Your membership site is up and running. Great! But that alone won’t bring in the cash you’re after. To truly succeed, you need to attract a large following willing to pay for your information. Are you confounded by this task? Not sure how to go about it? As an established expert in a niche, I have amassed a big following on my blog and social media accounts. I’ve got all kinds of tips on how to grow your traffic, membership base, and monetize your site. I’ll be happy to share them with you!
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This all increases the likelihood of repeat visits to your site, longer session times, and more purchases. Memberships also add lines of revenue if you charge subscription fees.
Offering memberships may seem difficult, but you can easily create a membership site of your own, either with a dedicated membership website builder, a content management system that offers built-in membership functionality, or a plugin.
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In this post, we’ll cover:
- what a membership website is
- how it differs from a subscription website
- how to create a membership website
- what the best membership website platforms are
- membership website examples
What is a membership website?
A membership website is a website that offers gated content and exclusive benefits to its members. These benefits can include special reports, newsletters, webinars, online courses, special invitations to conferences and events, and free shipping. Many businesses, nonprofits, clubs, and associations have membership websites to build an engaged and loyal audience.
Membership vs. Subscription Websites
Membership and subscription websites are similar, but not the exact same: A membership website allows customers to become part of a group, while a subscription site lets customers pay to use a product or service for a set period of time. A subscription website is defined by the financial contract it requires. A membership site, on the other hand, can require a subscription, but it doesn’t need to.
You subscribe to Netflix, for example, paying a monthly fee in exchange for unlimited access to the TV and movies on their site.
On the other hand, you can become a member — or a “Beauty Insider” — on Sephora.com. As a member, you get access to beauty classes, exclusive trial-size products and sets, and special promotions (e.g., a free birthday gift). Though you do get rewarded for spending more, you don’t need to pay a fee to be a member. You simply provide your contact information and use your unique login credentials to access your perks.
To put up a gate for members or subscribers on your site, you can use a dedicated membership website builder or a multi-purpose CMS with the required features and extensions. Many of these platforms can also automate or simplify other tasks, like registering new subscribers or members, processing recurring payments, updating member profiles in one place, and delivering newsletters and other communications.
To learn more about subscription websites, check out What’s a Subscription Business Model & How Does It Work?
How to Create a Membership Website
- Decide on your membership model.
- Create members-only content.
- Choose a membership platform or plugin.
- Publish your members-only pages.
- Announce your new membership offering through social media and email.
There are several ways to create a membership website, which will vary depending on the platform.
First, be sure to have a site up and running. If you don’t, you can set up a website with WordPress or build one from scratch using a tool like CMS Hub, Wix, YourMembership, or Morweb.
The benefit of building a site on an out-of-the-box platform is that the members’ area is usually integrated into your setup. With CMS Hub, for example, you can easily gate content for members without needing to install an external plugin.
Once you have a website, you can offer memberships in five steps.
1. Decide on your membership model.
Before ever installing a platform or plugin, you’ll want to create a membership model where you decide what you’ll offer and how much you will charge per year. When your business runs on this model, you charge a recurring fee to customers and provide access to services, perks, information, events, networking opportunities, classes, or facilities in return.
To create your membership plan, you’ll need to answer three questions:
- What will you offer to your members?
- What membership levels will you offer, if any?
- How much will you charge, if at all, and how frequently?
First, brainstorm offerings for members. Audit your products, services, and messaging to decide on the value that you’ll bring to your customers. In this stage, it’s helpful to examine your buyer personas and brainstorm what they’d enjoy having exclusive access to.
Some of these offerings may come naturally. For example, a gym offers access to its facilities, a chamber of commerce offers access to its networking events, and an educator offers access to courses and exclusive material.
For other businesses, offerings aren’t as obvious. If you’re a sole proprietor or a successful freelancer, you can offer courses to other freelancers hoping to get into your field. The Art of Proofreading course is an excellent example of this.
