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.
Image source blog.markgrowth.com
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.
Image source Pixabay
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.
If you’re a new business owner or operator wondering how to build an email list, rest assured you’re not alone. Email is one of the most – if not the most -effective online marketing channels today, but it’s also a tough nut to crack.
As the internet seems to be overtaken by social media likes and memes, email is still the gold standard for customer communication, and if used correctly it can be a very effective way of generating sales and ensuring customer loyalty. An established and extensive email marketing list can also increase the value of your website because buyers value sites that have already built up a customer following.
Getting customer email addresses can be tricky, though. Research shows that it costs five times more to attract a new customer than to keep an existing one, and so you should expect to dedicate a significant level of resources to building your email list.
There are, however, some techniques that can be very effective in maximizing the time and money you spend on collecting email addresses. In this article, we’ll show you five of them.
1. Create A Personalized CTA
A core principle of marketing your email list – and, in fact, a core principle of any kind of marketing – is to make your CTAs as specific and personal as possible.
When building the CTAs on your website, you should remember that the vast majority of your visitors are looking for something specific, and not just cruising the web in the hope they find something useful. Let’s say a particular page on your site is attracting a lot of traffic, and that page is called “List-Building Strategy”. Instead of a generic CTA like “sign up for our email newsletter”, make a specific CTA for that page that invites customers to “enter your email to receive our list-building toolkit”.
Research conducted by HubSpot has found personalized calls-to-action have a 42% higher view-to-submission rate than generic CTAs.
2. Pop-Ups and Slide-Ins
Using pop-up windows is something of an art form. We all know that pop-ups can be really irritating, but they can also be very effective in prompting visitors to give you their email address.
Most of the best website builders today offer advanced tools for targeting and timing your pop-ups, and you should use them. One strategy is to time your pop-ups so that they only appear after a visitor has spent a certain amount of time on your site. This means that they have a chance to read about what you are offering, and are less likely to be annoyed by the prompt.
This was the approach that Digital Marketer used in a case study, and it was very successful. By timing a pop-up to appear after 15 seconds, they managed to generate 2,689 leads in two weeks, and increased their average time on page by 54%. They also made sure that these pop-ups highlighted the value of subscribing to their email list, which we’ll come to shortly.
Using humor in your CTAs can also be a very effective way of reaching your customers. Today, we are so used to CTAs popping up on every site we visit that in most cases we just ignore them. Injecting a bit of personality into your CTAs with specific phrases and techniques can be a great way of cutting through the noise.
Your aim should be to show that your business is run by humans and that you are trustworthy and friendly. Using humor is a good way to do that, and can also help you to quickly build up a strong eCommerce community: if your customers feel that they are dealing with a friend rather than a faceless business, they reward you with increased loyalty.
4. Highlight Value
Perhaps the most important aspect of your CTA is the value it offers to your customers.
Just think about the email lists that you subscribe to. If you haven’t marked a particular company’s emails as spam, that’s likely because you find them genuinely useful. No one wants another generic email newsletter so create inviting newsletters and be unique. What they want is information that is timely and relevant, delivered to them directly.
In practice, this means that you should avoid asking your customers to “sign up” or “subscribe” to your email list. Instead, make it clear what your emails can offer your customers: “download our exclusive content”, or “get access to our in-depth guides.” If you find yourself stuck for an enticing idea, consider producing an industry specific product. This company keeps the sign-up business brisk with free invoice templates for small business owners, which offer real world value beyond the the nebulous promise of a weekly newsletter.
Varying and personalizing your email content in this way also has another huge advantage: it makes it less likely that your emails get automatically marked as spam, and deleted. Email systems are now pretty good at detecting the most common email scams, and they do this by checking if your emails are too generic. In short: personalize your content, and your customers actually receive it.
5. Pitch Your Email Newsletter On Social Media
If you really want to build an email list quickly and effectively, social media must be a part of your strategy. Move away from the standard content-based CTAs, and use your social media profiles to pitch your email newsletter. The people who are following your business on social media are already interested in what you are doing, after all, so it makes sense to take advantage of this interest.
