Get ready to be inspired, this post is jam-packed with membership site examples and tips for creating the perfect membership website unique to your business.
From mobile app memberships to recurring drip-released membership websites: you'll see how to use them to deliver online trainings, communities, and everything in between.
With an almost infinite variety of membership models to choose from, it's important to understand what a membership website can do and what's best left to other platforms.
Let’s take a look at the best ways to deliver your content through a membership website. You'll also see some membership website ideas in action and links to successful membership site examples.
When done well, membership websites can provide an amazing source of recurring revenue for your online business.
Table of Contents
- What is a Membership Site?
- 3 Types of Membership Websites You Should Consider
- Paid Membership Websites Often Benefit From Free Levels or Courses
- Designing Your Membership Site
- The Next Step…
What is a Membership Site?
A membership website is a set of pages with protected content behind a “login area”.
Often, a membership based website will house videos, text, and downloads that are for free or paid members only.
Asking members to login to the members site means that you can tailor the experience to each member, by remembering what content they've accessed and allowing them to customize their experience, too.
You might use a membership website to house online courses, community directories or associations, and recurring members-only content.
3 Types of Membership Websites You Should Consider
It’s worth emphasizing: a membership website is not a one-size-fits-all opportunity. There are different types of membership based sites, each with its own unique model and setup.
We're sharing three types of members area websites… but the one you choose will be determined by the unique needs of your business.
1. Housing Online Courses in a Membership Website
When you sell online courses, you need a protected online area that only the course students can access. This protected online area is where you'll store your digital workbooks, course videos, and any other content you want as a part of your course.
Once you have your online course area set up, students can purchase access to your courses, then log in under their own unique account to view the materials.
These courses can be bundled together with the membership program itself, or they might simply be sold as one-off elements apart from other subscription services.
You might also launch online courses only once or twice per year, and have people go through courses together as a “cohort”.
This is an example of a membership website dashboard with courses organized by their difficulty level:
Here are a few great examples of membership sites that include online courses:
2. Build Members Only Online Communities
Humans are social by nature and will gravitate towards communities of like-minded people who support and challenge each other. Building a community online allows you to tap into this social instinct and create an atmosphere of camaraderie in your niche.
Another benefit? Membership communities tap into a desire that most consumers have on some level: direct contact with the person in charge of the business.
You can pair community elements with any type of membership program, and use the network to share “sneak peeks” of upcoming releases, offer members-only discounts, or discuss issues with your fans.
The best part of an online community is that it grows and matures over time, eventually becoming almost self-moderating. Older members naturally begin to step up to enforce the rules, answer simple questions that they've seen over and over again, and start discussions of their own.
To help foster that human connection, you can also host live coaching calls or group training calls inside your members area, to help keep the interactivity high.
You might be wondering: what's the best community platform for your online membership site? Whether you need a forum, Facebook group, or other platform depends on how engaged your community is, as well as the needs of your members.
Most online businesses have a combination of a free community (like on a blog or free Facebook group) as well as paid community areas, where there's more direct access to teachers and trainers.
The downside? You have to train people to interact or log into your community space in order for an online community to take off. The point is interaction, and if you don't have enough people to interact, members won't find any value in participating.
3. Host Evergreen Content Inside Your Membership Website
One of the biggest setbacks when it comes to building and sustaining a members area is the sheer volume of content creation involved.
After all: without a strong library of content, you might have a tough time trying to convince your subscribers to stay active and keep logging in.
Fortunately, there's an easy fix:
With an “evergreen” setup, you can slowly release content over time. With this model, members will keep coming back and give you the opportunity to share more products with them. The best part is that it doesn't require as much effort or maintenance on your part.
We go more in-depth on the nuances involved in this article with the 3 ways to sell online memberships.
This is an example of a membership website that starts off with a free level and that delivers different focused themed content each month for premium subscribers:
- The 30 Day List Building Challenge is one example of evergreen content that attracts new subscribers on a daily basis. (Bonus: it's currently offered totally free of charge, so feel free to sign up and get some ideas.)
- Carrie Green's Female Entrepreneur Association‘s members club releases new content every month … but once you're a member, you have access to all the material they've ever published.
- Liam Veitch's Freelance Lift offers a combination of free content available to anyone who becomes a member, and monthly themed trainings for those who upgrade to a premium paid plan.
Paid Membership Websites Often Benefit From Free Levels or Courses
Once you decide on the type of content you want to present inside your site, it's time to figure out how to sell it.
If you want to increase your income with an online membership platform, the obvious choice is to require clients to pay for access.
Even a small monthly or annual fee will keep the “recurring revenue” rolling in then, right?
So let's look a little deeper into some membership business examples:
The Paid Membership Site Example
Paid membership websites charge a small monthly or yearly fee for access to premium content. You can also offer to unlock content in a course on a one-time fee basis, and just host your premium content inside a members only area.
