Membership sites can be a great way to earn money online. The greatest benefit of running your own membership site is the recurring payments that you receive every month!
Once you have established a good membership base then you can start to earn a lot of money from your business!
What you will learn
- Why membership sites are so profitable
- How to create a membership site free
- How to drive traffic to your site
- How to get new members
- How to keep your members happy
- My successful business model revealed
So who am I to tell you how to set up and run your own membership site?
Well, my name is Jason Chesters and I run DoSEOyourself.com. For the past 10 years I have been making and running membership sites online, and these have served as my main source of income.
Last year alone my membership sites brought in over £108,000 (around $172,000).
The Benefits Of A Membership Site
There are a ton of benefits to starting a membership site or adding one to your current online business.
Here are just a few of them:
As I already pointed out, the financial benefits of membership sites are massive. It’s like selling a product, and then getting paid again and again each and every month!
And that’s without having to worry about driving more traffic to your site.
Imagine having just 100 members paying you $40 a month!…. Yes, that’s $4000 a month. A steady stream of income every month is what most Internet marketers strive for.
When you sell a one off product you never really get the chance to build a relationship with your customer. The last interaction with them is probably the invoice you send to them!
If on the other hand a customer becomes a member, you are providing a service and providing new information to that member on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. Doing this builds loyalty and respect.
This makes it much easier to promote new services and new products in the future. I still sell new products to the same people that I did 10 years ago!
Now that is a solid foundation for a successful business!
No Physical Product
Almost all membership sites provide information as their service. Information is FREE. It does not cost anything to provide it, no shipping fees and no stock to purchase.
You get to keep almost 100% of the profits!
Lots Of Free Traffic
One of the benefits you probably didn’t think of is a consistent flow of traffic. Take a look at this screenshot of one of my current membership sites….
Over 29,000 visits and 6000+ unique visitors!!
This site is not ranked for anything; it picks up hardly any search engine traffic.
I have no social media accounts linked to this site and it is not promoted anywhere else other than one of my own sites – which I’ll be explaining more about later.
Step By Step Guide To Setting Up a Membership Site For Free
I am going to presume that you already have a website, or you know how to set up a website using WordPress.
If not you can get a domain & hosting really cheap to get started with.
It’s important that your site is based on the WordPress Platform as we are going to be using a membership plugin to take care of all of the back end stuff that is required for the running of membership sites.
JustHost offers a one click installer for WordPress if you get stuck.
In your WP dashboard, go to ‘Plugins’ > Add new
In the search box type: ‘S2member’ and click search
Now select the S2member plugin and Install it on your site:
I have found S2member to be an excellent plugin. They offer a completely free version and a paid version, I have found that the free version is more than enough for the majority of site owners!
The capabilities are superb and it offers many functionalities including easy payment integration with the leading payment gateways (Paypal, Clickbank, Google wallet, Authorize.net etc…).
Now that you have S2member installed, I am going to run through exactly how to set it up correctly.
How S2Member Works
It’s important that you understand how the software works. So here is a brief description on how S2member handles everything!
When your visitors decide that they wish to join, they will be taken to a ‘membership options’ page (I usually call this page, ‘join’ or ‘subscribe’).
This is where you contain details such as the price of your product or service, and the actual payment buttons (PayPal button) for them to click on to ‘subscribe’.
When the visitor clicks the ‘PayPal’ button they will be taken to the PayPal website where they check that the details are correct and agree to the terms.
Once they have finalised the payment they are returned to your site where you provide them, or offer them a username and password of their choice, which enables them to login to the member’s area!
The new member is also sent an email automatically, which contains instructions.
Once the new member has completed this, they will then be allowed to login. The first page that they come to is the ‘Login welcome’ page.
From here you can then direct your members to other areas of your site that are protected by S2member.
If at any stage a ‘non member’ tries to access any of your ‘protected’ pages, they will automatically be re-directed to the ‘membership options’ page!!
S2member handles this whole process automatically. You will also be re-billed every cycle until the member cancels their subscription.
S2member even handles this for you. For example, if your member cancels their subscription on June 7th, they have actually paid up until June 25th.
S2member will realise this and sync with PayPal so it allows the user to still be able to login up until June 25th. After that they will no longer have access to your protected content!