If you’re an e-commerce brand or online retailer, you could follow the example of giants such as Amazon and offer free shipping to your members. Other things you can offer include exclusive access to perks, points, product samples, website pages, blog posts, PDFs, events, webinars, ebooks, and discounts. Barnes & Noble’s famous membership model offers 10% off on all purchases.
Next, decide on your levels of membership, if any. Depending on the level they join, members can get additional access to more content and more deals. Costco, for example, offers two levels: Gold Star and Gold Star Executive. Alternatively, it might be worth starting with one uniform level that everyone can join. Amazon, Ulta, and Barnes & Noble have only one membership offering, making it simple to join.
Last, decide on pricing, if any. Sometimes, it’s worth making membership free, as it can help you create a long list of marketing qualified leads. If you decide to charge, it’d be worth looking at your competitors to see their pricing. Choose the frequency as well — annual to biannual to monthly are great options, though an annual frequency is most common.
2. Create members-only content.
Now that you’ve created a robust membership model, it’s time to create the gated content, pages, courses, events, and other items you plan to offer to your members. Creating the content before ever publishing your new membership option will ensure that you delight, not frustrate, your customers.
Perk-based membership models might not require the creation of gated content. However, creating exclusive resources may be just what entices users to join. Member-only emails are a great option. In these emails, you can hand out discount codes that only your members or subscribers have access to.
This step would also include creating a pricing page and a sign-up form. However, don’t publish any membership pages just yet. Before you do that, you’ll choose a CMS or install a membership plugin, which we’ll cover in detail below.
3. Choose a membership platform or plugin.
Now that you’ve brainstormed your membership model, established pricing, and created the content, it’s time to choose a platform or plugin.
If you’re on WordPress, compare membership plugins and choose the one that best meets your needs. If you’re on another platform, integrate a membership offering by toggling the platform’s already-integrated settings or choosing a third-party provider. If you’re on Squarespace, for example, you have options such as MemberSpace and Membership Works that can integrate seamlessly with your website.
Regardless of the option you choose, a great membership plugin or platform will have the following features:
- Contact segmentation: Your chosen platform should allow you to segment your contacts into members and non-members, and offer further capabilities for segmentation if needed.
- Gated content: For any membership model to work, gating content is essential. It will differentiate your website visitors from your members. A membership platform should give you the option to selectively gate content based on membership status.
- User and member pages: Your platform should allow you to create membership-related pages and forms.
Some nice-to-have, but not required, features include:
- Automated workflows: Whether it’s used to send welcome or renewal emails, an automated workflow feature can help you save time.
- Payment provider integrations: You might not need this integration if you’re offering membership for free. If you are, this is an important capability to look out for.
- Engagement analytics: This might not be required because you might be tracking engagement using another tool such as Google Analytics. However, some membership platforms can give you even more granular data. YourMembership and Bold Memberships both offer this feature.
- Third-party integrations: You won’t need third-party integrations if you choose an out-of-the-box option such as Subhub or CMS Hub. But if you’re using a plugin or an extension, it should integrate seamlessly with your other marketing tools. MemberPress, which is a WordPress plugin, integrates with Zapier so you can connect it to your other tools.
- Membership levels: If you’re offering different membership levels, you’ll need a plugin or platform that supports different levels and price points.
Knowing what you should look for should make it a little bit easier to make a choice. Now that you’ve set up your platform, it’s time to bring it all together by publishing the content you created for your members.
4. Publish your members-only pages.
Remember the gated pages and posts that you created earlier? It’s time to publish those and mark them as members-only. For some platforms, you can do this with one click. For others, you might have to navigate to the page you want to protect and select “members-only” from a drop-down menu.
In this step, you’ll also want to publish a pricing page. This should be public, as it will help users make a purchasing decision. If your membership platform doesn’t come with a pricing page option, or you don’t want to build a pricing table from scratch, consider installing a pricing table plugin.
You can also create a community forum that’s accessible only to members.
5. Announce your new membership offering through social media and email.
You have your membership model, exclusive offers, membership platform, and pricing page set up. Now, it’s time to get people to join!
