Best WordPress subscription plugin (with tutorial)
Everyone knows that it’s easier to retain an existing customer than to recruit a new one. As a result, ongoing subscriptions are a golden opportunity to earn regular, recurring revenue from your WordPress website – while reducing your marketing spend. Although there are many WordPress subscription plugins out there, you need one that is flexible and will make it easier to run your business.
Some WordPress plugins are good for selling product subscriptions. Others are great for membership subscriptions. And then there are those which are geared towards email subscriptions.
Password Protected Categories is a flexible and robust plugin for creating exclusive subscribers-only content. It pairs with WooCommerce Subscriptions, the world’s leading WordPress subscription plugin. Combine the two plugins in order to:
- Create members-only areas on your WordPress website.
- Offer subscription options and accept recurring payments.
In this post, we’ll show you how to set up both plugins and configure them to suit your specific need. Let’s put everything into context before we begin.
Password Protected Categories with WooCommerce Subscriptions: the best WordPress subscription plugin
Password Protected Categories lets you password protect categories on your site or restrict access to certain categories based on user roles. You can use this WordPress plugin with any WP theme to create a private area for subscribers while leaving the rest of your site open for public view.
Unlike WordPress membership plugins, Password Protected Categories provides a super-simple way to create password-protected areas within your WordPress site which only subscribers can access. It also lets you create a centralized login page using a shortcode from where visitors can access the subscribers-only content – either by logging into their user account or entering a password.
And, when paired with WooCommerce Subscriptions, it becomes the best WordPress subscription plugin.
Key features on offer with Password Protected Categories
Like any good WordPress subscription plugin, Password Protected Categories and WooCommerce Subscriptions come with everything you need to sell subscriptions and restrict access to your membership site content:
- Intuitive and user-friendly When a user enters a password, they are granted access to all the posts in that category and sub-categories. This way, they don’t have to provide the login details for every single page or post they need access to.
- Easy password protection You’ll be able to create one (or more passwords) for a category. The plugin will restrict access to the category, its sub-categories, and all the content within.
- Private WordPress categories Password Protected Categories lets you create Private categories that are only visible to the Administrator or Editor user roles. You can also make private categories available to other user roles, for example a custom Subscriber role.
- Works with all content types This WordPress subscriptions plugin lets you create a members-only area containing pages, posts, or any custom post type.
- Customer login page You can allow subscribers to login from a single page or sidebar using a shortcode. After they log in, they’ll be directed to the appropriate category, based on the password they entered.
Individually password protecting each page in your member’s area is a daunting task users will need to enter passwords multiple times. To unlock multiple members-only pages with a single password, you’ll need the Password Protected Categories plugin.
This plugin is also great for building a membership site. You can easily limit access to only your premium content and resources (marked under a single category or group of categories), while the rest of your site remains public. This is much easier than using a membership plugin.
What other plugins are available?
This is a competitive space! Here are some options which claim to the “best WordPress membership plugins” available for creating a WordPress subscription or membership website:
- Restrict Content Pro
- WooCommerce Memberships
- Paid Memberships Pro
- s2Member (pro version)
- Membership Subscriptions
- Email marketing solutions like MailChimp and AWeber
Although these are certainly useful alternatives, we recommend going with Password Protected Categories paired with WooCommerce Subscriptions because they’re intuitive, user-friendly, and offer premium support from the developers. Unlike Restrict Content Pro or MemberPress, these plugins are incredibly easy to set up and get started with. In addition, they let you create product subscriptions, membership subscriptions, and email subscriptions. Instead of managing multiple sites or worrying about integrations and payments, you can keep things simple.
Why your WordPress site might need a password protected subscribers area
There are several reasons why you’d want a hidden subscribers area on your WordPress website. Let’s quickly look at a few of them:
- To restrict user access to content Having an exclusive, members-only area on your site allows only paying subscribers to view your content. In other words, you can grant only specific people access to content on your site. For example, this is a good way to offer access to premium content or resources. Unlike MemberPress, you can also restrict access to videos without having to integrate with an add-on – simply add the videos to pages or posts within your password-protected categories.
- To set up recurring payments (subscription boxes or training classes) You spend a lot of time and resources on building your product, it only makes sense to sell it to your customers in a secure way. Having a password-protected area on your site or store is a great way to set up your subscription-based business or sell online courses. You can also integrate with various payment gateways.
