How to Create a WordPress Membership Site for Selling Courses (A Step-by-Step Guide)

Do you want to create a membership site for selling courses in WordPress? If so, this article is tailor-made for you!

The online education industry is booming. Based on reports, the global online education industry will be worth well over $300 billion by 2025. Wouldn't you like a piece of this pie?

Selling courses online is a great way to bring in passive income month after month. You put in the work of creating a single course, then promote it to bring in recurring income. Then, the more courses you create, the more income you make! 

While there are online platforms such as Udemy and Skillshare to promote your courses, why not feature them on your own website? This way, not only do you get to keep all the money, but you also get to build a brand and become an authority in your niche.

In this article, we'll cover what a membership site is and how to monetize it even more with online courses. Then, we'll take you step-by-step on how to create your very own membership site as the perfect platform for selling your online courses. Let's get started!

What is a WordPress Membership Site?

A membership site allows you to restrict access to certain content on your website in return for a fee. This could be access to premium content, infographics, case studies, cheat sheets, downloads, tutorials, or courses.

Users will need to subscribe to a subscription plan (monthly, quarterly, yearly) to access your premium content. 

Whether you’re a coach, educational institute, or trainer, creating a membership site and having your course material (videos, assignments, quizzes, and so on) restricted to paid subscribers is a great way to monetize your WordPress website.

Why Create an Online Course?

Online education is a $300 billion (yes, billion with a B) industry. The pandemic played a major role in increasing the industry’s worth by forcing many coaches, trainers, and educational institutions to adapt to online teaching. 

Creating an online course is a great way to monetize your website. As long as your course content is up-to-date and relevant to the changing times, creating a course is, more or less, a one-time thing. 

Create it once, and unlike a physical product, you can sell it to just about anyone, anywhere in the world. You needn't worry about procurement, packaging, or shipping like you would with a physical product.

Here are a few more benefits of creating an online course: 

  • A great way to establish yourself as an authority in your niche
  • When you sell your course, you are building an email list and a community. This opens up a sea of opportunities, such as future online course sales, income from affiliate sales by recommending products, and so on. 
  • You are opening multiple streams of income for yourself through your blog

A look at income reports of some of the top bloggers worldwide will show a substantial income (high 6-figure income) coming in from the sale of online courses.

How to Create a WordPress Membership Site for Selling Courses

Now, let's run through the 10 essential steps on how to create a membership site and sell your online courses on WordPress.

Step 1: Purchase a Domain Name and Website Hosting

The first step is to get yourself a domain name. You’ll need to put quite a bit of thought into your name, as it will reflect your company brand, not to mention, you’ll be promoting it a lot. 

While you could select any domain name, you should consider one that includes the keywords you're targeting. For instance, if you were creating online courses on digital marketing, your domain could be something on the lines of digitalmarketingacademy.com, digicourses.com, or something similar.

You could purchase a domain name and hosting service from various registrars, such as Domain.com, Namecheap, HostGator, DreamHost, Bluehost, and others.

Click here for more tips on how to come up with a great domain name and the benefits of each domain registrar listed

Step 2: Install WordPress

If the thought of installing WordPress scares you, you're going to be pleasantly surprised! Most hosting providers offer an easy WordPress installation process. It's as easy as clicking a button. Literally!

BlueHost WordPress setup

For instance, once you've purchased a hosting plan with Bluehost, there's an easy setup process to create a WordPress site. Simply answer a few straightforward questions, such as site name, tagline, and login credentials, then your WordPress installation will be completed for you.

Take note of the login credentials you enter. You will need them to log into your WordPress admin area once it has been installed.

Step 3: Install a WordPress Theme

Now that we've installed WordPress, it's time to give our site a facelift by installing a WordPress theme. We'll go ahead and install the very popular Astra theme.

Astra WordPress theme example

Astra is the only non-WordPress theme that's been installed by more than a million users worldwide. It's a lightweight theme built to perform and works well with just about any plugin and page builder.

Click here to download the latest version of the Astra theme.

