So you want to know how to create a membership website? Membership sites have always been a big source of income for many businesses online. Whether the membership portion of the website is the main focal point, or created to add another revenue stream, they can help you to grow a recurring income and be less dependent upon people visiting your website through sources like Google.
A great membership website provides value on an ongoing basis. You have to be consistently be adding new content in order to ensure that your members find your program useful enough to continue to subscribe. In and of itself that can be quite a task, but a worthwhile one for building that recurring income stream.
Let’s start by examining the different benefits of a membership website;
Best Membership Site Resources
S2Member – The simplest, most efficient tool for social media management. And it’s free!
Wishlist Membership – Great membership software that plugs into multiple different CMS.
Benefits of a Membership Website
There are quite a few benefits to running a membership website.
A few that you might notice include;
Perhaps the biggest benefit of a membership website is the fact that they create recurring income. While most customers might purchase an item or click on an ad, subscribers are sending you their money on a monthly basis.
This allows you to build a business that has a more predictable income stream than you would from other sources. Additionally, your income will be less reliant on traffic sources and can count on a continuing income source for the forseeable future.
Recurring income is the lifeblood of any online business and membership websites are the easiest gateway to creating that recurring income.
Naturally a membership website creates loyalty among your readers. This is because those that continue to subscribe to the content that you create find it valuable – valuable enough to continue to give you money on a monthly basis.
With one-off products there is very little interaction or chance to build an ongoing relationship with your customers, outside of capturing their email address. However, membership sites give you an increased opportunity to interact with those utilize your products. Many membership websites also include message boards and forums, allowing you to directly communicate with your customer base.
Future Product Promotion
Because your members will be loyal, it also makes it much easier for you to promote future products and websites as well. If you were to create another related membership site, you already have a long list of current and former subscribers that may be interested in your new service.
In many ways a membership site is similar to building an email list. It allows you to stay in constant contact with individuals that are interested in your products. Many membership websites actually require that you subscribe to their email list in order to join so that they can send you updates and other program related information throughout the course of the subscription.
Protect Premium Content
Membership sites allow you to protect premium content behind a login. This is much more efficient then attempting to create your own password protected login.
While there are plenty of subscription box services out there today, most membership websites are focused on the creation of content and information. This means that you can offer your readers a lot of value without having to worry about sourcing, manufacturing, and shipping a product to them. You’ll find that this is typically an easier business model, but does require a lot of hard work in order to create the content.
With membership websites – you keep almost all of the revenue as profit as the costs are going to be quite low.
Choosing Your Niche and Product
When it comes to membership websites, it is even more important to ensure that you are choosing a niche that you are interested in. Unless you plan on outsourcing every piece of content that you offer your users, you will be spending a lot of time creating content for the subject of your choice.
The niche that you choose should be;
- Fairly large. There is no point in creating a membership website for a micro-niche. You want to make sure that your target market is large enough to justify the hundreds of hours that you will have to put into creating the content for your program.
- Easy to write about. Like I said – you’ll be putting hundreds of hours into creating content on an ongoing basis for your membership program. You need to make sure that it is somewhat easy for you to write about.
- Worth the subscription price. Think hard about the value that you are providing your members. If it is a business related subscription – can they realistically expect a return on their investment? If it is a self-help membership site, can the price be justified by the benefits that the member will receive. Subscription websites live and die by the quality of their content, so you have to make sure that you are able to deliver.
- A wealth of information available. To make a subscription service worth the time of your visitors you need to make sure that you choose a topic that has an almost unending number of subjects to be written about. Why would they continue to pay the monthly price when they could simply take in all of the information during the first month and then unsubscribe? You have to consistently provide value in order to retain your readers.
Traits of a Valuable Membership Website
For informational membership websites, there are a few traits that are telling of a valuable service that is able to retain their members month in and month out. Many low quality membership websites might be able to bring in new members, but not retain them in the long term. A few of the traits that you should attempt to create when creating your new membership website include;
- Valuable backdated content. You shouldn’t launch your membership site until you have a good amount of valuable content to justify your price.
- Ongoing content additions. If your members are paying a monthly price for your content, you have to provide new content each and every month in order for them to justify continuing to subscribe. Make sure that you are able to continually add content to your website.