- To create a membership site with membership levels If you’re looking to implement the membership model to sell products or online courses, drip content, teach online or share ideas in community forums, you’ll need to restrict access to the general public and only allow registered users (students or members) access to your membership site. You might want different hidden areas for each subscriber level. This is where you’ll need a WordPress subscription plugin and Password Protected Categories to help you out. Customers sign up for a subscription and automatically receive an email containing the password for the correct membership area.
- To sell products using a SaaS model Having a password-protected area on your website enables you to offer SaaS products to your customers. This allows customers to use your software in a secure, private client portal on your site. You can take things to the next level by charging customers a subscription fee and (optionally) set up fees.
Examples of products you can sell on a subscription basis
Before you start selling goods on subscription, you need to make sure whether your customers will need the products and services you’re selling on a month-to-month basis.
Indeed, you won’t be able to sell grooming gearboxes twice a week to each customer or an assortment of stationery items every week. However, you’ll still be able to offer a bi-monthly or quarterly subscription on these items.
So, let’s take a look at some examples of products that are ideal for a subscription-based business model:
- Beauty and fashion items are popular (and profitable!) subscription products for e-commerce businesses. You can sell an assortment of lipsticks, nail polishes, skincare products, and beauty oils to customers. You can choose to sell the same box month after month or change things up each time around!
- An assortment of popular snacks and pantry boxes delivered every week with menu items like freshly baked cookies, protein bars, and chocolates to offer healthy snacks to your customers.
- Hobbies and craft supplies are typically needed regularly. For instance, you can include art supplies for kids, cross stitch boxes, and notebooks with pens, pencils, markers, and accessories in your subscription box.
- Access to software, tools, or platforms that follow a SaaS subscription model can be sold through websites. Users can simply create an account and login to use the tool.
We also have a full tutorial on creating “build your own” boxes.
When users might need to opt-in or subscribe to products
Users might need to opt-in or subscribe to various products or services. To enable your customers to opt-in or subscribe to your products, you’d need to set up a system to accept recurring payments (such as via PayPal), configure payment gateways, and allow customers to sign up via different channels.
In the next section, we’ll take a look at how you can use Password Protected Categories and WooCommerce Subscriptions – a WordPress subscription plugin – to sell subscriptions and member-only content. This is much easier than using a specialized membership plugin like WooCommerce Memberships, Paid Memberships Pro, Restrict Content Pro, or MemberPress.
Getting started with Password Protected Categories
Password Protected Categories makes it easy to create a hidden and secure private client portal on your WordPress site.
I’ll tell you how to use Password Protected Categories to create subscribers-only content. Then, I’ll show you how to use the WooCommerce Subscriptions plugin to sell subscriptions and take recurring payments online.
Step #1: Install Password Protected Categories on your WordPress website
Get the Password Protected Categories plugin and install it on your WordPress site. Find the license key in the confirmation email and copy it. Install the plugin, then click the Activate button to proceed.
Next, navigate to Settings → Protected Categories from the WordPress admin panel and paste the license key in the License Key field. Finally, click the Save Changes button at the bottom of the page.
You can configure the plugin’s settings from this page. For instance, you can edit the title, password label, placeholder, form message, and button text for your user login form.
For a WordPress subscribers only area, I recommend leaving the category visibility options unchecked. This hides the members-only content from the public parts of your site.
Step #2: Create a members-only area
Let’s look at how you can create a password-protected, members-only area for paying subscribers on your WordPress website:
2a. Create a hidden members area
You need to decide where you’ll save your members-only content. The options are:
- WordPress posts – this is the easiest option and you can create protected subscriber categories that are completely hidden from your public blog. However, if you want to manage the members-only content separately from the other ‘Posts’ in the WordPress admin then you might prefer one of the other options. Learn how here ->
- WordPress pages – this uses normal WordPress pages for your members area. Learn how here ->
- Custom post type – alternatively, you can create a dedicated area in the WordPress admin for storing your members-area content. This keeps everything 100% separate and easy to manage. Learn how here ->.
