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How to Create a Thriving Membership Site from Scratch


Welcome to the world of membership sites! If you’ve ever wanted to connect with like-minded individuals, share exclusive content, and monetize your expertise, then creating a membership site might be the perfect option for you. In this article, we will guide you through the process of building a successful membership site from scratch. 


Membership sites providing subscribers exclusive access to premium content, tools, services, and community offer a tremendously lucrative online business model. By charging ongoing monthly or annual fees, they provide predictable recurring revenue when executed effectively.


But launching a membership site from zero requires meticulous planning and execution covering technology, content, and marketing. This comprehensive guide will explore proven strategies to build, launch, and grow a membership site from ideation to profitability.


Selecting the Right Membership Niche


A membership site needs a clearly defined target audience united around shared interests to provide value to. Consider niches where you can:



  • Tap into people’s desires to be part of a community

  • Offer exclusive access they can’t get elsewhere

  • Curate high demand specialized information

  • Provide transformations around health, wealth, relationships, personal growth, etc

  • Cultivate insider status around hobbies, professions, identities etc


Ideally combine interests you are deeply passionate about with aligned monetization opportunities.


What is a membership site and why is it important?


Understanding the concept of a membership site


A membership site is a website that provides exclusive content, resources, and benefits to its registered members. It can range from educational platforms, online communities, to subscription-based services. By creating a membership site, you are establishing a gated community where users have to subscribe or pay a fee to access the content you provide.


The benefits of running a membership site


A membership site can have numerous benefits for both you as the site owner and your members. For site owners, it offers a recurring revenue model, a loyal community, and the opportunity to monetize your expertise. On the other hand, it provides members with access to specialized knowledge, a supportive community, and exclusive resources.


Why membership sites are valuable for businesses


Membership sites are valuable for businesses because they allow you to convert your audience into paying members, creating a predictable income stream. Additionally, a membership site helps you establish yourself as an authority in your niche, boosting your brand credibility and attracting potential clients or customers.


How to start a membership site


Choosing the right platform for your membership site


Before diving into creating a membership site, it’s crucial to choose the right platform that aligns with your goals and technical requirements. There are numerous options available such as WordPress, Kajabi, Teachable, and more. Take your time to evaluate the features, ease of use, and scalability of each platform.


Steps to build a membership site from scratch


Once you have selected the platform, you can begin building your membership site from scratch. The process involves defining your membership model, setting up payment gateways, designing your site, creating membership levels, integrating a membership plugin, and testing your site for a seamless user experience.


Key considerations when creating a membership website


When creating a membership website, it’s important to keep a few key considerations in mind. First, define your target audience and their specific needs to tailor your content accordingly. Second, focus on creating valuable and engaging content that provides real value to your members. Lastly, implement strategies to keep your members engaged and coming back for more.


Building a successful membership site with WordPress


Overview of WordPress membership plugins


WordPress is one of the most popular and versatile content management systems for building membership sites. There are various WordPress membership plugins available that offer features like content protection, payment integration, member management, and more. Some popular plugins include MemberPress, LearnDash, and Restrict Content Pro.


Setting up a membership site using WordPress


To set up a membership site using WordPress, you will need to install a membership plugin, configure its settings, create membership levels, and protect your content so that only paying members can access it. Additionally, you may want to customize the appearance of your site using themes or page builders.


Essential features for a WordPress membership website


A successful WordPress membership website should have essential features such as seamless payment integration, member registration and login functionality, content protection, member management tools, email marketing integration, and analytics to track the performance of your site and member engagement.


Creating compelling content for your membership site


Identifying your target audience and their needs


Before creating content for your membership site, it’s crucial to identify your target audience and understand their needs. Conduct research, surveys, and engage with your members to uncover their pain points, challenges, and goals. This will help you tailor your content to address their specific needs.


