So you want to create a membership website. You feel that you have some skill or value to offer the world, so you’re looking to put together a little business to make that happen.
And, before you screw the whole thing up, spending months of your life building something only to have to spend months more undoing the mistakes you made, you figured that you’d get some expert advice beforehand.
Great. You’re off to a good start already. Every successful journey needs a good quality map, and that’s what I want to help provide you with today.
Creating A Membership Website For Free: Is It Possible?
Let’s get something out of the way first: Yes, it is possible to create a membership website for free, but it’s a far inferior option for growing your business.
Some people like to get a free Blogger website, write some articles, sell prospects on membership, and then direct those new members to a private Facebook group where they can interact and share. Some creators even post their video courses there.
Do Not Use Free Membership Website Solutions
The price makes free websites and membership backends sound like a nice option, but experienced founders will notice some critical flaws in the setup:
Free websites such as Blogger and Facebook feel cheap.
Can you imagine paying $500 per year and then being sent to a Facebook group to access the community?
Even worse, would you trust many people who try to sell you a $500 per year membership on a site that looks like the owner set up for free? What sort of experience are you likely to have as a member if you join?
Yes, WordPress is free and you can customize it any way you’d like, but – unless you are a coding wiz – you still have to pay to make it look decent, pay to host it, and pay for software to create the membership area. So, while the install is free, it is an expensive option overall.
Facebook has limited reach.
If you post something on your group to interact with members, few will notice because Facebook does not send everyone in your group messages. They want you to pay to reach people – even your own members. So, you share, you interact, but your members see little of it.
Add to that the distractions Facebook adds to the experience, such as funny cat videos, and the fact that people can advertise in your group, and the user experience leaves a lot to be desired.
The onboarding experience is clunky.
First, you have to convince them to join, and then you have to get them to go through the signup process, and then you have to get them to check their email, and then you have to get them to contact you to ask for permission to join your Facebook page, and they have to remember a special code word or relay their email to prove they joined, and there’s no welcome messages, no way to change your user name without affecting your entire account… it’s just a clunky, unsatisfying experience.
Marketing becomes very limited.
When you are using free website software or Facebook to deliver the goods, you can’t track user behavior, send custom emails based on that behavior, segment people, etc. It becomes very hard.
A free option such as Facebook groups, is not the sort of solution a professional would use, never mind someone trying to set up a business that hopefully makes $250k or more per year.
Pay For Quality, Or Pay With Time And Frustration
I had a friend once who used to say that cheap is the worst sort of expensive. He was right.
While the free option is not a great way to go, the cheap option can be equally problematic.
When you go cheap on software, you end up with poorly thought out functions, the need to integrate tools via plugins that may cause technical problems elsewhere on your site, the need for a lot of hands on work, or the need to hire expensive developers to get things functioning properly for you and make sure they stay that way.
At the bare minimum, if you go with a platform that is not specifically designed for membership businesses, you can expect to pay $500 per month for tech help on an ongoing basis. And yes, this is what cheap overseas developers would cost you.
Your best bet is to pay for a purpose-built membership website platform or builder. This option will allow you to set up in minimal time, will include a lot of integrations out of the box that you would otherwise have to pay for, will include a tech team to help you sort out issues (for free), and some will include extremely fast hosting.
A website platform is just a piece of web software that allows you to quickly and easily set up a membership site. This typically takes place on their website platform. Some platforms have more customization than others. Some will have a preplanned website ready to go for you (you just need to add some writing and pictures) while others have simple to use page builders that allow for much more customization.
Go With A High Quality Advanced Page Builder
We prefer platforms with advanced page builders because they can provide a similar level of design customization that you would get with a custom HTML site, but can be extremely easy to use. No coding experience is necessary and they are far easier to customize than WordPress editors.
This website you’re on now is built on the Kleq membership platform. We think it’s the iPhone of membership software today – simple to use, no software conflicts due to adding plugins, good customizability (ok, one up on iPhone here), and the basics are set up for you out of the box.
For our money, a bit less than $200 per month, we get blistering fast hosting, 24-7 tech help, all the tools we need without having to pay for and add plugins, and the ability to create a highly polished site. This option saves us over $500 in ongoing monthly costs that we’d otherwise be paying if we used WordPress.
Developer cost in particular will increase substantially when 3rd party plugins you purchase to achieve specific marketing objectives inevitably cause things on your website to break and you have to hire a developer to fix them.
Dedicated membership platforms include the features you would otherwise have to pay for and they work perfectly with the rest of the site so that there’s not really anything to fix. Kleq, for example, has all sorts of funnel software, pop ups, etc, that you would otherwise have to purchase, and it all works seamlessly together… like the iPhone.
Again, setting up a website on a dedicated membership platform is a breeze. This polished site only took me a week and a half of work to get everything laid out the way I wanted via Kleq’s drag and drop interface.
