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An Exclusive Free eBook by Miles Galliford, Co-Founder of SubHub - The World's Most Powerful Membership Website Platform
The Membership Website Jumpstart Guide is a collection of five of the most popular membership related articles to appear in the highly popular free resources section of SubHub.com If you're thinking about starting your own membership or subscription website, or indeed just want some inspiration for the site you already have, this guide tells you everything you need to know!
Page 3 - 101 Things You Should Know Before Starting a Membership Website Page 11 - The Most Important Things to Consider When Starting a Membership Website Page 16 - The Top 10 Reasons Why Membership Websites Fail . . . and What You Can Do to Avoid These Mistakes Page 21 - The 12 Steps to Choosing the Perfect Subject for Your Membership Website Page 24 - The Top 12 Proven Tactics for Selling Content in a Free Content World
You can find hundreds of further free articles related to planning, building and marketing your own membership website at www.subhub.com If you would like to take a free, 7-day trial of SubHub's powerful membership website platform, visit www.subhub.com/freetrial
101 Things You Should Know Before Starting a Membership Website
Running a membership website is one of the most fun, rewarding and profitable ‘jobs’ you can do. However, like any business, you need to go into it with your eyes wide open. Having watched dozens of online publisher’s launch their websites, I have made a few key observations which I hope you will find useful.
Choosing a Subject
• • • Passion! Passion! Passion! – If you are not passionate about the subject you are writing about, you will struggle to succeed Go Niche – It is far easier to become the world leader in a small niche than in a broad subject area Who Are Your Competitors? – It is so easy to find out who your competitors are using the search engines. Ask yourself “Can I do a better job than they are doing?” If the answer is ‘no’, pick another niche Where Do Your Audience Hang Out? – If you don’t know how to reach your audience you will always struggle to build a successful membership website Build a List Of Content Sources – Before you progress too far build a list of all the places you can source content. Is there enough material to update your site everyday? A Name To Remember – Pick a domain name that is easy to remember, pass on my word of mouth and is relevant to your subject Build Authority – You’re a guru if you know more about a subject than the person you are speaking to. You need to be perceived as an authority in your niche to become a leadership figure Is Your Subject Suitable to Today’s Environment? – Setting up a site today about how to become a property developer might not sell! Think Global – One of the greatest benefits of the internet is you can reach a global audience at no additional cost. A niche subject that is not viable within your country could reach a big enough audience if it was global
Planning Your Business
• • Write a Business Plan – If you don’t know where you are going, you will never get there Your Business Plan: Where Am I Today? Where Do I Want To Be In One Year? What Do I Have To Do To Get There? – A business is simply a series of small actions which add together to create something of value. Know what those small actions are before you take the first step
Best Estimates – Work out how much your business will cost to setup and how long it will take to become profitable. If you doubled the costs and time would you still go ahead? Get A Book Keeper – The best investment you can make (unless you are an accountant) is to get a book keeper who can keep you completely up to date with how much money you are spending and making Hare and The Tortoise – building any online business is a marathon not a sprint. Set your expectations at the outset that this is a long (but fun) journey and only those that keep going will succeed There are No Shortcuts – There are so many get rich quick schemes/scams on the Internet. Please let me know if you find one that works Membership Churn Rates – When planning, assume a churn rate of at least 30% after three months i.e. if nine people sign up today, assume three of them will leave within 90 days. It is better to be pessimistic when planning
• Blog For Starters – If you have no experience of publishing online, setup a free blog on Blogger (www.blogger.com). Is it still fun after a month or so? Get Someone Else To Do The Techie Stuff – If you are not technical, don’t try to run the technical side of your online business; it will end in tears. Use a fully managed service like SubHub (www.subhub.com) Be In Total Control Of Content – You MUST be able to add and edit content on your own website. If you have to rely on someone else, like your developer, your website will fail Design Is Important – You only get one chance to make a first impression. Make sure your website looks professional, particularly if you want people to pay to access your content Don’t Give Your Designers Too Much Freedom – Designers love to be creative and original, but that’s not what you want! You want a site that is based on what has worked for others Buy An Existing Website – Think about buying a website that is up and running. Often you can buy sites for reasonable amounts and this will give you a great head start Own and Control Your Domain Name – NEVER let someone else buy or manage your domain name. One day it will be the most valuable asset your business has Never Let Your Web Developer/Designer Control Your Domain Name – If you have a dispute, they can turn your site off and refuse to give you your domain name back Backup! Backup! Backup! – Always keep a backup of your website files and content so you can quickly restore it if you have a catastrophe Future-Proof Platform – It is impossible to create a website which is completely future-proof, but if you use a well built platform from a reputable company it should grow with your needs
