So You Want a Membership Site?

Are you sure you know exactly what a membership site is (and what it isn’t)? If not, keep reading.

At least, you think you do. But are you sure you know exactly what a membership site is (and what it isn’t)?  I ask this at the beginning of this Membership 101 Series, because I’ve had numerous clients over the years who told me they wanted to add membership to their site. After digging a little deeper, I  often found they needed something else.

So let’s start with a basic, default definition:

A membership site has a a members-only section, where you provide protected content based on membership levels.  To gain access to this content, people either register (free membership), or pay money.

So let’s look at the three key components in this definition:

1) You Provide Content

A membership site, by definition, is where you provide content to your members based on their membership level.  Meaning, other than perhaps having a members only forum or a slack channel where members can interact with one another, the overall flow of content is from you to them. And it’s mostly a one way street. Think of it like this. A membership site is like watching a webinar (whether live or recorded).  The presenter shares material with those on the webinar but attendees are not able to ask questions or share their own input during the presentation.

You, the site owner, share content with your members; member interaction, both with the site owner and with other members, is limited generally to an online forum and / or a slack channel.

So what does this specifically mean in terms of a membership site?

  1. A membership site is not the way to build an online community (think LinkedIn and Facebook).
  2. A membership site, by default, is not the way to facilitate open dialogue and conversation between you and your members (and among your members).
  3. A membership site, by default, is not the way to facilitate content creation from others (think guest posts or perhaps wanting members to be able to publish content on your site).

I say “by default” in two and three, because while these types of functionality can be added and incorporated into a membership site, the functionality will not come built into a membership plugin. It will be in addition to adding membership to your site. And, if these are your primary goals, then a different type of plugin may better serve your goals.

TAKEAWAY: A membership plugin allows you to provide content to your members based on their membership level. 

2) Protected Content

Access to the protected content on your site requires either registration or payment.  Members must login to your site to access the protected content.

Valuable content is the cornerstone of a membership site and be can presented in several ways. A few examples:

  • Online content
  • Downloadable PDFs
  • Videos
  • Webinars
  • Interviews with industry experts
  • Coaching Calls
  • Live Chat / Q&A

Keep in mind that while WordPress provides an option for people to register on your site, that does not provide membership functionality. All it does is create a list of users on your site (collects names and email addresses). To add membership to your site requires a dedicated WordPress membership plugin.

How you provide the content will be covered in the post about various membership functionality you may need.

TAKEAWAY: You need to create content that provides value to your members, and you need a dedicated WordPress membership plugin. 

3) Payment Gateway

While many membership sites have a free entry level membership, the point really of a membership site is monetization. Which means you need a way to collect payments.

And you do this by choosing a payment gateway. Here’s a list of the most popular payment gateway:

  • Stripe (my preference)
  • PayPal Express, Standard, Website Payments Pro and Payflow Pro
  • Authorize.net
  • 2Checkout

These will be explored more fully in the dedicated payment gateway post.

TAKEAWAY: You need to choose the payment gateway that works best for you and for your members. 

In Summary

A membership site has a a members-only section, where you provide protected content based on membership levels. To gain access to this content, people either register (free membership), or pay money. The foundation of a successful membership site is providing valuable content and resources to your members.

Adding membership to your site requires a dedicated WordPress membership plugin.

A membership site is not the way to build an online community (similar to Facebook or LinkedIn). If you want to build a community website where members can interact and “socialize”, you need a plugin like  Ultimate Member.

Next up, a look at the various types of functionality you may want to include in your membership site.

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About the Author

Yael Reinhardt-Matsliah

For the last 20 years, I have helped businesses like yours dramatically improve their business with my support, guidance, and comprehensive web design and marketing strategies.  I can help you too. 

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