If you are planning on starting a membership website, getting things right from the very beginning can save you a lot of time, money and heartache later.
This checklist of features is based on our experience of building hundreds of content-based membership websites for a wide range of clients.
A content-based membership website is much more than a blog, which is simply a chronological list of posts. It should be focused on publishing different types of content, building long-term relationships and, most importantly, generating multiple
Feature #1 – Excellent Content Management
A content management solution/system (CMS) enables you to add text articles, video clips and images to your website.As a publisher of a content-based membership website you must have complete control over adding, editing and removing your content, preferably without having to know any HTML or have other technical skills.Content management MUST be at the heart of your online magazine's platform.
Feature #2 – Enable Multiple Revenue Streams
Successful websites, like their offline counterparts, have multiple revenue streams. These should include:
- serving adverts
- adding affiliate links
- charging for subscriptions to premium content
- selling stuff via your own online shop
- promoting offline events
Feature #3 – Member Database
Every membership website, whether free or fee-based, needs to have a way of collecting visitors names and other personal details.The database should be searchable, exportable and simple to customise.
Feature #4 – Integrated Payment Processing
Payment processing is often added as an afterthought. It shouldn't be.It is essential to have the capability to process credit cards tightly integrated into your website, so it can be used to charge for membership / subscriptions, product sales and generate income from other services.Adding payment processing is much easier to do when setting up a website, than adding it to an established website.
Feature #5 - Flexible Design Interface
You may (and probably will) want to continually tweak and change your website design.You, or your designer, should have access to a graphical design interface where tweaks can be easily made, or a completely new design can be added.
Feature #6 – Flexible Functionality
When you start a membership you can never be sure of how it will develop. Therefore you should start with a website that can easily be upgraded and have new functionality added without any issues.
Feature #7 – Search Engine Optimization
A lot is said about search engine optimization, but the truth is very simple.You must have a website that is very easy for the search engines to index (find their way through). If it is easy to find and you keep adding great quality content the search engines will include you on their results pages.Make sure that the search engines can index every page, including the pages in the password protected member areas. This means avoiding a website with frames and flash.
Add a sitemap to your website to make it easy for the search spiders to index.
Feature #8 – Multimedia Content
Specialist information websites should have content in multiple formats including text, images, audio and video. Even if you don't plan on using these formats today, make sure your website is enabled to use them in the future.Multimedia content is one of the most important advantages that an online magazine has over its print competitors.
Feature #9 - Image Library
Images are an important and often overlooked part of a good online magazine.Your platform should have the capability to manage photos so they can be inserted into any page, with clear labelling (alt-tags) and the ability to make them link to other content or websites.
Feature #10 - Download Library
Most membership websites provide their readers with downloads. These could be reports, ebooks, software programs, video clips or audio files.Your website should make it easy to upload and manage downloads, so they are accessible to your readers.
Relationship Building Applications
Once you get visitors coming to yourmembership website you need to start building a relationship with them to encourage them to return.The most important applications for building online relationships are:
- email newsletters
- RSS feeds
- comment fields under articles
Feature #12 – Integrated Login and Password Access
Most publishers who launch a website build the website first and then try to add login and password protection later. This is a recipe for disaster.Password protection, which gives members access to premium content, needs to be seamlessly integrated with the member database and content management system to ensure it is secure and seamless.
Feature #13 – Management Information
You should be able to easily access all the information about how your website is performing in a single web statistics management report. This should include the number of visitors and page views; the time spent on the website and most popular pages; where your traffic is coming from and much more.Only when you have this information at your fingertips will you be able to understand the needs of your customers.You can integrate a web statistics service on your server, or plug in a service like Google Analytics (www.google.com/analytics).
Feature #14 – Monitoring, Security and Backup
Publishers often overlook the importance of having secure flexible hosting, with automated backup.Most websites, including the leaders like eBay and Amazon have downtime. You need to minimise the risk of failure by regularly backing up all of your content.
Feature #15 – Simple Control Panel
As you will see from the above list of features a good online magazine is made up of lots of different applications.If possible the service you choose should have all (or most) of the applications run from a single, easy-to-use control panel.
Feature #16 - Future-Proof
You need your website to grow with your business so the design, functionality and scalability should be flexible enough to change to meet your target audience's changing needs.
I have put support last, but it should be amongst your highest priorities.When you are running a membership website your time is very valuable. You need to be able to focus on creating content, marketing and managing your clients, not worrying about bandwidth, hosting, backup, upgrades and fixing bugs.Good support by people who really understand both the technology and online publishing is vital.
Online publishing is one of the most exciting business opportunities on the internet today. It is still in its infancy, but established enough that you will not have to reinvent the wheel. Everything you need to be successful is available and accessible to novices and experts alike.
This checklist may appear daunting to inexperienced entrepreneurs, but a good online publishing platform, like SubHub
, should have all this functionality integrated and ready to use.