom,

    I want to build a non-commercial community site with all the pages visible for members only. Only the homepage should be public and have a log in possibility. I want to give all the members (I know them all) a username and password for this login. I don’t need special roles management or payment possibilities. Have you any suggestion?
    You will understand I don’t want to pay a lot of money for it :-). I’m only looking for a simple access control plug in.

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