Membership Plugin Review: Paid Memberships Pro

Way back in 2012…

My first email to Jason Coleman – the developer behind Paid Memberships Pro – was to request a particular feature. I had written a post about membership plugins and in early 2012 he had written me a note (and comment) about his plugin that he wanted to bring some attention to. Not a month later, I had written about a particular feature I was looking for.

As we went back and forth, it was clear that the feature was not included and that the timeline around it was a ways off. I waited the three months and wrote back and it was still about three months off. In other words, Jason was busy. And it makes sense, because he was writing tons of code, driving forward with a product business where his product was free, and doing consulting alongside the rest of his work.

We met in late 2012 at a conference and spent some time talking. As we did, I eventually circled back to my feature and was able to sponsor the development of the “drip” feature in the plugin.

But the story starts in 2010

This plugin, that no one knew much about in early 2012, was the result of many things I'm sure. But one reason it was able to exist – like many of the newer membership plugins – was because of a major shift in the WordPress codebase that happened at the 3.0 release – in 2010.

That's when we saw the full power of custom post types and the database infrastructure shifted to make coding plugins like PMP a lot easier than it had been in the past. Ask the Wishlist Member guys, who had to code it the hard way.

Jason's code, in PMP, was cleaner, faster to work with, easier to work with, and all open source. And did I mention it was (and still is) free?

2013 & 2014 saw tons of competition

Over the last couple years, Paid Memberships Pro has seen a lot of competition from new entrants like MemberPress and iThemes Exchange. As I wrote back in January of 2013, late market entrants gain from their late arrival by being able to see the product gaps and make adjustments.

If Jason made any mistake in the last couple years it hasn't been on the technology front. The reality is simply that Jason, like the rest of the membership plugin developers, are developers first and almost never marketers. So getting the word out – and keeping it out there – is hard work for them.

But recently we've seen more posts from Jason and he's doubled down on the product side of the business.

Why is this history important?

A lot of times you're buying a plugin from a website. You have no idea if it will rip you off. But you're buying it anyway because it sounds like it has the features you want.

It's a hard call, but you make it.

You know what's harder, sometimes? When the product is free.

It should be easier. Right? No cost. No risk. Right?

But that's not how we approach things. Instead, we're left wondering if it's worth anything at all. And more importantly, we're left wondering if the developer is going to skip town.

Well, let me make things really clear – Jason Coleman has been around for several years – providing a powerful plugin to those who are trying to build a membership site with WordPress.

You don't have to worry at all.

Paid Memberships Pro is a top contender

You remember when, in the movie Cars, there's a three way tie? Didn't see the movie? That's ok – a three way tie, in a European qualifier for a race, did actually happen once.

I tell you that because it's likely a contender for a two or three-way tie with a couple of the remaining plugins I've reviewing in this series – if you're the right kind of customer (which you'll see below).

If you didn't know – I've been looking at a ton of membership plugins lately:

  1. Membership 2 Pro – 3.0
  2. WP eMember – 3.3
  3. WP-Members – 2.3
  4. Restrict Content Pro – 3.3
  5. FastMember – 3.6
  6. Memberful – 2.9
  7. InstaMember – 3.6
  8. Members – 2.5
  9. WP Membership – 2.3
  10. Cart66 Cloud – 4.1
  11. Private Content – 1.9
  12. Zippy Courses – 3.6
  13. Ultimate Member – 1.7
  14. Easy Quick Member – 0.4
  15. WooCommerce Membership (Envato) – 2.0
  16. MemberWing-X – 3.0
  17. Simple Membership Plugin – 2.0
  18. Page Security and Membership – 2.0
  19. S2Member Pro – 2.3
  20. MemberMouse
  21. Digital Access Pass (DAP) – 3.3
  22. Magic Members – 2.9
  23. Wishlist Member – 2.4
  24. Rainmaker Platform – 3.9
  25. WP eCommerce w/ Membership Add On – 2.8
  26. Memberium – 4.0

Now we're looking at PMP as #27 in our push to look at 30 of the best membership plugins out there.

In case you're wondering, the remaining ones are MemberPressiThemes Exchange, and Memberships for WooCommerce (listed in no particular order).

Paid Memberships Pro Features

This plugin has a lot of features – created as add-ons rather than part of a super-large plugin. Some of the add-ons are free. But what I recommend (since the plugin is free) is that you purchase PMPro Plus because it gets you access to everything.

[tweet “I recommend you purchase PMPro Plus – because it gets you everything.”]

And trust me, this is a lot of stuff, so when I say “everything” I really mean it.

Let's hit on some of the highlights, with a focus on why you want them.

