Putting all of your content inside the members-only area of your website might seem like the obvious choice when trying to decide if your content should be paid or free. After all, if the only way people can access your content is to sign up, this approach is sure to grow your userbase, right?
Unfortunately, it’s not that simple, and for your membership site to succeed, you’re going to need to publish a mixture of free and paid content.
In this article, we’ll give you the information to help you decide which content should be paid or free on your membership site. We’ll also look at some of the different types of content you could produce to promote and grow your membership site, and whether this content should be freely available, or reserved for your paying members.
Benefits of Publishing Free Content on Your Membership Site
Before we give you some ideas for how you can decide whether a piece of membership site content should be paid or free, let’s take a quick look at why you should be publishing freely available content.
Use Free Content to Promote Your Membership Site
Unless you already have a large audience, perhaps a social media following, a group of fans from your other projects, or connections with those working in the same industry as you, you’re going to need to find a way to get the attention of the target audience for your membership program.
Thankfully, you don’t have to rely on running television or billboard adverts anymore. Instead, you can publish content online, often for free, to get your name out there and start building an audience.
One of the quickest ways to get started is to add a blog to your membership site and harness the power of content marketing. By publishing blog posts that cover the topics your target audience are interested in, your website will contain the content that your potential members will be searching the internet for. This creates an opportunity for your website to be found the next time those people use Google to find a solution to their problem.
Once your content has been found by your target audience, whether via a Google search or a share on social media, your blog can then be used to demonstrate your expertise in your chosen field. If all goes according to plan, this approach should help you to turn some of those free visitors into paying users of your membership site.
Publish Free Content Offsite
In the early days, before your audience has developed and your blog has gained traction, you should consider publishing free content off of your site. One approach is to ask other websites in your niche or industry if you can publish an article on their blogs.
This sort of arrangement benefits the blog owner as they get some free content for their website, while you get some exposure to your target audience. Usually, you’ll be able to add at least one link to your blog post or your author profile that points back to your membership site.
If you do manage to secure a guest posting opportunity, the content you provide should be some of your best. The size of the audience of the blog you’ll be contributing to could determine how much effort you put into the article. However, even if you’re publishing a post on a blog with a small following, you should still ensure your content is high quality and does a great job of demonstrating your expertise. This is an example of when it’s worth making your best content freely available.
Use Free Content to Promote Your Paid Content
Often if you’re covering a topic, or solving a problem inside your membership site, you can use freely available content to promote a piece of paid content.
For example, if your membership site contains an in-depth tutorial on how to do something, maybe including videos, downloadable PDFs, and detailed text-based instructions, you can create a basic outline of the process and publish it for free on your website.
Your freely available blog post, covering how to create a WordPress website in seven steps, for example, would demonstrate to your target audience that you understand their situation. It would also show that you have a solution to their problem. While the article would outline the steps at a high level, it would finish up with a link to your membership content and the detailed tutorial on creating a WordPress website.
One good example of this approach in action is this freely available guide to starting a podcast, which includes links to the author's paid podcasting course.
You can use this approach — of creating freely available content that looks at a problem from a high level, while also using that content to promote your detailed solutions to that problem — to decide whether your membership site content should be free or paid.
If the content provides a brief outline of a solution, then maybe it should be free, but if it goes into great depth, covering the entire process, then it might be content that people are willing to pay to access.
Reserve Interactive Content for Your Members
There’s an expectation on the internet, that text-based content should be freely available. Of course, as long as it provides your audience with real value, you can create a membership site that consists solely of written content. However, there are some other types of content that people are more willing to pay for.
One example are components that let your members interact with each other, and with you as well, through your website. This could be achieved by adding a discussion forum to your membership site or using a plugin like BuddyPress to add social networking features to your WordPress website.
As this type of content or website element is often perceived to be higher value than text-based content, it’s probably something you'll want to make available to your paying members only. Not only will they probably be more willing to pay for access to it, but this type of feature can be more time consuming to create and manage then less interactive content, making it something that you’ll want to be compensated for implementing.
How Valuable is Your Content?
If your solution to a problem that your members are having will help them save time and money, or improve their lives in some other way, then that’s a good sign that the content should be paid.
Maybe you’re qualified and accredited to share financial advice, which could save your members money. Perhaps you’re a personal trainer who can improve the health of your audience. Alternatively, you could be a teacher who people pay for one-to-one sessions with offline, to help them pass a test.
If there’s a tangible benefit that your audience will receive from your content, then what you’re publishing is highly likely to be something you can make available to your paying members.
Make Paid Content Free
When it comes to deciding whether a piece of content should be free or paid, your opinion can change over time.
For example, you might create a piece of content that covers a tactic or strategy that no one else is talking about. A unique idea that isn’t available elsewhere, is a perfect example of content that you should only make available to your paying members.
However, if an idea that was once original starts to become more widely talked about, it might be time to make your content on that topic freely available. Not only will publicly publishing that content demonstrate your knowledge of that topic to potential new members, but it will also increase the chances of your website being found when people are searching for information on that topic.
With this in mind, it can be useful to evaluate your members-only content and see if any of it should be changed from paid to free content. Not only can this help populate your website with valuable free content, but it can also help declutter your members-only area.
Essential Free Membership Site Content
Even if you already have a large audience, or your membership site has enough paying users to ensure it’s profitable, there is still some content that should be freely available on your website.
We’ve already mentioned a blog, but even if you’re not using it for content marketing purposes, it’s still a good idea to use a blog to keep existing members up to date with the latest developments from your membership site, such as the addition of new content to your members-only area, details of new product launches, or any other news you think is relevant.
Creating an FAQ or knowledge base for your membership site and making all of it, or parts of it, freely available has its benefits. For one, publishing answers to those common questions that existing or potential members often ask can cut down on the number of support emails you receive. You can also use the knowledge base to publish instructions on using your membership site,
As you can see, there’s no one size fits all answer to whether your membership site content should be free or paid.
If you already have a large audience, your website receives lots of traffic, or you have more members than you can handle, then there’s little incentive to publish freely available content.
However, for most people, free content is required to grow their membership site to where they want it to be. Whether that content is published on your site as blog posts, submitted to other sites to get your name out there, or uploaded to other platforms like YouTube or Facebook, depends on your current situation and goals.
To further complicate things, some content, such as high-level summaries or overviews probably aren’t something your audience would be willing to pay for and should be made freely available. Then there’s that time-consuming content, such as interactive elements like quizzes and discussion boards that require some compensation for producing and managing.
As a rule of thumb, look at a piece of content and try and establish whether it offers real value to your audience, and determine if it will help save them time, money, or effort. If it does, then there’s a good chance it can be published as paid content on your membership site.
How have you been deciding whether your membership site content should be free or paid? Let us know in the comments below.
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