Setting Up Your Membership Site
The first thing you must do is create 2 new pages called:
1- ‘Subscribe’ – This is your membership options page.
2 – ‘Members’ – This is the first page that new members will see.
Once you have done this we can set everything up. Here is everything you need to do:
> In your dashboard, click the S2member tab
> Click on ‘General Options’
You will be presented with this screen:
We’ll now work through each tab to configure the settings…..
Deactivate safeguards… Select ‘YES’
Security Subscription Key… Click ‘auto generate’ and then copy and paste your unique key into notepad and save it somewhere safe!!
Local Host WAMP/MAMP Developers… This does not affect you unless you are setting up s2member in a local host, so just ignore this
CSS/JS Lazy loading… Leave this on the default setting
s2member Security badge… This is optional. I don’t bother with it but you may wish to display a security badge!
Email Configuration… This is important. Be sure to enter the email address that you want associate with your membership site, enter the ‘from name’ and your ‘email support’ email address if it is different.
I usually leave the ‘New email user configuration’ set to ‘NO’
Open registration…. If you want to offer a Free level of membership then select ‘YES’ if you are only offering paid levels of membership then enter ‘NO’. I’ll explain more about this later!
Membership Levels/Labels… This is where you set your different levels of membership. You can re-name them to anything you like. I will be covering this topic later in the post and it’s not something you have to set up straight away!
Login/Registration Design… S2member uses the standard WP login forms, but you have the option to customise the login page to fit the design of your site! there are lots of options here and it’s really down to your preference. You can add a logo, change font, size, background colour etc.
Registration/Profile Field options…. I select ‘YES’ for all options, but if you prefer the user to have an ‘auto generated’ password then you can choose this option:
Login welcome page… Remember the 2 pages we created at the beginning? Well this is where you select you ‘Members’ page.
This tells the S2member plugin that your Members page is protected from none members and it also re-directs all members to this page after they login!
Membership Option page… This is where we select the ‘subscribe’ page that we created earlier! This is the page that displays your payment buttons and is the page that ‘non members’ are directed to when trying to access a protected members page!
Member Profile Modification – This is optional. You can allow your members to edit certain criteria in their profile.
URL shortening service preference… I just stick with the default option which is ‘tinyurl’
HIT ‘SAVE ALL CHANGES’
ok, you now have the foundations of your membership site set up! It’s now time to set up our payment options.
Set Up PayPal Payment Options
S2member allows us to fully integrate with our PayPal accounts so that everything is handled seamlessly.
However there are a few things you need to set up in S2member and your PayPal account.
I have everything covered right here…..
Click on ‘PayPal options’ in the S2member tab.
As you can see, there are 6 tabs for us to customise.
PayPal Account Details
If you are using PayPal as a payment option then you will have to fill out all of the required fields. You will need your:
- PayPal merchant ID
- Your PayPal email address
- Your PayPal API username ( In PayPal click >Profile >API ACCESS)
- Your PayPal API password
- Your PayPal API signature
You will have to access your PayPal account to find these details. Once you enter them you will be asked if you want ‘Developer/Sandbox testing. Make sure you select ‘NO’ when your site is live.
Enable Button Encryption… I always select ‘YES”. This will produce encrypted PayPal buttons, which makes it safer for you!
Enable logging routines… Select ‘NO’. If you ever experience any issues then turn this feature on and you can view all of the logs to detect errors!
PayPal IPN Integration… This does not require you to enter any details but you do need to login to your PayPal account and enable your IPN
>Account profile > Instant Payment Notification Preferences > Enter settings and turn IPN ‘ON’
PayPal PDT Identity/Auto-return Integration… Login to your PayPal >Account Profile > Website payment preferences > Make sure the auto-feature is turned ON
You will then be shown a PDT token. You have to enter this here:
Sign up confirmation email…. This is already pre-filled for you but it allows you to edit the confirmation email that will be sent to your new member after they have completed payment.
This is useful and you should customise it as you wish!
Specific Post/Page email… Similar to above except this is for when your visitors Pay to access a certain peice of content on your site as a one off!
They don’t actually become a member. I’ll discuss more about this later!
