The Paint by Numbers Guide to WordPress Membership Site Setup

It’s time to dive into your WordPress membership site setup, but before we do you need to understand a simple fact:

“A membership site is a complex ecosystem with many moving pieces… “

It may be one of the truest statements you’ll ever hear.

It also touches on an often overlooked fact about building and maintaining a high-quality membership site: in order to do what you want it to do, a membership site setup can be complex.

Because of this complexity, your membership site can do almost anything… automatically.

And that’s amazing. But what happens if you don’t set it up right?

  • You might experience customers who can’t login after they buy your course
  • Members get charged more than once, because of a wrong setting
  • Or the most common case: everything works but you don’t quite understand how it works together

All of these issues are easy to fix when you understand the fundamentals of running a membership site, so let’s look at each one of the puzzle pieces to see how they work together.

Call it the “paint by numbers” guide to WordPress membership site setup, it takes you through each portion of the membership site setup process so that you can see how all the pieces fit together.


Infographic showing ingredients of membership sites

Phase 1: The Website

If you wanted a physical location (like a VIP club!) for your membership subscribers to gather, the first course of action would be to put up a building to house it in…

Likewise, the first demand of a membership site is the actual website it’s built on. So, before you start dreaming of courses and marketing incentives, it’s time to get the basics set up right:

Domain / Subdomain

What’s your website name? We recommend putting a membership site on a subdomain… it’s kind of a no-brainer to keep it separate from your regular main website.

Hosting Provider

Once your domain name is purchased, you can point it to your LMS hosting provider. This is where you’ll also install your website.


Installing an SSL certificate on your membership site domain name is a must to help keep your clients’ information safe and secure.

WordPress Install

After the domain name is all ready to go (SSL certificate and all), it’s time to install WordPress, so you can actually start building the site itself. A WordPress site is the framework – the bare structure – of your website. It will give you a basic format to work with… but anything beyond that for appearance is your theme’s job.


Don’t go for the first free theme you find. A WordPress membership site theme needs to offer a few different page types and menu options to keep things looking their best.


Last, but not least, the WordPress plugins come into play. The sky is the limit here, since plugins come in all shapes and sizes, and can be added to your site for additional functionality and design. Among these, your membership plugin is king.

Phase 2: The Membership Plugin

By default, when most WordPress sites go “live”, every page is visible and accessible to the public. Your WordPress membership plugin is the one that limits access, so the only people who can access your content are the ones who’ve paid for it.

In this way, the membership site plugin is, on the most basic level, a “bouncer”. It’s in charge of allowing people to log in and view the membership site content… or sending them straight back to the login page if they don’t have the right access.

Some membership plugins are extremely basic, and only understand the general concept of bulky membership “levels”. More advanced membership plugins, on the other hand are a bit more fun.

With an advanced membership plugin, you can create a fully automated membership site that sells itself… literally.

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An advanced membership plugin can let in a variety of members and allow them to access individual pages and courses – and even offer a bit of incentive to get them to stick around.

But… the most powerful membership plugins are designed to work with one other tool to power the automation side of things.

That automation tool is the:

Phase 3: The Membership Hub (Marketing Automation System)

The marketing automation system plays an enormous part in the membership site picture. It’s also the piece that, unfortunately, gets overlooked when your developer starts building out your membership site.

(To keep playing with the same “club” analogy, the marketing automation system is the manager – the one that makes up allll the rules.)

In order to create a beautiful, streamlined membership experience, the marketing automation system you choose needs to sync perfectly with your membership plugin… and whoever’s building your membership site needs to know how this works (or again… bad things can happen).

How To Build A WordPress Membership Site Setup For Years Of Business Success

That, in a nutshell, is how your WordPress membership site setup works. Without that solid foundation, even the best course copy and services can appear lackluster and unattractive to your clients. A membership site is a giant endeavor that does require a certain level of skill in planning the strategy behind it, knowing which tech tools are strong contenders (and which are just posers), and how to build it from the ground up.

As you built out (or revamp) your membership site, follow these three easy guidelines:

1. Make sure you’re working with the right tools

Examine each of those big players in your tech toolbox to ensure you’re not limited by a weak link.

2. If you want it to look professional, hire a professional

Because there are so many moving pieces, even the most user-friendly membership site plugins require a level of skill and tech knowledge to set up properly. If your developer isn’t familiar with the software and integrations, hire someone who is.

3. Once it’s built, it’s time to market

Quality membership sites can actually sell themselves and bring in large amounts of recurring revenue… but there’s still the challenge of getting the word out.

In short:

Stay focused on engaging with your clients and listening to what they have to say in order to make your WordPress membership site a wild success for your online biz.

Share your Recommendations!

Are you in the process of building a membership site? Share your opinion of our paint by numbers guide by dropping a comment below 🙂

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