- Interactivity. Whether your members are interacting with each other or with you (the moderator) directly, interaction helps to create loyalty between you and your members. Install a forum or messaging service to ensure that you are creating an interactive experience for your users.
These are all traits of a successful and valuable membership site and should be traits that you attempt to foster.
Creating Content for a Membership Site
The bread and butter of any membership website is the content. Although you can offer physical products – this guide is focusing on the creation of informational products. A subscription-box service with physical products can be highly profitable but has many of its own considerations that need to be taken into account when launching.
The first things that you need to ask yourself;
- How will the content be delivered. Will they be able to view the content after logging in? Will they need to download the content?
- What kind of content do you want to deliver? Will the information be in the form of articles, video, or audio? Maybe some mixture of the three?
- How often will new content be added? If your members are paying a monthly fee, you have to supplement the value of your membership website on a monthly basis.
In my opinion – you’d be hard-pressed to find an idea that doesn’t include some form of article on the other end of the membership program. They are an easily digestible and simple to create. When providing information, even in the form of video – you should be accompanying the video with articles as well.
PDFs are excellent for membership sites. Make sure that you do something to dress them up and make them digestible on Kindle and other eBook readers. You can also offer the articles that you are providing in the form of PDFs. You can also offer eBooks in conjunction with any of the other content that you bring to the table.
Many website memberships are based around videos and for good reason – they are easily digestible and help to separate yourself from other providers. Many offer individual courses on a variety of subjects. Videos are perceived as a high quality source of content, so they typically do well with your members.
Although I wouldn’t recommend starting a podcast behind a membership wall, I would say that taking your articles, PDFs, and videos and making an audio version where applicable is great. This is particularly true if you are offering advice to individuals, as this type of information can be easily transferable to audio without losing its value.
Creating Your Membership Website
There are many different ways to go about setting up your membership website. For the purposes of this guide we will focus on WordPress based solutions, using S2member. There are a number of high quality plugins out there, but S2Member is the program of choice for a number of reasons that we will be getting into later.
If you haven’t already – pick up your domain name and web hosting.
Then set up your WordPress installation, and choose a WordPress theme that is to your liking.
We will be using the S2Member plugin. There are both a free version and paid version of this plugin available. The one you choose will depend entirely upon the type of program that you would like to create.
It has a huge number of excellent features, including many different payment gateways.
What Does S2Member Do?
S2Member is a comprehensive membership plugin for WordPress. It is;
- Very easy to use.
- Scalable. The paid version introduces a number of features that you might not find overly useful immediately, but certainly will down the road as your membership site continues to grow.
Step 1: Your Visitors Sign Up
When people come to your website, they read through your landing page and decide whether or not they want to sign up.
When they click the ‘sign up’ button they will be taken directly to a membership page. This page might outside a few different plans, or it might have a single plan.
It’s here that you provide them with more detailed information about your product (like a list of features) as well as the price of your product.
They click the payment button, and go through the check out process at this point.
Once the payment has been finalized and they have agreed to your terms S2Member will automatically send them their login details through email. This email also includes instructions for logging in, which you can edit within the S2Member dashboard.
Step 2: Accessing Membership Content
After being provided with their login details, users can then log in and access the membership website content that you have made available to them.
After logging in, they will first be directed to a “Welcome Page” which will serve as your own dashboard for your membership groups.
You can include links to other sections of your website that are protected behind the S2Member plugin. These areas can not be accessed by individuals that are not logged in.
Step 3: Billing
The plugin automatically handles the rebilling of your members. They will be re-billed every cycle (which you choose – monthly, quarterly, yearly, etc.) and you can also choose to give your members several different cycle options.
Setting Up S2Member
S2Member is a relatively easy plugin to set up and there are quite a few guides out there that can help you throughout he process. I’ll go through some of the basics here. After initially setting up your S2Member installation, perform the following steps;
Step 1: Create Subscribe and Member Pages
These will be the two (minimum) required pages. Your ‘Subscribe’ page will be a page that presents them with all of the different subscription options that are available to them. The ‘Members’ page will be the dashboard that members see immediately after logging in.
