Build a Membership Website: A Step-by-Step Guide
Build a Membership Website: A Step-by-Step Guide
Every membership organization requires a central location for its members to engage with one another and explore membership features. This is why many organizations invest in a membership website! A membership website is an ideal channel to communicate membership value to current and potential members and cultivate an active community. The only question is*, how do you* create a membership website?
If you’re unsure how to build a membership website, you’ve come to the right place. This guide will share every step to launch a successful membership site, from selecting a website builder to developing website content. Whether you need to design a membership program from scratch or simply need a site to accompany your organization, here’s what you need to know to get started.
Main Takeaways From This Article:
- A membership website is a central hub for organizations to create a community as rich in relevant resources and event opportunities as it is easy to manage its member accounts and submit membership dues.
- When set up and managed effectively, membership sites can be very profitable. To drive optimal profit, your organization must develop a thorough business plan, understand your target audience, and devise effective strategies to promote your website and attract and retain members.
- There are several ways to create a membership website, including a dedicated membership platform like Join It or a website builder like WordPress. The right option for your membership organization will rely on your specific membership needs, design expertise, and budget.
What is a Membership Website?
A membership website is an outlet for membership organizations to provide members with access to resources like informative articles and community discussions, online courses and webinars, and networking events and conferences. One of the potential benefits of membership websites is access to exclusive features that are kept behind a paywall, such as subscription-based community content.
However, a paid membership site is not to be confused with a subscription website. While both may require payment to access services or content, subscription websites lack the community focus of membership sites. Likewise, many basic membership sites do without subscription fees altogether and instead share website content with members and non-members alike to generate engagement.
Are Membership Websites Profitable?
Membership websites can be a profitable business venture, especially for organizations that take the time to develop them adequately. A single membership website can generate multiple revenue streams for an organization via membership dues or donations or exclusive events, products, and services. It’s a reliable gateway to collect one-time and recurring membership fees.
However, for a membership organization to drive optimal profitability, a website must provide tangible value — like high-quality resources — and simultaneously attract and retain members. Therefore, the profitability of your membership website will rely on several factors, including your target audience, competitors in your niche, and your general marketing efforts.
A few must-haves for your membership website to be profitable include but are not limited to:
- Thorough business plan for your program.
- Strong membership model for advertising to members.
- Robust understanding of your target audience and their needs.
- Effective marketing strategies to entice potential members.
- Detailed strategy for engaging and retaining members.
Types of Organizations Suitable for Membership Sites
When it comes to who should build a membership website, the opportunities are truly endless. A membership website can be constructed in a manner that fits any sort of organization. Here is just a fraction of the types of organizations that are particularly well-suited for a membership website.
Several professional associations utilize membership websites to share educational resources, research reports, and other valuable assets with their members. Professional associations like the National Association of Realtors also use membership websites to share details on upcoming events and workshops and host webinars to enhance members’ skill sets and advance their careers.
From sports clubs to car clubs, many hobby and general interest focus groups use membership websites to serve their members better. Clubs are especially well-suited for membership websites. They create a global platform where like-minded members can discuss shared interests, express relevant ideas, and orchestrate group activities and gatherings.
While most gym memberships emphasize an organization’s fitness space, a membership website enables members to control their fitness journeys and access relevant resources and services to enhance the gym experience. Membership sites allow gym goers to manage their accounts, pay gym fees, and schedule upcoming classes. Gyms can also leverage a membership website to share wellness resources like workout plans, nutritional advice, and healthy recipes.
Membership websites can be highly beneficial to nonprofit organizations to increase involvement and raise awareness around a specific cause. From animal welfare groups to children's nonprofits, membership websites can be used to provide members with information on how they can volunteer and better advocate for the cause, fundraising efforts, and local events.
Homeowners Associations (HOAs)
Residents who belong to homeowners associations (HOAs) often seek channels beyond monthly meetings to discuss neighborhood concerns. HOA membership sites provide a community forum for neighbors to discuss and vote on relevant matters and share resources for upcoming events. Membership websites are also ideal for housing documents like neighborhood rules and regulations and serve as an online payment gateway for recurring monthly or annual HOA dues.
