When you create a website of your own, there’s no doubt you’ll consider it the backbone of your online presence. An essential place for hosting information, posting blog content or selling products, a website is crucial for having a strong online presence in any industry.
The status of your online activity can evolve even further when you create a membership website: a website model built to strengthen your influence and encourage user engagement. Plus, it’s a brilliant way to make a steady income from your content.
Having a membership website is something that may not have crossed your mind until now, so let’s shed some light on what it entails. This article will go in depth as to what these types of websites are, why it can benefit your business, startup website or consulting website and how you can create one that will be a success.
What is a membership website?
In essence, a membership website is a specific format that allows you as the owner to add exclusive goods onto a protected gate of your website. These “goods” - whether they come in the form of educational content, online services, downloadable products, physical products or forums - are guarded for special audiences (a.k.a. members).
While there are a variety of membership site models to choose from, the common goal is to turn audiences into customers by getting them to pay a membership fee (one-time, monthly or yearly). In exchange, your members will gain special access to the valuable material you have to offer. These offerings live on a password protected page of your site, kind of like a virtual VIP lounge for your members.
A membership site is also important for community building on both business and nonprofit sites, like on a school website for example.
Benefits of a membership website
The first benefit of creating a membership site is that it can directly increase your earnings. It’s a smart way to get paid for your premium content, products and services - the prototype of exchanging money for membership perks has proven lucrative before the internet was a thing. Of course, now that you’re online, your potential reach is even greater.
That leads us to the second benefit: building your customer base. Creating a membership can help you reach new crowds, build your list of contacts and lure already existing audiences into becoming customers. Additionally, when it comes time to promote your membership offering, you’ll build your online presence and increase interest in your brand.
Last but not least, a membership website is the best way to prove you’re an esteemed authority in your field and build your brand trust. If people are willing to pay for your materials and commit to becoming a member of your website, it shows others that they respect your expertise.
How to build a successful membership site
If so far, you think it’d be beneficial to create a membership site, take the following steps to make one that will be a stunning success:
01. Choose a membership model
Before you create a membership site, ask yourself three key questions:
What type of content am I offering?
How do I want this content to be delivered?
What kind of access do I want to give members?
The membership models listed below take these important queries into consideration. While there’s no uniform way to build your membership website (different models work for different people), use these for inspiration and choose the one that best meets your needs. In fact, it’s become increasingly popular to use a hybrid of these models, too.
Drip feed membership
With a drip feed model, you’ll give registered members content on a time released basis over the course of their membership. Material might be delivered to them daily, weekly or monthly.
Drip feeding benefits members by giving them time to consume your content slowly and stick to a dedicated schedule. You’ll benefit by retaining users - drip feed campaigns are proven to keep users excited about the upcoming material and engaged with your product.
The all-in membership model gives users access to content all at once. Material should be available to them as soon as they sign up to your membership site.
It’s a favorable model for users who appreciate flexibility and prefer to do things on their own schedule. Compared to the drip feed model, an all-in membership will create a less hands-on approach for you as the owner, since you don’t have to think about scheduling the release of content.
Fixed term membership
With a fixed term membership, audiences pay for access that expires. The ticking clock on their membership might end after three month, six months, or a year - the time frame really depends on what services they receive.
This is an especially good approach for members who want to achieve time-based goals - like learning a skill under a certain amount of time, or losing weight.
Online courses give members access to in-depth information about a specific topic. One of the great things about hosting one is the potential for user engagement. Many times, an online course will go hand-in-hand with interactive quizzes, exams, homework and even discussion forums between students and teachers.
Members who want to seriously upgrade their skills or are interested in extracurricular learning will love this interactive and convenient format. It’s also a great way to show off your knowledge and establish yourself as an authority in your field.
If you are looking for a popular way to get people from all over the world to discuss different topics and form a sense of solidarity, create a forum. Quality forums are so widely appreciated, it’s completely normal to turn one into an exclusive members-only space.
This model can be created by adding a private forum on to your website, and making it password protected. It’s a good opportunity to foster a strong connection with your audience and will develop a tight-knit community around your business or blog. You can also use this member list to send out dedicated emails, or organize occasional group events.
A membership site is a great way to sell and deliver products. Perhaps you have a product that can be downloaded online, such as a book. Instead of simply delivering the product to your audience, urge them to become a member for access. This can be a way for them to gain exclusive offers in the future, or be the first to know about new products.
