Let’s say you wanted to learn physics.
(Why? I’m not sure. Glutton for punishment?)
Would you sit down, bust open a book on string theory, and try to solve the mystery of the cosmos?
Or would you head back to the basics, pick up a book that doesn’t drown you in math, and try to work out some simple exercises?
Creating a membership website is basically the same scenario. Because while you might already have some amazing online business ideas, it never hurts to take a gander at others' membership website success stories and see what they’re doing well.
Looking at other membership websites isn’t just a good way to get a handle on what yours needs to look like, either. It’s also a shortcut for learning how to run them, what to create, and how to engage your customers.
After all, learning by imitation is one of the most unique features of the human species, experts say. And today, we’ll prove them right with four membership website examples for you to learn from.
A quick sidebar about two things first, though.
What makes a membership site successful?
Success, like beauty, is somewhat in the eye of the beholder.
If someone’s goal with their membership website is to build an audience, then their success isn’t necessarily measured in profitability.
If the goal is to sustain a healthy income on a monthly basis, on the other hand, then success is gauged in profits and customer retention.
Successful membership websites, at least, have one thing in common for sure:
They all excel at mass interpersonal persuasion.
This slightly wordy term was first minted by psychologist and Stanford researcher Dr. BJ Fogg in 2007 to describe the phenomenon in which individuals can influence massive changes in attitudes and behaviors through social interactions on the internet.
I could try to break it down more, but he does a pretty stellar job himself:
Basically, successful membership websites capitalize on the gift of gab on a scale never before seen in human history.
How do they do that?
They make it easy to be a member. They talk like their members, design for them, and take as much thinking out of the process as they can so their customers or subscribers can dig into their memberships effortlessly.
This approach to making things painless as possible is actually a guiding precept behind the design of all great websites and businesses, not just membership programs.
Looking at it from a bird’s-eye view, all of these pieces come together to create a more seamless, enjoyable customer experience (CX).
And a stronger CX correlates to greater loyalty and more purchases.
In other words, the better your CX is, the more likely you are to retain your members as customers and count them as a source of recurring revenue.
Compared to customers who have a poor experience, users who have an engaging CX are as much as 3.5x more likely to make additional purchases -- and 5x more likely to promote you to people they know.
It also offsets your business from its competitors.
If you deliver the kind of CX that successful membership websites do -- easy, frictionless experiences -- you can anticipate your loyal customers providing lifetime value that elevates your revenues up to 8% over your competition.
Which is all a very long way to get us to this point:
While success isn’t easily defined as a universal standard across membership websites, those that do succeed -- regardless of whether their goal is industry leadership or high-profit margins -- all have amazing customer experiences at their core.
Those experiences might look wildly different (they are for different customers), but they’re all exemplary for the people entrenched in them.
But unfortunately, not every business hits that mark, and even those that do are still at risk of failing.
Here’s how the odds stack up on the other side of the success spectrum.
Why do membership sites fail?
Fledgling membership sites are like any other small business: market demand, competition, and cash flow issues are constant threats to their longevity.
In the digital product sphere -- where you sell memberships, online courses, and digital downloads -- it’s the tail-end of that list that hits especially hard.
Weak marketing, ignored customers, and lost focus all contributed to Anna Runyan’s earliest membership downfalls. Her customers were overwhelmed (so was she), her focus was scattered from trying to juggle everything at once, and her marketing wasn’t planned out.
“I had no marketing plan,” she recalls, “There was no plan with my first membership site to launch throughout the year. It was just open, and I would occasionally blog about it and hold teleseminars.”
It’s a struggle that many content creators can echo. That’s why our content is focused on providing actionable, but not overwhelming, marketing strategies for membership websites -- because let’s face it, even if you like marketing, it’s a lot to wrap your head around.
Sure, you can read up and find research that says your website and email are the most effective marketing channels…
...but if you’re already busy trying to create content for your members, figuring out your returns on investment, and managing the rest of your (probably hectic) daily life?
Taking the ‘lazy’ way out seems like good time management, even if it’s to the detriment of your business.
So why do membership websites fail?
They don’t market their offerings enough. They don’t pace themselves. They don’t listen to their customers and build their memberships to fit them like a glove.
But mostly, membership sites fail because the person behind it gets overwhelmed, loses focus, runs out of cash, and/or doesn’t know which direction they need to move to get momentum.
Luckily, we can take care of that last by spying on some stand-out examples.
4 paid membership website examples at the top of the class
Keeping with the metric that a successful membership website is a website that delivers an amazing customer experience and has the health to show for it, let’s dive into four of my favorite examples of membership website success stories. (Psst, if you're looking for examples of different types of digital products, we've got you covered there, too.)
#1. Food Blogger Pro
Making a name for yourself in the foodie world -- especially its online niche -- is no easy task. Simply knowing how to make great food isn’t enough: you need to know how to make food that looks amazing, too.
I mean, just look at this snapshot of their latest posts:
Your mouth is crazy watering, right? Mine too.
Their Food Blogger Pro program takes that same stunning blend of photography, culinary prowess, and marketing, wraps it up in a bow and delivers it in an easily digested online learning format for members.
But above all else, what Food Blogger Pro really nails better than their competitors is resonating and honing in on their niche -- and no one else.