You Need Support – Make sure you can get ongoing support from whoever builds your website. If you don’t you could spend hours or days sorting out small problems
• Give Content Away For Free – Even if you are building a paid membership website you should give at least 20% of your content away for free. This will attract visitors via the search engines, start to build a relationship with prospects and give people a taste of what they are buying into Create Your Own Voice – Give your site its own personality by developing your own unique style Content Plan – Get a diary or spreadsheet and plan the content for your site for the first 90 days . . . and keep the plan rolling forward Remember the HEART Rule – Keep your content Honest, Exclusive, Accurate, Relevant and Timely For Sales Copy Remember AIDA – Attention, Interest, Desire, Action Understand What Your Members Read – Once you get your site up and running watch what articles your visitors read most and write more of them. You can easily track pages with a good web stats service (see below) Don’t Steal Content – Copying from one site is plagiarism, copying from two is research! But seriously, get ideas from other sites by all means, but turn them into your own original content Get Guest Writers – Reduce your writing burden by inviting other writers to contribute articles. Make sure they are not just advertorials however Go Multimedia – One of the huge benefits of the web versus print media is the ability to have audio and video content. Go for it! It’s surprisingly easy to create The Best Guest Writers are Your Customers Images Provide Interest – Use images which are relevant to the content, not just eye candy. Get images from the micro stock image libraries like iStockPhoto.com and Fotolia.com Aggregate Information In Google Reader – There are about 100 websites that I follow. If I wanted to visit all of them everyday I would have no time to do anything else. By getting all the updates from these sites in Google Reader (www.google.com/reader) I can scan the whole lot in 30 minutes The Best Place To Learn How To Write Great Headlines – Go to a newsagent / newsstand and read the headlines on the covers on as a many magazines as you can The About Us Page is Important – The About Us page is very important for building trust. Write with care and include a photo of you smiling Grammar and Spelling Matter – Errors give the impression of sloppiness and carelessness
• • • • •
• Marketing Bullsh*t – A lot of what is written about Internet marketing is rubbish. Pick people with a great track record like Perry Marshall to follow and avoid jumping from one trend to another Marketing Is About One Thing – for online publishers there is only one thing that is really really important to get sustainable search engine traffic; create outstanding content. If you focus on regularly updated, great content your website will get lots of free traffic Write Articles For Humans, Not Search Engines – Keywords and keyword density are less important than well written articles Inbounds Links Are Important – If you create great content people will link to it. However it can do no harm to proactively get inbound links. They will help drive traffic SEO is Everything You Do – Every bit of content you add, every link you get, every image you place, every directory you list in is SEO Many SEO Consultants Are Snake Oil Salesmen – Be very wary of buying SEO services. At best they deliver short term results; at worse they can get your site blacklisted! Tricking the Search Engines Is REALLY Foolish – There are lots of ‘black hat’ ways of tricking the search engines to get traffic, but if you get caught by Google or the other big search engines your site will be blacklisted. It’s not worth it! Focus On Getting an Email Address – Your first marketing goal is to get a visitor’s email address. Only if you get an email will you be able to continue the relationship after they have left your site Trial And Error – Even the online marketing experts don’t know that much about all the different ways to market online. Use trial and error to see what works for you Test! Test! Test! – Don’t guess what is working. Look at the web stats and conversion rates to make decisions based on facts You Don’t Have a Homepage – If you have free content pages up to 80% of your visitors will find your site via pages that are not the homepage. Therefore treat every page as a homepage Don’t Get Obsessed With Keywords – Keywords are important but don’t get obsessed with them. If you do your content will become bland and repetitive Press Releases Still Work – There is a lot of rubbish written about press releases being dead. They still work. Use them
• How Much Should You Charge? - Look at what magazines in your niche are charging and price roughly the same. You have more flexibility online because you can easily have different levels of subscription Don’t Compete On Price – Once you have chosen a price that you think is fair, don’t discount to get customers. Give extra value instead e.g. a free ebook for new members Three Choices – Give your customers three payment choices e.g. Monthly, Quarterly or Annual. Make the middle choice the one you want most people to sign-up to and price accordingly
• • •
