Websites that require a paid subscription for access have been around for many years but, like everything else on the Internet, they’ve evolved over time. To be successful with this business model you need to understand what today’s Internet users are looking for.
What Are Subscribers Looking For?
In the past webmasters really abused the membership site business model. Over the span of one weekend they’d throw up a site, fill it with a bunch of PLR articles and videos, install payment processing software and open for business. Once a month they’d add some new PLR content so they could say the “updated” the site. As you can imagine, the novelty, for subscribers, soon wore off.
These days you’ll still find plenty of sites with some or all of their content behind a pay wall. What you won’t find though is PLR or re-hashed content.
These days, there are just so many blogs and websites it’s almost impossible to be the first and only person to publish a bit of information on the Web. So you need to ask yourself why a searcher would be willing to pay for access to a piece of information when he could easily find it on a dozen other sites for free.
The answer, of course, is unique content. Take a look at the sites that successfully use the paid subscription model and you’ll see they all have one thing in common: Content you can not find anywhere else on the Web.
Gaming sites are a good example. At Big Fish Games you can play any of their games for free, for one hour. After the hour is up you need to buy the game if you want to continue playing. And that means you need to join the site and agree to pay a small monthly fee.
Investment websites are another good example. Many provide access to basic information for free, but for a small monthly fee you’ll get weekly or monthly stock recommendations from their experts – information you either can’t find anywhere else or you’d have to spend a lot of time searching for it.
Some news-type websites also successfully use a pay wall for breaking news or exclusive interviews or reports. The key to success, in all cases, is to provide either unique content or a unique selling perspective that can not be found anywhere else on the web, and to continuously update that content with fresh material that’s equally unique.
Brand recognition is also important. People have no problem paying that fee for access to Big Fish Games because they recognize the name and brand of the website. They trust the security of the site, they trust that they’re always going to be able to access the site, and they trust that the site will continually provide new quality games that they can’t find anywhere else on the Web.
It’s one thing to ask visitors to subscribe to your RSS feed. You still need to develop a certain amount of trust before users are going to accept your daily or weekly emails. But there’s a whole other level of trust involved before they’re going to turn over access to their credit card on a weekly or monthly basis.
Which makes it important that you concentrate on building your brand, first, before you put up that pay wall. If the first interaction visitors have with you is that subscription form and an access fee then they’re just going to leave your site. They don’t know you and they certainly don’t trust you, so there’s no way they’re going to pay for a subscription.
If you’re going to use the paid subscription model then you need to focus on providing unique, timely content, and focus on building your brand. Then, put only a portion of your best content behind the pay wall and build up your memberships gradually.
What do you think? Let me know in the comments below!