Once you’ve downloaded the theme, which should be in a .zip format, open up WordPress and head over to Appearance > Themes > Add New and click on the “Upload Theme” button:

Add theme in WordPress

Select the file you just downloaded and click “Install Now”. Once the installation is complete, refresh the front end of your website. Looks better, doesn’t it?

Step 4: Install Memberpress

So far, you've purchased the domain and hosting, installed WordPress along with the Astra WordPress theme. It's now time to install a learning management system (LMS) plugin to convert your WordPress website into an online course selling machine.

There's no better choice than MemberPress!

Once you’ve purchased MemberPress, you can log in to your account and download the latest version of the plugin. Again, the file downloaded will be in a .zip format.

From your WordPress dashboard, head over to Plugins > Add New and click on the “Upload Plugin” button:

Add MemberPress plugin

Select the memberpress.zip file you just downloaded and click “Install Now”, then activate the plugin.

Once activated, you’ll notice a new set of links under MemberPress, including Memberships, Courses, Add-ons, and more. 

Speaking of courses, head over to MemberPress > Courses to activate the Courses add-on. Then click on the “Install & Activate MemberPress Courses Add-On” button:

MemberPress Courses add-on tab

Step 5: Create Your First Online Course

Once you have activated the Courses add-on, you'll automatically be redirected to a page where you can add your courses.

The Memberpress course builder has made the creation process as simple as drag and drop. From the welcome page, the course curriculum, adding lessons, and more, it's as easy as it gets.

To get started, click on Add New:

Add new course in MemberPress

This opens up the MemberPress course editor, where you get to add your course title and description. For instance, we've titled our course “My New Course”, as shown below:

MemberPress course editor

As a WordPress user, you're probably familiar with the options on the right-hand side. So go ahead and assign a category and add a tag for your course. Organizing your courses into categories and tags can help you later on when it comes to controlling access to your courses.

You can also edit the permalink to a URL of your choice, add a featured image, an excerpt, and so on. Once you're done, click “Publish”.

Step 6: Add Sections and Lessons

Now to add the actual course content. Start by clicking on the Curriculum tab on your MemberPress course editor page:

MemberPress Course curriculum

Here, you can create modules, and under each module, you can create lessons.

Go ahead and click on Add Section to create the first module. 

Enter a title for your module, such as “My First Module” or “Module #1”. Click Add when you are done. You can repeat this step to create as many sections and modules as you like.

Next, under each module, you need to add your lessons. To do so, click on Add Lesson under the corresponding section or module:

Add lesson in MemberPress Course curriculum

Add a title for your lesson, such as “Lesson 1”, or “Chapter 1”, and click Add when you're done.

When you’re ready to add the actual content, hover over the lesson you want to add content to and click on the pencil icon:

Add lesson content in MemberPress Course curriculum

This will open up the lesson editor, which is similar to your WordPress block editor:

Lesson example in MemberPress courses

From the lesson's title to the actual contents, go ahead and include your course contents here. Once you are done, and everything looks good, click “Update”.

Repeat this process and add lessons to all your modules.

Want to rearrange the order of your lessons? You can do this easily by dragging the lessons around.

To delete a lesson, head back to the Curriculum tab in the course editor, and you'll notice a list of all the lessons under the Document tab on the right-hand side. 

Hover over the lesson you want to be removed and click on the delete icon that appears.

Once you're done, don't forget to click on the “Update” button.

Step 7: Restrict Course Access to Membership Plans

After you've completed adding your course content, there are a few more things we need to cover. The most important of which is restricting access to the course.

Head over to the Settings tab in your course editor:

MemberPress Course settings

Enable the “Include in Course Listing” option. Doing so, MemberPress automatically creates a URL where users can access all of your online courses. It's like an archive page that has a list of all your content.

By enabling the Include in Course Listing option, you are technically telling MemberPress to include this course you've just created in your list of courses.

Of course, the course page also has to be included in your main menu (Appearance > Menus) if you want it to be seen by your users.

Then, the following field you see is for your “Sales Page”.

If you are selling your online course, you'll want your users to take some additional steps. For instance, subscribe to a membership plan, or pay a one-time fee.

