Twelve ways to kill your membership website

Online publishing, like traditional print publishing, can be risky business. A very high percentage of new publications go under within a year of launching. Here are 12 mistakes that can lead to the early demise of your site.

Target a poorly defined market.
You should have a very good idea who your potential subscribers are, what they are comfortable paying, how they like information presented, and how to reach them. Not defining and getting to know your target market is one of the quickest ways to fail.

Cover too broad a topic.
A large number of would be subscription sites fail because they focus on too broad a topic, one that “appeals to everyone.” Just as in newsletter publishing, choosing a niche topic that your target market has an emotional connection to produces better results. On the Internet, with billions of competing pages (most of them offered at no cost), it is extremely important to find your little niche and concentrate on that.

Offer nothing unique.
If you want subscribers, you have to be able to provide a unique experience. Think of your site as if it were an amusement park. In order to attract people to your park, you must offer them a unique experience they can’t readily find anywhere else. If you can’t do that, then why should visitors join? This is the reason most successful member sites are built around a single person who provides a unique perspective on a niche target. Many times people subscribe just to read the writing of the individual behind the site.

Act anonymous.
A lack of identity equals a lack of subscribers. Allow your personality and your opinions to shine through in your writing.

Neglect your community.
Throwing your content out there, with no way for readers to interact is a sure recipe for failure. Survey, discussion groups, forums, and chats are ways to keep in touch with your subscribers and encourage interaction.


Charge too little.
Even experienced business people often under price their products. With a subscription website, as with a printed newsletter, keep this in mind: You do the same amount of work whether you have 10 subscribers or 10 thousand. Price your subscription for what it is worth, not what you think people will pay. Consider the time and effort, plus the knowledge, required to produce your material. A subscription price of $25 a year is probably too low, and $49 is marginal. Many publishers charge hundreds for a yearly subscription.

Offer no perceived value.
So, tell me again why I should subscribe? Establish value by listing the features subscribers will have access to. Think of new ones. Toss out marginal features.

Overlook a compelling reason to join.
You know why people will love your site. You just have to explain it to them. Don’t expect visitors to evaluate your content and decide why they should join; tell them right up front what they can expect and how your content will save them money, improve their business, or whatever it is that you offer.

Make it too difficult to join.
If visitors can’t find a sign up form, or you don’t accept credit cards for payment, or your form has typos, or worse yet, generates some type of error message instead of processing the subscription fee, you are in deep trouble. Any glitch in the process will lose you subscribers and money. Test this process, have others test this process, and do not give up until it is absolutely perfect.

Build an amateur looking site.
Look at dozens of top sites before laying hand to your own design or hiring a designer. Know what you want, and stick to it. Experimenting with designs is a time wasting exercise that generally leads to no good end. Pick a model of design excellence and pattern your site along the same lines. Do not copy a site, but do look for inspiration and examples of good design.

Get trapped by complex site management.
Your time should be spent developing content, not converting text to HTML or writing code to run your site. One of the most important decisions you make is the software you choose to run your site. It can make site management either a breeze or a swamp that sucks the life out of you.

Set your expectations too high.
Unless you are a famous person with a strong following, it is unlikely that your new subscription site will bring in thousands of new subscribers right away. So you won’t become an instant success. But what you can do is build a solid business, with few employees, low overhead, and a lot of personal freedom.


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