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Online Publishing Book Review: Membership Websites by SWEPA

Note: This review is part of our Top 20 Online Publishing Books to Read in 2009 series.

Questions to ask before you launch a Membership Website

Are you a traditional print only publishing company considering the leap to online publishing?  Welcome to the era of the internet! You may be contemplating the launch of a Membership Website.

After all, you’ve got years of valuable content under your belt.  Why not make even more money?  Hold your britches, there are few things to consider when determining if it’s a good fit for your online publishing strategy.

Content Rich. First, let’s be clear on what a membership website is and is not.  It is not a magazine or newsletter website.

Membership Websites compare to a library, that is frequently updated, and available 24/7.  It is a destination, either a stand alone or as a companion website.  It requires a robust amount of online content—5,000 to 8,000 pages at launch, perhaps tens of thousands of pages as time goes on.

If you don’t have a ton of “evergreen” content that is valuable, searchable, and organized then you probably shouldn’t even be thinking about launching a Membership Website.

Why is this so important?  Membership Websites — Tips, Techniques and Secrets — An Insider’s Guide to Publishing by SWEPA, answers that and provides a few suggestions on how to achieve it:

“The best way to bring subscribers back to your site frequently – and make them feel they’re getting their money’s worth out of a subscription – is to post fresh content daily.  Your new content can consist of an article, a commentary on a press release or widely reported industry development, a product or resource review, or even a post to your discussion group.  Or a cartoon, word puzzle or survey.  The list goes on and on, depending on your topic.  Continually adding fresh content is one of the basic business strategies practiced by successful website publishers.”

Organized. The second most important factor for a successful Membership Website is organization.   Content must be tagged and arranged by topic, not simply archived by original date of publication.  But much more is involved, much more!  This is where most of your time will be spent, pre-launch.  This will require a dedicated information architect, as well as, a team of content specialists to categorize content in a way users (and search engines) would expect to find them.

Conclusion. A Membership Website is, effectively, a massive encyclopedia on a particular topic.  Only consider a Membership Website when you’ve historically been a circulation or user-driven business model (70 percent or more of your publishing revenue has come from users buying your information products).  Make sure your Membership Website has plenty of content—at launch and in the future.   Commit the time and team required to get it all organized.  Remember, a Membership Website is only one part of a successful online publishing strategy.

ConsumerReports.com
is a Mequoda best practice example of a Membership Website.

For more, read Membership Websites — Tips, Techniques and Secrets — An Insider’s Guide to Publishing by SWEPA.

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