Demystifying User Roles in WordPress: A Complete 2023 Guide for Beginners

As a WordPress professional with over 15 years of experience, I‘ve seen my share of user role confusion. Many new users struggle to understand the purpose of roles and how to assign them.

With WordPress powering over 43% of all websites, mastering user roles is an essential skill!

In this beginner‘s guide, we‘ll demystify WordPress user roles so you can confidently manage users on your site.

What Are User Roles and Why Do They Matter?

A user role defines what a specific user can access and do in the WordPress dashboard and frontend site.

For example, you may want to:

  • Give a staff writer access to publish blog posts
  • Let a contractor upload their completed web design work
  • Prevent volunteers from modifying key site settings

Without user roles, you‘d have to give everyone full Admin access – a major security risk!

Some sobering statistics:

  • 79% of WordPress sites have security vulnerabilities
  • 45% of WordPress attacks target insecure user accounts

Properly configuring user roles is crucial to keeping your site safe as it grows.

A Quick Refresher on WordPress User Roles

WordPress comes with 5 default user roles out of the box:


  • Has full control over the site
  • Can manage plugins, themes, settings
  • Adds, deletes, and manages all users

For site owners and full-time staff


  • Can publish, edit, delete all content
  • Manages posts, pages, comments, media
  • Cannot access site settings or users

For editors, content managers, and moderators


  • Can publish, edit, delete their own content
  • Can upload media like images
  • No access to site settings or users

For blog writers and content contributors


  • Can write and edit their own content
  • Cannot publish or delete content
  • No uploads or site access

For untrusted guests and temporary contributors


  • Most basic access
  • Can only view and comment on content
  • For site members with profiles

For customers, members, and commenters

This covers the needs of most basic sites. But what if you need more customized roles and permissions?

Going Beyond Default Roles in WordPress

While the defaults work for simple sites, more complex sites require enhanced user management.

As a WordPress expert, I always recommend drilling down user roles further for security. Some strategies I‘ve used over the years:

  • Remove specific capabilities from roles, like preventing Authors publishing posts
  • Add granular capabilities like allowing uploads only in own posts
  • Use a plugin like User Role Editor to customize roles
  • Create new roles like "Product Editor" for an online store site
  • Install a security plugin like iThemes Security to set user permissions and add two-factor authentication

Here are some examples of custom roles I‘ve created:

Permission Product Editor Guest Author
Publish posts Own only No
Edit published posts Own only Own only
Upload media Yes No
Manage comments Own only No
Edit theme files No No

Taking the time to plan out the permissions for each role will pay off later when your site grows!

Limit Member Access with WordPress User Roles

One powerful use case for custom roles is creating a WordPress membership site.

Plugins like MemberPress integrate with WordPress roles to restrict access to content.

For example, you may create:

  • Free Member – Access to blog, videos
  • Pro Member – Gets the full course content
  • Course Creator – Publishes own courses

By pairing custom roles with membership plugins, you can build any kind of membership site from blogs to online courses and more.

A WordPress Pro‘s Tips for Managing User Roles

Here are a few tips from my years of experience for effectively using roles:

Start with the principle of least privilege – Give only the minimal access needed. You can increase later but overprivileged roles are risky.

Audit user permissions regularly – As your team and site changes, regularly review that roles still make sense.

Educate your users – Clearly explain user guidelines so they understand their role permissions.

Following these tips will keep your site secure. User roles may seem complicated at first but gets easier over time.

I hope this guide gave you a solid foundation for getting started with one of WordPress‘ most powerful features. Let me know if you have any other questions!

Written by Jason Striegel

C/C++, Java, Python, Linux developer for 18 years, A-Tech enthusiast love to share some useful tech hacks.