Compare that to working with a developer which, when we last went that route, cost us $6,000 and a month and a half of work. Total costs this time around? A bit less than $200 and a week and a half of my time.
Creating a Website With Membership and User Login: A Quick How-to
When you’re setting up your site, as you may have guessed from the previous section, there are two routes to go: Piecing it together with your own website (typically WordPress) or using a membership platform.
How To Create A WordPress Membership Website With User Login
Assuming you already have the domain name…
- Set the URL up with a hosting provider. You will need to point the URL to the hosting provider using menus in your domain registrar. Each registrar has its own series of pages to navigate through, so we can’t get more specific than this.
- Install WordPress for your site using your hosting company’s menu system. Again, each hosting company’s process is different.
- Set up your WordPress login in your hosting company’s backend. This should be part of the install but could be different depending on the company.
- Log in to your WordPress site via www.[yoursite].com/admin. This will get you into your specific website’s backend. From there, you can set up users, and customize the website.
- Identify the WordPress membership plugin you’d like to install to create the membership section of your website. There are a few available, such as MemberPress, iMember360, etc. We don’t recommend any of these.
- Once you have identified your software of choice, you will have to install the software in your WordPress backend. Most should allow you to do this via the plugins section on WordPress.
- Navigate the software’s menu to specify which pages should be kept private and which should be public pages.
- You can then create login details for people you want to grant membership access to. Typically this is connected to a payment provider and your merchant account, so that you can provide access automatically once the prospect pays, and you will have to set up a checkout page for this end.
How To Create A Membership Website With User Login Using A Membership Platform Such As Kleq
Again, we’re going to assume that you already have the domain name…
- Set the domain name up with Kleq. You will need to point the domain name to Kleq.com using menus in your domain registrar. Each registrar has its own series of pages to navigate through.
- Log in to your Kleq website. Kleq will email you the login information automatically. Use that name and password (can be changed later if you’d like).
- Create a members only page in the members section. Since this is a membership platform, the membership backend is already ready for you. Just create a page in this section and don’t worry about formatting it.
- Create the login page for your site. This should take a couple of clicks and it does not have to be formatted.
- Create login Information for a special person in your life, and ask them to log in. If you are taking payments, you’ll typically want to integrate your payment processor and merchant accounts. Once they pay, they should get automatic access.
The Kleq membership platform experience is far simpler than the experience you would have with WordPress, and this ease and simplicity exist throughout the ownership experience. Everything is only a click or two, yet you can customize it in a way that would make for a great membership site.
I don’t want this to come across as a Kleq advertisement. I’ve created about 10 WordPress sites in my life, and have needed a developer to help me most of the time. I recently started using Kleq, and it’s been a far better solution, though with a few drawbacks.
Well, the software is not set up for advanced SEOs. They’re improving, but they have limited markup Schema, for example.
The menu names are also a little strange – but this is something you get used to once you use the software for a bit. It’s far from a deal killer.
It’s also membership-site specific, so if you are planning on building custom software into the site, or part of the user experience, it may be more limited than using WordPress or a custom HTML site build, but I’m sure there is also a workaround for any issue you have.
But, really, today I would much rather use a dedicated membership platform than WordPress. These are the solutions I wish I had when I was starting my first site nearly two decades ago.
Membership Website Builder: Who Can Help You Out?
Ok, I’ve mentioned Kleq, but who else can help you out if you want to build your own site but want to use a different provider?
If that’s you, here are some decent platforms to look into:
Wix Membership Website Builder
Wix is a blog software platform that offers membership site options. It’s not a dedicated membership site platform, though.
We like: They have a lot of attractive website templates that can help make your site look great in just a few clicks.
We dislike: Lack of in-house tools that an advanced membership founder would want. This compromises marketing flexibility.
Webstack Membership Website Builder
Webstack works with Webflow website software as an add on to build your membership section.
We like: Tons of flexibility with design while offering a load of templates to use.
We dislike: You need to use Webflow to make your main website, Stripe to take payment, and they take a portion of your sales revenue on top of a monthly fee.
WildApricot Membership Website Builder
WildApricot is a 2 in one website builder and membership management system. This is a more complete package than Webstack.
We like: You can use the software with an existing site or build your own site with a membership section on a WildApricot site. Also includes enterprise email software.
We dislike: Different pricing tiers based on the number of contacts you have.
Memberful Membership Website Builder
Memberful is similar to WildApricot in that you can use it as a plugin for your own site or you can create a site using their website option.
We like: They have an API for tight integration with other web software, and plans include unlimited members and users.
We dislike: Their in-house website builder is not as customizable as some other options, and they take a percentage of revenue from each sale you make.
Membership Website Design: What Should It Look Like?
Once you have your software selected and set up, it’s time to craft your website. But, what should it look like? Are there any best practices here?
Niche-Brand Consistency: Make Sure Your Member Site Matches The Market’s Expectations
First and foremost, keep the website customer-focused. You want to make sure that your design speaks to your customers, providing them with the necessary information and feel that they expect from sites in the niche.