The same goes for online stores that deliver physical products. A membership option is a good way to keep customers satisfied and engaged by giving them access to special sales and offers.
If your business revolves around a service, such as tutoring or therapy, a membership website is a fantastic way to make your services available to a range of customers from any location. The membership area of your site is where you can upload things like virtual notebooks, reading materials, checklists and more.
This helps members by giving them a way to stay on top of their progress. By breaking away from the standard freelance model, it will allow you to implement a more professional way of directing your services.
02. Pick a hosting platform
Once you’ve decided on what model you’ll use, it’s time to choose a platform that can host your membership website. If you already have a website, it's easy to add a new membership section using your website builder’s feature, or by using a plugin. If you don’t have a website yet, seize this opportunity to build a website from scratch.
There are plenty of website builders out there that allow you to implement a membership area to your site, plus a list of plugins that specialize in this. For example, Wix users can create a members area, where they can create special accounts for their members to access gated material.
03. Prepare content and registration
Before you launch and advertise your membership site, make sure you create awesome content. If you’re using the drip feed model, you’ll also need to plan out a content distribution schedule and check what third-party applications are available to help automate their delivery.
In addition, decide how you want your users to register. Will they sign up through email? Will you add an online form to your website? Will you create a landing page dedicated to membership signup? Make sure you set up this registration system before you start marketing and test it out a few times to ensure everything works properly. Your positive reputation will start with users experiencing a seamless signup process.
04. Market, market, market
Dedicate a good chunk of time and energy to digital marketing in order to get the ball rolling. The goal of these efforts is to reap member signups, but the benefits of doing this work reaches far beyond this. Even audiences who don’t sign up will become more conscious of your brand, thanks to the build up surrounding your membership site launch.
Of course, you can always use the classic method and pay for advertising, but here are some other strategic ways to master online marketing for your membership site:
Give them a free taste
Free samples deliver when the content tastes good (and we’re sure yours does). Initiate excitement around your membership site by offering audiences a free taste of what they’ll receive. This can be something along the lines of a free one-on-one session, a sneak peek at content, or the chance to try out your membership for one month free. If your audiences are impressed by what they see, chances are they’ll pay for the full experience.
Create a buzz on social media
Social media marketing has power to entice your followers to become members. Share photos, videos, written content and testimonials relating to your services, and speak to your audience about the benefits of becoming a member. Use Instagram or Facebook stories to speak directly to your followers - customers love transparency and react to seeing the face behind the product.
Don’t forget to include instructions for registration or contact information - this type of marketing works best when there are clear calls-to-action that users can’t resist.
Use affiliate marketers and influencers
An effective outreach strategy can help you promote on the platforms of other professionals connected to your field, and use them as your ambassadors. Affiliate marketers and influencers generally have large followings, and will advertise your membership site in exchange for free access to your content or commission.
Affiliate marketing and influencer marketing are effective ways to advertise professionally without a big upfront cost. Not only that, but the word of these experts is usually trusted among their followers. If they are members - and they recommend your membership to their audiences - it’s very likely their fans will listen.
Tap into your existing audience
If you already have customers and followers, update them about your new membership model. Since you already have their loyalty, you can entice them further by offering a VIP discount or giving them the chance to try out your membership before other users.
05. Create a positive member experience
Once you’ve kicked off your membership website, you’ll want to keep your members happy and make sure they say good things. Word of mouth marketing will go a long way in the long run. Ensure their experience is positive by showing your investment in their satisfaction and growth:
Interact with members
Take the time to interact with members. Send them an email every once in a while with updates, or check in to see what they think about your product. At some point during their membership, give them a user survey to understand what they like, what they don’t like, and what they would change. Customers love being heard, and you can always learn from the feedback.
Strengthen your community
Celebrate the community built around your membership service. If it’s relevant to your model, set up chat groups or forums for your members to interact with one another. Another way to do this is to organize events that only members can join. Some membership sites, those build around church websites for example, will have community at their core and so making that the focus of your site is crucial.
Emphasize strong customer service
This can’t be said enough: be available for members when they need you. If they are dissatisfied with something, listen to them and attempt to gain back their enthusiasm. If they have technical or scheduling issues, make sure yourself or a representative are available to solve it. Smiling customers are the best form of advertising.