3 Things Silently Killing Your Membership Site

So, you own a membership web site. You’re pouring your heart and soul into it. Business is good, or maybe it’s not so good. You fear that you’re not doing all the right things to help your business grow. You hope you have all your bases covered, but you're constantly worried that maybe you don’t.

Obviously, there are more than 3 things that can kill your membership site. After several years of experience helping membership sites run their businesses, we at MemberPress have noticed a few things that are most common in tripping up site owners.

Some of you won’t be surprised by these problems, and that’s great! That means you aren’t ignoring some things that could sneak up and kill you. This may be just a good reminder for you all. For the rest of you, learning about these problems and taking steps to avoid them may save your business or increase your success! Let’s get started.

1. Pricing

Too many businesses make mistakes pricing their products. When starting a membership site it is tempting to set prices low in an attempt to attract customers. You may think, “If I get enough users I’ll be OK and I’ll start making money.” That is the general school of thought, but this is a prime example of what a slow death can be like for your business.

It takes time to grow a membership site and setting the right price will help you survive long enough to be able to continue growing your business. You may think you’re successful, but eventually growing your business increases expenses. Any slowdown in user growth or increase in attrition can start to pinch your cash flow and BOOM!, you start sinking. Now what? Raise prices. I probably don’t need to go through explaining the difficulties of significantly raising prices and what that can do to your business. Small, incremental price increases can be necessary and healthy but just ask companies like Netflix and Spotify what happens when you try to make sudden, large price increases. It didn’t work out too well for them. People don’t like to pay much more than what they were initially paying. Starting out at a reasonable price will allow you to grow and keep growing without running the risk of pissing off existing users because you have no choice but to increase prices to survive.

When making your initial business plan, analyze your competitors for help in deciding how to price your product or service. Setting prices lower than your competitors doesn’t always entice someone to choose your product — it can actually de-value your offering and drive customers to your competitors. Many people make their decisions based on what they perceive the value will be in choosing one product or service over another. A higher price than a competitor could even work to help potential customers choose you. Of course, pricing can be much more complicated than all this — so it's important to have a plan and do the math before setting prices. The bottom line is that if your pricing that is too low it can kill your business by starvation and you may not even know it till it’s too late.

2. SEO

A common death for a membership site is taking all of your great, already existing content and putting it behind a paywall. You’ve had a successful site with many people visiting and consuming your content, so you decide it’s time to make money! If you've built up great SEO rankings with Google over time, suddenly taking all of your content and putting it behind a paywall will kill your Google love. There are examples of companies that have lost all of their Google mojo literally overnight by doing this. All that great SEO work will have been for naught. Putting your content behind a paywall keeps Google from being able to index your content. It’s as if it disappeared.

Luckily, to make money you don't have to start over on your content! Of course creating new premium content will probably be necessary but re-purposing, expanding and re-organizing your existing content behind a paywall is the best way you can start making money by leveraging all of your hard work. Leave your successful free content where it is and keep the SEO rankings that will keep bringing people to your site. Then make a compelling argument for them to pay to have access to your premium stuff.

MemberPress does have a feature that may help mitigate this problem. We have a feature that will allow Google to access and index your content even behind a paywall. MemberPress is the only WordPress membership plugin I'm aware of that offers this feature. But it comes at a price — you can't use this feature on pages you're caching … and caching is a critical part of most sites.

Plan carefully when you decide it’s time to start a membership site based on your content/service. If done correctly, it can set you up for a successful launch and consistent growth.

3. Engage

No, this is not a Star Trek reference, it’s about engaging your users. Your successful membership site must never get stagnant. It is imperative that you are always creating new content and offering your users more to consume. Some sites have initial success and gather a bunch of paying users and think they can just coast along collecting monthly fees without doing any more work. This couldn't be further from the truth and will sneak up and kill you. Stay engaged with your users! Keep giving them reasons to keep paying you. You have to continually earn that recurring revenue. Once they perceive the value they get for their money has changed they will leave and you will die a slow death of a thousand cancellations. Recurring revenue is the life blood of a membership site. It is much cheaper to keep paying customers than it is to attract new ones. Keep creating great content and services and you'll do both.

Have a user retention strategy built into your business plan from day one. If you want an example of a site that does this extremely well look at Lynda.com. Its almost mind boggling how they keep producing and releasing great content week after week, month after month, year after year. It’s a lot of work but it is the only way to keep a membership site growing. Keep it simple: too many membership options and too many upgrade/downgrade paths can confuse your users and can also be a support nightmare.

MemberPress offers a feature that can simulate release of new content to your users. It's called ‘Content Dripping’ and it allows you to set timed release or content access expiration around when certain users will be served up certain content. It can be set to ‘drip’ content to them after they have seen or consumed certain levels of content or to ‘drip’ new content after a certain amount of time has passed. This doesn’t absolve you of creating new content, however! Users will eventually reach the end of your content if they stay a member on your site long enough.


In conclusion I’ll leave you with a quick bonus tip: always keep backups of your site and content.

Not having a good backup strategy can kill your business dead in one fell swoop. Getting hacked, a catastrophic hardware failure, or software mistake can effectively ‘delete’ your entire site. Everything is gone. Your content, your user database, your email lists, everything just gone. It is virtually impossible for you to recover from this without a competent backup. At MemberPress we have tried a few backup solutions and we are very happy with our current provider, VaultPress. It gives us great peace of mind to know we can rebuild if something should ever happen.

Hopefully, at least one of these tips will help you to avoid your business being ‘killed,' slowed down, or hurt. We at MemberPress are proud to say we are helping thousands of membership sites find their way to success! There's a lot to keep track of as a membership site owner. We wish you good luck in your efforts! We'd love to hear your thoughts on this post and other things you've learned that can kill your site that we may not know about. Let us know in the comments.

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Categories: Advice
About K.G. Carter

Kevin is an author, artist and blogger. He survived a 20+ year career in software development and technical management while working for Fortune 500 companies Microsoft, Adobe and Novell and subsequently several small startups. Kevin now spends his time writing and creating. You can find his artwork on Etsy at The Indigo Comma and his writing on the Amazon Bookstore and the Apple iBooks Store. Kevin blogs at Clariticity.




    July 10, 2015

    I was just about to email support to find out how to get the membership area to index in Google. And above I saw this: We have a feature that will allow Google to access and index your content even behind a paywall. We are the only membership site software to offer this feature. The caveat is that you cannot use this feature if you are caching your site. Could you point me to where that information is?

      K.G. Carter

      July 10, 2015

      I'm going to have you contact our support techs. This will be the best way for you to get this set up correctly. Just a reminder that if you have page cacheing on this will interfere with the ability for Google to index behind your paywall. Thanks for you comment!