How to Make a Membership Website

Six membership site ideas all digital publishers must follow

How to make a membership website is a topic many publishers struggle with. Membership and subscription websites can be hugely successful in generating revenue for publishers with evergreen and updated content.

However, understanding how to make a membership website is often overlooked during the planning process. Let’s take a look at six tips publishers must adhere to while making a membership website.

How to make a membership website tip #1: Choose the right format

Choosing the right format for your membership website involves labeling your membership website properly and building it based on content.

Your ability to choose the right content models for your membership website focuses on three questions:

  • What kind of compelling information need are you trying to meet?
  • How are users interacting with your website?
  • Do users need to keep absolutely current on the latest information available?

If you answered yes to the last question, you could go down the list of the nine content models and eliminate most. If urgency were important to you, the blog format would be compatible. A portal would also be compatible, due to its inherent ability to present the most current information in a timely manner.

A forum wouldn’t be compatible because the information is not coming from an authoritative source. However, a forum may be an ancillary content model to present a location for audience members to join in the discussion and ask further, related questions.

You could eliminate the club model, application model and magazine model because they have longer lead time in terms of production. Reference would also not be applicable due to its propensity to include evergreen content – not updated news content.

All these eliminated content models bring you to the periodical or the newsletter membership website content models.

This leads you to some further questions:

  • What is your business model – is your business sponsor-driven, commerce-driven, or a hybrid of the two?
  • Is the urgency need one you’re trying to meet to build your audience?
  • Or is the urgency need important enough that you can gate content and charge for it?

How to make a membership website, tip #2: Have the right amount of content

Too much content is a problem, and too little content is an even bigger problem.

Having too much content typically means you’re utilizing too many content models in one interface.

The club model is the most prone to this problem. The blog, portal, forum, magazine, reference or periodical model do not have the problem of too much content as long as the site architecture allows the user to navigate and find content.

The danger in the club model comes with bundling tools with too much information. You don’t want consumers to think they’re paying for a bunch of things that they don’t want or need. In this instance, the price won’t matter; if the user is given a bunch of things they don’t want or need, they’ll assume the price they are paying is too much.

Providing too little content to your audience is a major issue, especially if you purport to have a comprehensive collection of informative content.

For instance, if you’re looking to launch a reference model, and you don’t have enough content, it’s a deadly sin. A reference website – which is often organized in an encyclopedia-like fashion – is suppose to answer questions on a specific topic and implies that you can answer any question your audience has on the topic.

If you cannot adequately provide the answers your audience seeks, users will decide any price they paid is too much. At its launch, a membership website should have thousands of pages of content, which can be built upon through time.

How to make a membership website, tip #3: Charge an adequate price

Every website is going to have its own dynamic in terms of pricing. Let’s take the premium reference content model for instance. There is a typical inclination to decide upon a particular price due to the fact that you’re bringing archives online. The decision to charge more due to an archive of content is a common mistake.

The best strategy for a magazine, newsletter or periodical model is tiered pricing. For example, some publishers utilize the one-some-all pricing structure. Here, the consumer can buy one issue and receive the lowest possible price point that will meet their need. This process exposes them to some pricing. The next ideal step is subscription, considered to be the platinum option.

All the back issues are also offered for another higher price. If you’re considering tiered pricing, do competitive analysis and be honest with yourself. Look at your brand, where it sits and what everybody else in your market is charging for an annual subscription. Do careful price analysis in terms of pricing options, tiers and price points.

People often overestimate their market, but that can be avoided. Look at the market, profession or hobby and pay close attention to the penetration levels of mature products in the two-five year range.

If you’re thinking that a much larger customer base will be paying you, you often price lower than it should be. In order to succeed, you have to get the price just right. If it’s too high, you cut out a lot of the market share you can achieve. At the same time, by charging too low a price you’ll find yourself in position where you have market share to possess, but the price point makes your business not viable.


How to make a membership website, tip #4: Market access is important

Niche businesses need additional channels to acquire large enough market share to succeed.

Beyond building an audience through search and website traffic, it’s important to generate retail partners like Amazon, Apple, and Barnes & Noble. Partnerships are how online businesses are able to open new channels to build upon the market share they need to grow.

Many online business operators don’t explore retail channels right away. In most instances, it’s not that they didn’t have market access, they just hadn’t contacted the potential partners, nor did they have the manpower to develop those business models.

Additional channels can be anything from online retailers, banner advertisements or syndicated content to portals. Most publishers rely on five to 10 different channels; few can succeed relying on only one. And even if they could stay afloat with only one, they would probably be under-reaching their market – unless they’re in the big five: investing, food, travel, health or news.

How to make a membership website, tip #5: Embrace Legacy business model

Legacy magazine publishers are not paying close attention to whether their business is sponsor-driven or commerce driven. They’re then going online with a completely different model.

In doing so, publishers disregard the historical print business model. If a publisher monetized his magazine assets in the past by selling advertising, it’s highly likely that the economics favor an ad-driven online publishing strategy. Or, if a publisher operates where circulation is the primary source of revenue, a membership website is a good option.

In terms of a content model, most magazine publishers over the past five to 10 years launched periodical websites. In doing so, the publisher spent 800 hours per year to reformat magazine content into HTML.

Something about the magazine format on desktop hasn’t been a grand experience. This however didn’t come as a surprise to magazine publishers. Everybody assumed magazines wouldn’t format well for desktops, and didn’t present the desired experience. This has changed now with the advent of the tablet.

Some magazines were successful in doing a great job of delivering and expanding audience with magazine-style content even before the tablet. LEDs Magazine is one such example.

How to build a membership website - LEDs example

The tablet is a game-changer though, as it affords the potential to deliver magazine content in a magazine format, in addition to desktops and laptops.

Legacy publishers should take advantage of today’s technology by disaggregating all the magazine content and putting it into a periodical or reference website. This allows legacy publishers to monetize in a whole different way.

For instance, magazines are typically consumed in a per-issue basis where the audience is expected to digest all the content in a month or two. This paradigm is starting to change as back issues can be easily put online. Legacy publishers can take their archived content and publish it in digital formats, put it behind a subscription paywall and sell it as a separate subscription, since it has a different value due to its reissue subject base. Subsequently, advertising could be sold on that format forever going forward. People want access to back issue content, and this is a revenue generating method for legacy publishers to provide back issue content to their audience.

Legacy publishers need to be aware of expanding business models while going forward in the digital age.

How to make a membership website, tip #6: Use organic marketing

Publishers need to embrace organic marketing methods for audience development purposes. Utilizing only premium models is a mistake that isolates the single biggest channels for adding new subscribers to your database like search engine optimization and social media marketing.

It’s important to understand that in a content-driven world you need at least one of two different types of subscription websites: the portal and the blog. Both of these content models are Google-friendly options, which makes it easier for your content to get noticed, crawled by the Google bots and ranked within search engine results pages.

A lighter version of your content offered for free through your own blog or portal will increase website traffic and converted users. You can use this list of audience members to market aligned products that incorporate more content.

In order to start upon this process of developing a successful blog or portal, begin by taking advantage of the products you already have. At the same time, you can build out what you don’t have. Launching an affinity site as a blog or portal allows you to open the organic marketing channel to a much wider audience.

Are you planning on launching or relaunching a membership or subscription website? We’d love to speak with you.


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