Membership sites are quickly becoming this year’s biggest trend. It’s not hard to see why: membership sites can provide a steady stream of reliable income, and allow you to leverage online communities to build a lucrative and sustainable business.

As with most online business ideas, though, making a successful membership site can be difficult. In this guide, we’ll break down the process, from the most basic services you need to the art of building a community around your site. As you’ll see, the key with membership sites is to start small, but then continually grow your subscriber base. 

1. Set Up and Plan Your Site

First, and pretty obviously, you are going to need to set up your website. There are a number of options out there but take our advice: go for WordPress. Not only are WordPress sites easy to use, but the platform also has a huge (and hugely helpful) user community.

Best of all, though, there are several free WordPress membership plugins, such as the s2Member framework, which makes it easy to manage your membership site on a shoestring budget and integrates with most major project management tools.

SEO in website structure

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2. Set Up Your Membership Structure

Once your site (and the S2member plugin) is up and running, you need to decide on your membership structure. Most of the successful membership sites have made use of a number of different “levels” of membership, and so you should too.

The process of setting up levels of membership is pretty easy in WordPress. But you should also develop a plan as to what kind of content is going to be available to each level. This kind of business strategy planning guides you through the development of your site.

3. Set Up Your Payment Structure

Alongside your membership structure, you should also set up your payment structure. Again, WordPress and s2Member make doing this fairly easy, but you should also think carefully about how you are going to take payment from your members. 

By far the easiest method, at least at this early stage, is to use PayPal. You can set up recurring payments for your various levels of membership, which ensures that your income stays steady.

4. Start Building Traffic

Now that everything is in place, you can start building your user base. At this stage, you can use standard marketing techniques like email and content marketing, and you can check our guide on how to build an email list from scratch if you are unsure how to do that.

At this point, though, you may encounter a problem that is particularly difficult to overcome for membership sites. How do you build a community around your site, and build trust with your customers, before they sign up for your content?

5. Introductory Offers

Introductory offers are key to overcoming this difficulty, which is one of the biggest challenges to growth for online businesses

There are two ways that you can implement introductory offers. One approach is simply to offer a free trial to your members, for 1 week or 1 month, which gives them a preview of the value you can provide for them. The other approach is to build a free level of membership into your site. Just make sure that you are encouraging your free members to upgrade.

6. Link Building

As you start to attract members, you also need to start building incoming traffic to your site. There are a few ways to do this, but one of the most powerful is to focus on inbound marketing – ie, naturally acquiring backlinks. If you can write articles for high-traffic sites in your sector, readers of this second site visit yours and your site is going to shoot up the Google rankings.

If you have the funds, you can of course use some other methods. Facebook and Google Adwords ads can be an effective way of building up your membership list, just make sure that you target them tightly at your target market.

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7. Create a Community

Now we are getting into the more complex processes that go along with running a successful membership site. One of the most effective forms of marketing is to build a large and active user community around your site. If you can inspire trust in large numbers of members and can encourage them to say this online, you are going to see exponential growth in your membership rates.

Building a community relies on several key processes. First and foremost, you need to stay at the top of your field. Make sure all your content is well-informed and provides genuine value to your target audience. You should then actively ask your members to share their experiences with others and to help each other out. Ultimately, the goal here is to build your membership site into a genuinely elite community, and then charge people to become a part of it.

With building a community, it is vital to make sure you establish trust. The best way to establish trust is to make sure your site is secure and consumers can literally trust you with their data. To make sure your site is secure from hackers, choose a top-tier VPN service. A quality VPN works to mask your location to any potential cyber threat, in turn protecting your community’s info and data.

8. Build Partnerships

A good way to build and protect your online reputation, and to build the community around your membership site, is to make partnerships with other key players in your sector. Doing this can also reduce the burden of continually producing new content, and make sure that your site presents a range of voices.

9. Keep Your Members Happy

Hopefully, if you’ve worked through all these steps, you are well on your way to having a successful membership site. 

Don’t stop there, though. You should ensure that you are taking steps, on an everyday basis, to keep your members happy. This can include free upgrades on their level of membership, or simply recognition that they have been a member for a long time. If you show your members that you appreciate them, they return the favor by recommending your site to their colleagues and ultimately make your site more lucrative. 

Dan Fries

Dan Fries

Dan Fries is an entrepreneur, investor, and writer who shows bootstrapped entrepreneurs and investors how to prepare for an exit by making better long term financial decisions. His website is