Restrict Content Pro Review: An Advanced WordPress Membership Plugin from Pippin Williamson
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Restrict Content Pro is a feature-rich membership plugin for WordPress that has everything you need to create a membership website or online course — or even a restricted content area for staff.
While a free version of the plugin does exist, it’s quite limited and isn’t a great advertisement for what the pro version can do.
This includes great support for payment gateways, as well as lots of great management tools for your members. On top of this, the pro tool also lets you set up discounts to help boost memberships sales.
Restrict Content Pro was developed by Pippin Williamson’s company, Sandhills Development. As noted in my recent review of Easy Digital Downloads, Sandhills Development have a fantastic track record of developing professional WordPress products and providing solid support to customers.
In addition to Easy Digital Downloads and the Pippins Plugins blog, the team are also behind affiliate plugin AffiliateWP, Stripe payments solution WP Simple Pay and event calendar plugin Sugar Calendar.
Let’s take a closer look at why many people view Restrict Content Pro as one of the best WordPress membership solutions available today.
The Free Version of Restrict Content
The free version of Restrict Content Pro, simply called Restrict Content, can be downloaded from WordPress.org or, if you prefer, directly from the plugins page of your WordPress admin area.
With Easy Digital Downloads, every user needs to install the core version of the plugin. This can be downloaded from WordPress.org, and includes many great features, such as discount codes, support for PayPal and analytical reports. The plugin’s functionality can then be extended further through premium addons.
Restrict Content is set up differently. It’s a standalone product that only offers basic membership functionality. Those who opt for Restrict Content Pro need to install a separate plugin altogether.
Content can be restricted through the use of the restrict shortcode, and you can also create customised registration and login pages using shortcodes.
Once the plugin has been activated, you’ll see an option to ‘Restrict this content’ underneath posts, pages and other WordPress custom post types. This lets you define the WordPress user level that can see the content contained within the restrict shortcode.
On the plugin’s settings page, you can customise the message that’s displayed when a user tries to view a page but doesn’t have permission to do so.
A different message can be displayed to users from different user groups.
Restrict Content is by no means a bad plugin — it just doesn’t have many features that allow you to do anything more than restrict content to predefined user levels.
If you’re looking for a free membership solution, you may want to consider an alternative plugin such as Simple Membership, as it has support for PayPal and Stripe payments, and boasts many user profile options. Ultimate Member, Restrict User Access and WP-Members are great options too.
In my opinion, Sandhills Development should increase the functionality of Restrict Content to better demonstrate what WordPress users can achieve with the pro version. Unfortunately, at the time of writing, Restrict Content had not been updated for 12 months, so did not appear to be actively supported.
What Does Restrict Content Pro Offer?
The difference between Restrict Content Pro and its free counterpart is night and day. Retailing from only $99 per year, Restrict Content Pro is an advanced WordPress product that can be used to build many types of websites.
The plugin has features such as a customer dashboard, which allows users to view and manage their account, and discount codes to encourage membership sign-ups.
Accepting payments shouldn’t be a problem, as Restrict Content Pro has support for several payment gateways, such as Stripe, PayPal, Authorize.net and 2Checkout. The plugin integrates with WooCommerce too.
A number of reports can be generated about your memberships and earnings to give you a better picture of how your memberships are performing. You can export membership information and payment information in CSV format too.
What’s really impressive is the level of control you have with Restrict Content Pro.
From the customer dashboard, users can not only view the current status of their membership, but also upgrade and downgrade to different plans and only pay the difference.
As the administrator, you can create any type of membership plan you want — whether it be a premium subscription, a trial to allow people to test your service or a free account. The memberships page lets you see which members are active, pending, expired and cancelled.
In the back end, you can also define what emails are sent to customers, such as payment receipts and renewal reminders.
Check out the Restrict Content Pro use-case page for more examples of what Restrict Content Pro can do.
Ever since Restrict Content Pro was launched, it’s continually been improved and refined. The latest release is version 3.0 beta, which was released in January 2019.
This major release had been in development for almost a year. It introduced two new custom tables for storing memberships and a new option for customers to pay more expensive membership plans in instalments. Content can now be restricted to more than one user group too.
Within the account area of my Restrict Content Pro account, I had the option of downloading version 2.9.15 too, but, for the purpose of this review, I opted to install version 3.0 beta on my test website.
Restricting Access with Restrict Content Pro
Once Restrict Content Pro has been activated, you’ll see a ‘Restrict this Content’ option under your posts, pages and custom post types. It works in the same way as the free version. However, in the pro version you have more control over who can see restricted content.
