Looking to launch a lucrative business online? If so, chances are you’ve heard about membership sites— or maybe even encountered one while browsing the web.
Sometimes referred to as subscription sites, membership sites offer exclusive content that’s “gated” or exists behind a paywall. This means that only website subscribers or paying members have access to it.
If you’re unsure whether or not a membership website model is right for your online business, this guide is here to help you learn the ins and outs. Keep reading to discover just how a membership site works, its pros and cons, and to explore a few real-world examples of successful membership sites on the web.
How Do Membership Websites Work?
When subscribing to a membership site, each user is given their own unique credentials to login and view exclusive content that non-members are unable to view. Membership sites can offer access to different types of content based on a user’s subscription, which could include free, paid, and/or tiered subscription levels. User subscriptions can also be set to different lengths for exclusive content access, such as one-time, annual, or lifetime access.
Is a Membership Site a Good Fit for My Business?
Typically, users who sign up for access to content on a membership site do so because they are highly interested in a specific niche or community, or hold a high level of respect for the quality and credibility of content the site produces.
This means that business owners who want to launch a successful membership site must create and publish exclusive high-quality content (content that offers something more than free content found elsewhere on the web) on a regular basis for their members to consume.
Common types of membership sites include content like:
- Community forums
- Books or ebooks
- Webinars or tutorials
- Online courses
- White papers
- Downloadable content
If you’re interested in creating and publishing informative, engaging content that you can build an online community around, launching a membership site is likely a good fit for your business.
Why Do I Need a Membership Site?
Membership websites can be highly profitable — but a key factor in making a profit is convincing users to subscribe to your site in the first place. To ensure your site can start to earn money via membership fees, you must first have a solid understanding of who your target audience is and where you can find them, as well as a strong foundation of unique evergreen content relevant to your niche.
Once you’re equipped with this information and have valuable content on your membership website ready to share, you can deploy membership marketing plans—such as through search engine-optimized (SEO) blogs, ads published on social media platforms or search engines, or email marketing campaigns—to draw users into your site. In the beginning, you can attract new subscribers by offering teasers to gated content, free membership trials, or discounted memberships for the first month.
The main goal of running a membership site is to gain, maintain, and grow a loyal following that wants to pay for the content you produce on a regular basis. Once this following is well established, membership sites can generate a steady stream of income. For example, if your site has 150 subscribers who have signed up to receive exclusive content for 12 months at $10 per month, you’ll earn $18,000.
Pros of Membership Sites
There are several pros to launching a membership site for your online business, including:
Earn a steady stream of income: Profitable membership sites require subscribers to pay a monthly or annual fee, which allows business owners or entrepreneurs to earn a steady income stream. Membership sites can be a great way to diversify your income streams for your business, or even become a full-fledged business in their own right.
Help those in your community or niche: While running a membership site can earn you money, it also allows you to use your knowledge or expertise to help those in your online community or niche. Users who choose to sign up for your membership site are likely just as passionate about your niche as you are, and they are looking for you to find answers to their questions and gain knowledge to advance their own skills.
Build a loyal following: When a membership site provides accurate, useful, and unique content for its subscribers on a regular basis, those members are more likely to be loyal and not seek information or advice elsewhere. You are also more likely to develop strong relationships with your subscribers, many of which could lead to new business opportunities down the road.
Build your authority: People in your community want to consume content that provides actionable insights, answers their most pressing questions, and helps them grow as individuals. When your membership site content provides comprehensive insights and unique perspectives based on your niche, you are actively demonstrating your authority. This authority could lead to your content being ranked higher in search engine results pages (SERPs), website traffic growth, and more customers that trust your vision in the long run.
Grow your business with reduced overhead: Successful membership sites have the potential to scale quickly, which means your business could grow faster. In addition, membership sites typically don’t require business owners to design and manufacture physical products or deal with inventory management, which reduces overhead.
Cons of Membership Sites
If done incorrectly, launching a membership site can also have a few disadvantages, including:
Slow growth: Membership sites typically sell subscriptions at low price points, which means several subscriptions are necessary to grow. New membership sites are especially prone to slow growth, especially if a business owner or entrepreneur needs to build their content, authority, and audience outreach campaigns from scratch.
Lack of authority: The key to a successful membership site is subject matter authority, as most users likely will not pay for content from an individual or website they are unfamiliar with. It can be a challenge for new business owners or entrepreneurs to build their authority from ground zero, as they will need to establish a proven track record to gain the trust of users in their niche or community.
Longer time commitment: Running a membership site requires a lengthy time commitment, as site subscribers will want to consume new content on a regular basis. At its core, a membership site must continuously prove to its subscribers that the investment is worthwhile, which means new content production will need to be in progress at all times.
3 Examples of Successful Membership Websites
Curious what a high-quality membership site looks like? Here are a few examples of successful membership sites.
MasterClass is an online learning platform that offers in-depth lessons delivered by masters who are recognized in their craft. Starting at $15 a month (billed annually), subscribers to MasterClass gain unlimited access to lessons from more than 100 instructors — including professional chefs, actors, photographers, and scientists — with new lessons being uploaded monthly.
BassBuzz is a great example of a membership site that targets a specific niche. This site provides step-by-step instructions for beginners to learn how to play the bass guitar.
While BassBuzz offers free lessons, they also offer more comprehensive instruction in their Beginner to Badass course (with both online and DVD course options) for paying subscribers. BassBuzz offers different one-time price points for their online and DVD course options, but they also provide payment plans for their customers.
3. Play On Purpose
Play On Purpose is a membership site that provides virtual games and exercises to get large groups of people connected with each other and engaged. Members of Play On Purpose — those who pay a one-time fee of $199 for a Lifetime Membership — gain access to over 80 games, as well as tools for facilitating engaging exercises online through Zoom and a curated Spotify playlist. Members also get exclusive invitations, special offers, and discounts to events.
Begin Creating Your Own Membership Site Today
Launching a membership site can be lucrative for business owners or entrepreneurs who have a unique perspective in their niche and engaging, credible content to share.
If you’re interested in learning how to start a membership site, know that it's easy to build with WordPress. WordPress offers a number of plugins to add membership functionality to your site.
And if you're on WordPress, you'll need an optimized hosting solution to keep it fast, secure, and always available.
Consider fully managed WordPress hosting from Nexcess. It’s optimized for WordPress, and smart monitoring tools are built-in to help you keep it that way.
Check out our WordPress plans to get started today.