How to Monetize a Free Membership Site

It is a common strategy amongst commercial websites: users sign up, gain access to a large library of content or services, all supported by advertising. The membership website has seen many revisions since its introduction to the consumer internet, but it still remains one of the most popular and enduring website types around.

Encouraging passer-by’s to join your Free Membership site

What’s one of my favorite features of using a premium WordPress plugin like WishList Member? The ability to show teaser content of a protected post, so part of the post is protected and part of it is not.  Grab the interest of readers in the first paragraph. Pull them into your posts with enough information where they feel compelled to join just so they can finish reading what you have to say.

Non-protected content also has the added benefit of being indexed by search engines, so have enough keyword content in the non-protected part of the post for SEO purposes. Utilize categories and tags, always.membershipmonet

Speaking of SEO and keywords, one new tool I’m really enjoying that helps me to optimize each and every post for the search engines is Scribe SEO. Created by the brilliant folks at Copyblogger and the Thesis WordPress theme, Scribe SEO is like having your own team of seo copywriter elves sitting in your WordPress blog.

Available for most any web page, “creating search optimized web pages, blog posts, and press releases used to be time consuming at best and mystifying at worst. Not Anymore”. I just LUV it.

Nuts and Bolts

Of course, it is more than just a method for organizing users and data. Most membership-based websites use their member system as a selling point in itself — Facebook’s immense size and completeness draws in users from all around the world; Twitter’s fast-paced style results in rapid growth.

While these companies share a common design and user management style, they differ in one major aspect: their profitability. Facebook is a privately traded company, and thus does not share their earnings with the public. Finally, Twitter has become one of the most profitable online companies around.

This profitability divide raises an interesting question: how can you make money from a free membership website? These four methods range from intense to hands-off, highly profitable to a slight trickle of income, and long-term to ultra-quick. If you have a free membership website, by all means experiment with one.

CPC Advertising

Using a cost-per-click advertising platform like Google Adsense can bring in some very easy income to your membership website. With single clicks paying anywhere form a cent to several dollars, a good user presence can turn a no-dollar website into a highly valuable online property in a matter of days.

Most membership website owners will want to experiment with a range of different advertising services, and with different on-page placements. Try placing your Google Adsense advertisements next to a body of page content or user data, causing raised click-through rates and boosted revenue. For best results, do not be afraid to experiment, split-test, and selectively place advertisements. Wondering where you should place Google ads on your pages? There really are certain locations that perform better than others.

There are other search-targeted click advertising sites you should check into, such as Chitika, a favorite of Darren Rowse at Problogger. “For advertisers and media buyers, Chitika is a proven channel for targeting on-line consumers and qualified buyers. For all publishers, Chitika is an easy-to-use platform for earning daily ad revenue.”

Affiliate Advertising

I think of affiliate marketing as a way to share great products or services with visitors to my site. It’s a great way to promote something you love AND make some money at the same time.

When I find products or services that I enjoy immensely, I like to see if they have an affiliate program. This allows me, as a happy and satisfied customer, to be able to refer new clients to them…and I do so without a question in my mind that the product is of superior quality.

You can also find products to become an affiliate for by joining affiliate marketplaces, such as ClickBank, Click2Sell, Commission Junction, PayDotCom, even Amazon.com

When it comes to big brand advertisers, numbers speak louder than words. That is to say, if your website has masses of traffic pointed towards it, you will have very little trouble attracting commercial advertisers and large companies. Brand-based advertisers love the huge amount of inventory available on large membership websites, and website owners love the potential income available from major companies and advertising networks.

Most brand advertisers will want banner space, so ensure that your website is geared towards banner-style advertisements. Create a top advertising spot, small sidebar advertisements, and if necessary, room for a custom commercial background skin.

Premium Membership Models

Mixing free and paid content in a single site is very common and a great way to get people interested in the type of content or services that you offer. They come in a wide range of topics. Just look at SEOmoz, Geocaching, Allrecipes, WebShots, and the International Social Media Association.

If you are feeling experimental, perhaps this is something you want to try.

Mix em up!

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