Tips for creating valuable content for your members


When creating content for your members, focus on providing value and solving their problems. Offer exclusive tutorials, guides, expert interviews, case studies, and any other type of content that can help your members achieve their desired outcomes. Remember to continually assess and update your content based on member feedback and evolving industry trends.


Strategies to keep your members engaged and coming back


A successful membership site is not just about delivering content but also fostering engagement and community. Implement strategies like discussion forums, Q&A sessions, member events, and exclusive perks to keep your members engaged and encourage them to come back for more. Regularly communicate with your members via email newsletters or private messages to nurture the relationship.


Monetization and membership pricing strategies


Determining the right pricing model for your membership


Choosing the right pricing model for your membership site depends on your content’s perceived value, competition, and your target audience’s willingness to pay. You can opt for monthly, yearly, or even lifetime subscriptions. Consider offering a free membership tier as a way to attract potential paying members and upsell them to higher-priced plans.


Offering different membership levels and benefits


Different membership levels allow you to cater to the diverse needs and budgets of your audience. Create tiered membership levels with varying benefits, such as access to exclusive content, one-on-one coaching, member-only discounts, or early access to new products or services. This tiered approach can help attract a wider range of members and maximize your revenue potential.


Effective strategies for attracting and retaining paying members


To attract and retain paying members, consider offering incentives like limited-time promotions, referral programs, or loyalty rewards. Continuously engage with your paid members through personalized communication, exclusive events, and valuable bonuses. Pay attention to member feedback and continuously improve your membership site to provide an excellent user experience.


Conduct Competitor and Market Research


Before committing fully to a niche, thoroughly analyze competitors and quantify demand:



  • Identify existing sites serving your target audience

  • Evaluate their offerings to find gaps and areas to differentiate

  • Search online communities and social media to observe discussions and questions from target members

  • Use Google Keyword Planner and trends to quantify search volume around relevant topics

  • Survey or interview potential members to validate interest and pricing tolerance


Ensure a clear path to gaining share in the membership space you choose before proceeding.


Outlining Your Membership Offerings


Map out the core offerings that will provide value to members over the long term:


Unique Informative Content



  • Courses, masterclasses, workshops

  • Downloadable guides, ebooks, templates

  • Video tutorials, demos

  • Podcasts, webinars

  • Interactive tools and assessments


Community and Networking



  • Member forums and social platforms

  • Local meetups and events

  • Mastermind groups

  • Industry interviews and Q&As

  • Peer support system


Exclusive Tools and Resources



  • Data sets, libraries, market research

  • Software, apps, calculators

  • Curated expert listings and service providers

  • Discounted third party products and services

  • Job boards and recruiting opportunities


Coaching and Assistance



  • 1-on-1 expert coaching sessions

  • Access to seasoned mentors

  • Office hours and Q&A with site founders

  • Priority email support


The more value bundled, the easier justifying ongoing fees becomes. Offer breadth and depth.


Choosing the Optimal Membership Site Platform


Carefully weigh pros and cons of leading options when selecting a membership site platform:



  • Self Hosted WordPress – Flexible and customizable but technically challenging

  • Plug-in solutions like MemberPress or WishList Member – Some customization with easier setup on WordPress

  • All-In-One platforms like Kajabi, Mighty Networks, Circle – More limited options but very quick launch


Factor in available integrations, theming control, possibilities for customization, ease of use, scalability, and learning curves.


Designing Your Site’s Layout and Structure


Plan site architecture and navigation strategically around membership tiers and content types:



  • Visually polished, on-brand templates – Quality design builds perceived value

  • Clear hierarchy and IA – Intuitive nav and workflows to key content

  • Personalized dashboards – Member home bases to access content

  • Tiered access controls – Lock premium content behind higher membership tiers

  • Progress tracking – Let members track progress

  • Mobile responsiveness – Mobile-first design and experience


Leverage designs minimizing friction finding and consuming content. Streamline site goals.