Aside from online traffic, membership websites can help drive physical traffic to gaming lounges. Gaming lounge membership websites are a great way to encourage current members to make online reservations for particular gaming stations and even attract the attention of new players. Gaming lounges can also use membership websites to create unique member profiles that contain each player’s billing information and gaming preferences, as well as progress on loyalty programs.
The rise of coworking spaces has demanded effective member management. Membership websites for coworking spaces enable members to easily make online reservations for workstations and network with other members through community forums. Plus, membership websites can inform prospective members of current workstation pricing to drive interest in coworking spaces.
The Value of an Effective Membership Site
Once you build a membership website, you can witness the value for your members and your organization. On behalf of your membership organization, a membership website is highly effective at improving member engagement and retention. Achieving consistent participation from long-term members is a must-have to earn recurring revenue.
On behalf of your members, an effective membership website provides an interactive community to help one another and share relevant topics and trends. A membership site can continue to serve as the central hub for your membership group for years to come. It can remain the go-to location for community resources, upcoming event information, and donation and dues collection.
How to Build a Membership Website in 10 Steps
Whether you want to produce a profit or drive donations with a membership business model, creating a membership website and executing your goals has never been easier. Discover how to start a membership website that can bring (and keep) your community together in ten simple steps.
1. Establish a Membership Model
The first step to building a membership website is to decide on a membership model. A membership model refers to how you intend for members to join your organization, including your required membership fee, the frequency of recurring payments, and the potential benefits or features you plan to provide. Your membership model is pivotal to the success of your website, as it can enhance the value for prospective members and directly impact your engagement and revenue rates.
Adhere to these steps when establishing a membership model for your new website:
- Decide on a membership structure. A membership structure refers to what members exchange for accessing your organization, such as an email address at sign-up or a monthly membership fee. You can explore potential membership structures below in more detail.
- Outline membership benefits. Determine what relevant and high-value perks you will provide your members, whether it be access to members-only content, special events, or exclusive discounts on relevant products and services.
- Establish membership pricing. Consider a good price point for membership fees that maximizes revenue but is still accessible to members. Contemplate free trials and demos for new members or discount codes for long-term members.
Keep these seven membership structures in mind when creating a membership site.
A free membership refers to an unpaid membership structure in which members may be required to input personal details, like an email address and full name, to access membership content. Free memberships are particularly effective at attracting new members to your website and beginning to build a community; however, they are not a profitable membership model. So, free membership structures are better suited for budget-conscious organizations like student associations.
One-Time Fee Membership
A one-time fee membership requires members to pay a singular, non-recurring fee to gain access to membership benefits. Unlike free memberships, one-time fee structures provide instant revenue — and without recurring fees, there’s less of a need for members to contact support about membership payments. However, a fixed fee may incur lower conversion rates in the early stages of a brand-new membership organization, so opt for a free trial to really sell members on your value.
A subscription-based membership structure requires members to pay a recurring subscription fee, such as monthly, annual, or multi-year subscriptions, to access continuous benefits. A subscription-based structure is ideal for memberships that offer ongoing services, such as monthly online courses or annual coworking spaces. They’re typically more straightforward but can incur decreased engagement rates without additional tiers to accommodate different user budgets.
A tiered membership structure refers to an organization with multiple subscription levels, each with different benefits and degrees of membership access. For instance, a basic membership tier (like a one-time fee) may only allow access to a community forum. In contrast, a premium membership tier (like an annual subscription) may allow access to exclusive online resources. Tiered memberships offer members more flexibility and a more personalized member experience.
A donation-based membership is akin to a free membership in that members do not have to pay to join but are encouraged to donate to an organization’s cause. While payment is not necessary for membership, a donation-based structure helps to fund an organization’s initiatives and enhance community awareness. For these reasons, a donation-based membership is well-suited for nonprofit organizations and advocacy groups that rely on members for support, not profit.