Content Dripping. Paid Memberships Pro has an add-on that let's you create a delay in accessing content. It gives you access to a shortcode that lets you define how many days from the time they start their membership the content should be delayed. Why is this important? Because it helps with engagement, bringing members back later. But it also protects you from people who buy, login, download everything, and then ask for a refund. Dripping content is critical and they support it. (PMPro Plus)

MailChimp Integration. Back before a lot of people were doing complicated stuff with MailChimp, PMP supported not only putting people on a list when they joined a membership level but also pulling them from the list (synchronizing it) when their card was declined and they were no longer members.

Infusionsoft Integration. Just the other day I gave you a short list of plugins that integrate. Paid Memberships Pro is one of the few that does it. And the add-on, like MailChimp, is free.

Custom Content Page for Each Member. Almost no plugin does this. But it's so powerful for certain kinds of membership sites. You can give each specific member a page and add custom content just for them. Perfect for coaches, trainers, etc. (PMPro Plus)

Custom Menus Per Membership. We've talked in other posts about how important this can be – because you want members to see and have access to things not available to others. The menu is a great way to do it. And PMP supports it.  (PMPro Plus)

[tweet “The number of available add ons for PMP is staggering and amazing, all at once.”]

Group Members. This is another feature I requested and it's so critical for associations. It allows the “leader” of an organization to purchase a larger priced membership for their team, and then distribute coupon codes to the team so they can sign up. That's not the tricky part. The tricky part is that when the leader ends their subscription, it terminates all the memberships for the group members. That's key! (PMPro Plus)

This is just touching on the more than 45 different add-ons that are part of the PMPro Plus package. 

pmp-addonsSo are there any downsides?

If there's anything I can say about this plugin that is a caution, it is simply this:

Paid Memberships Pro can sometimes feel like it was written by a software developer for a software developer.

[tweet “Paid Memberships Pro feels like it was written by a developer for a developer.”]

What I mean by that is that when you dig into an issue with PMP – like wondering how you might go about doing a pro-rating adjustment when people upgrade, the response is often code.

When you wonder how you might configure it so that a renewal will extend membership access starting from the end date of the existing account, you'll find code.

This is an elegant approach if you're a developer.

And Jason is generous with the amounts of code that he delivers to help people solve problems that they have because they're wanting a feature that doesn't yet exist.

But the generosity is still in the form of code.

And that means some people will need to pick a different plugin, simply because the code is foreign to them and they have no intention to do anything with something called functions.php.

So while there is code to solve certain problems, the plugin itself doesn't yet do upgrades and downgrades with pro-rating.

Part of that, I'm guessing is based on how they've coded their gateways. So for Stripe, for example, they don't actually leverage Stripe's subscription features. So any pro-rating based on upgrade or downgrade requires custom and specific code.

Where Paid Memberships Pro Rocks

What Jason and the folks at Paid Memberships Pro have done is create an incredible solution for people who want a powerful and customized membership site and are willing to touch a bit of code to get it to be perfect. The number of hooks they've made available, the amount of code Jason has written in gists for customers to leverage, and all those add-ons – all speak to that reality.

But they haven't stopped there. If you don't have unique or custom needs, their plugin will do pretty much all of what you want it to do and they've gone a step further to help your site get launched and look good.

They've recently introduced a membership theme – The Memberlite Theme!

Let's face it – all the features in the world don't matter if you can't get them to appear on your site because you bought a theme from Themeforest and you can't get it to blend or work with your plugin.

So who better to solve this problem than them?

It means you get power, ability to customize, and a theme to help your site launch faster and look good.

That's a fantastic offer!

Scoring Paid Memberships Pro

So let's get to the scoring – straight out of the box without customizing the code at all (but with the add-ons):

  • Ease of Use – 5
  • Payment Gateway Support – 4
  • eCommerce Support – 2
  • Drip Support – 4
  • Concurrent Accounts – 1
  • Pro-rating Charges – 1
  • Upgrades / Downgrades – 1
  • Speed of setting it up – 4

The PMP score is:  2.8

But let's score it again based on using the code snippets Jason has released, and what's possible if you are comfortable with code.

Because while pro-rating is low in the scoring above, this post tells you how to implement it, pushing the score higher.

  • Ease of Use – 5
  • Payment Gateway Support – 4
  • eCommerce Support – 2
  • Drip Support – 5
  • Concurrent Accounts – 1
  • Pro-rating Charges – 4
  • Upgrades / Downgrades – 4
  • Speed of setting it up – 4

The new PMP score would be: 3.6

This puts it in the top 20% of all the membership plugins (and likely higher depending on your needs), if you're comfortable with some code.