Building a successful membership website doesn’t have to be a wild, pie-in-the-sky dream. With a little thought and planning, you can build a membership website that will set a firm foundation for your business goals.
In this guide, we’ll discuss the eight keys to building a successful membership site. By the end, you’ll have solid action points to move forward toward building a site that people want to use.
Let’s take a look.
One of the best things about successful membership websites is the many different types currently running. You will find examples of highly successful membership websites across all fields and industries, and also within a variety of business models and sizes. This means your website can harness the power of your unique brand when you apply design in a way that works for you and for your users.
Some examples are well-known subscriptions services like:
- Dollar Shave Club
- Blue Apron
- Microsoft Office
These are only a few of the many successful membership websites currently running across the internet. They cover eLearning, business, meals, life, and history, but they are only a surface view of all the options out there today.
Elements of Successful Membership Sites
Despite their variety of topics, all the different types of membership sites have some elements in common that have allowed them to achieve success in their industry or niche.
Study these success elements and then find ways to implement those elements to fit within your brand voice. Once you have those elements in place you will have set a firm foundation for your successful membership website.
1. A Successful Membership Website Provides What is Promised
Some may argue that this is, far and away, the most important aspect of any business or website. But when it comes to free or paid membership sites, it’s the absolute number one key for success.
For example, let’s say you decide to build a membership site as a tool for education.
DON’T: Spend the next two months blogging about your family and the vacation you took.
DO: Blog about the news of education, tips for education, and the tools for education you are providing to our users.
It may be easier to do the don’t, but with a focus that doesn’t align with your membership website purpose, you will find you lose members even if the cost is free.
Members join sites for specific reasons, such as knowledge, a product, or belonging to a community of like-minded people. If you aren’t giving your visitors what they signed up to get then you will see them leaving to go find it somewhere else.
If you find that you’re having a difficult time converting your visitors into members, or that your attrition rate is too high, revisit your marketing tactics. Take a closer look at what your site is really delivering.
2. Consistently Deliver
It’s easy to over-promise and under-deliver if you’re not paying close enough attention to your marketing message. And when a member feels misled or cheated, they’ll leave and never come back.
When building a membership site and producing content and a marketing message, stay focused on the things that are possible for you to do. Avoid planning so much for tomorrow that you are unable to deliver today.
For example, let’s say you promise your members an exclusive monthly video conference with you.
DON’T: Forget to schedule and produce the video conference.
DO: Set aside time to prepare for the video conference. Set alarms to remind you to go live with the conference. Send emails reminding users the event will be live. Go live at the same time on the same day each month.
If you’re not able to meet the commitments you make to members, it’s time to revisit the way you approach your business.
3. Create Quality Content
No matter what subjects you cover on your membership, or what your focus is, as long as you continue to deliver quality content to members, they’ll feel like your membership fees are money well spent.
DON’T: Rush to churn out as much content as you possibly can. Remember that your members actually prefer to wait a bit longer for new content that’s high in quality.
DO: Invest your resources into creating quality content that informs, entertains, or engages the members.
One extremely well-articulated post each month is better received by your audience than daily updates that never seem to go anywhere.
4. Learn from Your Members
Watch closely how members respond to the new content you create. This will help you understand what your audience views as quality content. Members vote their approval or rejection of content with their time.
DON’T: Keep churning out what the members ignore (or soon the members will ignore your site).
DO: Learn from how members engage with different forms and types of content you produce.
In other words, if you produce a 90-minute video that loses 75% of your viewers within the first few minutes, figure out what you did that made them stop watching. If members seem to enjoy your written posts but ignore your podcasts, look into why that is. Some subject matter lends itself better to one format than others, but the reasons could also be technical – such as quality issues with a microphone or video.
Successful Membership Sites Offer Variety
The best membership sites offer a variety of membership levels including free and paid.
There are several solid reasons to not offer free content. Sometimes, free content devalues your message and brand and can make it more difficult to monetize your site.
However, you really do need to have some content that acts as a loss-leader for your paid content. Without it, it’s nearly impossible to attract new users and convert them into paying members.
The best way to do this is to whet the appetite of your visitors to make them want more. Then strategically drive them toward paying for a membership.
The most common way to attract new visitors with your free content is by starting a blog. A blog post that’s well-written can rank highly in SERPs, which automatically increases the authority of your site and brings in more users.
And because blog posts are written as short-form content, they’re the perfect tool for establishing initial interest and pushing users toward a paid membership level where they can unlock all of your knowledge.
Be very cautious about using membership barriers and paywalls to hide the whole of your site’s content. There are some successful large membership sites that employ this method, wherein they allow non-members to proceed halfway through an article before blocking access until they sign up.
