Offering freemium or paywall content with WordPress using WP Fusion

In this tutorial we look at ways WP Fusion can be used to offer a mix of free and premium blog content, Substack style, and require a free opt-in to access articles protected by a paywall.

WP Fusion includes many features for protecting content on your site and personalizing the visitor experience based on tags or lists in your CRM or marketing automation platform.

In this tutorial we’ll tie a few of those concepts together to create a Substack-like platform in WordPress: a blog with a mix of free and premium content, protected behind a free opt-in form or paywall.

First, let’s see what it looks like when it’s all put together:

In this recording you can see:

  1. Premium articles are displayed in the post list with a locked icon
  2. When the visitor attempts to read a premium article, they’re blocked by a paywall
  3. Clicking Subscribe takes them to a form where they enter their name and email
  4. After submitting the form, the visitor is redirected back to the content they’d just tried to access
  5. The content is now unlocked, and a popup is triggered welcoming the visitor to the site
  6. All premium articles are now unlocked and available

The plugins and tools we’re using in this tutorial:

Let’s go through each of the components in the video and show how they’re set up with WP Fusion.

#Protecting content

The first step is to set up our protected content. On each blog post in the admin, we can set access rules for WP Fusion.

On our premium content we’ve selected a required tag.

On this post:

  1. We’ve enabled Users must be logged in to view this post, which activates WP Fusion’s access rules on the content.
  2. We’ve selected that the user must have the Free Opt-In tag on their contact record in Groundhogg to access the content.
  3. When access is denied, we will show a message in place of the restricted content (another option is to redirect the visitor to another page).
  4. We’ve added a Read More block to the content to separate the excerpt from the full article.

For the restricted content message in the general WP Fusion settings, we’ve added a box with links to Subscribe or sign in.

The content below the More tag is replaced by the restricted content message.

Now if we visit the site in an incognito browser window, the article content below the More tag is replaced by the restricted content message.

Next, let’s explore adding a lock icon to restricted content in the post archives.

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#Showing a lock icon on restricted content

To help visitors see which content is available without a subscription, we can create a posts loop with a lock icon that is displayed conditionally based on the visitor’s access level.

In this demo we’re using an Elementor Posts widget with the free Custom Skin plugin to let us customize the loop template, but the same strategy works with any page builder or plugin that lets you build a custom posts loop layout.

To conditionally show the lock icon, we use the [wpf_user_can_access] shortcode (more info here). This shortcode lets us show and hide content in a loop based on the access rules on that piece of content.

In an entirely custom template, you could display your icon like this:

[wpf_user_can_access][else]<img src="">[/wpf_user_can_access]

The way that works, it’s saying “If the user can access the content, display nothing. If they cannot access the content, display the lock image”.

Because Elementor already includes a Post Info widget with a lock icon, we can save some time by doing a bit of magic with dynamic tags.

In this case we’ve added a Custom item with a lock icon, and set the content to Shortcode. The shortcode content is

[wpf_user_can_access][else] [/wpf_user_can_access]

Because Elementor won’t display the post info item if it’s empty, by putting a single space character after the [else] , this means Elementor will display the lock info item if the content is restricted, but hide it if it’s not.

This is entirely optional but it saves a bit of time over creating a post info row from scratch  🧙‍♂️.

#Collecting opt-ins

The Subscribe button on the form takes visitors to the Subscribe page. On this page is a form configured via WP Fusion with a connection to Groundhogg.

In this case we’re using an Elementor form, but this works equally well with Gravity Forms, WPForms, or any other WordPress form plugin.

The form is configured to apply the tag Free Opt-In (the same tag we used to protect our content in the first step).

Finally, we’ve enabled Form Auto Login in the WP Fusion settings. This means when the form is submitted:

  1. WP Fusion will create a new contact record in Groundhogg CRM with the submitted details, and apply the Free Opt-In tag.
  2. The contact’s details and tags will be saved in a cookie in the user’s browser, and any content protected by WP Fusion can be unlocked, even though the user doesn’t have an account on the site.
  3. WP Fusion detects that the user previously tried to access a piece of protected content, and that they now have access. The visitor is automatically redirected back to the last premium article they tried to access (via the Return After Login feature).
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#Triggering a popup or welcome message

WP Fusion’s access control features can be used for more than just blog posts.

Now that the visitor is identified, you can personalize the site experience based on their tags on their CRM contact record.

Next, let’s trigger an Elementor popup with a welcome message.

The popup is personalized with the name entered on the opt-in form and the title of the current post.

In the popup content, we’ll use the [user_meta] shortcode (more info here) to display the visitor’s name, and a dynamic content element to show the current post name.

The popup is configured to display one time for identified visitors who have the Free Opt-In tag

For the targeting settings, we’ll set the popup to appear at most one time, for identified visitors that have the Free Opt-In tag.

