What is a membership website? And a subscription website?

Membership websites

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What is a membership website?

A membership website is a website that offers gated content and exclusive benefits to its members. These benefits can include special reports, newsletters, webinars, online courses, special invitations to conferences and events, and free shipping. Many businesses, nonprofits, clubs, and associations have membership websites to build an engaged and loyal audience.

Membership websites are often conflated with subscription websites, but they offer different experiences. Let’s take a closer look at the key differences.

What is a subscription website?

Membership and subscription websites are similar, but not exactly the same.

A membership website allows customers to become part of a group, while a subscription site lets customers pay to use a product or service for a set period of time.

A subscription website is defined by the financial contract it requires. A membership site, on the other hand, can require a subscription, but it doesn’t need to.

You subscribe to Netflix, for example, paying a monthly fee in exchange for unlimited access to the TV and movies on their site.

On the other hand, you can become a member — or a “Beauty Insider” — on Sephora.com. As a member, you get access to beauty classes, exclusive trial-size products and sets, and special promotions (e.g., a free birthday gift). Though you do get rewarded for spending more, you don’t need to pay a fee to be a member. You simply provide your contact information and use your unique login credentials to access your perks.

To put up a gate for members or subscribers on your site, you can use a dedicated membership website builder or a multi-purpose CMS with the required features and extensions. Many of these platforms can also automate or simplify other tasks, like registering new subscribers or members, processing recurring payments, updating member profiles in one place, and delivering newsletters and other communications.

A great membership plugin or platform will have the following features:

Contact segmentation: Your chosen platform should allow you to segment your contacts into members and non-members, and offer further capabilities for segmentation if needed.

Gated content: For any membership model to work, gating content is essential. It will differentiate your website visitors from your members. A membership platform should give you the option to selectively gate content based on membership status.

User and member pages: Your platform should allow you to create membership-related pages and forms.

Some nice-to-have, but not required, features include:

Automated workflows: Whether it’s used to send welcome or renewal emails, an automated workflow feature can help you save time.

Payment provider integrations: You might not need this integration if you’re offering membership for free. If you are, this is an important capability to look out for.

Engagement analytics: This might not be required because you might be tracking engagement using another tool such as Google Analytics. However, some membership platforms can give you even more granular data. YourMembership and Bold Memberships both offer this feature.

Third-party integrations: You won’t need third-party integrations if you choose an out-of-the-box option such as Subhub or CMS Hub. But if you’re using a plugin or an extension, it should integrate seamlessly with your other marketing tools. MemberPress, which is a WordPress plugin, integrates with Zapier so you can connect it to your other tools.

Membership levels: If you’re offering different membership levels, you’ll need a plugin or platform that supports different levels and price points.

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