They don’t try to make themselves as appealing as possible to the mass public. They speak to, and for, their members alone.
That allows them to provide more relevant offers, establish themselves as an industry leader among food blogs, and deliver greater value in their content for those that sign up.
Basically, they tap into every possible benefit of niche marketing.
For example, check out the copy they use in their value propositions. Each speaks with the tone of their members and empathizes with the struggles that up-and-coming food bloggers experience as they try to navigate the murky waters of the online world.
And they don’t stop there. Food Blogger Pro’s FAQ -- one of our favorite features for making more sales -- further narrows in on their niche and lets people know when they won’t benefit from their membership.
Excluding potential customers may seem counterintuitive, but think about it. If you want to keep your membership retention levels up, you have to start by making sure you’re getting the right customers.
A single purchase might temporarily boost revenue, but if those purchases are consistently cut short because someone doesn’t get what they want or need from your membership, you’re not providing value or enjoying stable recurring revenue.
Which means not excluding people you know won’t benefit -- like Food Blogger Pro with career bloggers -- is more likely to end up as a lose-lose than anything else.
Key takeaway: Choose your membership site topic in a niche you know like the back of your hand, and don't be afraid to let people know when they don't fall into your demographic. Trying to please everyone with your membership website will disappoint your customers and your profits.
If you’ve poked around a marketing blog or two, you’ve probably heard the term personalization thrown out like it's a magic spell that can transform your profits with a flick of a wand.
Surprisingly, that’s not entirely inaccurate, even if it’s a little hyperbolic. Personalized content -- like the kind your membership website should have -- is rated as more effective by 80% of marketers.
And when it comes to membership websites, no one nails personalized content better than 16Personalities.
How they achieve that high-level of personalization is surprisingly pretty straightforward, too.
Here’s how it works.
By their own estimate, the test itself takes roughly two commercial breaks.
Once they complete the test, the personalization kicks into overdrive.
Every offering of their membership -- which is free, but comes with some enticing upgrades that we’ll get to in a minute -- all of the content type is geared towards the personality type they’re registered as.
For instance, I was registered as an INTJ-A.
When I start to explore the rest of the site, it’s all about my personality type. Every survey and point of interaction is based on my designation as an INTJ.
But where this strategy really shines is when it comes time for the upsell with their academy.
Every single personality type has a unique call to action, visual assets, and value proposition to encourage upgrading to their interactive courses and more in-depth profiles.
And when their copy and free content all demonstrate a keen understanding of the user’s type, it’s not a hard sell to make.
So if Food Blogger Pro excels at understanding their niche, what 16personalities excels at is understanding the segments -- the individual subgroups -- within that niche, and using that data to personalize the experience continuously.
Key takeaway: Personalize every level of content that you provide for your users -- even those who haven’t signed up as members yet -- to facilitate the upsell and cross-sell later.
Storytelling is an art that few attempt but all can master. It’s programmed into us as humans from the day we’re born.
That’s not just conjecture, either. Stories resonate with customers on a neurological level, and are up to 22x more effective than information that’s delivered as “facts.”
And nothing makes that neural coupling and mirroring process easier than when the center of the story is someone the audience is already familiar with:
Youpreneur knows it, and ensures there’s no question about who the protagonist of their membership story is from the get-go.
That focus never wanes, either. The story the membership sells isn’t just about an entrepreneur -- you -- finding your way through the business world, it’s about finding your way with them, together.
And it’s further demonstrated when the membership program displays its offerings -- still put together as a story about the journey of the user and where it will take them -- while delivering quantifiable value propositions.
If the customer’s experience is the key to a successful membership website, then the customer’s story is the key to a successful member.
Which makes this key takeaway a simple one to copy.
Key takeaway: Membership programs aren’t about the people running them -- they’re about the people joining them. Keep your members and everything you create for them at the center of the narrative.
#4. Dribbble Pro
When you log onto Facebook, what’s the first thing you do?
If I had a guess, you probably look at the top right corner where the bell notification tells you about things you’ve missed.
It’s a common behavior, and 56% of social media users cite this fear of missing out -- FOMO -- as a source of anxiety.
Fortunately, this phenomena can be leveraged ethically for membership websites, and Dribbble Pro is a great example of that.
Instead of making aspiring designers feel like they’re losing out because they’re not part of the program, they emphasize the positive effects of the membership. It’s less about what they’re missing and more about what they’ll gain exclusive access to once they’re on the list.
Dribbble has the clout to make that promise potent, as well. Just peep some of their professional associations.
By the way, if you remember the discussion about how success isn’t always hinged on profits, this is a good example.
Dribbble can’t make much profit off of an exclusive program at $3 a month, but when their program is filled with the best designers in the field and lets them play matchmaker between members and their very esteemed client list, it’s successful at making them an industry leader.
That’s precisely what Dribbble's membership program is set up to do, in fact. Check this out:
Using FOMO for good -- without the anxiety and focusing on the benefits -- Dribbble’s exclusive membership program accomplishes everything it needs to do to become a go-to resource for technology powerhouses.
The extra eye-candy for their website design from members isn’t a bad perk, either, I imagine.
Key takeaway: If your membership is going to be limited, emphasize what people in the program get instead of what people outside of it aren’t getting. It leverages the same power of FOMO, but you know, uses it for good.