Annual For Cash Flow, Monthly For Longevity – Your annual members will give you lumps of cash upfront which really help cash flow, but you will get a much higher level of cancellation on renewal. Monthly subs are usually small amounts every month but these members are likely to keep subscribing for longer Multiple Revenue Streams – Few content websites can make enough money in the early days from a single revenue stream. Think about text ads, classifieds, display ads, paid directory listings, a job board, affiliate partnerships, selling books, courses, software apps, promoting events, etc The Most Important Statistic – The most important figures that you must track is the conversion rate. That is the number of people who come to your site divided by the number of people who become paying customers. Is this figure increasing or decreasing? Don’t Become Obsessed With Conversion Rates – although the conversion rate is the most important stat don’t become obsessed with it. If you want an obsession make it the quality of your content Profit = Revenue – COSTS – most entrepreneurs focus on increasing revenue, but it is just as important to keep your costs low Competitors Can Be Partners – Don’t rule out partnering with competitors Use PayPal To Start, But Move To A Merchant Account When You Can – Most people can get a PayPal account but a lot of people struggle to get a merchant services account from their bank. However a Merchant Account is safer, cheaper and easier to deal with problems, so plan on getting one as soon as you can Adding Password Protection – Don’t underestimate how difficult it is to add secure password protection to an existing website. It will probably be cheaper to move to a purpose built platform, than customize what you have Sell Digital Products – It is much easier to sell products that can be downloaded over the web than physical products you have to pack and post Most Valuable Action – Make sure you highlight the action on each page, which will generate the most income for you. Remove other distractions Offer 100% Money Back Guarantee – The lower you make the risk, the more customers you will get Credit Card Images – Put credit card images on the payment pages. This alone can increase the number of transactions that are completed
• No Community, No Loyalty – If your members don’t feel part of a community they will leave. There are loads of ways of building a community online, including email newsletters, RSS feeds, forums, member profiles, comments and webinars Get Rid Of Bad Customers – If a member takes up a lot of your time or is a negative force within your community, give them their money back and tell them to leave
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• Google Analytics – www.google.com/analytics - This free webstats package is a godsend for online publishers. The stats give you a fantastic insight into how many people are coming to your site, who they are and where they are coming from SnagIt – www.snagit.com – captures images, web pages, blocks of text so you can put them in articles. Worth every penny Camtasia – www.camtasia.com – the easiest way to make screen capture videos for your site Flip Camcorder – The easiest way to produce ‘to camera’ video clips Audacity – http://audacity.sourceforge.net/ – free open source software for editing audio. Great for creating podcasts. Look on YouTube for good tutorial videos. Elance – www.elance.com – Outsource activities you don’t enjoy or don’t understand. Carbonite – www.carbonite.com – One of the fastest ways to fail in business is to lose all of your information. Backup your hard drive every day. I use Carbonite
• • • •
• • Two Monitors – Having two monitors will massively increase your productivity. Most graphics cards have two monitor plugs as standard. Buy a Big, Good Quality Monitor – You will spend so much of your life staring at your screen make it as easy on your eyes as possible
Cheap Desk, Expensive Chair – Any desk will do (provided it is the right height), but an uncomfortable chair will make working miserable. Treat yourself to a really good expensive office chair Reward Wall – Have a wall you can see from your desk with photos of things you will buy or do when you have achieved your goals. Have interim rewards like a nice meal as well as big rewards like a 60ft yacht moored off Bermuda!
• • Five Most Important Things – Every morning write down the five things that will have the biggest impact on your business. Do those five things Email Paralysis – Don’t look at email all day; it will greatly reduce your productivity. Set aside an hour in the morning and an hour at the end of the day. Be ruthless about what you look at Do What You’re Good At, Outsource The Rest – We all do tasks we enjoy well and stuff we don’t enjoy badly. Outsource the bits you don’t like and you will become much more productive and successful Be Careful Of Outsourcing – Outsourcing is an essential part of building a company today. However it is not an easy thing to do. Write detailed specs, agree milestones, negotiate penalties for slow delivery and hold payments in escrow Fire People Early – If your gut instinct tells you a relationship with a client, supplier, writer, employee or anyone else is not working, fire them quickly. It never gets easier! Use Mind Mapping – When planning anything I use mind maps. It is so much more efficient and effective than writing lists. You can use paper and pencil or try using software – MindManager (expensive but good). FreeMind (a bit clunky but free) Have Time Off – You will enjoy your business and work much more if you plan lots of time off
• • Reap What You Sow – Always think about what you can do for others on the web. If you give you will receive Plan Your Business In A Way That It Will Eventually Run Without You – It should be every entrepreneur’s goal to be able to step away from the business and it carries on running smoothly Enjoy Yourself – Life is a journey, not a destination Never, Never Give Up On Your Dreams
There will never be a perfect time to set up your own business; you just have to believe in yourself enough to take the leap. If you are determined and focused you will succeed. It may take a few goes to get it right, but that is all part of the journey.
