When the World Wide Web was in its prime, information was almost always free. Things like members-only sites were unheard of. Even if you did have to become a member, you certainly didn’t have to pay. However, as the Internet became saturated with information, a portion of it was incorrect or practically useless. Content mills churned out hundreds upon hundreds of articles, many of them barely skimming the information a website browser was looking for and touching only on the keywords needed to get the visitor there and collect on per-view advertising from sites like Google.
Fortunately, the Internet is changing in a positive way for those who have information to share. Content is becoming something that is valued again. People are willing to pay for in-depth information from experts and that is where membership sites come into play.
However, there are both advantages and disadvantages to offering a members-only site.
If you have specialized knowledge and consumers want that knowledge, you can make a profit packaging what you know into some sort of learning module and selling that information. Creating a members-only site allows you to post multiple articles, books or videos and give members access to all that information for one price. This can also provide the opportunity to create ongoing subscriptions.
In addition to making a profit, those who pay a membership fee aren’t as likely to post rude comments or nonsense to forums, thus creating a better experience for everyone.
There are some real disadvantages to members-only sites. The Internet is seen as a free resource and some people simply aren’t willing to pay for information no matter how valuable it might be. They will leave your site and never return rather than pay a fee. On the other hand, those who are paying that fee are going to expect value for their money. If the membership is for an ongoing newsletter, then you’ll need to step up your efforts and ensure they get a newsletter filled with information that can’t be found anywhere else online. You will also need to set up security measures, a way for members to login to the site and deal with people who lose their information and need it sent to them again.
If you don’t want to lose visitors simply because they don’t wish to pay for membership, you can set up a separate membership area. The main part of the site would offer basic articles and information and perhaps access to a few forums. The members-only area might have instructional videos, in-depth interviews and private forums. Most web hosting companies offer the ability to protect individual folders, so setting up a separate folder for members is as simple as changing the permissions of that folder. If you want to get more advanced with membership features and automate the sign-up process, you’ll need to utilize WordPress plugins or customize a content management platform such as Mambo or Joomla.
Examples of Members-Only Used Well
The concept of a members-only area has been used by quite a few people with great success. Here are a few examples:
This site offers articles and information on how to write a book in a week (rough draft, of course), but also offers a members-only area where visitors can take part in challenges to write a certain number of words. The members-only area also has workshops and classes and discussion forums. This particular site only charges $3.00 a year for membership. The goal is to keep hackers and spammers out of the private forums and workshops.
Love him or hate him, you have to admit that he is an expert at marketing himself. In addition to offering a subscription-based newsletter, he also offers what he calls Rush 24/7 membership. This gives site visitors access to live streaming, podcasts, archives and the Dittocam for about $6.95 month. If your site focuses on what you have to say, then this model may work for you as well.
LinkedIn is an online business networking and social media site. They have added the ability to upgrade your account and gain access to additional features. The basic features LinkedIn has always offered for free are still free, such as the ability to create a profile, post news and link up with business colleagues. However, they’ve now added packages that offer special features like contacting people directly through InMail, more advanced profile filters, finding out who has viewed your profile, and the ability save files and notes to your LinkedIn account. Packages start at $19.95 a month.
The American Motorcyclists Association (AMA) offers an excellent example of a site with a wealth of information that makes the visitor want to join the organization and gain access to the members-only area of the site. Some of the features in the members-only area include a digital edition of the organization’s official magazine, access to promotions and a list of motorcycle-safe trails in your area. Membership is only $29.00 a year and includes roadside assistance.
Your Take Away In This Article
The key to a highly effective membership site is to offer enough free content to entice people to visit your site, but leave them wanting more, so they will join the members-only area.
Article by Lori Soard
Lori Soard has been working as a freelance writer and editor since 1996. She has a bachelor's in English Education and a PhD in Journalism. Her articles have appeared in newspapers, magazines, online and she's had several books published. Since 1997, she has worked as a web designer and promoter for authors and small businesses. She even worked for a short time ranking websites for a popular search engine and studying in-depth SEO tactics for a number of clients. She enjoys hearing from her readers.