An event-based membership is similar to a one-time fee membership, in which members join an organization for a fee and are then charged an additional price to participate in membership events. An event-based structure is ideal for organizations planning to primarily offer members event benefits, such as association conferences or hobby-focused workshops. The one-time fee will pay for general operations, while event fees provide for expenses like event venues and refreshments.
A subsidized membership structure is unique because it allows variable membership costs that coordinate with members’ reported income. In a subsidized business model, some members pay based on income (such as 5% of a monthly salary), and members with lesser income are subsidized. Also referred to as a concession membership structure, this model increases conversions among budget-conscious individuals, like recent graduates, to enable them to join associations and clubs.
2. Develop a Plan for Your Membership Site
Once you decide on a membership model, it’s time to develop a business plan for your membership site. A business plan helps align your business goals with the desired budget and timeline for your membership website like the various membership needs you inspire to fulfill. To plan and prepare for future growth, be sure to establish a budget for a website builder and marketing plan and a timeline that details the deadlines for developing and launching your site.
Then, consider the following components to include in your membership business plan:
- Determine the technology necessary to build and maintain a robust membership website, including a website builder, payment gateway, and membership database.
- Outline the membership process you want users to take to become a member, such as signing up for an account, making recurring payments, and accessing membership features.
- Delegate the team responsible for creating your membership site and decide what each role will entail, such as assigning a community leader and a marketing specialist.
3. Choose a Membership Website Builder
The next step in creating a membership site is choosing a membership website builder. First, determine the goal of your site and which functionalities you require to fulfill that goal, like an option to donate or reserve a gaming station. Next, compare potential platforms to find one that fits your organization’s needs. Remember to look for platforms designed specifically for membership management services and compare the features, pricing, and recent user reviews.
Here are a few membership website ideas to help simplify your decision-making process:
- Ease of use. Consider how easy the platform will be for you and your members to navigate.
- Required integrations. Consider how the tools you currently use, like payment gateways and email marketing services, can plug and play with your chosen website builder.
- Potential scalability. Consider how the platform can grow alongside your membership program to avoid having to switch platforms as your organization scales.
Bonus Tip: Sign up for a free trial or demo of the platform to gauge if it meets your needs and goals!
4. Showcase Your Organization's Mission
Once you've chosen a dedicated membership website builder, it's time to dig into your mission statement: the meat of your membership site! While often overlooked when considering how to start a membership website, a mission statement is truly the culmination of all your membership goals. Showcasing your mission will be integral to attracting new, like-minded members.
Consider these tips for thoughtfully displaying your mission on your membership website:
- Articulate your mission statement clearly. Include a brief explanation of what your organization does, why it was created, and what it aims to achieve through your community.
- Create a dedicated mission page. Include an easily-accessible page on your main menu for members to access your mission statement, relevant goals, and member values.
- Incorporate your mission through your website. Include mentions of your mission statement across various membership pages, such as your homepage and About Us page.
5. Cultivate a Community
Access to an exclusive online community is arguably the most significant perk of creating a membership site. However, you cannot create a community simply by developing a membership platform. You must create a dedicated members-only section of your website for users to connect and collaborate instead. Members-only features range from community forums and discussion boards to webinars and virtual events that enhance your sense of community and encourage ongoing participation.
Techniques to increase member engagement and cultivate a true community include:
- Enable users to create membership profiles for continuous member interaction and the personalization of communication efforts.
- Recognize and reward members for their contributions on members-only pages, like with access to exclusive blog posts or virtual gift cards.
- Foster an inclusive environment for member engagement by establishing rules for community forums, such as banning profanity and slurs.
6. Create Members-Only Content
Members-only content is integral to your membership website, not only for driving engagement but also for creating value for members. The type of members-only content you offer will rely on the needs of your members. For instance, nonprofit organizations may prefer premium support forums and volunteering events, whereas professional associations may prefer to create online courses.