The Most Important Things to Consider When Starting a Membership Website
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 revenue streams.
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 customize.
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.
Feature #11– 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 forums 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.
Feature #17 - Support
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.
The Top 10 Reasons Why Membership Websites Fail … and What You Can Do To Avoid These Mistakes
Niche content membership websites are one of the fastest growing areas of internet business. There are thousands of individuals and small businesses making significant revenue from a wide range of subjects. However like in any area of business there are some sites that struggle and others that fail. From my experience these are the ten most common reasons for failure.
Reason for Failure #1- Ignore What Works in Print Publishing
Print publishers – newspapers, magazines and newsletters – have perfected the art of generating income from content. Hundreds of years of publishing experience are crammed into every edition. Look at: • • • • • • Headlines that grab your eye The way images are used Subscription pricing The different advertising formats (display, classifieds, jobs, directories, etc) Reader offers And so much more
Ignore these lessons at your peril! Success Tip: Buy a newspaper and magazine. Make a list of what you learn under the headings: • • • • • • Design Navigation - look at the cover, content page and ‘links’ within articles Headlines – how do they grab your attention (factual, emotional, questions, etc)? Copy – how are the articles written to maintain interest? Content mix - what is the mix of content - features, letters, news, reviews, directories, etc? Revenue generation – list ALL of the ways the publisher makes money – different types of paid advertising (incl. sponsorship), subscriptions, newsstand price, back issues, readers offers, photo sales, events, etc.
Reasons for Failure #2 - Copying What Print Publishers Do
Sounds like it contradicts point #1? Well it doesn’t really. Most of the things that print publishers do need to be done by online publishers to succeed. HOWEVER all these activities need to be done differently online. They need to be adapted to the way the internet works. They need to meet the needs of web users. Let me give you some examples: • • • Print publishers aggregate stories and publish them in batches. Internet users want stories as they happen in regular updates Most publications have long feature articles. Internet users tend not to read long articles. They consume content in bite size chunks. Publishers tend not to have a dialogue with readers. Internet users want to interact by leaving comments, discussing stuff in forums, asking questions via email, etc Adverts in print publications often dominate pages. Ads online need to blend in.
Success Tip: Learn from print publishers, but adapt everything they do to meet the expectations of your online audience.
Reasons for Failure #3 - Provide Freemium Content
The natural tendency of membership website owners is to hide all of their content behind password protection. This is a mistake. Every content website should make a percentage of its information free. This serves several purposes: • • • • Helps drive free search engine traffic Builds trust with visitors Enables you to establish your authority Gives first time visitors a reason to return or sign up for an email newsletter
Success Tip: Make at least 20% of your content free and update it regularly
Reasons for Failure #4 - Poor Design
Design is important. You only get one chance to make a first impression. A good design says ‘This site is professional’. Prospects want to subscribe to a professionally run website. Success Tip: Invest in a professional design. It will pay you back many times over.
Reasons for Failure #5 - Sells Features, Not Benefits
So many online businesses sell features and not benefits. Telling your audience you have the world’s largest wine database or that your stock tip website is viewable on a mobile phone is fairly meaningless. However telling your audience that: • You have the world’s largest wine database which means you will always be able to find the best deals
Or • Your stock tip website is viewable on a mobile phone which means you will never miss a deal and so make more money
These are benefits and they mean something to your potential buyer. Success Tip: Whenever you mention a feature on your website, you should always think about the benefit that it has for your prospect. Even if it seems obvious to you don’t assume your visitors will take the time to make the connection.
Reasons for Failure #6 - No Relationship with Prospects
People rarely find a website and immediately reach for their credit card. They tend to want to get to know the site over time. Build trust slowly… and only then do they subscribe. The problem is over 90% of visitors, even if they like what they read on your site, will never return. They will be lost prospects. Success Tip: Your website’s number one goal should be to get visitor’s email address.