Your target market will determine the general design. Do you target street artists? Something more creative and colorful will probably work better than something plain. Do you target moms? You want something warm that has kids in it, with friendly font and colors.
Basic Elements To Include In A Membership Website And Where To Put Them
This article is not a course in design, but in terms of where to put elements, you will want your homepage to look like an extended business card for you and your business.
Above the fold (the first part of your home page that the visitor sees), you should have a lead image that sets up the theme of your site, along with a bit of copy that spells out A) who the site is for and B) what benefits you expect to provide them as a subscriber or paid member.
For example, the following would be great headlines for various niches:
“Radically Cut The Time And Effort It Takes To Put Together A High Quality Dividend Portfolio”
“Get The Emotional Phone Support You Need To Help Beat Colon Cancer”
“Reach More Interested Dog Lovers Without Building Prospect Lists By Leveraging Our Research Team And Call Center”
“Complete Interview Prep That Will Guarantee Entrance Into Harvard”
From there, I like to include a bit more information about the offer and an email optin form. This is a great way to build your email list.
Notice the large copy which clearly states who the site is for and how we will help them? This is followed by further details on our value proposition, and an email optin form.
The rest of the home page can either have sections showcasing you, your company, and how you can help, the people you have helped, the benefits of joining, key articles & testimonials, or you could create a longer form sales page with signup options later down the page. The choice is yours.
In terms of blog posts and other public pages, we really don’t do anything special here. Best practices such as including email optin forms at the top and bottom of the page, an author box, and decent sized text are good enough.
While this is a deep topic that is tough to cover in a single article, a simple hack is to look at what some of the biggest membership sites in your niche are doing and copy it. Remember, good artists borrow, great artists steal.
Ok, Now Get Started…
Building a membership site from scratch can be a tough go, but there are good options to help you cut down on a lot of the technical work and associated headaches.
When I first started, I used WordPress and had a developer stitch together various plugins to accomplish what I wanted and to make it all work smoothly. It was expensive. And things broke… a lot.
Not anymore. Today there are a lot of good options on the market for budding membership site founders. We, of course, recommend Kleq but do some digging to see if there is a better solution for your specific needs.
People Also Ask
What makes a good membership website?
A good membership website is characterized by several key elements.
Firstly, it should provide valuable, exclusive content that meets the needs and interests of its members. This content could include articles, videos, tutorials, or downloadable resources. Secondly, a good membership website should offer a user-friendly interface and intuitive navigation to ensure a seamless user experience.
It should also provide easy access to member benefits, such as discounts, events, or networking opportunities. Additionally, a good membership website should have robust security measures in place to protect member data and ensure privacy. Finally, regular communication and engagement with members through newsletters, forums, or webinars are crucial for maintaining an active and loyal membership base.
Are membership sites profitable?
Membership sites can be highly profitable if they are well-managed and offer valuable content or services.
By charging a recurring fee, membership sites generate a consistent and predictable income stream. This model allows for a more stable revenue compared to one-time sales. Additionally, membership sites foster a sense of exclusivity, which can increase customer loyalty and retention.
However, profitability depends on various factors such as the size and engagement of the target audience, the quality of the content, and effective marketing strategies. Therefore, it is essential to carefully plan and execute a membership site to maximize its profitability potential.
How do membership sites make money?
Membership sites make money through various methods.
One common approach is by charging a subscription fee for access to exclusive content or services. This recurring revenue model ensures a steady income stream.
Additionally, membership sites may offer tiered membership levels, allowing users to choose between different pricing options with varying levels of access. This approach caters to a wider audience and allows for upselling opportunities. Some membership sites also generate income through advertising or sponsorships.
By providing a targeted audience, they can attract advertisers and negotiate partnerships. Lastly, e-commerce integration can be used to sell products or services directly to members, further diversifying revenue streams.
How long does it take to build a membership site?
Building a membership site can vary in terms of the time required, depending on several factors.
The complexity of the site, the features and functionalities needed, and the expertise of the developer all play a role. On average, it can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months to build a membership site.
This includes initial planning, design, development, testing, and launching. Properly scoping the project, setting realistic timelines, and effective communication between the client and the development team is crucial for timely delivery. It is recommended to consult with a professional web developer to get an accurate estimate for your specific requirements.
What should I offer in a membership site?
In a membership site, it is crucial to offer valuable content and exclusive resources to attract and retain members.
Providing access to premium articles, e-books, or video tutorials can be highly appealing. Additionally, developing a community forum where members can interact and share ideas fosters engagement and enhances the overall membership experience.
Offering exclusive discounts, early access to new products, or special promotions further incentivizes membership. Regularly updating the site with fresh content and keeping it organized and user-friendly are equally important. Finally, ensuring excellent customer support and providing personalized assistance can help create a loyal and satisfied membership base.
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