Building a Membership site can be a fun and rewarding process. You can use it for passive income or you can make it be your full-time business. Whatever you choose to do, you may want see what it takes to building a membership site before getting started.

Membership sites are a type of business model and a popular one at that. Many people have jumped on the membership bandwagon and carved out a niche for themselves in the online marketplace. It’s easy to see why, since anyone can build and manage a membership site to make a profit. However, many people are still hesitant to give membership websites a try. 

The most prominent roadblock people face when trying to build a membership site is their doubt. “Can I do this?” “Does this really work?” “Is this doable if I don’t have the required extensive technical knowledge and business savviness?” The answer is YES. You don’t need any special skills or coding knowledge to build your membership website. In this step by step guide to building a membership site, we’ll show you what to do, why you need to do it, and exactly how it all works. Keep reading to find out if this venture is the one for you. 

What’s a membership site?

A membership site is a website that offers members access to protected content once they have subscribed to a service. Such a site creates a “gated community” where non-members are unable to access specific resources. This is important as it creates value for these exclusive products or services. Members often need to register and pay to access this content. 

A popular example of a membership site would be a site where non-paying members can access some content but not all, while paying members on a premium plan can access all content and monthly themed training materials. 

Membership sites play an essential part in online business. They take on the role of a traditional membership manager. The website streamlines the process of acquiring and catering to members. The best part is that you only have to put in minimal effort once you have initially set up the website. An automated membership website then becomes responsible for:

  • Registering new members 
  • Sending out emails, reminders, invoices, newsletters, discounts, etc. 
  • Creating and updating a contact database to provide users personalized service
  • Managing content to give members access to protected content 

Types of membership sites

There are multiple types of membership sites. Some have an array of free content, with some exclusive content reserved for members. This type is the most common as it first captures visitors’ interest and establishes trust so that they are more likely to buy the premium membership. Such membership sites employs a “free-to-paid” strategy to acquire members. Visitors can access the original content and start learning making most of the available content for free. However, they need to gain membership to access the rest of the site’s content.

Some membership websites are exclusively based on paid content. Only members can access any of the content available on the site. These are most common in niche industries as the service or product’s specialized nature generates sufficient interested traffic. Additionally, some membership sites have membership levels where users can decide which content they can access based on the subscription plan they select. Only members with the highest membership level can access all available content.

Membership sites can have multiple types of content too. Software such as applications can have a trial and paid version. Members can choose a payment plan to access different features of the software. Access to communities, support groups, or forums, can also make up gated content on a membership site. Additionally, services and information such as industry reports and instructional in the form of webinars, guides, and courses can be posted on a membership website.

There’s no shortage of options you can choose from when building a membership site. You can customize your site to include your choice of content and play around with the options to make your website according to your preferred model. 

Why you should build a membership site 

  • Loyalty: The combination of free and paid content and the user experience leads to loyal subscribers. Members tend to stay committed to membership sites that have established trust and authority in the field. This means that you do not have to find new customers for every sales cycle or build complicated funnels. 
  • Consistent revenue: Memberships sites are like the gifts that keep on giving. Once you have a decent number of members, you will continue to receive income from their subscription every month.
  • Range of applications: You can find a membership for unlimited amounts of services, including community support and instructional content.
  • Website traffic: Websites can be optimized to increase organic traffic. This will increase the number of website visitors and, ultimately, the number of conversions into members, without any significant effort.  

What are members looking for? 

You have to get inside your target audience’s head to know what they want. You can maximize the number of subscriptions to your website by understanding what members are looking for and then modifying your site accordingly. The general rule of thumb is that you have to explain to visitors what you’re offering and why they need it. This is why it is necessary to have a clear mission and vision statement for your website. 

Your mission and vision need to align with members’ goals and values for them to consider becoming members. You are offering a solution to their problem or satisfying a need. Therefore, you need to present the content on your website accordingly. Show the visitors why they need to choose your site or service. This ties in with your membership model. A well-defined model will clearly outline what people will gain when they subscribe to your website. If you are clear on what you are offering and why it valuable, people will be more likely to support it. 