Create a hidden posts category
From the WordPress dashboard, navigate to Posts → Categories. Enter the new category name and slug. Next, scroll down to the Visibility section and choose how to protect the category:
- Password protected – instead of needing individual user accounts, your members will enter a password to unlock the hidden content. If you want to show different hidden content to different subscriber levels, then you need to use this option. Enter a password which will be used to unlock the category. If you want to create multiple passwords for a single category, you’ll need to click on the plus icon.
- Private – the subscribers-only category will only be visible to logged in users with the correct user role. By default, this will be administrators and editors. This article tells you how to create other roles which can access private categories too. If you need to show different hidden content to multiple subscriber levels, then you can’t use private categories. That’s because private categories restrict ALL private content to the same user roles. Therefore, you should create a password protected subscribers area instead.
Let’s look at how you’ll change the visibility of an existing category:
Navigate to Posts → Categories and click on the category you want to edit. Click the Edit button, scroll down to the Visibility section, choose Password protected or Private and hit the Update button.
2b. Create a hidden category of pages
WordPress doesn’t let you organize pages into categories by default. However, you can still do so by either custom coding or using the free plugin, Create And Assign Categories For Pages.
After adding categories to your WordPress pages, you can use the Password Protected Categories subscribers-only plugin to either password protect the categories, or make them private:
2c. Create a hidden library of content for any custom post type
You can also add members-only content to any custom post type. For example, perhaps you’d like a ‘Subscribers Area’ or ‘Courses’ link on the left hand side of the WordPress Dashboard, from which you’ll manage all your subscribers-only resources.
To do that, use the instructions in this tutorial to create a custom post type. Make sure you enable categories for the post type. You can then navigate to the Categories screen for the custom post type that you want to password protect e.g. Courses → Categories:
Here you can select a specific category and scroll down to the bottom of the page and complete the Visibility section:
This way, if you add all your premium content to a custom post type and organize it by creating a new category. As a result, you’ll be able to password protect all custom post types that are sorted into that category. In other words, if you add all your courses to a Courses category, you’ll be able to keep them hidden from all users except those who have the correct password.
Create a subscribers login page
Next, you need a way for subscribers to log into the members-only area. This depends on whether you’re using password protected or private categories:
Build a password entry page
Add the shortcode
[category_login] to any page on your site, and it will insert a password entry form like this:
You can reword the text from this screenshot on the Password Protected Categories settings page.
Give a password to each subscriber, along with a link to the login page (skip ahead for some tips on how to do this automatically). When they enter a correct password, they’ll automatically be directed to the subscribers-only category with all the contents unlocked.
If you’ve created a separate password protected category for each subscriber level, make sure each category has a unique password. That way, everyone can use the same login form and they’ll be directed to the category which matches their password.
Add a user login page
If you’re using private WordPress categories to protect the subscribers area, then you don’t need a special login form. Instead, subscribers simply need to log into their user account on your WP site.
WordPress provides its own login page – /wp-login.php. However, this isn’t branded to your site, and looks like the WordPress admin. Instead, I recommend installing the free Theme My Login plugin to create a styled front end login page. This looks much more professional, and you can even choose to redirect people to the subscribers-only category after they login.
Step #3: Sell subscriptions for your Password Protected Categories
By now, you’ve created a subscribers-only area on your WordPress site. If you’ll be adding subscribers manually, then you can skip Step 3. Alternatively, keep reading if you want to sell subscriptions online.
WooCommerce Subscriptions is an official extension that enables you to sell both digital downloads and physical products. In addition to this, you can offer members and customers different types of subscription plans – weekly, monthly, yearly, or any other period of your choice. It also lets you track the performance of each package and payment plan and forecast your monthly sales and revenue.
WooCommerce Subscriptions only works with WooCommerce, the world leading eCommerce plugin (which is 100% free of charge). As a result, you’ll be able to offer up to 25 payment gateways including PayPal, Stripe, Authorize.net, Braintree, 2Checkout, and Square. This allows your customers to easily make recurring subscription payments using their preferred payment gateway.
3a. Creating subscription products with regular recurring payments
Install WooCommerce on your WordPress website and follow the setup wizard, including adding your chosen payment gateways.
Next, install WooCommerce Subscriptions and set up your subscription products – one for each membership level. Go to Products → Add New and create a product. Select the Simple subscription option using the dropdown menu in the Product data section:
From here, you can set the:
- Subscription price is the price of the subscription plan or tier. You can set a recurring price or a one-time price. Customers can pay through a payment processor like PayPal or Stripe.