Once you have this you can build a relationship through a newsletter, offers or interaction.
Reasons for Failure #7 - No Community
Internet users have information overload. The number one reason that members let their subscription lapse is they find they don’t have the time to read all the information provided. The number one reason that members renew their online subscription is they feel part of a community. Creating a sense of community is a critical part of running a successful membership website. Success Tips: Create community amongst members using a forum, a member directory, comments, classified ads and offline events
Reasons for Failure #8 - Single Revenue Stream
Many membership websites prosper with a single revenue stream, namely paid subscription. However many others never reach profitability because they take too long to build their member base. These sites can often survive by having additional revenue streams. Success Tip: Ensure you have multiple revenue streams which could include advertising, sponsorship, a job board, paid directory listings, affiliate marketing, pay-per-view content, paid downloads, a store selling ebooks, DVDs and merchandise, events, courses and webinars.
Reasons for Failure #9 - No Personality
People buy people. When people sign up to a website they are not only buying access to the content they are buying access to the editor. Yet many websites lack personality and voice. Fun and engaging people often lose their charisma, personality and style when the put pen to paper.
Success Tip: Give your website and content personality. Write in a conversational style as if you are having a one-to-one conversation with your reader. Also use all the capabilities that the Internet has to offer. Mix text articles with audio streams, video clips, downloadable reports and podcasts. Multimedia is what sets the net apart from print publications and allows you to have fun with the way you get your message across.
Reason for Failure #10 - Content Available Elsewhere for Free
It is common sense, but worth saying anyway. If all the information that you are offering is available for free on the web, then people won’t pay for it. Period. However there are some exceptions, for example: • If there is too much information on the web about your subject, then people will pay to have it simplified and distilled by an expert. For example there is a huge amount of free information about Internet Marketing, yet there are many very successful paid internet marketing websites run by recognised experts e.g. www.seobook.com If your content is time critical people will pay to get timely access e.g. stock tips. If the site has a strong community only accessible to paid members
Success Tip: Do research before starting a site and find a niche which is not well covered. If you already have a site which is not getting customers as quickly as you would like, search the web to re-assess what information is available. Possibly re-think your niche.
From my experience these are the ten most common reasons why membership websites fail. The good news is all these failings are easy to put right. Above all successful membership website owners are focused, determined and persistent. And they get their reward … Never lose site of the fact that running a membership website based on your passion is one of the best business opportunities in the world. Work where you want, when you want and make a substantial and growing income.
The 12 Steps to Choosing the Perfect Subject For Your Membership Website
The most important decision that you will make when deciding to launch a blog, content website or membership website is regarding what subject it will cover. This will determine both the pleasure that you get from running its and the money that you’ll make. After reading this article, spend some time thinking about what really interests you and what will keep your passion bubbling for years to come. There are twelve guidelines I use to help people select an ideal topic:
Guideline #1 - Be Passionate About the Subject
Pick a topic that you enjoy so much that you would be happy to write about it even if you weren’t getting paid to do so. You’ll spend most of your waking hours thinking about it and speaking with people who share your interest.
Guideline #2 – Make Sure Your Market is Big Enough
If you are planning on making most of your money through advertising you will need to attract several thousand visitors a day. If you are planning creating a paid membership site you'll want to attract at least 1,000 paying subscribers. Does the subject have a big enough potential audience ... or if the target market is small, can you capture a large enough share of it?
Guideline #3 – Know Your Audience
Do you know who your potential audience are and how to reach them in a cost effective way? This is one of the most important points to research when choosing a subject. Sometimes it is easy to know. For example, if you are setting up an fan club for baseball team, you know where 40,000 prospects are going to be every Saturday afternoon. If, however, your site is about ‘Arranging the Perfect Batchelor Party’, it is harder to find and reach your target audience.
Guideline #4 – Unique and Exclusive Content
Can you create unique and exclusive content that would be difficult or impossible for your visitors to find elsewhere? Where will you get your content from? Could your sources be cut off in the future? Unique and exclusive content attracts links and builds loyalty
Guideline #5 – Credibility Amongst Members
The most successful blogs and content websites are run by people with credibility and authority in their subject. Do you have credibility or can you build it?
Guideline #6 – Sufficient Material for Regular Updates
Subscription websites rely on regularly updated content to keep visitors continually coming back. Does your subject have sufficient fresh news and content to be updated at least weekly and preferably daily?