Members want to see the following features in a membership website: 

  • Community 
  • Resources and content that adds value in the industry 
  • Ease of access and payment 

On top of that, members want a high-quality user experience on your membership site. You can guarantee a seamless experience on your website by integrating features like:

  • Engaging visual content with appropriate images 
  • A well-placed call to action to guide website visitors towards subscribing 
  • Simple layouts that deliver the message without bombarding viewers
  • Proper font and text positioning
  • Optimized, catchy content 
  • Accessible from different devices such as mobiles, tablets, and laptops 

What you’ll need to get started 

  1. A domain name, which is the web address to your membership site. Purchasing a domain name gives you exclusive control over a particular address online and listing on a search engine, such as google.com. It can cost anywhere from $10 to $20 per year
  2. An SSL certificate for secure connections and transactions. This certificate verifies your membership site’s identity and provides an encrypted connection to users when they input sensitive information into forms on your website.
  3. A web hosting account where you can store your files and data. The hosting account will save your membership site’s records to make it accessible online. Web hosting can cost anywhere from $2.50 to $730 or higher per month. However, some web hosts provide you with a domain name for free when you purchase from them, so it’s best to look out for deals like this. A good middle of the road option is Nexcess. You’ll get automated backups, free SSL certificate, and a managed platform when you purchase their web hosting, which only starts at $19.00 per month.

If you are on a budget, you might want to take a look at another blog post, How to start a membership site on a budget.

How to build a membership site 

Now that you have acquired the domain name, SSL certificate, and web hosting platform, you are ready to build your membership site. You don’t need to know coding or any programming languages to learn how to build a membership site. The vast variety of options available have made it possible for even laypeople to develop a website.

For one, you can hire a freelance web designer or developer to build the website from scratch for you. This will allow you to have unparalleled personalization and control, but it will be costly. We’re going to walk you through some of the ability to

You can also use membership management software such as Restrict Content Pro to create a website even if you have no technical knowledge. Such software usually has a drag-and-drop interface that allows you to build your site with ease and add several features.

However, the best option for building a membership site is still WordPress. It is beginner-friendly and has many plugins to handle the back-end processes (the operational part of the website’s computer program). Selecting a membership plugin for WordPress can be challenging, especially if you’re new to the game. These add-ons convert your WordPress.org website into a membership website. 

How to build a membership site using Restrict Content Pro

  1. Install WordPress. You can skip this step if you’re using Nexcess as a web host since it has WordPress preinstalled. 
  2. Install the Restrict Content Pro plugin and activate it. You can follow the steps outlined here to learn how to install plugins.
  3. We off a few different options for purchasing Restrict Content Pro. Take a look at what options we have that best suits your needs.

Themes 

  1. For starters, there is no need to spend on premium themes. You can select any good free WordPress theme and this will be good to go. We recommend using Astra. Download that!
  2. Now it is time to install a plugin called “Starter Templates” which will help you build your membership site easily.
  3. Also install one more plugin, the most important one in our case, the Restrict Content Pro Plugin.
  4. At this point install a good page builder that you are comfortable using. We recommend Beaver Builder.

Now that you have done the basics, it is time to setup your membership site with Restrict Content Pro. In the video below, I’ll walk you through what it’s like to build a site using Restrict Content Pro.

Conclusion 

The online world is at your fingertips, and you have unlimited opportunities available. Membership sites can be helpful for everyone, from individuals to small businesses and large corporations. They allow you to have a steady stream of income and provide a sustainable model that will keep the members and revenue rolling in. You can make a membership site your primary or secondary source of income. In any case, it will be one of the most fulfilling things you do. 

As always, the first step is the hardest. We’ve outlined the steps you need to take to get your website up and running. You can even build your membership site in less than 24 hours! It’s just a matter of beginning your journey. Once you have made a commitment and gotten started, the kinks start to work themselves out. 

Now that you have learned how to build a membership site, you can create your first website and start selling. The business of your dreams is just a few clicks away. Are you ready? 

AJ Morris

About the author: AJ is the product innovation and marketing manager for iThemes and leads marketing efforts for Restrict Content Pro. He has years of experience working with and development membership sites.