Automatic EOT behaviour… This is a pretty clever feature built into S2member. There are a few options for you to choose from but the pre-filled settings are good!
Basically, this tells S2member to cancel a members account if they cancel their subscription payment, open a dispute or have a refund. This is what makes the whole thing run so easily!
Here are the settings that I use:
Congratulations! You just set up a fully functioning membership site
Ok, that is all of the required fields that you need to fill out for your membership site function properly.
Now you may notice that there are a few other tabs that we have not covered, but don’t worry, as we don’t need to worry about some of these.
There are some extra features that you can fill in if you are operating a more advanced membership site, for example, you can integrate an affiliate program into the mix!
You can configure all sorts of download restrictions if you are selling downloadable products!
Setting Up Your Payment Buttons
This is really simple and only takes 2 minutes!
Go to S2member > PayPal buttons
For now we will presume that we have just 1 standard level of membership, and we want to charge $30 per month, but we also want to offer a discount to more committed members.
So lets offer 6 months membership at $150.
Click > PayPal buttons for level #1 Access
Fill in the options. For our example above, this is how we fill it in:
As you can see, we are offering $30 on a monthly basis! You do have the option to offer free trial periods, new member discounts etc.
Once you have filled in the options simply hit ‘Generate Button Code’
Copy the code that becomes highlighted and then simply paste this code onto your ‘subscribe’ page that you created earlier. It’s as easy as that!
Now you can create a completely new button for $150 on a 6 month recurring basis. Generate the button and then copy/paste it onto your ‘subscribe’ page!
Your options are endless. There are so many different variations that you can make any payment offer that you wish!
Advanced Membership/Payment Options
The example above is probably the most basic set up you can have.
This is great when starting out, but you find that as your site grows, you want to add different levels of membership, or even a pay per post option!
I’ll show you how to set up different levels of membership:
Lets go back to the > S2member > PayPal Buttons page.
In the RED box I have highlighted the different possible levels of membership. Let me explain how they work:
In the earlier example we set up a PayPal payment button using the ‘Level 1 Access’ and we were charging $30 per month!
Now lets say that you introduced even more great content or a more exclusive service. You can create a new level of membership (Level 2 access) and charge more for this service.
So you could charge $50 per month for your ‘really top notch’ stuff!
In the future you might introduce a new product or piece of software and you can create a 3rd level of membership, and you could charge $70 per month.
You see where I’m going here!!
The default ‘names’ for the different levels of membership are:
- (Level 1 Access) Bronze
- (Level 2 Access) Silver
- (Level 3 Access) Gold
- (Level 4 Access) Platinum
These names are quite fitting and work well, but you can actually call them anything you like!
Ok, so lets say that we have set up the 3 different levels of membership like I showed you above.
This is how your members would be able to see your content, because s2member does a great job of applying restrictions to areas of your site.
This is how it would work-
Level 3 Member ($70 per month) would have access to > ALL level 3, level 2 and level 1 content
Level 2 Member ($50 per month) would have access to > level 2 and level 1 content only
Level 1 Member ($30 per month) would have access to > JUST level 1 content
As you can see, this can come in very handy and it’s extremely easy to set up! It is even possible for existing members to upgrade or downgrade to a different membership level without taking out a new subscription!
Pay Per Post/Page Option
This is the tab that I have highlighted in Green, and this gives you the option to charge your visitors to view a certain page or post on your site as a one off fee.
The visitor does not become a member as this feature works totally independent of the membership levels, but they do gain access to 1 piece of content.
There are many instances in which this feature is useful.
You could write a great ‘How To’ guide and then cut off the content half way through so that your visitor has to pay you to unlock the remainder of the guide!!
You could just save your really good articles and charge visitors a small fee to view them!
So here’s how to set them up:
In Green I have highlighted the ‘PayPal pay specific post/page buy now button’. Click on this tab
As you will see, this is the same as the previous ‘PayPal button’ set up, except this time you must choose which Page or Post you would like to restrict!
To do this you must go to:
S2member > Restriction options >Specific post/page access > You then need to enter the page ID of the posts/pages you want to charge for!
Basically this ‘restricts’ the page and stops people viewing the page who have not paid!
Once you have done this, go back to the ‘PayPal pay specific post/page buy now button’ tab and fill in the details like we did previously.
