What is a membership website?

Membership Website
(Image credit: Mohamed Hassan / Pixabay)

Following the rapid technology development during the 1990s and the burst of the dot-com bubble in the 2000s, the companies caught in this economic blast had to face the cold reality, embrace the march of technology, adapt to changes and recover, or go bust. Today, more than two decades after this burst, technology has changed the ways we think about running a business from the ground up.

With the web crisscrossing the world in the wake of the rise of the internet, the resources needed for starting a business were cut down and the process was made simpler than ever before. To launch a start-up today, all you really need is a computer, stable internet connection, and just a little bit of technical how-how. However, with the birth of numerous beginner-friendly website building solutions, even the last requirement can be safely ignored.

One of the simplest ways to start an online business and make money from the comfort of your home is to create your membership website. We’re sure you’ve heard the term “membership website” and you might be wondering if it really has some esoteric meaning. Actually, if you’ve ever had a customer, an email subscriber, or a follower on any of the social media sites you are on the right trail to understand what it is. To learn even more about membership websites you’re invited to check out our guide below.

Build Better Membership Sites With Nexcess

Build Better Membership Sites With Nexcess

The fastest and most affordable way to build a membership site on WordPress is with WPQuickStart by Nexcess. Starting at $49/mo, every membership plan includes the Restrict Content Pro plugin — a $349 value. Plus, enjoy the flexibility and ease of the Kadence WP theme.

Why do people set up membership websites?

In simple terms, a membership website is a website whose pages or special content are available to its members only. Most of the time, this special content will be available for a fee of sorts, although there are membership sites that offer their content completely free of charge to all those who choose to sign up for it.

On the other hand, some membership sites try to strike a balance between a paid and unpaid model by giving out some freebies while full access comes with a price tag attached. This hybrid model might be the smartest out of the three, businesswise, since the free ride is likely to attract newcomers, get them “happily hooked” on the content, and make them more willing to shell out their money for it.

There is a wide variety of different content a membership site can feature including blog posts, videos, pictures, podcasts, screencasts, e-books, online courses, one-on-one coaching sessions, community forums, digital and physical products, and so forth. Every time you introduce new content to your membership site, your members will be able to consume it while spreading the (hopefully good) word.

Man Studying Online at Home

(Image credit: Vanessa Garcia / Pexels)

Why would one want to start a membership website?

How someone benefits from having a membership site depends on who they are, what they value, and what is their objective. For instance, if you are enticed by the idea of building an online community held together by your content, then a membership site could be a good choice for you.

If you’re already a content creator (blogger, vlogger, podcaster, YouTuber, video game streamer, or something else entirely), then adding a membership to your site will give you a chance to sell directly to your audience without relying on paid ads, sponsorship, or affiliate partnerships. If you’re a service provider (freelancer, educator, or consultant) then membership can help you to create an additional revenue stream to your business by offering extra services at equally extra cost. Even if you’re a part of an all-powerful company, building a “fanbase” is never bad for business. You can thank your customers by giving them a glimpse of what’s behind the curtain, sharing never-told secrets about their favorite products, and creating more personal connections with them.

If nothing, most online projects could benefit from a membership model by earning a few bucks, a few faithful followers, or (ideally) both.

What are the various types of membership websites?

There are all sorts of membership sites under the sun, so we’ll focus on the most common types and see what they're all about.

The content publishing type is an online version of the periodical print publication (such as magazines, newspapers, or scholarly journals) in which a content creator comes up with a new batch of articles which are usually released on a weekly or monthly basis. With an emphasis on quality (rather than quantity), this is all about focusing on a few top-notch pieces of content without overwhelming members with too much new stuff.

The online tutoring type is a good choice for all those who possess a set of professional skills, passion for teaching, and a wish to work with people, whether in the format involving group coaching or one-on-one sessions.

The community creating type is for all those who are seeking like-minded individuals to start a safe, creative, and ever-growing community environment. The boon of this type is that it brings people from all over the world together, forms friendships, and makes its members want to stay around.

The passion project (or hobby) type will give you a creative outlet and a place to share your passion with others while helping them find their own projects. These membership sites often include step-by-step guides, tips and tricks, and resources to help new initiates upgrade their know-how.

The mixed membership site type is (as its name implies) is for all those who refuse to commit to a single type and would rather pick out the bit they like from each of them, combine them, and create their own unique format.


(Image credit: Startupstockphotos / Pexels)

Membership website checklist

Although it’s said that everything begins with an idea, to create a membership site we’ll have to get down to basics and turn that idea into reality.

First things first, if you haven’t got one already, get yourself a domain name, and make it catchy while you’re at it. There are plenty of popular and pocket-friendly domain registrars to choose from (like Domain.com, Bluehost, and Network Solutions), and with most web hosting providers you’ll even get a free domain name (for a year, at least).

This brings us to the next requirement, and that is to find a web hosting provider you can trust and choose a suitable solution for your site.