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(As an alternative to Elementor, check out WP Fusion’s Popup Maker integration for another way to target popups based on CRM tags).

Check out the sequence again in this screencast:

#Taking it further

While this is a simple example, it’s easy to extend and customize.

Because WP Fusion works with most WordPress plugins, you can choose the tools that work best for your project, or integrate tag-based access controls into an existing blog or membership site.

For example, we could protect some content with a Paying Member tag. Then, using WP Fusion’s WooCommerce integration, create a product and configure it to apply this tag when it’s purchased. This will grant access to that content for anyone who buys the product.

Or, you could create a membership plan for your premium content using Paid Memberships Pro, and via WP Fusion’s integration, configure it to apply the Paying Member tag. This way members will have access to your premium content as long as they have an active subscription.

#Require email verification

In this simple example we are immediately granting access to the premium content after the form is submitted. Another option is to disable the “Form Auto Login” feature and instead send a verification email via your CRM with an auto-login link.

When the link is clicked, the visitor’s tags will be loaded from your CRM, and any restricted content will be available. Just like with the form submission, they will be redirected back to the last piece of content they tried to access.

#Allow 5 free posts

As an alternative paywall method, we can use a popup to allow visitors to read five free posts before they need to opt in.

This Popup Maker popup is triggered after a visitor reads five blog posts.

For this example we can use Popup Maker’s Advanced Targeting Extension to show a popup after someone has read five blog posts. WP Fusion’s Popup Maker integration lets us additionally trigger popups based on the visitor’s tags in your CRM.

In this case we will trigger the popup only if the visitor does not have the Free Opt-In tag.

When the form in the popup is submitted, the tag will be applied, and the popup won’t be shown again. This strategy works with Elementor popups as well.

#Automatically email blog posts to your subscribers

This isn’t directly related to WP Fusion, but we couldn’t talk about building a Substack clone in WordPress without mentioning Newsletter Glue.

While WP Fusion lets you sync your opt-ins with your CRM or email marketing tool, Newsletter Glue lets you automatically send out email broadcasts from your email marketing platform when posts are published in WordPress.

In this case, with both Newsletter Glue and WP Fusion connected to Mailchimp, opt-ins are automatically synced to Mailchimp and tagged Free Opt-In.

Then, whenever you publish a new blog post in WordPress, Newsletter Glue will automatically send out an email newsletter to everyone with the Free Opt-In tag 🤩

This even gives you the possibility of using different opt-in forms that apply different tags depending on the visitor’s topics of interest, and then via Newsletter Glue you can send your new blog posts just to subscribers in those interest groups.

Read more about using Newsletter Glue as a Substack alternative here.

#Wrapping up

In this tutorial we’ve looked at creating a Substack-like website in WordPress, using WP Fusion to offer a mix of free and premium content that requires an opt-in to read.

You may be used to protecting content with a traditional “membership plugin”, which comes with things like free and paid membership plans, a checkout form, account area, members directory, etc.

A big thing that we love to show off about WP Fusion is, since it uses tags (or lists, groups, or segments) in your connected CRM for access control, WP Fusion can protect almost any content on your site, and almost anything can grant access to that content.

This means WP Fusion can be used as a super lightweight “membership” layer on your premium blog content (in this tutorial we used just three plugins).

Or, it can be used alongside popular membership plugins like MemberPress, Paid Memberships Pro, and Restrict Content Pro, to create a deep bi-directional integration between your membership data in WordPress and marketing data or workflows in your connected CRM.

We think WP Fusion gives you the maximum flexibility in building a WordPress site that’s deeply integrated with your CRM or marketing automation tool, and we hope you’ll think so too.

Thanks for reading! 😎✌️

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8 thoughts on “Offering freemium or paywall content with WordPress using WP Fusion”

  1. Very helpful. I’m trying to find a balanced point between free blog content and paywalled content. I think it would be very helpful if the paywalled content can still be indexed by Google.

    Can paywalled blog content appear in Google search results when using WP Fusion? I read that it needs to follow the Structured and Technical Guidelines. Does WP Fusion allow that?

    Could it be bypassed by going into the Google cache and reading content for free?


    1. Hey Daniel,

      Yeah, WP Fusion includes an option whereby an except of your restricted content can be shown to Google and other search engine spiders. To enable that, just check the box for Show Excerpts:

      Even then it’s just an excerpt (length of your choosing) that’s shown, not all of the content… so folks wouldn’t be able to access the content via the Google cache, or by pretending to be a search engine in their browser.

      WP Fusion only removes the content area of your posts and pages so any structured data, SEO tags, etc., would be un-modified.

      Cheers 🙂

  2. Instead of using the lock icon, how do I Blur both the image and title, description, tag, category of a post on the list of posts?

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