…but how do successful subscription and membership website publishers manage to sell their content in a world where so much content is free?
These are the lessons we have learned from our many clients who run subscription websites.
This is the number one lesson that continually rises to the top of the pile. Go niche!
There is endless press coverage about how the national newspapers have been unable to charge for their content on the web. The reason for this is simple. There are many free substitutes for general news.
If you want to sell your content online, you must target a niche audience with information that they would struggle to find for free anywhere else on the web.
The more unique and exclusive your information the more chance you will have of selling it via a subscription or membership website. Research your market well and create a content plan that provides your audience with content they can’t find elsewhere. Think about opinion pieces, research, interviews, case studies, video clips, insider gossip, etc.
The membership websites that do best are run by people who are passionate about their (niche!) subject. It is this passion and knowledge that should be used to convince your prospects to join, not a 20 page online sales letter or a stream of hollow promises – “Become a millionaire in 24 hours!”.
People buy people. They want to know what you know so they can decide if you can provide what they are looking for. You must concentrate on conveying you expertise, not giving the impression you are only running the site to make money.
Expanding on point #3, the best way to become perceived as an authority is to participate in the community and discussions about your subject on other websites. The more places you are seen giving valuable advice, the more credible you will become in the eyes of your prospects. Research the most active forums and blogs for your sector and try to contribute to all of them at least once a week.
The only way that you can convey your knowledge and expertise on your website is to give some of your best content away for free. How much? There is no fixed rule, but I recommend at least 20% should be free.
So few websites are well designed, a professional looking site is a real competitive advantage. First impressions in any walk of life are important. On the internet it’s no different. If prospects see a professional looking website they are much more likely to believe the site is being run by professionals who will provide high quality content. A great looking site has a well designed logo, simple navigation, relevant colours, lots of white space and a layout that makes it easy to use.
If you can provide benefits to membership that are worth more than the cost of the subscription, you will greatly increase your sign-up rate. I always recommend that website publisher’s giveaway digital content, because it has a zero cost of distribution. Sign-up gifts could include an ebook, premium report, video course, a software application, templates and resources. Make sure you make the value of these benefits clear.
Free trials are a proven way to increase the number of subscribers. However they are only effective if you get the credit card details BEFORE the trial starts. A trial should be provided on the basis that billing will automatically start at the end of the trial period unless the prospect cancels before then. Also you should offer a 100% money back guarantee. This greatly lowers the perceived risk of signing up.
Many prospects are nervous about signing up to subscriptions online. To reassure themselves that there are real people behind a website they often email questions. You MUST provide quick and accurate response to these queries or you will lose potential subscribers. I emailed ten subscription websites last week and seven days later I’m still waiting for four replies!
Your website statistics are your most powerful ally in understanding your prospects and increasing conversion rates. Study them carefully and regularly. Some examples of what you should look for include:
Website owners rarely pay much attention to choosing a payment processor. However this is an important decision. Renewal payment failures are a real waste of profit. Make sure you select a payment processor who specialises in doing recurring billing. In recession, processing failures increase because people max out their credit limit, fraud increases so payment processors become more cautious, people move between card providers more frequently and the number of chargebacks rise.
Subscribing to a website is not the same as subscribing to a print publication. The website owner has some big advantages in creating loyalty and improving renewal rates. The single biggest advantage is the ability to create a sense of community. If people feel like they are valued members of a team, group or community they are much more likely to want to stay involved. Tools for creating community include member profiles, forums, article comments, member submitted articles and offline events.
To sum up the most important lessons from our research
There are thousands of very successful subscription websites. Follow these simple, but proven rules and you will achieve great results.