Announce your new membership to your social media followers, email contacts, and blog subscribers. To boost conversion rates, consider offering a limited-time reduced membership price. You can also follow Amazon’s example and offer reduced pricing for students. Another thing to consider is offering discounted fees to seniors and veterans.
Best Membership Website Platforms
- CMS Hub
- Wild Apricot
- Membership Works
- WishList Member
- Bold Memberships
Below are a variety of different membership website builder solutions for creating a membership site. There are CMS platforms with out-of-the-box features for creating member-only content. There are extensions for creating membership-based content that are compatible with different CMS platforms and website builders. And there are dedicated membership website builders.
We’ll cover all these solution types so you can pick the one that best meets your needs and goals.
1. CMS Hub Enterprise
Pricing: CMS Hub is available on three tiers but only Enterprise offers the membership feature ($1,200 per month).
CMS Hub is a proprietary content management system that’s fully integrated with HubSpot’s marketing, sales, and service tools and CRM. With CMS Hub, you can leverage HubSpot lists to allow only specific groups to access a section of your site.
Whether you’re giving product updates to your current customers, pricing offers to prospects, or web pages in different languages to a global audience, you can create all types of membership-based content with HubSpot. That way, you can provide every visitor a unique experience on your site — without installing a plugin or any additional software.
Pricing: MemberPress has three tiers: Basic ($179 per year), Plus ($224 per year), and Pro ($299 per year).
MemberPress is a premium WordPress plugin that makes it easy to create and manage membership subscriptions and sell digital download products. With MemberPress, you can grant (or revoke) access to your posts, pages, videos, categories, tags, feeds, communities, and digital files to members based on their membership status.
In addition to advanced user flow options, content dripping, and other out-of-the-box features, this plugin also supports integrations with Stripe, PayPal, Authorize.net, and marketing tools like MailChimp.
Pricing: Wix plans range from free for basic websites to $500 per month for enterprises.
Wix is a hosted website builder that offers a limited free plan and several premium plans. On any of these plans, you can create a member’s area and let visitors register and get access to exclusive content. If you upgrade to one of the premium plans, you can also sell paid subscriptions without installing any third-party integrations.
Wix is limited in functionality, however. You can’t personalize a registration email or create a multilingual membership site, for example. You’ll also have to download several Wix business and social solutions, like Wix Chat, to improve your members’ experience.
Pricing: A MemberSpace subscription costs $29 per month, plus a 4% transaction fee per member.
MemberSpace is a third-party tool for creating membership-protected content on Squarespace, Webnode, WordPress, and other sites. With MemberSpace, you can gate any of your pages and then decide what members have to do to ungate it. It can be as simple as signing up for your newsletter or paying a subscription fee, like on Follower to Fan Society’s website.
5. Wild Apricot
Pricing: Pricing plans range from free to $720 per month.
Wild Apricot is a website builder designed especially for membership sites. Using Wild Apricot, you can create multiple membership levels with benefits that scale up at each price point. In addition to member management, Wild Apricot offers features to help you manage your events, email marketing, and online payments.
Since Wild Apricot comes with website building tools, you can build your site from scratch or use an existing WordPress site.
Pricing: You must request a custom quote from YourMembership.
YourMembership is a membership website builder that offers everything you need to create and run a site. In addition to being able to manage members and events in one dashboard, you can view analytics about your site’s growth, set up automated workflows, and publish blogs, polls, and surveys.
Building a site on this software can get pricey, however. While there’s no pricing information available on YourMembership’s site, its competitor Wild Apricot estimates that YourMembership charges $2500 in set-up fees and $6000 in total in the first year.
Pricing: Morweb offers three plans: Start ($99 per month), Grow ($149 per month), and Engage ($199 per month).
Morweb is a CMS designed specifically for nonprofits and associations. Offering a drag-and-drop editor, responsive themes, and highly customizable modules, you can create and customize a basic membership site without coding. You can also accept donations online, password-protect your pages, and create events on your Morweb site.
Since Morweb is a software company and design agency combined, you can even hire them to help design your site.