A paid membership model tends to keep out people who aren't genuinely interested in the product you're offering, which means that you have better odds of maintaining a productive community.
Obviously, the key benefit of paid memberships is that you can keep adding members to increase your monthly or yearly recurring income.
One thing to keep in mind is that there is built in turnover or churn, so not everyone who joins will stay on forever. Because of this, you'll want to build in continuous marketing into your business plans to attract new members.
The Free Membership Program Example
Free membership sites have their own unique advantages. First, they're available to anyone who wants to look in on what you're doing.
In some cases, having access to that content will convince people that they want to take advantage of the products and services you're offering. In fact, there's a whole strategy behind this method, called the Login Optin™ Strategy.
Also, think about the type of people who are likely to be interested in joining your community. Are they an older crowd or younger? Are they currently in school? What about stay at home parents, who often sacrifice a second income in order to be able to stay at home with their families?
All of these individuals will be more likely to take part in your community if they don't have to pay membership fees to make that possible.
The strategy behind this membership model is that you can be generous with your free content, but also build in an upgrade path to your paid offerings.
For Best Results, Offer a Mix Of Paid and Free Content
It doesn't have to be all or nothing. There's a compromise between “free” and “paid.” You can offer an open area of your membership site and a closed area that is only available to people who pay the fee.
This is what we do with our free 30 Day List Building Challenge. Anyone can join for free, and access the full 30 days of training videos and downloads… and at the same time, they'll be shown other courses and options that they can upgrade to.
Also take a look at 3 different ways to sell online membership subscriptions: it doesn't have to be all or nothing. You can have people purchase previous months of content if you don't want to make everything available upon sign up.
Take Shannon Mattern, for example, who runs a free “Build a Website in 5 Days” challenge at WP-BFF. The amount of value she packs into that course is extremely impressive… and allows her to confidently deliver value to free subscribers.
But there's another side to it: because she also houses paid courses inside her membership site, free users are incentivized to click over and purchase additional content.
The result: Shannon shared that she's earned over $36K from the online courses inside her membership website… and that's just from users that came in for her free course and wanted more.
The long and short of it: to maximize the revenue from your membership site, use the Login Optin strategy to attract new users, then design an experience that naturally and organically introduces them to your other products.
Designing Your Membership Site
The first step to designing the perfect membership website? Taking the plunge. If you have an active fan base or online following, the first thing you need to do is ask your audience what they want from you.
Of course you'll be tempted to dig into the details like choosing a WordPress membership theme, comparing CRMs, and getting a membership plugin up and running. But don't get bogged down by these technical details quite yet!
At first, it might seem intimidating, especially if your online community will require you to produce content regularly.
Here's the thing you have to remember: you don't have to produce a year's worth of content overnight, nor do you have to come up with the idea for every tutorial or training you're going to produce in the first month that your community is up and running.
You'll have plenty of time to come up with ideas.
The more you produce, the more you'll be able to think of.
Ask members to tell you what kind of content they're interested in seeing, then produce it. It's that simple!
If you're looking for a guide to build your membership website successfully, then consider hiring one of our AccessAlly Certified Partners to help you get going.
Choosing Membership Site Platforms
There are a lot of membership site platforms to choose from. Starting with SaaS hosted solutions that tend to be easiest to get started but might lock you in and not have the functionality you need long term.
You've also got the self-hosted option to use WordPress membership plugins, but sometimes these make it difficult to get the exact functionality you want without custom coding.
We're obviously biased, but there's a great “best of both worlds” solution in AccessAlly, which runs on WordPress but handles everything from taking payments for your subscriptions, to delivering content, learning management, and integration with your email marketing platform.
Click here to compare membership site platforms.
The Next Step…
Developing the first part of the community. Consider offering a “testing” membership for free or at an extremely reduced price to a number of individuals that you know are an active part of your current fan base. Give them a sneak peek at the action while you're developing the community.
Let them know up front that they're part of your testing group: you're still working out the kinks and figuring out how this is going to work, but you want them to come in on the ground floor and help you figure this out.
From there, market, market, market! Use your social media accounts and current website to seek out people who will be interested in your new community. Offer them a peek of what you're offering. Then tailor your community to the needs of its members and watch it thrive!
By the way, if you're worried about launching a membership website because of the content creation involved, you'll love this case study.
Once your membership site is up and running, set aside time to review important business metrics on a regular basis. (Resist the urge to check every day, it's addicting but it's not the best use of your time to obsess over your stats!)
The more familiar you are with what's working in your membership site, the quicker you'll be able to pivot towards success.
Creating an online membership site is a wonderful way to interact with your fans, engage with people who care about your products, and deliver an amazing learning experience. (Especially when you pair your membership site with AccessAlly Pro!)
The type of membership website you design is up to you… but the sky is the limit when it comes to the people you can reach. Take the plunge and see what you can accomplish!
Leave a comment below with your favorite membership site examples, so we can check 'em out!