Stick to these tips when creating unique membership content for your organization:
- Establish your unique value proposition. Discover what sets your membership site apart and why people should become members to guide the content you will create.
- Organize your content. Decide what content you plan to offer members, from high-quality videos and podcasts to interesting articles and relevant online courses.
- Ensure your content is exclusive. Determine how to guarantee only your members can access your gated content, such as embedding content-protecting features on your site.
Remember that to encourage members to engage with your website over the long term; you must include interactive elements like comments, ratings, and discussion boards to encourage members to interact with your content (and each other). Be sure to refresh your members-only pages regularly — ideally multiple times per month — to maximize user membership value.
7. Make It Effortless to Become a Member
Now that you can put your membership plan in motion, it’s time to attract new members. Your site must display clear options for becoming a member so users can quickly join without hassle. If applicable, begin with a dedicated pricing page that describes what members access at each particular membership tier. Then, create a dedicated sign-up page to direct traffic.
As you build your membership website, make the joining process as streamlined as possible:
- Build a simple sign-up form. Require only essential information, such as an email address and user name, in a format that's easy for new users to understand.
- Support multiple payment gateways. Allow members to pay a membership fee via various payment methods to make the sign-up process more convenient and universal.
- Offer clear direction and member support. Write clear instructions for your user login form and provide directions on completing the sign-up process more efficiently.
8. Import Your Membership Database
A new membership site means new membership data — but what about users in your current membership program? Importing your existing membership database is critical to ensure all current members are appropriately registered and can access their accounts on the new platform. Not to mention, importing your membership database helps to streamline the transition to a new membership website and minimizes the work involved with registering members manually.
Follow these steps when refreshing the database for your new website:
- Import membership program data. To import your membership database, you can utilize various formats, such as .csv, .xlsx, and .txt.
- Protect sensitive information. Incorporate privacy features to protect more sensitive membership data like membership statuses and payment histories.
- Request uniform information when members join. Collect personal details like names, emails, and preferred communication channels for a consistent database.
9. Promote and Market Your Membership Website
Proper promotion will be integral to attracting new users to your membership website, so planning your marketing strategy thoughtfully is vital. First, use data and analytics to understand your target audience better. Consider their demographics, interests, and behavior to segment them accordingly. Then, tailor your marketing efforts to each segment to maximize relevance and user engagement.
With your audience segments in hand, turn to social media and email marketing channels to drive traffic to your new membership website. Assess which social media platforms your audience is active on and promote your site via shared links, post updates, and exclusive content — such as virtual events — that social media users must enter an email to access.
From here, create an email marketing list with potential members. Send these users regular newsletters to inform them of your membership website and membership features. Be sure to personalize your emails to each market segment — like creating separate email blasts for the experts and novices in your sports clubs — and track the strategy's success over time.
While you may need to make adjustments as you grow, the following initiatives can help:
- Provide incentives such as free trials, discount codes, and other promotions to encourage new member sign-ups.
- Launch a referral program to reward members for referring your membership site to friends and family, and promote it via email and social media.
- Partner with relevant websites, like athletic retailers for sports clubs or meal kit programs for gyms, to offer cross-promotion opportunities.
10. Monitor Your Membership Site's Performance
Membership websites are not a set-it-and-forget-it deal. It’s essential to monitor the performance of your membership site over time to keep your finger on the pulse of its success. Continuous tracking of your business plan — including your specific goals and budget — can help reveal which changes can be made to enhance the success of your membership program.
To understand your membership site’s performance, keep an eye on the following:
- Analytics. Website analytics tools like Google Analytics help to track site traffic, user behavior, and general conversion rates that impact site performance.
- Key performance indicators (KPIs). Establish and track relevant KPIs, such as essential metrics like membership sign-ups and member engagement.
- User feedback. Leverage surveys and forums to gather feedback on your website experience and identify areas of improvement and optimization.