Configuring Your Membership Tiers


Balance providing strong member value with profitability when architecting membership tiers:



  • Offer 3-4 pricing tiers with rising benefits matched to cost

  • Research comparable sites’ tiers as pricing benchmarks

  • Consider tier names that convey status and value

  • Determine tier access rules to content libraries, forums, events etc

  • Outline renewal terms, cancellation policies, and payment options

  • Allow trial periods to experience benefits before committing

  • Structure tiers for upsells and cross sells over time


Test various tier combinations and price points to optimize based on conversion data.


Planning Stellar Membership Content


Continually producing valuable content keeps members engaged and renewing. Tactics include:


Outline Content Calendars in Advance


Map new courses, articles, interviews, downloads etc on an editorial calendar spanning months.


Make Content Interactive


Include exercises, worksheets, quizzes, live events, discussion questions etc for active learning.


Recruit Industry Experts


Line up relevant guest contributors, instructors, advisors etc to vary voices and expand expertise.


Promote Community Participation


Encourage members to share their own content through forums, user generated content campaigns etc.


Monitor Performance Data


See which content types and topics perform best based on engagement analytics.


Request Member Feedback


Survey members or host focus groups to collect input on improving content.


Refreshing content continuously boosts renewal rates and sustains growth.


Marketing Your Membership Site


Promoting a new membership site requires premium lead generation and conversion tactics:


Free Lead Magnets


Offer free downloads, minicourses, guides etc in exchange for emails to build your list pre-launch.


Webinars and Summits


Host free online events with top experts to attract your target audience and demo your knowledge.


Cross Promotions


Partner with relevant brands to cross-promote your launches to each other’s audiences.


Affiliate Marketing


Recruit influencers and affiliates to promote your membership through custom links, coupons, and promotions.


Retargeting Ads


Remarket across channels to visitors who did not initially convert to capture more leads.


Social Outreach


Actively network and engage in your industry’s social media groups and communities to raise awareness.


Multipronged promotional strategies are essential for converting members in competitive niches. Leverage partners and affiliates to expand reach.


Analyzing Key Member Metrics


Leverage data to gain visibility into member engagement and business performance:



  • Acquisition costs – The average cost to acquire a new member

  • Lifetime value – Average revenue per member over the span of membership

  • Churn rate – Percentage of members canceling or becoming inactive each month

  • Content consumption – How often members engage with content

  • Support volume – Frequency of support requests indicating issues

  • Conversion rates – Percentage of leads converting into paid members


Dig into analytics and metrics to identify opportunities to optimize campaigns, offerings, pricing tiers, targeting, and creatives.


Improving Membership Retention


While acquisition is crucial, minimizing churn and extending renewals boosts long term profitability:


Send Regular Digest Emails


Summarize new content added lately and highlight key resources based on member interests.


Gamify Progress Tracking


Offer badges, points, and rewards for completing courses, challenges, and community activities.


Promote Social Connections


Make joining forums, groups, and networking events frictionless to foster connections.


Host Live Events


In-person or virtual events create occasion-based engagement spikes and community.


Request Feedback


Solicit member opinions through surveys and feedback forms. Implement suggestions.


Provide Exceptional Support


Respond to questions and concerns quickly and effectively to prevent frustrations.


Engagement and support ultimately determine renewals. Make membership integral to daily life.


Conclusion


Launching a thriving membership site able to continually deliver value requires meticulous planning and execution. But the predictable recurring revenue of well run membership sites make the work worthwhile.


Research and validate your niche, outline robust offerings, produce stellar content, market effectively, analyze data, and emphasize support and community. Make membership so rewarding users never want to leave.


With the right formula matched to a hungry audience, membership sites can become sustainable businesses that attract and enrich members for the long haul. Deliver real transformation and community.


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By Dani Davis

Dani Davis is the pen name of the writer of this blog with more 15 years of constant experience in Content marketing and informatics product, e-commerce niche.

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