How to build a membership website

Creating a membership website takes more planning than just selecting your favorite membership plugin. There’s a lot to think about, if you’re planning on running a successful business, selling memberships or premium content. In this article, we’ll review some of those important steps that go into creating a strong foundation for your membership site.

We’ll cover how you select your WordPress theme for membership, what goes into designing a good landing page, which membership plugin to use, and a lot more. Let’s dive in!

The following outline is for people that want to build a WordPress membership website to sell courses, premium content, and other private access on their domain. Membership websites can be used for other applications like communities, government portals, or organization directories, which we won’t cover in this piece.

Step 1: What is your offer and is it better than what’s out there?

Unique Selling Proposition! What’s yours?

First, don’t be afraid to put out premium membership content that other online personalities are already selling — just do it better. In fact, if your idea for a membership website is already popular, chances are, people are searching for that topic, that’s a good thing. The flip side is, it’s a commodity, and a low price point might make or break a deal for your potential customer. Try to ignore that, and find the unique value in your offering, creating a brand that sets you apart from other people in the space. Leverage that USP, folding it into your price point and brand values.

There’s a lot of WordPress tutorial websites out there, probably thousands, but few bring the years of experience I have running an agency, selling WordPress digital products, and podcasting.

That last line? Yeah, that’s confidence, make sure you come equipped with that when you launch into your new venture, because it’s a bumpy ride. Confidence will also help you position your new venture over another product in the market. I know a lot of people hate selling, but it’s a necessary skill you need to sharpen in order to increase your sales, which in-turn, grows the business.

Step 2: Know your customer

This is the most underrated aspect of launching any business or product — know your customer.

Hands down, the best place to learn about the process of uncovering your best customer is from The Skool. The products are paid, but it’s well worth the investment for the education you receive. At the end of the day, if you don’t want to spend a nickel on another course, you can watch this video that I recorded a while ago, using the Skool process.

The most important piece of this whole process is creating a story about your user. I call them Customer Avatars, other professionals in the field have varying names for them. The idea is to sit down and make up (yes, make it up) a story for your perfect customer. If you’ve been in business for a little while, perhaps you already know some details of this story, either way outline a real character with the following:

  • Name
  • Sex
  • Age
  • Location
  • Salary
  • Brand likes/dislikes
  • Social interest
  • What problems are they faced with
  • How can your product help them

Spend some time drawing out these areas to create a few customer avatars, which lead to creating marketing, sales, and website content for your new offering. It eventually leads to creating your ongoing promotional content, blog content, and other creative marketing content to drive more customers to your website.

Step 3: Setup your theme for success

In the video, I use our Baton theme, which you can download for free from WordPress.org.

I’m always asked to explain how I select the best theme to use — it depends. It depends on the project requirements, both technical and design. It will boil down to:

  1. Design matches the brand goals
  2. Theme support (both technical and from the company)
  3. Homepage layout support
  4. Landing page support

Once  you’ve found a theme that fits your needs, you want to set it up so that there’s some measurable action to take. You could have the best looking theme on the market, with every bell and whistle, but if you can’t set it up to create a membership sign up — for your membership website — what’s the point?

Tip #1 Homepage call to action

Setup your homepage call to action, the first big clickable button right on the top of the page, that gets someone to learn more about your offering or signup without having to dig around the website. Most visitors won’t buy on their first visit, so if they bookmark you and come back again, they’ll know they can take action immediately, which improves your chance to conversions.

Make sure your theme has a way to setup a nice big hero area on the homepage.

Tip #2 Homepage benefits 

What’s the benefit of your membership content?

17 Hours of WordPress training videos or Master WordPress in TWO days.

I’m going with the latter. The benefit is my customer will master WordPress once they are done taking the course or watching the material. The first statement only outlines a feature of my pretend course. Seventeen hours of videos doesn’t depict the outcome of taking the course, simply states what’s in it as a feature. We’ll use that content for other parts of the homepage.