Using social media to promote a new business is best when you leverage the power of these channels, rather than relying on your customers checking their social media feeds. Use your social media posts to stress the variety of ways that your customers can stay engaged with your business – including your website and your email newsletter – and you can ensure that you are using every channel you have available.
Further, make sure that you’re sending an email to your social media followers when they’re most likely to open it. Research shows that the best time to send email is in the evening around 6-7pm, and then again later at night after 9pm.
Going Further: How To Build Your Email List
These five tips should get your email marketing list off to a great start, but remember that email marketing is a process, not an event. You need to continually vary your content and offer to keep existing customers engaged, and you should try to ensure that your email marketing list is constantly growing.
Once you have established a list, you should also make sure that you regularly audit it. Make sure that you are storing personal information safely, and delete any emails that don’t work. Above all, keep your email content fresh, and make every email valuable to your customers, and they’ll want to keep reading them.
A VA should be one of the first hires you make as an entrepreneur, and is one of the most important. A motivated, skilled VA can take many of the most time-intensive tasks off your hands, and let you focus on the strategic direction of your business.
Hiring a VA can be a little tricky, however, particularly for entrepreneurs who are inexperienced when it comes to managing the recruitment process. In this guide, we’ll give you a simple process for making sure that you get it right first time.
Do You Need a VA?
First, though, let’s take a more detailed look at whether you need a VA. Spoiler alert: you probably do.
If you’ve built your business yourself, it can be difficult to pass over responsibility for key tasks to someone else. The truth, though, is that you are probably doing a lot of tasks that you don’t need to be doing. Whether you are trying to leverage video marketing, or increase your Twitter following, you need to be aware that every task you do has an effective dollar value.
And if you are spending your time on tasks that are of low value to your business, your income is never going to rise.
The first step in hiring a VA is therefore to work out the actual dollar value of all of the tasks you do. Then you can take the lowest-paid tasks, and delegate them to your VA. This approach will also mean that you are sure to see an ROI for your new hire, because you know the exact value of the work they are doing.
Hiring a VA: The Five Steps To Success
Once you’ve decided to take the plunge, there are five steps to making sure you hire the best VA possible.
1. Document The Tasks You Want to Outsource
Once you’ve completed your audit of the tasks you do, you should have a really good idea of which tasks you are going to pass on to your new VA. This list of tasks forms the basis for the hiring process, so make sure that you spend the time to make it comprehensive.
From this list, you can then produce training materials to show your new VA how to complete their tasks, and create a handbook of Standard Operating Procedures (SOIs) for these tasks. To learn how to write effective Standard Operating Procedures, check out this guide.
2. Create a Detailed Job Description
From your task list, you’ll be able to get a good idea of the level of education you are looking for in a VA, and the specific skills they will require. Of particular importance is that they already know how to use all of the systems you use in your business.
You can then work up a Job Description for the VA role. This should include:
- Background information about your business (your industry, what you sell, and who your clients/customers are)
- Level of education, experience, and/or skills required
- List of duties and responsibilities
- List of any apps, tools, or software they will be using
The more detailed you can be in the job description, the better. Not only does this help you find the right VA for the job, but it also crystallizes your thinking – forcing you to ask, “Who or what, exactly, will this position require??
The next step is to advertise your role. Though some entrepreneurs like to post jobs on Craigslist, in reality it pays to advertise your position as widely as possible. That way, you can be assured that the best qualified candidates will see it.
There are some sites that are used specifically to hire VAs, and they are a great place to start:
4. Schedule Interviews
Now we get to the most difficult part of any hiring process: finding the best candidate. After you’ve reviewed the applications you receive, you should immediately have a good idea of the 5 – 10 most qualified candidates for the role.
Schedule interviews with these candidates. Video calls are great for this, because you can quickly find out how easy it is to communicate with your candidates, and what it will be like to work with them.
You should definitely ask about their work experience and skills, but don’t stop there. It’s also important to ask candidates about their hobbies, how they like to work, and their values.