Pricing: Weebly offers four plans: Free, Personal ($6 per month), Professional ($12 per month), and Performance ($26 per month).
You can set up a membership site out-of-the-box with Weebly. You can add a simple signup form to your homepage, offer one-click login to members, and create membership tiers. You can also add buttons or links to your login/register window in any of your pages, email newsletters, and social media posts to get more sign-ups.
While Weebly does offer a limited free plan and multiple premium plans, membership features are only available at the Professional and Performance tier.
Pricing: Subhub is available on three tiers: Starter ($47 per month), Pro ($97 per month), and Premium ($147 per month).
SubHub is a simple solution for building and running a membership site. You can create multiple membership levels, accept credit card payments, set up recurring subscriptions, offer promo codes, and drip content on your Subhub site.
When designing your site, you can start with one of Subhub’s templates or you can hire SubHub’s customer success team to build a custom design for you. Below are some sites built using SubHub’s Speedy Set Up service.
Pricing: Depending on the number of users, the cost of using the plugin ranges from free to $239 per month and the cost of the hosted solution ranges from $39 to $249 per month.
MembershipWorks is a membership software that’s compatible with WordPress, Squarespace, Weebly, and HTML static sites. You can either download it as an extension on your site or sign up for the hosted version.
With MembershipWorks, members can sign up and renew and update their profiles on your website. You can use labels and folders to organize them into groups and send an email at any time to all or a specific group of them.
What sets MembershipWorks apart from other dedicated membership solutions is its timeline feature. You can see a member’s whole history — from notes to payment history to donations to the events they’ve attended — all in one place. Timeline is integrated with MembershipWorks’s billing and event systems so payments, membership renewals, and event registration is automatically recorded.
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- Trial period subscriptions. Not everyone who visits your site will make a purchase. They may be shopping around or just aren’t ready to commit yet. By allowing them to invest less money from the start, you’re more likely to make sales. If they’re happy with the first box they receive, you’ll very likely have a new long-term customer.
- Subscription billing and payment functionality. Subscription boxes are paid for and shipped on a recurring basis. That means your website builder will need to be able to accommodate this payment model. This may be a part of the platform itself, or you can use an integrated eCommerce payment gateway and subscription management software.
- Private forums or content. Many subscription box memberships come with additional benefits. Private forums or locked content are some of the most common, and a very simple way to add value to your membership plans. The sense of exclusivity it can generate is also a great way to incentivize purchasing a subscription.
- Built-in membership capability. If you can’t have people sign up for a subscription, then you don’t really have a subscription box. Your site needs to be capable of accepting subscription sign-ups and give access to individual user dashboards for each member.
- Robust visibility options. Since your subscription box is essentially a members-only product, your site needs to be able to block certain pages from being seen by all visitors. Make sure the builder has visibility options that can differentiate between members and normal users. You may even want pages that are only visible to people who arrive via email campaigns. These pages are great for promotional offers that you don’t want the general public to access.
- Easy software integration. All eCommerce businesses use a wide array of eCommerce software and eCommerce analytics tools. Stick with a website builder that can easily be integrated with any tools you already use. Otherwise, you’ll be investing a lot of money in a sub-optimal product and increase the workload on your team.
How to Create a Subscription Website
Whether you’re just learning how to start a subscription box or you’re looking to increase eCommerce sales, creating a subscription box website can seem overwhelming. Since the site has to have such unique features, you’ll need to take a step-by-step approach to ensure a successful launch.
Here are the steps you should take:
- Pick your niche. The very first thing you need to do before investing in your subscription box website is to determine what type of subscription boxes you’ll sell. To do this, you need to consider who your target customers are and how to convince them that your subscription box is better than others.
- Create a content plan. You’ll need more than just a shopping cart on your site if you want it to convert customers. Come up with a basic plan for the content and pages you want on your site. You’ll need a main landing page, individual box pages, and possibly an FAQ or blog with more info.
