Curious how to create a membership website that can build authentic connections with your brand and help pay the bills?
Putting your best content into a paid membership can be an easy way to monetize your knowledge, You can also use a free membership to generate leads for your business. Either way, a membership site can be amazing for boosting engagement, conversions, and revenue.
In this article, we’ll go over what a membership website is and how to build one in just a few simple steps. Let’s dive right in!
What is a Membership Website?
A membership site is a website where exclusive content and other perks are available only to registered members.
Memberships can be free or paid. Paid memberships may charge a recurring subscription or a one-time fee.
Keep in mind that not every membership is a subscription, and not every subscription is a membership.
Some memberships may grant lifetime access for a one-time fee and thus wouldn’t be a subscription. Subscriptions generally are content-only, while a membership may include a community forum, exclusive or early access for appointments, online courses, and other benefits.
Many brands have started to add membership and community components to their existing business models. Software-as-a-service (SaaS) companies in particular are already positioned to offer benefits like community forums and support team access through a recurring membership model. For example, OptinMonster offers not just a software product but an entire online university of marketing courses, live chat support, and campaign creation for active members. We think of our customers as a community, not just a list of transactions.
Benefits of Membership Sites
There are many great reasons to create a membership website.
Memberships are a great way to increase traffic and engagement. This can give your site a serious boost with search engines as they see lots of visitors spending time on your content.
If you’ve already got a lot of content, placing some of that content behind a paid membership is a simple way to monetize your site. This can help bring in recurring revenue without having to create tons of new content.
You can use a free membership to build a list of email leads. Because these leads have already interacted with your content, they’ll probably be more active email marketing subscribers as well.
Finally, once you have your membership site set up, your marketing and lead generation can run largely on autopilot. With the right membership software, you can set up automated onboarding, content dripping, and subscription renewal. This can take a lot of the work out of running your membership business.
Now let’s look at how to make a membership website that brings all these great benefits and more!
How to Create a Membership Site
It’s not hard to slap a login form on your site and call it a membership, but it may be a challenge to get members to join if you can’t explain the benefits of your membership site. Fortunately, we’re here to show you how to build a membership website that people will actually want to join.
1. Identify Your Purpose
Before you start building a membership website or putting together a marketing plan, you must decide the purpose of your membership.
First, think about what you most want the membership site to do for your business. This will steer all your other decisions. Do you want to:
- Generate recurring revenue?
- Repurpose existing content?
- Build your email list?
- Generate leads for your service-based business?
- Something else?
You also need to consider the goals of your future members. To do that, you need to understand 2 things: who your membership is for, and what transformation they’re looking for. In other words, why should they join your membership? What will they gain from it?
Everyone has a reason for joining a membership. They want to achieve something, even if it’s just relieving boredom. More often, they want some kind of change in their life, and you have to be clear on how your membership will deliver that change.
Let’s look at some examples.
Like a Boss is a mastermind that promises to take members from overworked freelancer to confident business owner.
Fitness Blender is an online exercise membership that makes fitness accessible to everyone regardless of income or fitness level.
Terrain is an online education platform for business owners. Members go from being overwhelmed by all the online courses out there to having actionable, bite-sized business education for one low price.
Once you’re clear on the purpose of your membership, you can move on to planning your content.
2. Plan Your Members-Only Content & Programming
The next thing to do is define what your membership includes. What sort of content and features will help members make the transformation that you’ve promised?
Members-only content can include:
- Blog posts
- Templates and swipe files
- Exclusive products or merchandise
- Premium functionality on an app or website
- Early or exclusive access to workshops, webinars, coaching, and other programming
- Members-exclusive podcasts
- Online courses
For instance, Freelancers Union offers resources, networking, insurance policies, and advocacy for freelance members.
You don’t have to create all this content right now, but it helps to know what you’re going to offer as you figure out a membership model in the next step.
3. Choose a Membership Model
Once you know your membership’s purpose and offerings, it’s time to decide what kind of membership model you’re going to use. Here are some factors to consider:
Availability: Based on the transformation you want members to experience, you may want to adjust when and how the membership is available.
- Is the membership always open?
- Are there strict enrollment periods?
- Do members get to stay as long as they want or is there a set membership period?