You can restrict content to users who’ve purchased a particular membership, those with a sufficient access level or members who have a particular role.
Content can also be restricted partially, and you can show an excerpt of it to users to give them a preview of what full paying members see.
These same member access options can be applied directly to custom post types. For example, you could restrict access to all blog posts, all pages or a custom post type, such as a portfolio.
Whole categories and tags can be restricted to paying members too. You just need to define the access level required to view the content.
As you can see, Restrict Content Pro gives you a great amount of control over who’s permitted to view specific content on your website.
Managing Memberships with Restrict Content Pro
You’ll find Restrict Content Pro settings under ‘Restrict’ in your WordPress admin area. From here, you can create new memberships, check reports and configure how the plugin works.
The memberships page lists all users with memberships on your website. You can filter members by the membership plan they have, and see which are active, expired or deleted.
When you click on a user, you’re taken to the membership details page. This page advises you of the current status of the membership, and lets you know when the membership started and when it was billed.
You can change the status of a membership from this page too. This is useful if, for example, you want to reward a long-term customer with a membership extension.
Underneath is a list of all the payments that have been made, and you can manually add a payment here if necessary.
The notes section at the bottom of the page is useful for adding reminders about a customer’s membership. For example, you could add a reminder that the customer was given a free membership in a competition or was given an extended trial.
Over time, these notes will help you and other staff to remember key milestones in the customer’s account.
Every person who signs up to a membership will be listed in the customers page.
You can manually change their name and email address here and see whether they have agreed to any terms you’ve asked them to read. Full information about their memberships and payments is displayed here too, and there’s a notes section for adding any additional information about the customer.
The membership levels page is where you create your membership plans, and there’s no limit to how many plans you can create.
Everything about the membership plan is defined here, including a membership’s name, description, duration and price. An optional sign-up fee can be charged with your plan. By making this negative, you can give a discount on the first payment. Alternatively, you could charge a high sign-up fee and a low renewal fee to reward those who renew their memberships in subsequent years.
You can also define the user role a customer is given upon signing up and what WordPress access level they’re granted.
Discount codes are an essential part of promoting your membership plans and rewarding long-term customers.
From the discounts page, you can set the code for the discount and whether the discount is a set amount or a percentage. Discounts can be restricted to specific membership plans, and can be set to expire by a particular date and by a set number of uses.
All received payments are listed on the payments page. You can review any payment, and edit information such as the username, amount paid, payment date and payment status.
This page details what membership the payment was made for and whether any discounts were applied in the payment.
The reports page displays your earnings, refunds and sign-ups; you can filter data by month and by membership level.
The process of creating memberships, validating payments and modifying customer information is all straightforward. Should you be unsure of any aspect of using the plugin, I recommend referring to the Restrict Content Pro documentation area.
One page you should bookmark from the documentation area is the shortcodes page, which lists all available shortcodes and gives examples of how each one can be used.
It’s not essential to remember these shortcodes, though, because when you activate Restrict Content Pro it will create all necessary pages, such as registration, updating billing information, editing profiles and more.
The style of your forms and and fields will change according to the WordPress theme you’re using. The example above shows you how the form would look using the default WordPress theme, Twenty Nineteen.
Unfortunately, at this time, there’s no styling manager or drag-and-drop visual builder to help you change the look and feel of your forms. This is something I’d love to see integrated into the plugin in the future.
Configuring Restrict Content Pro
At the bottom of the Restrict Content Pro admin menu, you’ll find settings, export and tools. The help link loads the documentation area on the official website, and the addons page lists all official addons and pro addons.
The main plugin settings page is divided into five tabs: General, Payments, Emails, Invoices and Misc.
You need to enter your license information in the general tab to receive automatic updates. This settings page is also where you define important pages such as the registration page and account page.
The auto renew option lets you decide whether memberships always renew or never renew, or whether a customer is allowed to decide.
Your restricted content message can be entered here too. This is done using the WordPress visual editor, so you can easily format text and add images and videos to the message.
In the payments tab, you can select your currency and define which payment gateways you want to accept for membership payments. A sandbox mode is available to help you to test whether payments have been configured correctly.
If you choose to accept payments via a particular payment gateway, make sure you enter the API information for it on this page.
You can choose to send emails in plain text or using a template that’s customised via the WordPress visual editor.
Everything from the email address to the header can be modified. You can attach a logo to the top of emails to make them look more professional too.
Another useful option is email verification, which ensures customers have signed up using a valid email address.
You can modify the emails sent out for new membership activations, cancelled memberships, expired memberships, expiration reminders, renewal reminders, free memberships, trial memberships, payment confirmations and renewal payment failures.