Make sure your benefits is properly displayed.

Tip #3 Homepage features

Outline your membership’s features in a nice grid or list that visitors can review. If you’re visitor is looking at other membership websites to join, it’s important that you can properly display the features available, if they are making a comparison. These features should reinforce the benefit we talked about earlier, and align well with your customer avatar. Ensuring that the content provided here will make the most sense for your potential customer.

Check to see if your theme has a widget or method for displaying a grid of features or content.

Tip #4 Homepage testimonials

Social proof is the best proof.

If you can display customer testimonials, those that have purchased from you before, you’re in a better sales position. Incoming visitors will trust your site and product more, than without. Certainly, in the beginning, you won’t have any testimonials, so it’s paramount you start collecting them starting from your first customer.

Does your theme have a testimonials widget or slider to display?

Your mileage may vary with all of this, and that’s okay. The 4 tips I’ve outlined here are just the tip of the iceberg. They are, however, going to give your homepage the best possible chance for success and customer signup. If you’re looking to grow revenue and get signups, crafting the homepage as a landing page will help you hit your goals.

Step 4: Selecting the right membership plugin

In the tutorial video I recommend Restrict Content Pro, a membership plugin by Pippin’s Plugins. If you’re wondering how I make decisions like these, read about selecting the best WordPress plugins.

Another good solution for membership plugins would be Paid Membership Pro. The core plugin is free and has paid add-ons, where RCP is paid, and you receive all the add-ons depending on the plan. It will also come down to which add-ons you needs, I suggest spending some time evaluating their add-ons to make sure it works with your business needs.

One last benefit to RCP is, it works with the rest of Pippin’s products. So if you need to manage a bunch of Digital Downloads, he has Easy Digital Downloads. If you need to setup an affiliate program for your website, he also runs AffiliateWP.

So for me, it comes down to the up-front investment. Both plugins are built by two great product companies, and fully support their code, while keeping compatible with WordPress.

Step 5 Marketing your membership website

Like a lot of the other sections in this outline, marketing your website deserves it’s own full post (or course!).

While I won’t go too deep here, it’s important that you understand promoting your website is going to be the real work. If you thought building out the content and the website technology was tough, getting people to your website is going to be even harder. That’s why I mentioned confidence in step #1, it’s needed now more than ever.

Content marketing

You’re already using WordPress, so you’ve got the right platform. Revisit your customer avatars and begin to build out a content plan that targets their interests. What pain points do they have, and what can you teach them to solve it, which eventually lead them to sign up for your membership website?

You might even use a plugin like Kanban for WordPress, to help outline a content calendar.

Lead capture & list building

In the video I offer up two choices for capturing e-mails, OptinMonster & OptinCat. OptinMonster being the more advanced and feature-packed of the two (there’s no comparison really), but doesn’t offer up a free version like OptinCat does.

Another section that I could go very deep into, just know that list building is important. Not only are you capturing e-mails to re-market to, but you can also get them into a funnel that allows you to drip out your course material to.

Landing pages

There will come a time where you need to create landing pages for your products, especially for ad buys in social or PPC. I’d recommend a plugin like Beaver Builder to help you create landing pages faster than your theme’s options provide. Unless you’re using my theme, Baton Pro, that’s pretty darned fast 🙂

Conclusion

These 5 pillars of a successful WordPress membership website should get you off to the races with more knowledge & understanding than when you started. I know many of you focus on thinking that a membership website is just a few clicks in a plugin, but sadly, it takes a lot more to run a successful online business.

  • Unique Value Proposition
  • Brand values
  • Messaging
  • Call to action
  • Content
  • Theme
  • Membership plugin
  • Lead capture
  • Traffic building
  • Sales pages
  • Marketing automation

All of these areas are important, and I’ve touched upon a lot of them in this overview. I hope you enjoyed this article and collection of videos on creating a membership website. I’d love to hear what kind of membership site you’re building in the comments below.

 

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