Conflicting values can quickly become a source of friction in a relationship, particularly when it comes to the value of security and privacy. As Will Ellis, Director of Research at security advocacy group Privacy Australia points out, “you need to ensure that all of your staff take your business as seriously as you do.”
With growing concerns over cybersecurity and data privacy, every VA you hire is a potential point of attack for would-be hackers through social engineering attacks. When conducting interviews, it’s important to filter out any candidates that have a cavalier attitude towards their own privacy, because they would carry that behavior into your business as well.
5. Trial Periods
Once you’ve identified the top candidate, you should hire them on a trial basis to begin with. Even if you are hiring them with the expectation that they will work with you for years, regular goal setting and performance management is the key to any successful business relationship.
This trial period can last for anything from one month to six months, and provides a chance for you to work out any issues with your new VA before you commit to a longer relationship. You should formalize this trial period in the contract you sign with your new VA, but also make the way that you will assess them open and transparent.
If you’ve followed these steps, you should be well on your way to having a great VA by your side. However, if the selection of real-life humans seems like simply too much for you right now, you should also have a look at AI Virtual Assistants: whilst AI solutions are not (yet) quite as good as humans, it might be that in a few years everyone has an AI assistant as well.
For now, though, hiring a VA is one of the most cost-effective decisions any entrepreneur can make. As long, that is, as they hire the right person.
Valuing organic traffic can be tricky, whether you are looking at your own sites or looking to acquire a new one.
There is a tendency to regard organic traffic as ‘free’, in the sense that you are not paying for each visit, and so it’s often overlooked in budgets for digital marketing. In addition, organic traffic is often overstated or overestimated when sellers attempt to determine the value of their website.
In this article, I’ll give you a relatively easy way of assessing the monetary value of organic traffic.
The Basic Formula
In order to calculate the value of organic traffic, we’re going to use the following formula:
Estimated monthly value = Total monthly searches * CTR[Position] * Value per visit
To be clear, the terms we are talking about here are:
- Estimated Monthly Value is the total value created (per month) for a particular keyword.
- Total Monthly Searches is the monthly search volume of a particular keyword.
- CTR[Position] is the estimated click-through rate for a keyword, based on the current or target page rank.
- Value per visit is an estimated value per visit.
This seems pretty straightforward, right?
The only slight issue is that some of these terms can be a little difficult to calculate in themselves. So let’s go through them one at a time.
1. Total Monthly Searches
Calculating the average monthly searches for a keyword is probably the easiest part of this process, and if you are an experienced SEO marketer you likely already know how to do this.
There are two tools that can be used to do this: Google AdWords’ Keyword Planner, and the Ahrefs Keywords Explorer. The Google system is free, but won’t give you so much data. The Ahrefs tool costs $99 / month, but will give you a lot more detail.
Let’s assume you are using Google Adwords. The process is pretty simple: just tell the system which search terms you are interested in. The results will look something like this:
The data we are interested in here is in the “average monthly searches” column. As you can see, Google will only give you a range, rather than a specific number. Ahrefs will provide the actual number.
In any case, make a note of this number, and also the ‘suggested bid’ value, because we will use that in step 3.
Now we will calculate the click-through rate (CTR). A higher rank on Google will translate to a higher CTR, but up until now it was a little difficult to see the exact numbers.
Now, though, Advanced Web Ranking (and other rank trackers) has made a great tool that tracks search rankings versus the click-through rate (CTR). This tool will tell us what percentage of searchers are likely to click on our link, based on the position that the site achieves in the Google rank.
At this point, you’ll notice that the site that is ranked #1 will get a huge amount of the CTR for a particular keyword. In fact, for most keywords the top-ranked site will take 35% of the clicks, and an additional 31% on top of that if you have the featured snippet. (SEO a winner take most game.)
So let’s say that the site you are looking to acquire is #1 for a particular keyword. You know now the monthly search volume (from step 1) and the CTR.
Let’s say that the monthly search volume for your keyword is 14,000, and the CTR for the site’s position is 35%. We can put these into the equation we started with:
Estimated monthly value = 14,000 (Search volume) * 0.35 (CTR[#1]) * Value per visit
We’re getting there… But now comes the difficult part.