Guideline #7 – Member Interaction
One of the greatest benefits of creating an online publication is that visitors can interact with the writers and with each other. Does your subject encourage this, or would members be in competition with each other and therefore be reluctant to share their knowledge? The more interaction, the stronger the sense of community, resulting in greater loyalty
Guideline #8 – No Natural End Date to Subscription
Try to avoid a subject that has a natural end date. For example, a website about how to arrange a wedding would keep members for the six to twelve months before the wedding and then they will leave. This type of subject means you will continually have to chase new members as old ones leave.
Guideline #9 – Potential Members are Internet Users
Make sure that your target audience have access to a computer and the internet! This may sound obvious, but there are still sections of society and the world that don’t have internet access. Also, make sure your content type matches your audience’s speed of internet access. Don’t serve lots of video content to people on slow dial-up connections or who access the net via their mobile phones!
Guideline #10 – Reduce Pain or Increase Gain
Your content should have a measurable benefit or value to members. They should be able to justify the money they spend on a subscription by the looking at the savings they will make (time, money, effort, etc) or by the gains/pleasure they will receive. You should continually remind them of the pain or gain that you deliver. For example, a website about wine tasting will increase the pleasure they get from drinking wine and reduce the money they waste on buying poor quality wine.
Guideline #11 – Take a Look at the Competition
Study the online and offline competition to your proposed website. What prices do they charge? What are their strengths and weaknesses? How can you compete with them? Try not to compete head-on with an industry leader. Find an angle that they are not covering or you could cover better. Do you believe you can compete?
Guideline #12 – Niche is Best!
Aspiring editors often assume that the bigger the potential market, the better the subject and the more members they will attract. This has been proven wrong over and over again for membership websites. Evidence shows that the more specialist sites are, the more successful they are. It is better to create a site about “How to buy a house in Spain” than “How to buy a house in Europe”. In fact, it maybe better to narrow it even further to “How to Buy a House in Costa Blanca”. It is better to create a site about “Running a Successful Food Franchise in London” than “How to Run a Franchise”.
There are literally millions of different topics that can be chosen that would not have a sufficiently large national market, but if you count the worldwide audience, they could become very successful websites. One belly dancing site has 8,000 subscribers paying $59 a year. That’s an income of $472,000 (£260,000). Just to get your thought process moving, here are some example sites: “How to Run a Successful Restaurant” – Some restaurants last for generations. Others close after several months. A website that shares the secrets of enduring success could be very popular.
“Make a Living from Spread Betting” – Many people now make a living from gambling. These people would benefit from sharing information and becoming part of a community. “Hornby Train Collector” – Hornby trains have a huge world-wide following of passionate collectors. “The South Beach Diet” – Millions of people have adopted this diet. Could they benefit from sharing information with each other? Recipes? Vitamin supplements? Exercise routines? Dealing with side effects? Etc. “Airline Crew Portal” – Airline crews around the world are always seeking information about what to do when they have overnight stays. Could this be an opportunity to capture this market? “Penny Share Investor” – There are many opportunities to create newsletters for investment in stocks and shares. “eBay Lifestyle” – eBay estimate that 430,000 people worldwide make a regular part-time or full-time income from buying and selling on their site. Would many of these people like to join together and share their experience? “Independent Manchester United Fan Club” – Any sports club or team can instantly create an independent fan club. “Toddler Taming” – A website to help new parents raise their children. “The Scottish Angler” – There are many people who are passionate about fishing in Scotland. “Classic Porsche Fan Club” – Car enthusiasts love to discuss their passion and share information about restoring their cars. “Tax Savings for Small Business” – Advice for small business owners about how to save money on taxes. An hour with a tax specialist can cost several hundred pounds. An authoritative website could be very cost effective and popular.
The most successful membership websites are run by people with a real passion for their subject. Their knowledge enables them to understand what their audience wants to know and their content is delivered with credibility and authority.
The Top 12 Proven Tactics for Selling Content in a Free Content World
The market for paid-for content continues to grow…
. . . but how do successful subscription and membership website publishers manage to sell their content in a world where so much content is free? These are the lessons we have learned from our many clients who run membership websites.
#1 - Focus on a Niche Market
This is the number one lesson that continually rises to the top of the pile. Go niche! There is endless press coverage about how the national newspapers have been unable to charge for their content on the web. The reason for this is simple. There are many free substitutes for general news. If you want to sell your content online, you must target a niche audience with information that they would struggle to find for free anywhere else on the web.
