On its surface the name Membership Site brings to mind a website for a club or organization of some type where dues are collected in order to become a member of the group. While that can be the purpose and operation of a specific membership website, it is not actually the purpose of a membership website.
So, what is the purpose of a membership website? Bottom Line: a membership website is established in order to restrict content access. How that is accomplished is dependent upon the specific WordPress plugin that is used to establish the membership capabilities.
Social clubs (non-profit and for-profit) can use a membership site to hide certain content from the general public while making it available to club members, such as financial information, club notices, membership lists and legal documents.
In general, a membership plugin will permit the establishment of ‘membership levels’ that can then be used to make specific content on the website available to only members of an individual membership level. As an example one could establish Bronze, Silver and Gold membership levels and each would have access to specific amounts or types of content, each higher level of membership adding to the content available to the previous level.
How does a website visitor become a member of a specific access level? That is dependent upon the membership plugin used. It is also dependent upon how the organization chooses to operate. If the organization is well established with a large number of members before it is decided to establish the membership system, the decision may be made to continue to use the current dues-paying system and manually establish website membership levels as new members join.
WooCommerce, probably the most popular WordPress eCommerce/shopping cart plugin, has a paid membership extension that adds the membership level capability to a website. The membership integration with WooCommerce permits setting membership levels as a type of product and purchase of the membership automatically grants content access at that level.
Restrict Content Pro is another WordPress membership plugin. It has payment options built into the plugin as well as other capabilities that membership plugins offer such as discounts, coupon codes, the ability to set up periodic renewals, email reminders, etc.
At Sierra Web Solutions, LLC. we have developed membership sites using WooCommerce Memberships, Restrict Content Pro, Wishlist Member, Paid Memberships Pro and MemberPress. We are open to using whichever solutions fits your requirements.