Entering your price, description and currency. You also have to select the post/page that you are creating the button for. You will see a drop down list, simply click on that and select the page!
Click > Generate Button and copy the code
Setting up ‘pay per posts’ is really easy and quick! This is a very powerful feature of S2member and I’m sure you can think of some great ways of using it.
How To Set Up Your ‘restricted’ Content
Now that we have our membership site set up, it’s time put it all together and add ‘restriction’ rules to all of the pages, posts and categories that we want for ‘members only’.
If you have just 1 level of membership, then you simply assign ‘#level 1 access’ to all of the content that you want hidden for members only.
The easiest way to do it is to go to the posts or pages you want to use, and click edit.
You will notice in the right side bar that there is a options box for S2member:
Simply click on the drop down menu and select: #level 1
Make sure to click ‘update’ after you have done this to implement the changes.
What this has just done is:
a) Made this post/page viewable to paying members ONLY. They can only access this content by logging in.
b) It restricts all ‘non members’ from seeing this content, and if they do try to access it, S2member will re-direct them to your ‘subscribe’ page.
Allocating multiple levels of membership
Just as we have done above, except this time you have to choose which content you want for different levels of members.
#Level 1 being the lowest and #Level 4 the highest. Simply select which level you want for each of your post/pages.
That’s it! you now have a fully functional membership site ready to accept new members and payments!
This is the basic set up and it works very well.
How To Build Your Membership Base
One of the toughest tasks that most site owners face is actually building a membership base of people willing to pay you a fee every month!
Don’t worry; I’ll share with you everything I know about getting paying subscribers and how to keep them for months and even years!
The key is to build trust with your member
But how do you do that before getting them to sign up? Easy….
You give them a Free membership!! You can either:
- Offer a Free trial, say for 1 week.
- Offer a free level of membership
Or, use the method that I prefer….
3) Offer a FREE membership service on a different site, but in the same niche!
You can either do this on 1 site or like I do and have a completely separate site for building a free membership base, or in other terms, an email list.
I actually describe how I built one of my lists to over 36,000 subscribers which made $172,000 profit last year alone!!
Method 1 - Offer a Free Trial
People love to try things out before actually jumping in and purchasing.
One of the features of S2member is the ability to set up a payment option that gives the subscriber a trial period, and unless they cancel within the trial period, they are then automatically billed at the end of their trial and their paid membership begins.
Your offer may look something like this:
“Free for 7 days, then £19.99 a month”
I showed you have to set this up previously. The PayPal button options with S2member are endless and you can create all sorts of scenarios!
THE ADVANTAGES of using this method is that you greatly increase your sign up rate. Providing your information/service is good, you will gain a lot more members than if you didn’t offer a free trial.
Method 2 - Offer A Free Level of Membership
Another great feature of S2member is that it gives you the option to use different levels of membership, as we have already discussed.
- Subscriber (When a member cancels, they become a subscriber and are denied access to all paid content)
This allows you to offer different levels of membership and charge different amounts depending on different levels of service you offer!
This gives you the opportunity to offer 1 FREE level, and 1 or more multiple levels.
How To Set It Up
Go to > General Options > Membership levels/labels
Here you can re-name your levels, #Level 1 is called (Bronze) so re-name this to something like: ‘Free Access’ or whatever your preference.
Obviously this will be your lowest level of membership. Now all of the posts/pages that you want available to ‘Free Members’ you just select #Level 1 access.
You can do this on the actual ‘edit view’ of the page like I showed you earlier, or you can go to > Restriction options and select the page ID’s.
Now this means that all members from your lowest level (Free Access) members & upwards will be able to access these pages!
For your paid members, Re-name #Level 2 access to something of your choice ‘Paid member’, ‘elite member’ ‘whatevermemberyouwant’
Now these will be your paid members and every post/page that you only want accessible to paying members you simply add the appropriate restriction option to that page.
- Non members can’t access any of your restricted content
- Free members can only view certain pages which you have specifically chosen
- Paid members can view all content on your site
- Optional… you can create higher levels of membership as we have already discussed
Method 3 - Build Your Membership Base On A Separate Site
This is the foundation of my business model and it’s something you should seriously consider doing!
