The Beginner’s Guide to Monetizing a Paid Membership Site: 10 Essential Resources

Unlike the “easier” monetization strategies, paid memberships require a tremendous amount of planning and work before the first dollar of revenue is earned. But if done correctly there can be a nice opportunity to develop a profitable, low risk online business.

If you’re planning to monetize a site through a paid membership, you have a lot to learn (and do). Below are 10 resources that will come in handy and help get you pointed in the right direction:

MailChimp LogoResource #1: Email Autoresponder

If you’re looking to sell a paid membership, email can be a very helpful strategy. If you’re not familiar with the concept of an autoresponder, it’s pretty straightforward. An autoresponder is simply a series of automated emails that are sent once a certain event occurs (e.g., someone signs up for a newsletter). The content included in an autoresponder will generally include a blend of non-promotional (such as blog posts or articles) and calls-to-action designed to get subscribers to upgrade to a paid membership.

Setting up an effective autoresponder requires quite a bit of work, but it can translate into a stream of steadily higher income over the long haul. Most decent email platforms come with pretty decent autoresponder functionality that will allow you to set up a series of triggered emails. Here at MonetizePros, we use MailChimp, and it has worked quite well for us. But there are a number of different options out there.

Guide to Subscription RevenueResource #2: The MonetizePros Guide to Subscription Revenue E-book

Our flagship Web Monetization Handbook is a series of 13 e-books, each covering a different aspect of Web monetization. Included in this series is the Guide to Subscription Revenue E-book dedicated to monetizing Web traffic through paid membership products, including chapters on the following topics:

Optimizely_blue_logoResource #3: Optimizely

If you’re trying to monetize your Web traffic through a paid product, you’ll quickly learn that seemingly minor changes to your site can have a material impact on the number of visitors who convert into customers. While there are some best practices that can be put into effect up front (more on this below), split testing different strategies is the most effective way to find out what works and what doesn’t.

There are a number of Web-based platforms that allow sites to split test different pages, presenting multiple versions of a page to different users to see which results in the highest conversion rate. Optimizely is one of the most popular, and the one that we use here at MonetizePros.

CCD EbookResource #4: Unbounce’s Conversion Centered Design E-book

To go hand-in-hand with a disciplined testing process, we highly recommend checking out Oli Gardner’s e-book, The Ultimate Guide to Conversion Centered Design. The e-book, which can be downloaded with just an email address or a Tweet, walks through the importance of colors, images, and various other visual aspects of a landing page.

Again, as you attempt to sell a paid membership product you will quickly learn that the layout and appearance of your site will go a long way to determining how many sign-ups you receive.

SurveyMonkeyLogo2Resource #5: Survey Monkey

Surveys may seem like a quaint concept, but they can be very useful tools for figuring out what will (and won’t work) in a paid product, which price point makes the most sense, and a number of other key questions. Survey Monkey is a good, cheap tool that we’ve used a number of times to gather information.

This resource can come in handy at a number of different points in the process of launching a membership site. If you currently have a large audience and are thinking of adding or expanding a paid membership option, a survey to your subscribers can be useful in determining what features they would be willing to pay for. A survey can also be used in connection with the autoresponder mentioned above to get more information about active, potential, or former subscribers to your service.

logo-bannersnackResource #6: BannerSnack

When trying to monetize via a paid membership,  one of your primary objectives will begetting as many visitors as possible to the “landing page” where they’re pitched with the product. If you have a site with a number of other pages and a reasonably large existing audience, you’ll want to drive visitors from those pages into the paid product funnel.

House ads, or ads that promote your own site, can be a great way to do this. If done correctly, you may be able to send close to 2% of visitors to other pages on your site to the paid product landing page. In other words, for every 1,000 pageviews you may be able to get another 20 visitors to look at your paid offering.

If you’re a graphic designer (or have a good one on staff) you have the option to make a set of professional ads from scratch. If you don’t have that skill set, or simply don’t have the time to spend in Photoshop, BannerSnack is a great alternative. This service basically allows users to create IAB standard size ads (e.g., 728×90 leaderboards, 300×250 rectangles, etc.) from templates or from scratch with a user-friendly interface.

HelloBarResource #7: Hello Bar

This free resource can also be helpful in getting visitors currently on your site to consider a paid membership. If you’re not familiar with the concept, a Hello Bar is a thin stripe that goes across the top or bottom of a page with a customizable call-to-action and link (you can see it in action at the top of this page).

The click rate on a Hello Bar likely won’t be nearly as high as the banner ads mentioned above, but it will help to direct visitors towards the pages that highlight your paid offerings.

PopUp-Domination-LogoResource #8: Pop Up Domination

This plugin is the third resource we’ll highlight that can help get visitors to your site to focus on your paid product. It’s a pretty straightforward concept: this plugin will allow you to serve pop up promos that direct visitors towards your landing page. If you offer a free trial, this pop-up can feature a particularly compelling call-to-action.

Quite honestly, we still haven’t found a truly great pop up program. Pop Up Domination is decent, but it has a number of drawbacks and limitations. When using pop-ups, it’s important to avoid annoying your users by serving too many or serving them at the wrong time. This tool is fairly customizable in terms of frequency and targeting, which helps to avoid the potential drawbacks of this marketing strategy.

StripeResource #9: Stripe

As a group, the MonetizePros co-founders have built multiple subscription-based businesses around payment processors such as PayPal. A few years, ago, there weren’t many options for taking and processing payments online. Those that were available take a tremendous amount of work to get installed properly, and are clunky at best once they are operational.

Thankfully, there is now a new generation of payment processors that are both user-friendly and cost efficient. The best we’ve seen so far is Stripe, which we use to power our own subscription business. Stripe is a huge improvement over PayPal, and a great resource for anyone looking to accept payments with minimal dev configuration.

There are a few other options that feature generally similar pricing and features, including Braintree and WePay.

shareasaleResource #10: Affiliate Networks

If you operate a website, you’re probably at least familiar with affiliate marketing as a monetization strategy. But if you decide to monetize your audience through a paid membership, you may approach affiliate marketing from the other side–as a merchant.

If you’re looking for ways to get more visibility for your paid membership, you may want to consider establishing relationships with affiliates who could advertise your product to their audiences in return for a commission on any sales generated.

Our Guide to Affiliate Marketing E-book, which is included in the aforementioned Web Monetization Handbook, includes a chapter dedicated to picking an affiliate marketing offer. This information will be useful in attracting affiliate partners if you elect to use networks such as ShareASale to promote your site’s membership product.

Bottom Line

Monetizing an online audience through a paid membership product requires a lot more than simply creating a high quality offering (though that certainly helps). Once you’re made the product, convincing your audience to fork over money in order to access it requires detailed planning and efficient execution. The resources above will help guide you through that process.

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