Whatever the case may be, you'll want to direct them to an action page. 

This is where you'll include the URL of the page where users should be directed to access your course. It can be a registration page, a membership plan page, or something else.

If you already have a membership plan page ready, head over to MemberPress > Memberships to copy the URL to include the link here.

Moving on, how do we restrict access to our courses?

It's simple. Head over to MemberPress > Rules:

Add new rule in MemberPress

Remember we mentioned adding a tag or a category for your courses? Well, this is where it's going to help us.

The easiest way to restrict access to your courses is by using the tags or categories we created. Click on Add New:

MemberPress Rules add-on

Give a name for your rule. For instance, you could name it “All Courses”, “$99 Courses”, you get the drift. It can be just about anything.

Select an option from the Protected Content drop-down menu, such as: All Pages, A Single Page, All Courses, Courses with Course Tag, Courses with Course Categories, and more. Select one that you feel is appropriate for the rule being created.

Considering you'd like to create a rule based on the tag, select the appropriate option, i.e., Courses with Course Tag. Here, a field opens up where you can include the tag you created while creating the course.

Proceed to Access Conditions and grant access to either membership plans or individual members. The corresponding membership plans would appear if you'd created them earlier (MemberPress > Memberships):

MemberPress Rules access conditions

Once you're done, click on Save Rule.

Head back to MemberPress > Courses, and you'll notice the rule assigned against the corresponding course(s).

While on this topic, if you'd like to know more about role-based content, check out our article on How to Protect Content Based on Roles and Capabilities with MemberPress.

Step 8: Preview and Customize Course View

We mentioned that MemberPress automatically creates your courses page. It's like an archive page where all your courses are listed.

This can be accessed by adding “/coursesto your domain. E.g., type out the URL https://yourdomain.com/courses to access your courses page. 

You could add the same as a custom link in your menu from Appearance > Menus. If you access the page, you'll notice your course(s) listed. You'll probably agree that the look is not very impressive.

To have a much more appealing course page, click on the Courses tab under MemberPress > Settings:

Activate Classroom Mode in MemberPress courses settings

Under the General Options, enable the “Classroom Mode”.

You can play around and customize the colors and even add custom CSS to ensure the course page looks just the way you want.

Save your changes once you are done. Head back to the front end and check out your customized courses page:

Front-end look of course curriculum

Looks way better now, doesn't it?

Step 9: Add a Registration Page

When a user lands on your courses page and selects a particular course, they'd be directed to the course registration page if they are not a registered user. 

You could also direct them to a membership plan, which entitles them to access your courses. You'll need to ensure the user purchases one of your plans to proceed and access your courses.

We have got a detailed article on How to Build an Online Membership Site Using WordPress, in which we cover how to add a membership plan, integrate payments, and more.

Nevertheless, we'll cover a few details here.

Before you even start creating your membership plans, it's essential to be clear of the plans you'd like to create.

For instance, you could create plans such as Bronze, Silver, and Gold. Or maybe even monthly, quarterly, and yearly subscription plans.

Once you have it all planned out, head over to MemberPress > Memberships and click on Add New.

Give the membership plan a name. For this example, let's create a Silver Membership plan:

Add new MemberPress membership

On the right-hand side, you have the option to include the price, the billing type (recurring, one-time), and the interval (monthly, yearly).

Want to offer your users a trial period before signing up for your course? Go ahead and select the “Trial Period” option to have this feature enabled.

Once you've completed all the steps, go ahead and save your changes.

The next, and probably most crucial, aspect of making money selling your online courses is integrating a payment gateway.

Head over to MemberPress > Settings and click on the Payment tab:

Membership payment tab

MemberPress has built-in integrations with popular payment gateways, such as PayPal and Stripe. Additionally, you can also add alternate payment methods.

Based on the payment method you select, you'll be prompted to fill in some additional details. For instance, if you select PayPal, you'll need to enter your PayPal email address, PayPal IPN URL, and a return URL.

Once you've completed all the payment settings, click on the “Update Options” button. Head back to MemberPress > Rules and create a new rule that applies to your membership plan.

