Membership sites have become an increasingly popular way to provide exclusive content, build communities, and monetize online businesses. In Part 1 of this guide, we will uncover the basics. From planning and setting up your site to managing users and monetizing your content, we will dig into all the essential aspects to help you create a successful membership site that engages and retains your audience. In Part 2, we will put our theory to the test and walk you through the step-by-step process of building an actual membership website.
- Planning Your Membership Site
- Define Your Goals
- Choose a Niche and Identify Your Target Audience
- Google's Keyword Planner
- Ahrefs Keyword Generator
- Define Your Membership Levels and Pricing
- Understanding What Makes WordPress Great for Building a Membership Site
- Things You Need to Start a Membership Site
- Features to Look for When Finding a Web Hosting Provider for Your WordPress Membership Site
- Easy WordPress Management
- Free SSL Certificates
- Automated Daily Backups
- Expert WordPress Support Available 24/7
- Part 2, Building A Membership Site With WordPress
Planning Your Membership Site
Every great project starts with a good plan, and you know the old saying “an hour of planning can save you 10 hours of doing.” Whether you have an existing site that you are looking to convert to a membership one or just add membership as an extra feature, or you are starting from scratch, it's crucial that you take time to define your goals and target audience. You also have to think about all the different options and bells and whistles you will need which will ensure that your site meets the needs of your members and aligns with your business objectives.
Define Your Goals
The first thing you should do is to define the goals of your membership website. Are you looking to generate an additional revenue stream through restricted content for paid members? Are you looking to build a community? For example, becoming a member of your website would give visitors access to exclusive content, while you in turn receive some of their personal details such as name and email and of course with their explicit consent, you will add them to a mailing list. Or it could be a membership website for your students that just provides access to educational content without any monetization.
Choose a Niche and Identify Your Target Audience
The Internet is such a competitive place nowadays that it's really important to carve out your niche and stand out in the crowd of thousands of other websites. Certain markets and topics are simply way too overcrowded and if you fall into one of these, it would be really difficult (if not impossible) to actually make it. You should carefully research your business idea and make sure that you can offer something unique and valuable in a way that it sets you apart and appeals to your target audience. Of course, this does not apply to existing websites that already have a steady traffic stream and are simply looking to monetize it through a membership system.
A little SEO trick can help you measure the competitiveness of your desired niche and that will ultimately help you decide whether it's worth going for it. Keyword research tools provide valuable insights into the competitiveness of keywords, and you can use those reports to gauge the actual segment. If the keywords that best describe it have a high level of competition or high search volume, that's usually a sign of a seriously competitive market that would be difficult to break into.
Popular keyword research tools include Google Keyword Planner, SEMrush, Moz Keyword Explorer, and Ahrefs.
Google's Keyword Planner
Google's Keyword Planner has a feature called "Get search volume and forecasts". You can use it to get the average monthly searches for your list of keywords and get an assessment of the competition level (low, medium, high).
Ahrefs Keyword Generator
The Ahrefs Keywords Generator is easily accessible, and you can use it to get an estimate of the Search Volume and the Keyword Difficulty:
"Keyword Difficulty gives an estimation of how hard it is to rank in the top 10 organic search results for a keyword on a 100-point scale."https://ahrefs.com/keyword-generator
Remember, competitiveness can vary across industries, locations, and search engines. It's essential to conduct thorough keyword research and consider multiple factors to assess the competitiveness accurately.
Define Your Membership Levels and Pricing
Once you've done your research, and you are fully convinced that you've picked the right niche, it's time to define your membership levels and pricing.
The classic setup is to have three membership levels, and you can even have just one or two. What you certainly want to avoid is having too many plans on your membership website as that could confuse visitors.
Membership plans can be separated by the period for which the subscription is active or by the actual content and all the different features that are included. It all depends on the type of website you have and the content you will be offering.
The idea is that each plan (level) should offer a distinct set of benefits, with higher levels providing more value and access. For example, you could have a basic, premium, and VIP membership.
It's important that you clearly outline the specific benefits and privileges associated with each plan. That's usually shown on the main page and at the subscription/registration page, but we will cover this later in the tutorial.
Of course, pricing is another important aspect to consider. You should factor in the value you're providing to your members, what your target audience would be willing to pay, and what your competition is charging for similar services.
Understanding What Makes WordPress Great for Building a Membership Site
WordPress is a great choice for building a membership site for a number of reasons. First off, it's free! All you would need is a hosting account, but we will get to that in the next step. There are ready-made solutions online for membership websites, but such providers impose high operational and transaction fees. Plus, you would be tied to one particular service provider. With WordPress, you would be free to switch between hosts at will, whenever you feel like a particular provider is not meeting your expectations in terms of uptime and quality or their fees get too high. Websites built with WordPress are easy to migrate between servers.
Another major advantage of WordPress for building a membership site is its huge community. Whenever you stumble upon a specific problem, chances are that someone out there has already gone through the same issue and has posted a solution online, so you would be able to utilize the experience of thousands of other users. Of course, you could also reach out to the WordPress community at the official community-based Support Forums and get answers or help on specific questions you might have.
WordPress has a vast ecosystem, so whenever you need a certain functionality added to your website, it's quite likely that there is a ready-to-use plugin for it. This could potentially save you a lot of time, money and effort that you would otherwise have to invest into building it yourself or through the services of a third party like hiring a developer for this task.
And with WordPress, you can rest assured that it's not going away any time soon. This platform is definitely here to stay, and its popularity has been steadily rising over the past several years. According to data from W3Techs, "WordPress is used by 63.2% of all the websites whose content management system we know. This is 43.1% of all websites."
