Membership websites are defined in part by the fact that users access the content on-demand, when they have a question they need to be answered or a learning tool they need to access. A membership subscription website archetype provides paid members with a library of information on a specific topic of interest or a cluster of topics and creates a community of individuals who share a common interest.
Membership websites are user-driven and content-based. And unlike newsletter or magazine subscription websites, whose minimum information unit (MIU) is an issue of the publication, a membership subscription website is a destination in and of itself. Its business goal is to generate revenue from user-access fees by acquiring and retaining members; it accepts little or no advertising.
So here are some membership website ideas to inspire any publisher to forge ahead and, ideally, make a lot of money doing it!
An important note on the membership subscription website: Its name has evolved over time. Early in the Internet years, everyone, including Mequoda, considered all subscription websites to be “membership” sites. Some of our very early posts make this assumption. Learn more about how we classify subscription, membership, and transactional websites currently.
3 Membership Website Ideas that Worked and are Still Working Today
Some membership websites have a household name. They were such good membership website ideas that they may have started more than 20 years ago and are still peaking.
Users of membership websites are sometimes looking for other people: Some are looking for dates (Match.com), and others are looking for employers (TheLadders.com). Membership sites can be about connecting people to people in a value transaction, and they work best when there are repeated transactions – if you’re single, you’ll be looking for many dates in order to find Mr. or Ms. Right.
Even more importantly, these sites can be extremely profitable as the big social media players like Facebook and LinkedIn become so massive and generalized that users are turned off by them and seek alternatives.
Membership websites, of course, charge fees to join, unlike Facebook and LinkedIn. Those fees not only generate revenues for the publisher but also serve as a filter to keep these sites more focused … and provide better value for the frustrated Facebook user.
So here are some specific membership website ideas to serve as inspiration and mentor sites for publishers who want to take advantage of this opportunity.
Membership Website Idea #1
Backstage is one of our favorite niche membership website ideas. A spin-off of a legacy print magazine, Backstage, Backstage.com is a website for actors looking for work, training, and networking. It uses many features of a Mequoda System, such as a freebie in exchange for email addresses, and could serve as a solid membership website template. It offers job listings – casting calls, in this case – forums and advice, and a search tool that lets actors search by city, age, ethnicity, union status, compensation and more.
There are also reference listings for things important to actors, such as agents, headshot photographers, production companies and acting classes. In addition to the free content, paid members get access to exclusive listings, unlimited online submissions to casting notices, free uploading for head shots, resumes and demo reels, and more.
They have about 2.8M+ monthly visitors. Those visitors make for a manageable example of profitable membership website ideas.
Do you have expertise and/or content in a specific niche where people are looking for work? It could be academia, horticulture, dog training, or just about anything. For any of these niches, advertising possibilities are endless, and the audience would flock to you.
Establish a free companion subscription website such as a portal, as we always advise our clients to do, no matter which premium website model they use – and you add audience engagement and loyalty that builds day by day.
When it comes to membership website ideas, all of this type of content could be repeated for almost any employment niche. Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, they’ve created a premium archive for Backstage the magazine, which you get as a member of the Backstage website, for $99 per year, or $8.25 a month.
Membership Website Idea #2
WSJPro Private Equity, formerly Dow Jones Private Equity & Venture Capital, is another one of our favorite membership website ideas.
Here’s an example of a large media company leveraging its content beyond magazines and newspapers, using it to provide information to elite members who pay to find their next investor, business partner or business deal.
WSJ knows finance, so it’s using that expertise to help others (for an undisclosed fee that you can only learn by contacting them). Members of WSJ Pro Private Equity receive proprietary news, analysis, data and alerts on private equity, from deals and fundraising to long-term trends shaping the industry. According to their site, members can also attend events featuring leading figures from the industry interviewed by their journalists and where they can network with peers.
We’ve worked with a number of investing-based publishing organizations like The Successful Investor, Cabot Wealth Network, and most recently, the launch of Financial Freedom Federation, and we can tell you that if you’re in this industry and you don’t have a membership website, you’re leaving money on the table.
Membership Website Idea #3
Ancestry.com rounds up our favorite membership website ideas. Approximately 3 million paying members arrive looking for genealogy information every month, and 20 million members in their DNA network, which contribute value to the paying members.
With the popularity of genealogical research, this site is incredibly successful. Ancestry.com’s founders got their start by spotting an opportunity in 1983, when the immensely popular TV miniseries, Roots, had kicked off the craze for genealogy that is still going strong. It began as a newsletter and was later purchased by a database company that has expanded the company to where it is today.
In years past, the service was mostly for members to search for deceased family members via records, most of which have been submitted by other researchers. Ancestry itself has digitized some public data, such as census records. Today, DNA testing is also a service they offer, which has connected the dots further and more accurately, even helping people find their birth parents.
This makes it different from the previous two examples, in which niche expertise and legacy magazines provide the content. Thus the main job of Ancestry.com’s publisher is to provide curation and the technology to search those curated records and data.
Members can search for records, submit their own, build family trees, hire a researcher to do the work for them, and even buy a DNA kit. In fact, Ancestry.com has a plethora of related products it will sell you, including books, software, and apps. Advertising is plentiful, too, so there are enough revenue streams to make this a highly successful venture all around.
These sites can all provide inspiration and direction to any publisher looking for membership website ideas. They all share some common features in addition to the primary “person” members are searching for, such as training, equipment and tools, and community forums for networking.
Do you know of other successful membership website ideas? Share them with us in the comments!
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in 2008 and is frequently updated.