While this technique can work for some large sites, it will, more often than not, annoy your readers who feel like you’ve pulled a bait-and-switch on them.
And they won’t be coming back to your site after that.
Use Free Trials
If you’re currently providing free access to some of your content, and a membership tier that’s free for more, it might not seem necessary to offer free trials of your full membership features.
But the reality is that the major hurdle for anyone considering joining a membership site is not knowing for sure if a paid membership will actually be worth it.
When you offer a free trial that features all of your paid membership benefits, it will allow new members to experience exactly what they’ll get for the money. It’s also important that you don’t require a user’s payment information to sign up for a free trial. For many, this will immediately cause them to turn away from your free trial offer.
A WordPress membership site plugin such as Restrict Content Pro makes it simple to remind members when their trial is going to expire. It then prompts them to complete a payment or log them out of the premium area after the trial period is over.
If you demand payment info to access a free trial, it often stops users from signing up and discovering what your premium area offers. And this defeats the entire purpose of offering a free trial.
Value Members at All Levels
The ultimate goal of your membership is to funnel as many people as possible to join your highest membership tier. You encourage the up-sale by valuing the lowest-tier and showing their value as much as possible.
Every level of membership in a successful membership website should target retaining existing members, then work to convert them into becoming higher-tier members. Your lowest-level site members have already gone through most of your sales funnel. Because of this, they’re the most likely people to convert to higher membership levels.
This is why it’s so important to make sure they feel valued, and get a lot of quality content from you.
There are a number of ways to get quality feedback from members. Polling is the perfect place to begin.
But don’t only rely on what subscribers or paid members have to say.
Say you’re running a site that’s built around yourself and the products you offer. Your members might not feel right if they tell you something that you’re doing doesn’t work for them. Rather, they’ll most likely vote with their time or wallets by not showing up as often or leaving the memberships completely.
Every time you upload a new piece of content, closely review how it performs. Of course, different content formats tend to have varying interaction and viewing rates. Videos will normally outperform written posts, as an example. And in these instances, you should review how the content performs against other similar content, as well as site-wide.
When elements of your website are consistently underperforming, it may be time to cut ties and abandon that type of content in favor of the content that members are actually looking for.
Poll your members on exactly what they prefer. Ask positive questions that lead to more people answering with an honest response.
In other words, asking your members, “What do you enjoy most about my live streams?” will generate a host of more honest replies than, “What are the reasons you’re ignoring my podcasts?”
When you poll users for suggestions and feedback, you’re taking an initial step toward interacting with them personally. On successful e-learning membership sites, members typically join to gain more direct access to an educator who is an ultimate source of the knowledge they’re looking for.
When you make yourself available to members, you take a huge step toward encouraging new people to sign up. And you also keep your existing members more satisfied.
This doesn’t mean that you need to be at everyone’s beck and call 24/7. A simple monthly Zoom conference, making comments in the forums, or joining in on conversations keeps people happy and engaged without taking too much of your valuable time.
What’s most important here is to make sure that none of your members feel like they’re ignored or alone on your site. If you want to build a successful membership website, remember that it needs to first be built around you and engagement with your members.
Never underestimate how much value your members put on being able to communicate directly with you.
Encourage Interaction with Other Members
What exactly makes membership sites stand out from typical logs or other types of e-learning platforms?
The interaction that happens between members.
And the powerful social connections members form with you and your content, and among each other, are the biggest ties that keep members coming back and renewing memberships.
While it’s definitely another step to take with your site that some site owners omit entirely, it’s one that you cannot overlook. It may be tempting to send members off of your site for social interaction, such as a Facebook group you set up. But it’s a much better idea to keep them within your member portal.
Adding your own membership area isn’t as difficult as you may think. WordPress offers a wide variety of free and premium plugins that can turn your site into a fully-functioning social media site.
PeepSo is one of the best.
Unfortunately, if you’re just starting off your site and you don’t have many members, it may be difficult to encourage social participation. It may even feel like you’re mostly talking to yourself.
To overcome this, host some Q&As to start building up the social elements of your site and encourage people to engage. Doing so will pay big dividends down the road, as your site grows and organic interaction between members and users begins to take form.
You Can Have a Successful Membership Site
In this guide, we’ve unlocked the top eight keys of a successful membership website. The only question that remains is what you will do with the information you’ve learned.
Membership websites are incredibly valuable assets to many different types of businesses. Just keep in mind that the one additional key to finding success is time. It will take some time to build momentum for your site. But when you figure out your plan of action, you’ll be well on your way toward success.