How to Create Successful Membership Websites

Written By Jim Kersey
Posted On May 27, 2020

Membership websites grow in popularity every year, it seems. This common website monetisation approach has worked successfully for everyone from personal trainers and nutritionists to multimedia news publishing conglomerates like The Times Online. 

Membership websites are a fantastic way for a successful blogger to monetise their niche specialism. A number of small, medium and large multinational companies also utilise this model to keep their audiences coming back for repeated visits.

But, what makes a successful membership website, and which CMS should organisations wishing to launch a membership site actually use?

We’ll answer these questions and more, delving into just how your organisation can create a powerful membership website, which engages visitors to your website and converts them into customers.

What are the shared foundations of successful membership websites?

There are a number of shared principles which have been adopted by all of the most successful membership websites, no matter their industry, size or audience. 

  1. Create value

Establishing an extremely strong value proposition is the first and most fundamental aspect for a successful membership website. 

If your membership content serves a purpose and an evidence based need that your audience possesses (especially if no one else is solving this problem), you’re off to a good start.

It’s also crucial that you’re in this for the long haul – the quality of your offering must stay consistent, as companies looking to shortchange their audiences will be seen through quickly and members will quickly jump ship.

  1. Look after your existing members

This comes back to the previous point, as the best membership websites look to create value for their existing members, rather than alienating them, by focusing all their efforts on acquisition, through regular introductory deals like constant free trials and special offers for new members – especially the ability to access premium content. 

  1. Evolution 

The membership websites that stand the test of time are those that are constantly evolving. It’s crucial to listen to your membership, what value and insights are they seeking? Have their priorities and interests subtly shifted?

Once you know this, you can evolve and shape your content offering around what your most engaged members are really looking for.

Successful membership websites 

To demonstrate that membership websites can be found across industries, here are some examples of some of the most prominent membership websites from the worlds of ecommerce and publishing.

ecommerce 

There are millions of ecommerce membership websites on the internet, with one-man bands to massive organisations, selling everything from online courses to groceries and appliances.

Skillshare 

This online learning platform offers thousands of courses from experts in fields as diverse as web development to crocheting and learning to play the guitar.

They often run enticing joining offers, such as a two month free membership, which includes access to Skillshare Premium.

Amazon Prime

Amazon Prime is the biggest membership site in the world. In establishing Amazon Prime, Amazon tackled the consumer pain point of slow delivery when ordering online.

With the ability to guarantee free one-day delivery to Prime members, Amazon tapped into a huge market of frustrated consumers seeking more from online retailers.

Prime offers value in two senses, there’s both a monetary saving (for regular online shoppers) and the reduced frustration of waiting days for online orders you’re excited about.

Publishing

The news media underwent somewhat of a digital revolution in the mid-to-late 2000s, with the rise of gated content. 

The Times Online 

The Times and Sunday Times became a membership site in 2010, in efforts to monetise online news, amid falling sales of print newspapers and a rapidly growing online readership.

In 2018, The Times Online hit 500,000 subscribers, outnumbering their print circulation for the first time since the move to gated content.

Which?

Consumer champions Which? helps its readers make informed purchase decisions with its expert unbiased reviews from both consumers and its exceptional editorial team.

Choosing a CMS to run your membership site

If your organisation is considering establishing a brand new membership website, or incorporating elements of gated content onto your existing website, there are a number of key things to take into consideration.

One issue that may be up for debate is which CMS is best for setting up a membership site, taking into account the CMS your organisation currently uses.

Why WordPress is best for membership sites

In our opinion, we believe WordPress is by far the best CMS to choose when establishing a membership website. 

No, it’s not just because we’re a WordPress development agency, There are several compelling reasons why WordPress is the ultimate CMS for creating membership websites.

WordPress owned and operated by you

Your WordPress website is entirely owned and operated by you. When you want to make changes to your website functionality with WordPress, there’s no need to contact a hosting provider.

Whether you need to create a new membership tier or to change the design of your content to be more appealing, you can do so at the drop of a hat.

Restrict content access  

The key concern for membership sites is the ability to restrict user access. You only want readers to access content that they’ve subscribed to access specifically, otherwise premium subscribers no longer feel they’re in such a privileged position. 

WordPress allows you to securely restrict content access, contrast this with stories in the past of Medium users circumnavigating the blog’s membership fees to read articles without paying membership fees. 

Many users have found workarounds to get past Medium’s content restrictions, and have even written about it on the platform itself!

Unlimited scale

Membership websites are by their very nature designed to grow quickly and efficiently. One of the most common downfalls of rapid growth is server overload, but with WordPress, this doesn’t have to be the case.

If you suddenly receive a huge boost in membership numbers, don’t worry – with WordPress, providing you choose the right hosting provider, you can have unlimited server space.

Read our guide to scaling with WordPress, to learn more about choosing a hosting provider that will suit your growth ambitions.

Cost effective 

Using WordPress is cost effective compared to creating a whole system from scratch or using a 3rd party application with per-member scaling costs.

Whether you choose to do this through freely available plugins, professional WordPress Plugin Development or Enterprise WordPress Development is up to you, and will be driven by the scale of your website.

Get the expert touch 

We’ve worked with numerous membership websites across the ecommerce sector, as well as sites in the media publishing world.

One of the the projects we’re most proud of is the work we did for Bonhill, a publisher of business and investment news content.

We’ve recently taken on a project for React News, an organisation providing commercial real estate news.

React News is a core team of four journalists and commercial directors who have forged partnerships with the most established names in real estate. 

React brings their editorial excellence to their website content. Coupled with their groundbreaking new content, they have a membership tier system on their website, offering subscribers a daily email watchlist, updated with the latest news regarding real estate opportunities.

They publish 20 articles or more every day, focused on daily updates in the UK and European real estate markets. News regularly includes executives moving between companies, portfolios going on sale and investment capital being raised.

Their content is distributed through their site and via direct email delivery of tailored, curated email digests to their members.

Their subscriber-only content consists of two daily emails with a watchlist of deals. The emails are timed for distribution in the morning and afternoon, with an alert sent twice daily.

How we helped React News create a successful membership WordPress website from scratch

We were attracted to working with React as they are a slight departure from our normal clients, where advertising and sponsorship make up a huge percentage of their revenue mix. 

The combination of React’s high value members, huge content output and the need to streamline the management of their website posed a significant and exciting challenge for us.

Here are some of the challenges we helped React overcome:

  • Building the website functionality for creating membership tiers
  • Creation of curated email newsletters in React’s CMS – automated delivery of email content is triggered through their email service provider
  • Choosing an appropriate email service provider – we felt Mailchimp was the most suitable email service provider for React’s very detailed segmentation needs
  • Syncing user databases and preferences between the CMS and ESP – this meant users would only receive content tailored to their unique interests
  • Helping to taxonomise and organise content in their CMS 
  • Improving SEO reach – by granting access to Googlebot, allowing it to crawl and render React’s content. It was important to allow Googlebot through React’s paywall to improve their search visibility, while at the same time ensuring premium content wouldn’t leak to regular website visitors 

Get in touch 

Contact us today to share your challenges with us, let’s see if we can help you on your journey to creating or improving your membership website.

Jim Kersey
Content Creator
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