Make sure that you really take your time to build out your subscription and membership pages and make them look as good as possible. This is the front facing portion of your dashboard that all members will see – so go the extra mile to truly build them out and make them look great.
Step 2: Deactivate Safeguards
In the “General Options” tab, start by deactivating safeguards so that you can work on setting up the system. Later you can turn the safeguards back on, but for the sake of setting things up you want to be sure that you are able to edit all ofthe required options.
Step 3: Generate a Security Key
Under the “Security Subscription Key” menu, generate your code and place it in a safe place. You will need this security key in some situations to access the installation of your S2Member setup. If you lose it, it can be very painful to regain access.
Step 4: Configure your Email Settings
Remember that your installation will be emailing your members several times throughout the process. It not only emails them when they sign up, but gives you the option to email them occasionally whenever you decide to get in touch with them. Enter the name and email support email that you want to use – there are options to include several different email addresses.
Step 5: Decide If You Want Open Registration
S2Member gives you the opportunity to open registration to anyone. This is typically only for membership sites that also have some content available for free, but you can get creative and use it as a way to entice members to sign up for a mialing list as well. This is optional.
Step 6: Set Membership Levels
Are you going to be using multiple membership levels? Membership levels allow you to give some users access to more advanced content. Many membership programs only have one membership level – “Member.” Sometimes, depending upon the subject or content that you create, you may want to upsell higher priced memberships to your users as well.
Step 7: Setup Your Login and Registration Page with Custom Logo
You want to make sure that your membership website is properly branded. S2Member allows you to add your own custom logo to your membership page through a slick image upload. It’s fast, simple, and there is no reason not to. Without your own logo, by default the plugin will display the S2Member logo.
Step 8: Turn Registration and Profile Field On
Even if you don’t immediately have a use for information, you should always turn profile fields on. This presents you with an opportunity to collect additional information from your users, which you can then later use for marketing purposes. Keeping it off just turns off an opportunity to further monetize your user base down the line.
S2Member Features and Benefits
S2Member is extremely feature-rich – especially for being free, with additional features available for the pro version. Some of the features include;
The free version of S2Member features a number of different payment integration options, which make it exceedingly easy to take payments. These include;
- PayPal Pro
- Google Wallet
The plugin also comes complete with a huge number of different membership functionalities. The more important ones include;
- Integration with WordPress Roles
- Open Registration
- Manual Account Creation
- Custom Membership Levels
- Support System
- Customizable Templates
- Profile Editing
The plugin allows you to protect all sorts WordPress content including pages, posts, categories, tags. This allows you to have complete control over which pages are accessible to the public and which are only accessible when logged in. Additionally, the plugin makes several different security levels available which can help to protect against IP spoofing, username sharing, or link sharing. While there are plenty of content protection plugins out there – few are as feature rich as S2Member.
Many subscription services will require that users are able to download files after subscribing. These files could be of any type – eBooks, images, video, etc. The plugin allows for inline delivery and forced file downloads for those situations where the user absolutely needs to download a file. It also allows for both video and audio streaming.
Additionally, it integrates with several file storage locations including Amazon S3 and Amazon Cloudfront. You can also assign access to certain files based on the membership level of the user.
A number of plugins are made available for S2Member. Additionally, it is compatible with a large number of the stock WordPress themes and plugins. This means that in many circumstances you will be able to directly apply S2Member to your already existing page – which is great for blogs that already have a solid readership and would like to expand.
S2 Member also has built-in mailing list functionality. It integrates with some of the most popular emailing services including AWeber and Mailchimp. This allows you to automatically add new subscriptions to your mailing lists, transfer your users between the two, and grow your presence.
Perhaps the best way to promote membership websites, particularly informational membership sites, is through affiliate sales. This is because it doesn’t cost you anything to offer a percentage of your subscription price to affiliates – since you will likely have a very low overhead. The system integrates with iDevAffiliate, ShareASale, and other full affiliate management applications. This makes creating your affiliate system as easy as possible.
Running a membership site is a tough but rewarding endeavor. It requires a lot of work to create something worthy of a monthly fee. But with some persistance, a membership site could easily become the bread and butter of your online operation.
Membership sites are all about value. A well made membership site will be more than worth the monthly price to users, and will provide a consistent stream of value.