3. Value Per Visit
The value per visit is necessary in order to put a dollar value on organic traffic, but it can be tricky to calculate. In recent years, the best eCommerce platforms have started to calculate this figure for you, but in an acquisition you’ll have to calculate it by hand.
There are a couple of ways of doing that, but I’ll show you a simple one:
Take the figure that we saved from Step 1, the ‘suggested bid’. This is what Google thinks traffic is worth for your keyword, and it calculates this based on the money you would have paid to get those visits to your site.
As a result, this method only quantifies how much you would pay for a PPC campaign to get similar traffic to your website. But it does not ascribe any value to the actual revenue that you generate from it.
Still, this method has the advantage that the numbers are easy to obtain, so let’s run with it for now.
Let’s say that the suggested bid value for your keyword is $0.64.
Now we have everything we need to calculate the value of organic traffic for a site.
Putting It All Together
So let’s pull all these numbers together into the formula we started with. The original formula was:
Estimated month value = Total monthly searches * CTR[Position] * Value per visit
And now we know these numbers:
- Total monthly searches = 14,000
- CTR[Position] = 35%
- Value per visit = $0.64
So now do the math:
Estimated monthly value = 14,000 * 0.35 * $0.64
= $3,136 per month
The Bottom Line
Though we’ve done this process for just one keyword, it’s worth working through the math for a few different keywords in order to see which are most valuable, and give you the best ROI.
Once you’ve done that, it is fairly easy to work out if the money you are planning to spend on an acquisition is worth it. By comparing your investment with the value of the organic search traffic we’ve just calculated, you can see how many months it will take for you to make a return on your investment.
These days, many of the most popular companies across the globe are entirely web-based, meaning all of their products and services are offered over the internet. Like real estate in the real world, websites are now thought of as investment opportunities with the potential for their monetary worth to grow substantially over time.
The marketplace for website transactions is constantly growing, with both buyers and sellers looking to get in on the action. No matter what side of the trade you are involved with, you will want to be sure that the website up for sale is a valuable property with strong technology behind it.
In this article, we’ll discuss several software categories that matter most when buying or selling websites. Upgrading to new tools will show a commitment to growth and stability.
1. Cloud Hosting and Storage
Image courtesy of Hello2Hosting.com
Today’s website investor is only interested in properties that are hosted in the cloud. They don’t want to have to worry about setting up and maintaining their own servers or managing a data center. With the cloud, those responsibilities are outsourced to a hosting provider and paid for at monthly rates, making it an attractive – and secure – model for many business owners.
To show your website in its best light, it needs to be optimized for speed and performance. If not, the value of the website can sink due to the fact that visitors are unlikely to spend much time or money when pages don’t load reliably.
Different cloud hosts specialize in different types of websites. If your property is primarily a blogging enterprise, then it makes sense to use a platform like Kinsta, which was specifically designed to manage the WordPress content management system and provides support for migrating WordPress content across hosting solutions.
The bottom line is that, depending on your present hosting arrangement, an upgrade in this area may significantly drive the value of your website up.
2. SEO Optimization Software
Image Courtesy of TemplateTrip.com
Website buyers want assurance that the property they are investing in has a good reputation and looks strong in Google’s eyes. This is what makes search engine optimization (SEO) so critical before and during website sales. Though not cheap, options like a subscription to Ahrefs or SEMRush should be mandatory.
Poor or inattentive SEO will leave the website floundering on the second or third (or worse) page of search rankings, meaning fewer visitors will find it and – all together now – driving down the value. A new website owner may feel forced to spend more on advertising to try to attract users and that expense is coming out of the sale price. Strong SEO metrics does the exact opposite, acting almost like free marketing and making the site a more valuable asset.
In the early days of the internet, improving SEO was as simple as researching good keywords in the content for search engines to index. With the considerably stiffer competition these days, more expertise is required and upgrading to a pricey keyword tool can help reduce the time and increase the effectiveness of the process.