The first step of being smart with security is choosing a provider with a good track record, strong support, and access to a full set of security features including protection against DoS, DDoS, and brute-force attacks, malware scanning, server, and site-wide firewalls, PCI compliance, regular backups, and so forth. If you want to make visitors of your site feel at ease (and turn them into full members), you’ll have to make sure that their data is handled securely. 

Selecting an easy-to-use control panel like cPanel is part of making your job as a content creator much easier, especially if you’re not particularly tech-savvy. Therefore, choose wisely.

Pick out a membership management software (also known as MMS) that will make it easy to transform your site into a membership site. It is an all-in-one management solution that comprises a site-building tool, customer contact database, some kind of communications system, payment system, financial reports, site analytics, membership summaries, and so on. There are plenty of membership plugins (both free and paid) available, so consider your options wisely before making a choice.

Add payment methods and create a pricing page since you won’t be able to accept payments on your membership site and start enjoying the fruits of your labor without this. We advise you to select two payment methods at a minimum (credit card and PayPal) since some of your customers would rather use PayPal than leave their credit card details.

Create membership levels and plans to offer your users a couple of different-sized options and make sure they feel they’re getting their money’s worth. Most membership sites offer monthly and annual subscriptions where members who decide for a longer commitment are usually rewarded in one way or another (well, mostly with a discount). However, if you want to be a bit more creative you can also reward them with access to the entire library, “sneak peeks” into your future work, behind-the-scenes material, special content, or similar perks.

That being said, one thing you should never forget about (not even in your sleep) are freebies, because it’s one of the easiest ways to attract attention and create a positive buzz for your business.

Make members-only content

The last (but far from being the least) point on our short membership site checklist is an ongoing ritual of getting your creative juices flowing and creating engaging members-only content. This will make members feel like they’re getting more than what you pay for, keep the subscription rates healthy, and make your site stand out from the crowd.

Tired businessman

(Image credit: Pexels)

The pros and cons of starting a membership website

Although it may seem like anyone can do it, running a membership site is not exactly a walk in the park. It is not a) passive income (sorry, you won’t get rich while sleeping), b) it is not simple to get things started (although not too complex either), and c) it is not for the faint-hearted (so prepare to get out of your comfort zone). Here are a few pros and cons of starting a membership site business:


You are your own boss

How does it sound to go about your business without someone keeping a watchful eye on you all the time (besides, in a sense, your customers)? With a membership site business, you’ll be the one calling the shots about every single thing such as choosing your working hours, setting your dress code, deciding about deadlines, what kind of content you’re going to create, and so on. What’s best, being your own boss means you won’t have to worry about having a bad boss.

Pretty predictable income

Although it may take some time to get things rolling, once you hit a certain milestone you can expect to have a pretty predictable income. This is because, unlike most ecommerce sites, membership sites charge for on-site content and use a subscription-based pricing model, which results in a steady income. As your site grows, so will its customer base, and an increase in income will follow. 

Fabulous level of flexibility

Whether you wish to go with the flow or sing your own tune, a membership site will give you a creative outlet where you can sell whatever you want, wherever you want, and in any way you want it. With a membership site, you can start small and shape your site as you go. 

You can create a growing community

It is not that often that one is given a chance to create a community in a social climate where people are more disconnected than ever before. A membership site can bring together people from all parts of the world, create a sense of connection, open a door for feedback and support, help you promote your site, and attract the attention of its future members. 

Membership sites are trending up

While membership sites have been around for some time, their popularity has been on the rise over the years and it is unlikely they will soon go out of fashion. Hence, if you wish to start a membership site, now might be the perfect time for it.


Getting started can be challenging

If you’re starting your membership site from scratch, the first steps on your journey will be particularly challenging because you’ll have to deal with all the technical aspects, try to come up with quality content all the time, and keep your start-up cost under control at the same time. Since you can’t have a solid base of paying customers right at the start, the first months will be tough, so remember that no pain usually means no gain.

It’s a time-consuming call

Besides being challenging at the very start, if you wish to run a successful membership site you’ll have to monitor, maintain, and update your content (almost) without a break.

Competitors around every corner

When it comes to membership site business, the space is crowded and it feels like someone is looking for a way to steal your thunder just around every corner. Therefore, before setting out to conquer cyberspace, spend some time analyzing the market and find your place in it.

Should you start your own membership website at once?

If you find yourself more excited about the pros than you are troubled by the cons of owning a membership site, then the answer is a strong “yes”. Yes, membership sites are an excellent choice for those who want to keep their creative spark alive while having the support of recurring revenue, but they aren’t for everyone, especially not for those unwilling to commit. Therefore, before embarking on your membership journey, just try to stop and think whether you have all that is needed (inducing readiness) to start your own membership site or not.

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Mirza Bahic is a freelance tech journalist and blogger from Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. For the past four years, Mirza has been ghostwriting for a number of tech start-ups from various industries, including cloud, retail and B2B technology.