Top Membership Website Software
As you build a membership website, don’t forget to take advantage of the various membership software solutions designed to aid in the creation and management of your site. While the right platform for your organization will depend on your membership website's unique needs, goals, and budget, consider these top options to launch a website your members will love.
Join It is a leading membership management platform offering users an extensive collection of features that can be used to jumpstart and manage a membership website. Join It is the best choice for all-in-one membership management, from website-building capabilities to membership database management and even digital membership card features. Starting at $29 a month, Join It also offers free trials for pricing packages for those looking to test it out.
WordPress is a robust content management system countless organizations use to create a membership website. WordPress sites can be integrated with numerous premium membership plugins, including Joint It, Mailchimp, and Quickbooks, to give organizations complete control over website functionality. While pricing varies depending on your selected WordPress membership plugins, they offer a free Lite plan and monthly subscriptions starting at $9 a month.
Wix is another powerful website builder offering membership organizations a vast collection of plug-and-play design templates and plug-in integrations to help streamline all membership and website management needs. While Wix also offers a free Lite plan and a free trial to test drive its features, organizations can access a premium Wix website plan at just $16 per month.
If WordPress or Wix don’t seem like the website builder for you, Squarespace might be. Ideal for organizations without extensive design experience, Squarespace offers award-winning design templates and numerous Member Area plug-ins to create a membership website fit for you. Squarespace offers a free trial with monthly plans starting at $23 and yearly plans starting at $192.
Examples of Successful Membership Websites
Anything is possible when you apply powerful membership management software like Join It to your membership organization. For a better idea of how membership organizations can effectively attract and retain members for long-term profitability, just look at these three examples.
Bicycle Network is an Australia-based sports club that advocates for safer riding conditions for bicyclists and provides paying members with legal support and medical insurance coverage. Bicycle Network offers tiered membership pricing depending on the amount of coverage required, along with access to exclusive member discounts and cashback rewards on events and cycling products.
Tesla Club of Ontario
The Tesla Club of Ontario (TOCO) is a community of local Tesla vehicle owners who aim to uphold Tesla’s sustainable energy adoption initiatives. With Join It’s WordPress integration, TOCO adopted a simplified single-sign-on method to enhance the user experience and allow its members to quickly log in to access social event details, chapter meetings, and Tesla Corporate contacts.
Australia Racing Drives Club
The Australia Racing Driver Club (ARDC) is a community of drivers and rider enthusiasts with a shared interest in Australian motor racing. Operating directly from a Join It membership website builder, ARDC offers multiple membership tiers with varying member benefits, including free motorsport park admissions, discounts on driver courses, and exclusive monthly news.
With the wide variety of membership software solutions available on the market, there’s never been a better or easier time to build a membership website. Organizations must establish a membership model, develop a business plan, choose a website builder, and craft a powerful mission statement. From here, it’s essential to cultivate a community via exclusive members-only content and ongoing marketing initiatives that capture membership value.
When it’s time to build your membership website, don’t trust just any provider with your members’ website experience. Instead, turn to a membership management platform like Join It. Thousands of members rely on Join It’s expansive features to get the most out of their membership organization, whether it be a robust member portal and digital membership card or streamlined website builder. To build the best membership website possible, sign up for Join It today.
Membership Website FAQs
What's the Difference Between a Membership Website and A Subscription Website?
Although they may seem similar, membership sites and subscription sites are quite different. A membership site grants access to a community and interactions with other members of the organization. A subscription website allows access to paid products or services without any focus on fostering a sense of community.
How much does it cost to build a membership website?
The cost to build a membership website will depend on your organization's needs, desired levels of customization, and preferred website platform. Remember, more affordable options like Wix offer far less functionality than a dedicated membership website builder like Join It.
How do I attract members to my membership site?
There are several techniques to drive traffic and attract members to your website, including:
- Create high-quality content that provides tangible value.
- Leverage email and social media marketing to engage your audience.
- Offer member incentives such as free trials, discounts, and referral programs.
- Partner with organizations that share a similar target audience.