- Choose an eCommerce platform. Now that you’ve got a plan for your site, you need to invest in the right platform. You have a few options here including a headless eCommerce platform or an online marketplace. Pick the platform that fits your unique business needs and capabilities. For food suppliers, BlueCart Subscriptions is a great choice. It was designed to grow food sales for businesses of all types and sizes.
- Establish your pricing model. Are you going to have multiple tiers of subscription levels? Will you give discounts for pre-purchasing multiple boxes? Think about the best way to maximize your profit margin while serving as many customers as possible. This will be vital in setting up the backend of your site.
- Design page templates. Your website design is a major factor in convincing people to purchase from you. You need to focus on providing a smooth user experience that will highlight the perks of your subscription products. You also need to establish your unique brand identity and make sure this shines through on each page. Then, include calls to action (CTAs) on each page that let customers add your boxes to their cart. You’ll also want to make sure you include on page SEO for eCommerce in your templates so you can drive traffic from day one.
- Launch and market. Once your site is built, you can go to market with it. Do thorough quality checks and make sure everything is functioning correctly. Then get to making sales. This will let you focus on other important aspects of the business like finding the right subscription box suppliers and investing in eCommerce fulfillment.
It’s important to remember that launching your new subscription box website is only phase one of the subscription box business. You’ll need to invest in the right tools and software to help grow the business. This also relies on you continuing to monitor eCommerce KPIs performance and tweaking plans until you’re hitting your eCommerce KPIs.
Subscription Box Marketing Plan
A subscription box and accompanying website are only as good as the marketing efforts that drive customers to them. You need to come up with a multi-faceted marketing plan that can achieve two things: attract prospective customers and convince them of the savings involved with purchasing your subscription box.
Here are the best ways to market your subscription box website:
Subscription Box Content Marketing
Content marketing continues to be one of the biggest drivers of internet traffic and is highly effective at conveying brand messaging. You can explain your box’s value proposition in greater detail and convert customers that were on the fence.
Pair this with a focus on SEO content for eCommerce and you can see a lot of organic traffic. This gives you even more prospects to share your content with. 43% of all eCommerce traffic comes from organic search results and up to 40% of sales can come from these customers.
Subscription Box Social Media Marketing
Social media is a major tool in the subscription box marketing toolbox. According to SproutSocial, more than 70% of social media users discover new brands organically through their social network or through word-of-mouth. This means that you can greatly expand your reach by getting your brand on social media.
You can also look into using influencers and user-generated content (UGC). This will give you access to their subscriber-base and further spread word of your products. Even better, 61% of U.S. eCommerce customers have made a purchase based on recommendations from an influencer or blog. This type of off page SEO for eCommerce can greatly increase your conversion rate. Keep in mind other SEO terms and strategies.
Subscription Box Email Marketing
Email marketing has the highest conversion rates of all B2B marketing and DTC marketing tools, so it’s invaluable in increasing revenue. Try to personalize your email campaigns a bit or use some eye-catching imagery, you want people to be drawn in by them. Even better, you can create separate campaigns for a few different purposes.
First, you can use email marketing campaigns to target prospective customers who have yet to engage with your brand. Second, you can use the emails for cross selling subscription boxes or other products to existing customers. Finally, you can use it to re-engage customers who’ve let their subscription lapse. It’s truly a multi-functional marketing tool.
Best Subscription Box Websites
The best subscription box website depends on what type of content you’re looking for. You may want subscription box reviews, platforms, or information on creating boxes.
These are the sites we think will give you the most help:
Best Subscription Box Platform
If you’re a food supplier, BlueCart Subscriptions is the best way to adapt the subscription box model. Whether you sell groceries, pantry items, non-perishables, or pre-cooked meals, we can help you grow your business. It’s a great way for B2B food wholesalers to get into the DTC food market.
Best Subscription Box Review Site
Since there are so many subscription boxes on the market, more consumers are seeking out reviews before making purchases. The largest and most successful review site is My Subscription Addiction. Getting your burgeoning subscription box featured and reviewed on this site can go a long way to increasing your subscriber base. It can also give you great insight into your competitors’s boxes and areas where they are lacking.