A membership website is a website that has pages of content that are only available to members.
People visiting the site usually have to register their details online in order to be provided with a user name and password to get access to the member-only information. The content is usually articles, but may also be video clips, audio, course material, an image library, access to a forum or downloads such as ebooks.
Membership can be free or paid.
On a free membership web site the site owner provides access to their premium content in exchange for a persons contact details. The goal of these sites is usually to build an email newsletter list through which other products and services can be sold. Getting personal details is also a way for the site owner to monitor an individual's activity in the member's area. This is particularly important on forums or on sites where people can leave comments. If a site owner knows who is leaving comments they can ban people who are unpleasant, argumentative or rude.
Paid membership web sites offer access to premium content in exchange for a monetary payment. This can be a one-off payment e.g. $10 for 24 hours access, or more usually a recurring payment for ongoing access e.g. $5 per month. Subscription rates vary from $12 to several thousand dollars a year.
Subscriptions for membership are usually done on a monthly, quarterly or annual basis. These payments should be processed automatically via the website.
The Membership Website Checklist
If you are thinking about building a membership website these are the things you must consider.
1) Security of the Premium Content
You must ensure that people cannot get access to the membership area of your website without signing up.
2) Collect Sign-up Details
The website must have a means of collecting member's personal details in a secure database. The database should be easy to search.
3) Password Distribution and Monitoring
The site must be able to distribute passwords and monitor the time that they are valid so access can be disabled when a subscription period runs out.
4) Password Access Restrictions
Subscription websites often have different levels of membership e.g. gold, silver and bronze. The website application must be able to determine what passwords give access to what content.
5) Password Abuse Detection
The website software should be able to detect password abuse i.e. when password is illegally being used by more than one person. Sometimes passwords get distributed on forums and suddenly hundreds or thousands of people can try accessing a site with a single login ID and password.
6) Integration with Payment Processing
If the website has paid membership, the online sign-up process must be integrated to a payment processing service such as PayPal.
7) Recurring Billing
It is essential that a paid membership website has the capability to automatically collect subscription payments.
8) Autoresponder Messages
An autoresponder automatically sends out messages in response to pre-programmed events. On a membership website there should be an autoresponder that sends out a message that acknowledges payment, sign-up and sends out a password reminder. An autoresponder should also be set up to remind clients when they ther subscription is running out and what they have to do to renew it. Sending out these messages is a legal requirement in many countries.
9) Remember me Login Option
The login application should have the ability to automatically login members who are coming back to a website on their own computer. This avoids the need for members having to type in their details every time they return to the website.
10) Easy to Use Control Panel
There are many different facets to administering a subscription website, so it is very important that there is a single, easy to use control panel that brings all these activities together.
A well built membership website is simple to run. A poorly built site is a headache and will lead to more time being spent on administration than on adding content and building the business.
Getting it right at the outset, using a dedicated service like SubHub, will pay for itself many times over in the long-run.
SubHub - www.subhub.com - provides a complete managed service for building a membership website. It has integrated recurring billing, automated sign up, a membership management, simple content management and much more.