How to create a successful membership website

Building a membership site does more than creating a new potential source of revenue. A membership platform gives visitors a reason to return to your site and stay longer each time they visit. Here are the top things to think about if you’re looking to deepen visitor engagement through a membership website.

Blackboard sign saying 'Welcome, please come in'

Why build a membership website?

Great design and content, search optimisation and advertising all attract visitors to your website. The first two will help keep them there, too. But amid all the noise and competition of the web, businesses need more help to stand out.

How can you encourage visitors to return, engage more deeply, and ultimately give you their business?

One solution is to create a membership website.

Building a membership website doesn’t mean putting your entire site behind a login. Instead, it’s about using great perks or content to reward and motivate repeat visitors. Members are more likely to return, and over time they’re much more likely to convert – research by Gallup suggests that engaged customers could be 23% more profitable.

Many membership websites are free, but customers are prepared to pay if the benefits of joining are strong enough. Take Amazon Prime, where unlimited films, music and delivery are enough to tempt many into an £8 monthly fee.

Running a subscription, membership site offers businesses direct income, along with the other benefits of increased customer engagement. But whether you’re building a subscription site or wondering how to create a free membership website, it’s wise to consider what you can offer, how you’ll package it, and who you’ll work with to make the project a success.

Plan your membership platform

It’s essential to thoroughly plan your membership site, the membership models you’ll use, and the content or other perks you’ll offer. If you aren’t already a membership organisation, start by identifying the content or other benefits that might attract people to sign up. If you’re considering a subscription site, conduct research to understand whether people are prepared to pay for what you’re offering and what they’d consider a reasonable amount.

Some businesses produce enough valuable content to support multiple membership tiers. For example, if you offer a basic subscription with access to expert advice and a blog, your Pro or Gold subscription might add free one-to-one support and access to insider tips. You can be imaginative in how you value tiers. For instance, you might charge for basic membership, then create a sense of exclusivity by offering the top subscription level only to repeat customers.

Carefully consider what you’ll be offering to your members. This could be almost anything: from a discount or free shipping to enhanced ad-free or ‘members only’ content. It pays to think about the relative effort involved in different membership benefits.

While simple perks are easy to engineer, new content can be time-consuming and expensive. If you promise members a monthly newsletter and quarterly white papers, make sure you’ve got the resources to produce them on time and to a suitable standard.

Membership Website Expert Review

What if you already have a membership platform?

If you’re not starting from scratch, it’s crucial to avoid reinventing the wheel. If your membership administration team has an existing customer relationship management (CRM) tool, you could save time and money by integrating it with any new web-based system. Even if it’s an internal-only tool, your development partners may be able to build a portal to the existing data store.

On the other hand, if you’ll be migrating membership data from a legacy system to a new platform, take the opportunity to clean it up. You could either budget time for your team to remove obsolete and duplicate data or ask your development partners to automate the process as part of the migration. Conducting a thorough data audit at this stage will also help you to understand your obligations under the GDPR, and how you need to communicate this to your members.

In fact, it’s worth considering your broader data systems and which of them you might be able to integrate with your membership site. Discussing this with your developers could reveal possibilities you hadn’t considered, potentially streamlining your membership processes or creating richer, more profitable results. And don’t underestimate the potential to bring multiple strands of the organisation together. For example, in our work with FLOCERT, we helped integrate three different memberships into a single website.

“BrightMinded built us a multilingual site that looks great on all devices. We have been impressed with the service they provided and the support they are still giving us.”

Charlotte von Essen, Marketing & Communications Officer, FLOCERT

It’s essential to speak to your existing users to find out what they really want. Perhaps you like the idea of building a new forum. But doing so is an unnecessary expense if your members prefer communicating on your Facebook page. It also pays to look at your own needs by analysing which regular tasks take up the most time for your administration team.

Focusing your development effort on automating or simplifying these will improve your return on your investment.

Building your membership website

Old fashioned membership roll book for membership website article

Photo by Mick Haupt on Unsplash

Perhaps surprisingly, the implementation of a membership site can be relatively straightforward. For example, you can build a membership site with WordPress by using its built-in support for different user roles to allow access to gated content. However, extensions such as adding subscription payment processing, or integrating the site with existing member and payment data can make the project more involved.

Whatever the potential complexity of the project, it’s a good idea to pick your development partner carefully. As I wrote last month, it’s important to make sure that any potential partner has worked successfully on similar projects to yours. It’s also wise to pick one who takes the time to probe the goals for your membership site and how it fits into your wider business. Gaining this understanding helps a developer grasp the business drivers and the opportunities or challenges that will need to be resolved.

Finally, it’s important to let the requirements and audience for your site direct the technical choices. Rather than get hung up on, say, a WordPress membership site, let your developer help you pick the best membership site software based on your and your members’ needs. Above all, make sure they understand how your membership platform needs to work – both for the business and for its new and existing customers.

Winning promotion: spreading the word about your membership site

There’s no point in creating a membership website if nobody signs up. Your site should work hard to attract new members, so remember to promote the benefits of membership:

  • Use case studies to tell success stories from real members
  • Make it easy for new members to sign up
  • Use sweeteners like free trials and sample content
  • Announce and plug membership to existing customers and newsletter subscribers
  • Promote membership on Twitter or Facebook
  • Consider seasonal or demographic discounts, for example, to students


Are you looking for an experienced development partner for your membership platform project?

Take a look at our WordPress membership site examples and experience.