[Product] Creating A Membership Only Forum with Your WordPress Site

5 minute read

March 6, 2014

[Product] Creating A Membership Only Forum with Your WordPress Site

If you are ready to add a forum, the following are some things to consider:

Before we start “charging” ahead…

Making a forum part of an existing and thriving premium blog can be a great idea. People have already shown interest in paying for access, so adding a forum is an extra perk. It should also make it easier to get people engaged and there are relationships likely already formed that can thrive from now having a “space of their own”.

If you are just starting out, asking new forum users for a credit card is just an extra barrier to entry.  If all your other content is free, and now you plan to charge just for your forum, it can be tough to show potential customers the added value. To avoid a ghost town, you or your team will need to ensure that valuable and worthwhile content is there from the start. Obviously, things are much easier if you don’t restrict user access to your forum and work to establish your brand first. If you plan to charge for access to the forum, make it a part of the package which could include newsletters, webinars, e-books or special software.

Some people use WordPress as a CMS. If you are selling products with WordPress, adding a support forum is also a great idea. The next thought is: how do you handle this? Do you keep the forum open for anyone, or just for paying customers? How do you ensure your time is only spent on the customers who have paid you money? What about helping people discover more about your product via search engines?

Should I put up a paywall?

Regardless if you are an established brand or starting out, it can be a gamble to completely restrict access to your forum. You lose out on the valuable benefit a forum can bring from buzz, SEO and traffic. If the focus is your WordPress premium blog,  you could  leave people with a bad taste in their mouth if they pay and join only to find an empty forum with low quality content. What about WordPress sites? Don’t you want to know customer questions to reduce your support costs? How about getting discovered by search engines?

Don’t Block Everything — Let People In To Kick Tires

Google has a program called “First Click Free“, which allows users to access your site if they come from Google. The idea is that users coming from Google search get to view one page for free and then they will be redirected to a payment page (also known as a paywall). Also, Google’s search bot will get full access to your site without being charged. While it sounds like a great idea, it’s relatively easy to use techniques to get around this restriction. Users can easily act like Google (using  a browser plugin) and get full access to your site. Also, this would mean your content would not be listed in any other search engine, such as Bing or Yahoo.

Here is a better solution: create new roles with special permissions. For example, most forum softwares should allow you to set permissions so that ‘free’ members can only see certain categories, but they will have no ability to post. If you want them to see the categories, but not be able to post,  you can create a new category with a description that entices them to pay, such as “First Access – You See It First: Premium Members Only”. Depending on the forum platform you choose, you can get very creative with roles and permissions.

If your WordPress is used as CMS and not as a blog, you can also use roles and permissions to your advantage.  You could create a Pre-sales category in your forum for your products. Users would be free to post questions and view responses, but have no other access. The benefit for you will come from reducing your support costs as the more common pre-sales questions would be answered here. Another benefit is that this content would be searchable by search engines and help others find your product or services easily. There is also a benefit for you related to paying customers. You could create different premium categories for access to paid support. This lets you focus your support resources on the most important customers already buying your products.

 Create Awesome Content

Content is king. Just as you spend time crafting great blog posts, you will want to map out content for your community that offers similar value. Maybe it’s a Q & A with your founder. Maybe it’s a category where people show off what they have done with your product. What you want is great content that makes people want to get engaged in the discussion. Regardless if it’s a premium WordPress blog or a WordPress shop, the goal is to keep the community engaged and coming back for new content.

Seed Your Community With Champions

For a premium blog, you might want to consider offering free memberships for an extended period to users you have identified as “champions” or maybe you create a beta tester crew (first 100 people get access for free for 6 months). Nothing is worse than showing up to a party and no one is talking. Having these community champions will ensure new users will not be talking to themselves. You might have to break the ice with the initial comments, but remember to reward people who keep the party going. In any community you will quickly see who did it for the free membership and who is in it to really contribute and make it a success.

If you have a WordPress site, an option might be to invite those who are vocal in your comments, or are active in social media to join your community early. Maybe you offer a coupon that is redeemable for 25% off their next purchase as an incentive or access to the latest product. The point is to seed the community with people who know your product, have a passion for it so it’s more than a “one-time” visit community.

Reward Great Contributors

Don’t forget that it’s important to reward a community member that offers really great value. There are tons of options you can consider like a  free membership, or priority access when your latest product is being sold. It can certainly incentivize them to continue participating in the community if the perks are worthwhile. You can also consider creating a new badge for their profile or consider a new membership level that gives them special access. There are tons of ways to be creative and show your appreciation. Don’t be shy to say thanks.


While each community is unique, you should consider the type of premium model you will be taking with your WordPress site and your forum. Make it too restrictive and you lose potential customers and SEO traffic. Make it too open and people might not feel it’s worthwhile to pay for access.

Now it’s your turn. Do you have a WordPress blog or WordPress site with a membership component? What has worked? What hasn’t?

Vanilla Forums offers a cloud based solution that can be fully integrated with SSO into your self-hosted WordPress website and with a membership component too. Try Vanilla Forums Cloud Solution for free for 30-days.

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Adrian Speyer

Written by Adrian Speyer

Adrian Speyer is the Head of Community and Lead Evangelist for Vanilla by Higher Logic. Besides spending many years in digital marketing, Adrian has been building communities of all sizes for over 20 years.

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