All of the big sites do it including all of the big earners online. Even offline businesses have started to do it.
I was in the Ralph Lauren Shop yesterday and when I went to the checkout they had an iPad set up on every till and they ask every customer for their email address in return for 20% off vouchers!!
Email marketing is powerful, trust me!!
If you can build a free membership base then you can set up new paid membership sites and have real paying members anytime you like:
Why Is This My Favourite Method?
You only have to focus your attention on building traffic to 1 site:
- Every time you launch a new membership site in that niche, you get paid subscribers from day 1 without any other source of promotion!
- Every time you release a new product or service, or want to promote an affiliate product, you already have a client base to sell too.
- Loyalty and trust. This is the most important factor. By offering a separate ‘free service’ you get the chance to build trust with your subscribers. Help them out when they need it, give them good quality ‘free content’. Offer them something of value for nothing!
When you have done this you have just massively increased your chances of gaining paid members!
Why does Matt earn great affiliate profits? Because he provides us with great information for free, including a number of detailed tutorials.
He has our trust, therefore we are much more likely to purchase products that he recommends!!
Build a big subscriber base and then build mini sites around it
How To Build Your Free Subscriber List, Traffic & SEO
Building an email list requires targeted traffic to your site. There are a number of ways to drive traffic to your site and Matt has it covered right here on his blog.
You can follow Matt’s Buzz Bundle review on how he drives traffic to his blog.
There is also this article on how to steal your competitors visitors.
If you have funds available you can always take the ‘paid’ route and the most popular Pay Per Click sources are Google Adwords and Facebook Ads. Before diving into paid traffic you must be certain that your landing page converts well.
The main purpose of your landing page is to capture the visitors email address. So make this as easy as possible for them!
Give them a reason to sign up. Offer them something of value. Try to spark excitement, or curiosity!
For example…. “I have something really amazing for you…. But I can’t show it to you right here!! Enter your email address and join me on the other side”
Not great I know, but this sparks curiosity with the reader and they are more likely to sign up!
Building an email list is a totally new post in itself so I’ve only touched on the basics right here.
How To Keep Your Members Happy
Building a free subscriber base and then getting them converted to ‘paid members’ is only half of the job.
If your members are going to keep paying you every month you better make sure to provide them with valuable, up to date, and fresh information!!
There are different types of membership site that you can create, and these are the most popular, and usually the most profitable:
One of the most popular types of membership site is a Software license based site where you pay a monthly or yearly fee to access certain software!
There are lot of these kind of sites in the SEO and Internet marketing niche and you have probably come across a few of them already. Examples are Aweber, Link-Assistant and Link Emperor.
To keep your members subscribed, you need to make sure that your software does exactly what the user wants. Customer support is an important factor along with regular software updates!
There are a lot of membership sites that offer tuition or advice on specific subjects.
If you are going to run this kind of site you could either update it every month with new content and tutorials, or you could have all of your content pre-written and automatically send it out to members via an auto-responder!
I’m sure many of us would be happy to pay to access Matts Blog for the quality of information he provides!
Another good example would be to offer a course.. ‘How to build a successful online business in 12 months’
Offering a service such as Forex tips, sports betting tips, stock and shares etc. are a good way to run a membership site because the member is paying you for updated information.
Provide good tips and your members will keep paying you!
Probably something you don’t want to get involved in but the adult industry is set up perfectly for membership type-sites, as you may have already guessed
If you have built up a really good quality community then you could charge your visitors to become exclusive members! we see this with some of the top forums online.
You can pay to access an ‘elite’ group of people
Although there are lots of different types of membership sites, building long term members boils down to one simple rule: Offer a great service!!
Just give your members information that they could not find elsewhere and solve problems to their solutions! The majority of searches on Google are from people search for a solution to a problem.
Give these people the answer and you are on your way to a successful business.
Wrapping It Up
This post has become fairly long, and this is because I didn’t want to leave anything out. Starting or adding a membership site to your business can reap massive rewards!
If you have a lot of information to offer then this maybe a great opportunity for you to boost your income.
When I first started out there was no ‘membership software’ or plugins like S2member, everything had to be done manually.
These days everything can be set up to run automatically, and as I’ve just shown you, creating a membership site can be free!!