The subject and content of each email can be changed as you please. Since the WordPress visual editor is used, you can make these emails as simple or as complex as you wish.
Invoices can also be customised.
There are fields for entering your company information, email address, and header and footer text, as well as a notes section for adding other useful information.
The miscellaneous tab features a variety of settings.
At the top are options to redirect users to a specified page when they attempt to view content reserved for members. By default, users are redirected to your checkout page, but, if you prefer, you can send them to another page, such as your registration page or to a plans page that details the different membership plans you have on offer.
Content excerpts can be shown to tease potential customers, and these can be enabled or disabled for all posts if you wish.
One of the most important settings on this page is the setting for one-time discounts. If this is disabled, any discount that’s applied at checkout for a membership will be applied to all future payments. This isn’t always what you want, so be sure to review this.
A reCaptcha field can be added to forms to help prevent spam from bots too.
WordPress plugins typically leave all of the tables and rows they created when you delete them from your website. However, Restrict Content Pro has an option to remove all data when the plugin has been uninstalled.
The export page allows you to export membership data and payment data as a CSV file. These reports can be customised for a particular type of membership and particular membership status.
Payment reports can also be limited to specific months and years.
The tools page lists system information about WordPress and your server.
This area also has a debugging tool. Despite installing 3.0 beta, I never came across any bugs or errors. Should you come across any problems, you can pass the debugging information on to the Restrict Content Pro support team to help them resolve the issue.
All in all, Restrict Content has a great number of configuration options.
The main area I believe it needs to improve is styling, and I’d love to see the plugin give more control over how forms and account pages are structured and styled.
Addons greatly extend the functionality of a WordPress plugin; the right addon can sometimes be the difference between a good plugin and a great plugin.
A better term for official addons would be ‘basic addons’ or ‘essential addons’, as they’re included in all plans. In contrast, the pro addons are only available to professional and ultimate plan users, and aren’t provided to those who opt for a lower-priced Restrict Content Pro license (more on this later).
Within your admin area, you’ll see a list of most of the addons that are provided. The addons listed here are MailChimp, WP Job Manager, EDD Member Downloads, EDD FES Vendor Limits,
EDD Wallet, Limited Quantity Available, Download Monitor, Campaign Monitor, MailPoet and bbPress.
Bizarrely, two other addons, CSV User Import and Enforce Strong Passwords, aren’t listed on the addons page of the plugin — despite being included as one of the 12 official addons.
AffiliateWP is listed as an addon, but that’s a separate plugin altogether that retails from $99.
Another addon listed on the official addons page is EDD Member Discounts. This addon isn’t included in any membership, and sells separately for $19.99. It’s technically an Easy Digital Downloads addon, so I guess that explains why it’s separate, but it still seems inconsistent when other Easy Digital Download integration addons are free to download.
There’s a good variety of addons included as official addons.
The addon Limited Quantity Available lets you create scarcity by allowing you to restrict the number of subscriptions that are sold. CSV User Import can be used to import member accounts from a CSV file, and Enforce Strong Passwords allows you to enforce strong passwords upon registration.
In my opinion, the functionality of these three addons should be integrated into the core plugin. I see no reason why these features have been released separately, as they provide functionality most users of Restrict Content Pro would use.
The other addons make more sense being released as separate items.
Those of you who also use Easy Digital Downloads may look at integrating Restrict Content Pro with it using EDD Member Downloads for managing downloads, EDD FES Vendor Limits for accepting submissions from vendors, and EDD Wallet to deposit funds into a customer’s store wallet when they sign up for a membership.
One thing that’s a little annoying is there’s no way to install any addons directly from the WordPress admin area. When you click on an official addon you’re taken to the information page for it. You then need to download the plugin file and upload it manually yourself.
A number of third-party plugins are also available for Restrict Content Pro from external companies.
Check out the third-party addon page on Restrict Content Pro to see more addons from external companies.
So I could review Restrict Content Pro, the company kindly set me up with a professional license.
Within the account area, there’s a downloads page that displays all of the professional addons available with this license.
A total of 17 professional addons are available.
Four additional email marketing addons are provided, including
MailChimp Pro, AWeber Pro, ConvertKit and ActiveCampaign. The pro MailChimp integration addon offers much better integration than the official addon, and can be used to add customers to different email lists depending on what membership plan they buy.
Group Accounts is an interesting addon that allows you to sell group memberships. The principle idea is that when a customer purchases a membership they receive a defined number of sub-accounts. For example, a company could purchase one account and give sub-accounts to employees.