Now, the next time a new user clicks on your course, they'll be directed to the registration page. Once they've signed up, they'll land on their course page:

MemberPress course curriculum front-end look

With MemberPress Courses, not only can users see their progress on each class, but as site admin, you can also see the user's progress.

As an online course creator and marketer, you get valuable insights into what courses are working and what aren’t.

Step 10: Promote and Sell Your Online Course

You may have a great course; although, if you don't spread the word, no one will know about it. Instead of cash registers ringing, you'd probably hear crickets!

Here's a checklist of some tried and tested methods you could consider to promote and sell your online course.

1. Create a Coming Soon Page

Have a “coming soon” page up on your website. You could even consider promoting it across various channels. 

Include a rough idea of the course contents and don't forget to include an email opt-in. Ask users to chip in by asking them what they expect to learn from the course.

Not only are you building your email list, but you'll also get first-hand feedback from potential customers. User feedback could offer valuable insights into the type of content they expect.

You can create a coming soon landing page easily using plugins such as SeedProd. The information you gather can help you plan your course content accordingly.

2. Build an Email List

Email marketing is by far the most effective way to reach out to your audience. It offers you the maximum return on investment (ROI).

Mail your list about the upcoming course and look out for suggestions and tweak your course to incorporate those suggestions. You could even launch the course to your email list first. Consider offering an early bird discount, just to entice them.

3. Run Ads

If you've earmarked a budget for online promotions, you could try running ads online. 

Whether it’s on Google or social media platforms, running targeted ads can help you gain an immediate sense of the market.

4. Promote on Social Media

Like your email list, promoting on social media works well if you have an engaged audience. 

Building an audience takes time. Plan your social media marketing strategies well in advance, and you can leverage the huge audience base these platforms have.

5. Create a Free Mini-course

Have you ever purchased a product just because you liked the free or mini-version? 

It's like giving your users a feel of what's to be expected in the main course. It works in most cases and is a strategy well worth considering.

6. Run a Weekly Webinar

Webinars convert well. More so, if it's a live webinar conducted by the trainer.

Users feel connected with the trainer when they get on a live webinar and you can use this increased engagement to help convert. 

It's also a great way to convince the audience that you know your craft. Run through the key elements of the course, how the course would add value to their lives, showcase testimonials and social proof, and make the sales pitch towards the end. You could throw in a special offer too!

7. Guest Post

While you wouldn't necessarily get a chance to push your sales page on a guest post, you could earn yourself a backlink to your course website.

Look out for opportunities to guest post on blogs that are in the same niche as yours. This is not an option for immediate results but one that will surely pay dividends in the long run.

8. Offer a Discount

Whether it's through your emails, the ads you run, or even on live webinars, offering a discount strikes the right cord when it comes to forcing a sale.

Run a limited period offer or a discounted sale for the first X amount of visitors. It could be just what you need to get the ball rolling!

9. Influencer Marketing

An influencer is one whose words are taken as gospel. Well, almost!

Look out for influencers in your niche. Influencers have a huge following and are often seen as an authority figure. They've built this over time, and if they feel your course can add value to their audience, they'd be sure to recommend it.

Conclusion

Creating an online course is also an excellent way to generate income from your blog. With the education industry being so lucrative, why miss out on this opportunity?

Creating an online course is pretty straightforward. More good news is, platforms such as WordPress and plugins like MemberPress do most of the heavy lifting for you. With its easy drag and drop functionality, a built-in MemberPress Course add-on, and more, creating an online course couldn't get any simpler.

We hope this article covered everything you need to know about creating a WordPress membership site for selling courses.

Have you created your WordPress membership site on MemberPress? Are you selling an online course? Let us know in the comments below!

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Categories: Courses How To
About Sujay Pawar

Sujay is CEO and co-founder of Brainstorm Force, the company behind the award-winning WordPress theme Astra. He's a diehard entrepreneur, father to a daughter, and a self-certified YouTube addict. Follow Sujay on Twitter at @Sujaypawar.

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