#2 - Provide Information, Expertise or Resources That Are Unique
The more unique and exclusive your information the more chance you will have of selling it via a subscription or membership website. Research your market well and create a content plan that provides your audience with content they can’t find elsewhere. Think about opinion pieces, research, interviews, case studies, video clips, insider gossip, etc.
#3 - Be an Expert, Not a Salesmen
The membership websites that do best are run by people who are passionate about their (niche!) subject. It is this passion and knowledge that should be used to convince your prospects to join, not a 20 page online sales letter or a stream of hollow promises – “Become a millionaire in 24 hours!”. People buy people. They want to know what you know so they can decide if you can provide what they are looking for. You must concentrate on conveying you expertise, not giving the impression you are only running the site to make money.
#4 - Build Authority Beyond Your Website
Expanding on point #3, the best way to become perceived as an authority is to participate in the community and discussions about your subject on other websites. The more places you are seen giving valuable advice, the more credible you will become in the eyes of your prospects. Research the most active forums and blogs for your sector and try to contribute to all of them at least once a week.
#5 - Provide Some Content for Free
The only way that you can convey your knowledge and expertise on your website is to give some of your best content away for free. How much? There is no fixed rule, but I recommend at least 20% should be free.
#6 - Professional Design = Professional Content
So few websites are well designed, a professional looking site is a real competitive advantage. First impressions in any walk of life are important. On the internet it’s no different. If prospects see a professional looking website they are much more likely to believe the site is being run by professionals who will provide high quality content.
A great looking site has a well designed logo, simple navigation, relevant colours, lots of white space and a layout that makes it easy to use.
#7 - Give Away More Value Than the Subscription Price
If you can provide benefits to membership that are worth more than the cost of the subscription, you will greatly increase your sign-up rate. I always recommend that website publisher’s giveaway digital content, because it has a zero cost of distribution. Sign-up gifts could include an ebook, premium report, video course, a software application, templates and resources. Make sure you make the value of these benefits clear.
#8 - Offer a Free Trial (But Always Get Credit Card Details)
Free trials are a proven way to increase the number of subscribers. However they are only effective if you get the credit card details BEFORE the trial starts. A trial should be provided on the basis that billing will automatically start at the end of the trial period unless the prospect cancels before then. Also you should offer a 100% money back guarantee. This greatly lowers the perceived risk of signing up.
#9 - Always Respond to Email Queries
Many prospects are nervous about signing up to subscriptions online. To reassure themselves that there are real people behind a website they often email questions. You MUST provide quick and accurate response to these queries or you will lose potential subscribers. I emailed ten subscription websites last week and seven days later I’m still waiting for four replies!
#10 - Use Your Web Statistics to Understand Your Audience
Your website statistics are your most powerful ally in understanding your prospects and increasing conversion rates. Study them carefully and regularly. Some examples of what you should look for include: • • • What page do prospects most frequently look at before going to the order form? Via what page do prospects who sign up for the service enter your site? What search term do the highest converting prospects use to find your website?
#11 - Choose Your Payment Processor Carefully
Website owners rarely pay much attention to choosing a payment processor. However this is an important decision. Renewal payment failures are a real waste of profit. Make sure you select a payment processor who specialises in doing recurring billing. In recession, processing failures increase because people max out their credit limit, fraud increases so payment processors become more cautious, people move between card providers more frequently and the number of chargebacks rise.
#12 - Create a Sense of Community
Subscribing to a website is not the same as subscribing to a print publication. The website owner has some big advantages in creating loyalty and improving renewal rates. The single biggest advantage is the ability to create a sense of community. If people feel like they are valued members of a team, group or community they are much more likely to want to stay involved. Tools for creating community include member profiles, forums, article comments, member submitted articles and offline events.
To sum up the most important lessons from our research: • • • • Pick a niche topic which you are passionate about and create unique content Build authority through your expertise by providing free content and participating in the broader online community covering your subject Make sure your website looks professional and is easy to use. Pay particular attention to making the order process simple Look after your members by answering their questions and making them feel part of a special and exclusive community
There are thousands of very successful subscription websites. Follow these simple, but proven rules and you will achieve great results.
We hope you enjoyed this free eBook. You can find hundreds of further free articles related to planning, building and marketing your own membership website at www.subhub.com If you would like to take a free, 7-day trial of SubHub's powerful membership website platform, visit www.subhub.com/freetrial
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