Drip Content can be used to release content to customers over time. This technique is used by many online courses to release content over weeks and months, rather than giving all content to a customer on day one.
Custom Redirects can be used to redirect users to a unique URL after logging in or registering. It’s useful for sending users of different plans to different pages.
WooCommerce Member Discounts can be used to give those who purchased a membership a discount in your WooCommerce-powered store, while the Help Scout addon allows you to display customer membership information in their Help Scout support tickets.
One of the most unique addons in the pro addon list is Site Creation. This lets you sell websites you’ve created in WordPress multisite to customers. A regular fee can be charged to customers for this privilege.
Three content restriction addons are available: Restriction Timelock allows content to be seen until a specific time in the future, when it’s made private; Restriction Timeouts does the opposite, and specifies a date and time in the future when restricted content will be made available to everyone; and Restrict Past Content can be used to restrict content prior to a member’s start date.
Another option is Hard-set Expiration Dates. This addon allows you to expire all members of a specified membership plan at a specified date. Once the date is reached, all members will have their plans expire, regardless of when they signed up.
The REST API addon helps developers access data from Restrict Content Pro, giving them access to all account records and payment records.
If you want to prevent registration spam from bots, use the Math Verification addon. In comparison to a reCaptcha field, this is a more user-friendly solution, as it just adds a basic mathematical question in a new field. Of course, you could argue that this addon should be built into the core version of Restrict Content Pro and not released as an addon.
The last addon is the IP Restriction addon that allows you to use IP whitelisting and IP blacklisting to control who can see restricted content. This is an important addon for stopping spammers registering on your website.
Like official addons, there’s no way to install pro addons directly from your WordPress admin area.
The pro addons can be downloaded from the downloads page of your account and then uploaded manually.
The Cost of Restrict Content Pro
There are four license options available to those who want to purchase Restrict Content Pro.
Since there’s no option to purchase addons separately, the decision as to which license to buy is simpler than with an addon such as Easy Digital Downloads where you need to weigh up the cost of purchasing addons individually.
The cheapest license available for Restrict Content Pro is the personal plan, which retails at $99 per year and gives you access to the 12 official addons. The plus license at $149 offers the same functionality, but increases support and updates from one website to five.
The professional license and ultimate license give you the same features and functionality. The only difference is that the professional license costs $249 per year, whereas the ultimate license costs a one-off fee of $499. Therefore, if you think you’ll renew the professional license for a second year, the ultimate license is the better buy.
Both of these options give you access to Restrict Content Pro, and all official addons and pro addons. There are no update or support restrictions on the number of websites on which you install Restrict Content Pro.
Restrict Content Pro is sold with a guarantee that you’ll get a 100% refund if you’re not happy with the product.
Be aware, however, that Restrict Content Pro is sold with automatic renewals enabled. So be sure to disable renewals if you don’t want to be charged for using the plugin for a second year.
Restrict Content Pro Alternatives
When it comes to creating membership websites and restricting content to selected users, WordPress website owners are spoiled for choice. There’s a great variety of advanced solutions on the market.
As you’re probably aware, the developers of Restrict Content Pro also develop Easy Digital Downloads. This plugin can also be used to create a membership website using addons such as recurring payments and content restriction.
If you’re looking for a free solution, check out the plugins I mentioned earlier in this article: Simple Membership, Ultimate Member, Restrict User Access and WP-Members. They’re perfect for simple membership websites, and a number of premium addons are available to extend them further.
The market for premium membership WordPress plugins remains as competitive as ever, and these solutions tend to have more features than free membership plugins.
With the scope of this review, a complete comparison of these is out. However, you should check out MemberPress, WishList Member, Paid Memberships Pro and s2Member. These plugins are all well regarded by WordPress users and have been around for many years.
Check out aMember Pro too. It’s a standalone product, but it integrates well with WordPress and other popular CMS and forum applications.
Other solutions to check out include the following:
- Paid Member Subscriptions
- Optimize Press
- Magic Members
- Ultimate Membership Pro
- WP Membership
Be sure to determine which features are essential to you in a membership WordPress plugin, as this will help you to make an informed decision as to the best solution for you and your website.
Restrict Content Pro is a powerful membership solution that can be used to restrict content on your website in a number of ways.
It has great support for payment gateways, and handles subscriptions and plans in an effective manner. It has everything you need to create a professional content-based membership website.
Whether Restrict Content Pro is the right solution for you depends on your needs. However, I believe the plugin is one of the best solutions available today, as it packs many advanced membership features without overwhelming you with too many options. This ensures the plugin is versatile, but remains simple to use.
Used/using Restrict Content Pro? Thoughts?
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