Last but not least, WordPress is open source, which makes it highly customizable as you can change just about every aspect of your website. Of course, this does involve web development skills and PHP in particular, but the main idea is that you do have the option to add different functionalities to your site. Most of the membership site builders are capsuled, and you cannot make any adjustments outside of what's available via the user interface.
In summary, WordPress is a great choice for building a membership website, because it's free, you are not tied to a specific provider, it has a massive community you can lean on, features an immense ecosystem of plugins and themes, it's highly customizable, and it's a safe bet for the future in terms of ongoing support and active development.
Things You Need to Start a Membership Site
There are four main things you need to start a membership site in 2023:
- Hosting account - this is where your website files and database would reside. We will cover that extensively in the next segment.
- Domain name - this is the web address of your website, e.g. icdsoft.com.
- WordPress - we outlined the reasons that make WordPress our go-to platform for building a membership site.
- Membership plugin - this plugin will add the membership-specific functionalities to our website, such as the plans, registration form, payment gateways and content restriction.
Features to Look for When Finding a Web Hosting Provider for Your WordPress Membership Site
Once you have a clear plan for your membership site, and you've decided what content you will be offering, it's time to materialize your idea. As we mentioned previously, WordPress is free to use, but you need a hosting platform. You can think of the web host as the home for your website. Nowadays, just about all web hosts out there support WordPress, but the tricky part is to find a reliable provider that offers a specific set of features which are crucial for the proper deployment and operation of a membership site.
Here are the main reasons why ICDSoft is the perfect home for your WordPress membership site.
Easy WordPress Management
You should look for a hosting company that offers a WordPress management toolkit integrated in their control panel. ICDSoft's proprietary Control Panel features a built-in WordPress manager that can simplify a lot of common tasks, such as one-click WordPress installation, one-click WordPress Backup and Restore, WordPress user management and password reset, automated WordPress updates, one-click HTTPS for WordPress, and one-click WordPress Staging. Advanced users will also benefit from WP-CLI, SSH access, and Git.
Speed and performance are crucial not just for the experience of your website visitors, but also for your SEO rank as we've covered in our YouTube video How To Speed Up A WordPress Website In 10 Steps. You should look for a hosting platform that offers powerful hardware, SSD-only storage, and excellent network connectivity. On the software side, look for a host that offers the latest versions of PHP and MySQL and has a server-side caching technology.
ICDSoft ticks all these boxes. We develop our solutions in-house, and our implementation of PHP-FPM with OPcache and Server-side Caching are tailored to make sure WordPress runs quickly and smoothly. Our software solutions are backed by powerful hardware based on multi-core Xeon processors and SSD-only storage. Many providers recommend their own caching plugins as the only way to get good performance out of WordPress on their servers, thus limiting your choice. On our servers, you can use your favorite caching and optimization plugins and still enjoy stellar results.
Security is another crucial aspect to consider when looking for a company to host your WordPress membership site. WordPress is a huge target for hackers due to its popularity, and we strongly recommend that you watch our YouTube video on the Best Practices to PROTECT WordPress from HACKERS!
From the server end of things, here at ICDSoft, we apply several extra WordPress security features and that's something you should look for when researching the market for the best possible host for a membership site. We proactively monitor WordPress sites on our servers for vulnerabilities, and our system administrators constantly improve our Web Application Firewall rules and apply custom security patches and improvements to our server software. As soon as a major WordPress vulnerability is publicly announced, we scan all the tens of thousands of installations on our servers for it. Whenever possible, we update the affected plugin or theme, or notify the users to take the necessary actions. All of this is done for free.
For extra piece of mind, you can sign up for our Advanced Security service under which we will perform a complete security audit of your WordPress installation and implement extra measures to harden the application against hacking attacks.
Free SSL Certificates
Having an SSL certificate activated for your website is an absolute must nowadays, and we have covered this topic quite extensively at our blog here:
and on your YouTube channel here:
All hosting plans with ICDSoft come with free SSL certificates from Let's Encrypt. You can install Let's Encrypt certificates for your domains/subdomains/parked domains through the hosting Control Panel -> section SSL/HTTPS -> Let's Encrypt certificates.
When doing your research for a hosting company for your WordPress membership site, you should definitely opt for one that offers SSL certificates included in their service for free.
Automated Daily Backups
Things can quickly go south when you are actively developing a new WordPress website and frequently applying various tweaks and adjustments. Before you know it, your entire site could be taken over by odd-looking PHP error messages costing you precious work hours or money to fix them.
The easiest solution in such cases is to simply roll back to a working version of your site by restoring from a backup. However, not all hosting providers out there offer an easy and free restore service. They might have backups only available as an extra add-on that you must have activated in advance, the restore procedure could be a headache, or they might have just a couple of backups available for the past month.
That's why you should pay special attention to the backup service when strolling the market for a WordPress membership site host.
All hosting plans at ICDSoft come with a fully automated daily backup system included for free. For accounts on shared servers, the System Backups go seven days back, while System Backups on the VPS and WebApps plans are kept for 15 days. Check out the video below and find just how easy it is to restore a WordPress website from the system backups available at ICDSoft:
Expert WordPress Support Available 24/7
Another major factor when choosing a host for your WordPress membership website is the support service. Having a helping hand every now and then is extremely important.
Before you sign up, check out the reviews made by other people and see what's the average response time of their support team. You'd be surprised just how many popular hosting providers take over a day to answer a simple support query.
Here at ICDSoft, we take great pride in our support service, and it's one of our leading points of emphasis. We respond to each support ticket within 15 minutes and our average ticket resolution time is 7 minutes. Plus, our support team is highly experienced with WordPress and is always willing to go the extra mile and work on issues that usually fall beyond the scope of a traditional support service.
Part 2, Building A Membership Site With WordPress
Now that we have the theory out of the way, you are ready for Part 2 of this tutorial where we will put in the work and build a real membership website with WordPress.