- Is there a limit to how many members you allow at a time or overall?
While it may be tempting to open your membership as wide as possible, in some situations you might get better results by limiting access. This helps ensure that the most qualified and engaged members are the ones joining, and also builds a sense of desirability. People tend to want what they can’t have right away!
Membership Levels: You may not want or be able to offer all of the membership benefits to every single member. For example, if you plan to offer 1:1 coaching as a membership perk, you won’t be able to offer an unlimited number of sessions. Perhaps 1:1 appointments are only available at the highest membership level.
Pricing: With your membership levels and availability in mind, consider how you want to price your membership website.
- How are different membership levels priced?
- Are you charging one-time or recurring payments?
- Is there a discount for purchasing a whole year up front?
- Will you offer free trials? If so, how long are the trials? When can members upgrade?
As always, think about how the membership model can support the transformation promised by your membership.
Let’s say you have a membership for runners with training plans, blog posts, and scheduled group runs. Your membership model would probably look very different if your goal is to help people train for a 5K race in one month compared to 6 months.
For the one-month training, you might have stricter enrollment dates and a one-time fee since it’s such a short-term commitment. On the other hand, members who want to train over the course of 6 months might get the option for monthly payments and the chance to join whenever they want.
After you know your purpose, content, and membership model, you can choose a membership platform.
4. Pick a Membership Platform
Do you see why we did all this planning before actually building a membership site? The best membership website builder for your business will depend on the type of content and membership plans.
When choosing a membership software, look for one that makes it easy to:
- add new members
- create landing pages for your membership
- set up a members area
- offer multiple membership options
- handle the right payment gateways
- protect your premium content
- add the membership content and benefits as needed by your business model
MemberPress is a great WordPress membership plugin that simplifies creating a membership website. You can add exclusive content with just a few clicks and customize what non-members see when they try to access gated content.
MemberPress lets you create unlimited customizable memberships and automatically generates dynamic membership pricing pages to help you convert more visitors to members.
If you have online courses in your membership, you can use the drag-and-drop course builder to create and manage your courses in the same place you manage your memberships. MemberPress also integrates with forum plugins like bbPress so you can create an online community inside your membership.
MemberPress supports Stripe and PayPal payment methods, so you can easily take credit card and online payments for your membership
As you build a membership site, make sure your web hosting provider can handle the additional traffic and storage needs. If you don’t have a WordPress site, you can try the content protection features on Squarespace, Wix, and some other popular website builders. These tend to be more limited than what you can get with MemberPress, but may be enough for simpler membership websites. You can also try a hosted membership site solution like MemberSpace or Mighty Networks.
5. Market Your New Membership Site
It’s a lot of work to build a membership site so make sure to promote it to your target audience!
Here are some easy ways to market your membership website:
- Send an email to your subscribers whenever you add new content to your membership.
- Link to your membership from your homepage and social media profiles.
- Enable real-time signup notifications with TrustPulse to add social proof of how popular your membership is.
- Set up Google Analytics to monitor traffic to your membership signup page as well as usage of the different resources.
One unique way to promote your membership is with OptinMonster.
OptinMonster is the best popup builder for lead generation and increasing traffic and engagement. The dedicated MemberPress integrations means you can show your members special messages based on their login status, member level, course participation, subscription expiration, and more.
For example, when a new member signs up, you can display a campaign inviting them to share the news on social media.
This kind of targeted messaging is very effective since it specifically addresses the user’s need at that specific moment.
You can also use OptinMonster’s many other awesome features to build eye-catching popups to drive up traffic, engagement, and conversions throughout your website.
Summary: Building a Membership Website the Effective Way
Anyone can put content behind a paywall and call it a membership. But to create a truly compelling membership that customers can’t wait to join, remember these 5 things:
- Define a purpose for your membership.
- Create content that supports the transformation your members want.
- Pick a membership model and pricing plans that align with the purpose of your membership.
- Choose a membership platform that lets you build the kind of membership you want.
- Market your membership website to the right target audience.
We hope this tutorial will help entrepreneurs like you create sustainable membership programs that generate more leads and revenue. For other ways to attract new leads, check out our complete guide to lead generation.