3. Marketing Tools
During negotiations of a website sale, often the most critical factor is the marketing performance and related metrics. Buyers want to see strong return on investment (ROI) and conversion rates, which track how often the content results in a desired action by a customer or visitor – we’re talking about blog post visits, clicks, purchases, or email list signups.
Third party tools like Sumo can help to strengthen marketing efforts and make websites more appealing in transactions. It’s important to show traffic and revenue growth, as investors want to have confidence that any website they purchase is on an upward trend rather than flat-lining or dropping.
Website investors want to see modern, proactive strategies in place when it comes to marketing. Active email campaigns (which need their own tools to be done properly – MailChimp and Mailerlite are leading solutions), actively growing your blog, a strong social media presence, and content that includes video can make a property more valuable as it points to growth rather than decline.
4. Cybersecurity Software
Image Courtesy of LehighValleyChamber.org
Cybersecurity is no longer an esoteric topic reserved for high level computer science classes at the local university. The incredible growth rate of hacking attempts and successes has created an environment that forces any website owner to make security a priority or suffer the consequences. The bad news is that there isn’t much demand for a site that’s infected with viruses, malware, or has recently suffered a data breach.
The good news is that you don’t have to be a cybersecurity expert to put into place strategies that incorporate effective security software that make it harder for hackers to compromise the website. The three critical areas to pay attention to are firewalls, a virtual private network (VPN), and an anti-virus/anti-malware security suite. And don’t forget to install new updates as soon as they become available. The following is a quick review in case you’re not familiar with these security software tools.
Firewall: A firewall sets up a sort of perimeter defense that separates trusted from unknown traffic and filters out the latter. Actually, it does a lot more than that but here’s a quick rundown on why you want one.
Virtual Private Network: If the website collects or stores any sort of private data (and most do), recent GDPR regulations related to privacy make choosing a VPN any time you connect to the front or backend almost mandatory. The bottom line is that the encryption and IP address cloaking are an excellent defense against the rash of continuing data breaches.
Security Suite: There are a handful of effective choices in this part of the online security industry, any of which provide solid anti-virus and anti-malware protection. To choose not to use one is virtual suicide, particularly if you’re using trading software or working with sensitive financial data. With the average small business site being probed by hackers 44 times per day, an infection is almost certain if you don’t take this precaution.
5. Customer Service Software
Acquiring new customers is a great way to grow an online business, but unless you keep those users happy, you will not build a valuable property. The goal should always be to retain current customers and find ways to boost their activity on your website. Poor customer service will hurt a company’s reputation. Nobody wants to buy into a bad service experience.
When it comes to online stores and service providers, customers expect fast, accurate answers to any questions or issues they encounter. A tool like Intercom helps to funnel all customer communication into a single stream so that you can manage it from a central location. Intercom offers real-time chat solutions that can be easily integrated with your existing platform.
6. Activity Tracking Tools
When a website if first put up for sale, potential buyers want to see fundamental data about past performance. If key metrics like unique visitors per month are not available, then it is very unlikely that a deal will be done. So before trying to sell any online properties, make sure to have an activity tracking solution in place. The further back it goes, the better.
Third-party tools like Crazy Egg take care of most of the grunt work. You simply add a few lines of code to your website and let it track all of your visitor activity, making it one of the easiest software upgrades on this list. Crazy Egg also leverages machine learning algorithms to automatically make suggestions on how to improve your website performance and retain more users.
The Bottom Line: Essential Software Upgrades
Websites can be great investment opportunities. It’s like a store that’s open for business 24/7/365. But in order to take full advantage of this business strategy, you have to understand what drives the price of a website up or down. As we’ve just discussed, some factors include marketing performance, SEO metrics, and customer service reputation.
Like a house flipper, you want to seek out opportunities to boost a website’s value in a hurry. Upgrading the software behind a website can prove to potential buyers that there are significant growth opportunities. You don’t need to find the next Amazon or Netflix in order to make a nice profit on a website sale; you simply need to identify a property with high potential and strong marketing fundamentals.