- You can use the expire after a field if you’re offering a limited time discount on subscription plans.
- Add a signup fee if you’d like to charge customers or clients a fee to help them onboard.
- Use the free trial fields to specify the duration of a free trial e.g. 7 day free trial period or 30 day free trial period.
- You can use this option to add a sale price for products.
Types of recurring payment plans
When you’re looking for a specific type of payment plan to offer your customers, you need to take their needs into account and implement the solution that’s best suited for the types of products and services you offer. Here are some of the most common types of recurring payment plans for inspiration:
- You can offer monthly, yearly, and three- or six-month membership plans. This is the go-to option for anyone who’s looking to:
- Restrict access to premium content or
- Sell online tools, platforms, and services.
- Subscription boxes are a great way to promote new products and offer them to your customers repeatedly. These typically include products such as books, ties, snacks, and beauty items that can easily be packed and shipped to your customers on a fixed schedule.
- The Subscribe for discounts option enables your customers to receive a discount on the products or services they purchase frequently. This is a great way to boost sales and profits.
Check out this in-depth guide for some of the best WordPress and WooCommerce subscription plugins and add-ons that help business owners generate recurring revenue.
3b. Enabling options for sign up via different channels (private categories only)
If you’re using private categories, then the hidden subscribers area will automatically unlock whenever someone with the correct role logs into their account.
As a result, you need to make sure that an individual user account is created for each subscriber. (This isn’t needed if you’re using password protected categories, because those don’t require individual user accounts.)
From the main WooCommerce settings page (i.e. WooCommerce → Settings → Accounts & Privacy), you need to disable the guest checkout option:
Now every time someone purchases your product, WooCommerce will automatically create a user account for that subscriber. They’ll receive their login information via email which they can use to access the password-protected area.
Use YITH’s Automatic Role Changer plugin to automatically update the role of every user who buys your product. This needs to match whichever user role has access to the private content. To do this, you’ll need to update the role from Customer to Member (or any other role of your choice), which will give them access to all the private categories on your site.
Send your subscribers instructions on how to access the members area
To fully automate the process, I recommend setting up an email that is automatically sent to everyone who buys subscription on your site. You can do this with the excellent. Follow-Ups plugin.
Create a custom email for each subscription product. Thank them for subscribing, and include information on how to login to access the subscribers-only content on your website:
- If you’re using password protected categories, include the password for the appropriate category along with a link to the login page.
- If you’re using private categories, include a link to the user login page. Follow-Ups also includes handy merge tags which you can use to dynamically include the subscriber’s username and password in the email – this makes it even easier for them.
Selling lots of subscription products? Get more sales by listing them in a table view!
By default, your subscription products are listed in a grid-style layout with big pictures and about 3 products per row. Most subscription products sell better if you list them in a table layout (with extra features such as search box and filters if you’re selling lots of subscription products).
You can do this by adding the bestselling WooCommerce Product Table plugin. This will list your subscription products in a table view, which makes it much easier to view and buy subscriptions. Customers can sign up to subscriptions directly from the product table page, instead of having to visit a separate page for each product.
To speed things up even further, you can use WooCommerce Quick View Pro to allow customers to view extra information and buy subscriptions from a quick view lightbox like this:
You can use WooCommerce Subscriptions with Quick View Pro whether you’re using a product table layout, or the default WooCommerce grid layout.
To take things to the next level, check out our guide on how to List WooCommerce Subscriptions in a Product Table with Quick View!
If you’re looking to sell subscriptions, build a membership site, or restrict access to content, you need a WordPress subscription plugin like Password Protected Categories. With this plugin, you’ll be able to restrict access to your web content. This includes posts, pages, custom post types, products, and entire categories.
In addition to this, it integrates seamlessly with several third-party plugins and official WooCommerce extensions and add-ons. This way, you’re able to set up recurring payments, build a membership site, and sell products on a subscription basis. On top of all of this, you won’t have to worry about managing multiple sites!
What sort of a website are you looking to create with a WordPress subscription plugin? Do you have any questions on how to get started? We’re happy to help so let us know in the comments section below!