Paid subscription sites can be lucrative if you have a great idea and the right content behind the paywall to keep subscribers coming back. You’ll also need to consider site structure and user experience and then fuel some marketing fires to build momentum in traffic and subscriber growth.

So, What’s the Big Idea?

Every great business starts with a great idea. You’ll probably want to build your paid subscription site around a market that is either popular enough to sustain another player who builds a better mousetrap or is in a niche that’s under-served or perhaps even undiscovered. In either case, you want to build a mousetrap better than most.

Your paid subscription site might contain videos, audio content, or expanded content not available in free access areas of your website. Another growing type of subscription site aggregates information available elsewhere, but which is time-consuming to find. Making this content available in one place, where it can be searched and sorted, is worth money to those who seek that type of content regularly. As the saying goes, time is money.

Good, Better, and Best Tiers

In marketing, it's common to see products or services offered in choices of good, better, or best. This structure is seen in everything from televisions to toasters and is an expansion of a time-tested sales technique called an alternate close. The idea behind the tiered strategy is that by offering multiple choices for customers, all the choices create a pathway toward a purchase. With only one choice, the question of whether to buy can only be answered by “yes” or “no”. Nos are bad for business growth.

Many paid subscription sites offer multiple tiers of membership, each of which provides different levels of value or content for subscribers. The advantages that some find with a multiple tiered structure are subscriber growth and subscriber retention. Lower tiers can create a wallet-friendly entry point and a stepping stone to higher tiers. Also, rather than canceling their subscription, customers now have the option to step down to a lower subscription tier if their budget or needs change.

Pricing for Your Paid Subscription Site

Give careful consideration to whether your site will offer multiple tiers for subscription services, and if so, what will be available to subscribers at each subscription tier level.

Think about your price points carefully.

Would you buy what you offer -- at the price you're offering?

Charging too little for the amount or type of content you offer can make would-be customers doubt that the quality of the content is worth the bother. Charging too much can lead to lost subscribers as well as time lost to managing customer service and/or complaints, as well as disgruntled former subscribers discussing their version of the experience on social media or other websites. It can take some time and experimentation to arrive at a price point for your tiers that provides a good value to your subscribers and works well with your bottom line.

Consider Site Structure

If you utilize a Content Management System (CMS), such as WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, or even a custom-built solution, you have some additional decisions to make in regard to how the subscription area of the site is structured to coexist with the CMS.

Utilizing a CMS for at least part of the site gives you the freedom to build and manage a blog or add any number of informational pages to help the site build traffic. Building these pages without the tools available from a modern CMS is possible, but inefficient -- and will drain time you could be using for marketing, building or sourcing content, or for customer service.

Coding the membership area as a module or plugin for the CMS allows integration with the core CMS. However, as the core CMS is updated with new features or security fixes, these updates have the potential to break the plugin or module that runs your paid subscription site.

If the main feature of the site is the paid subscription area, you might consider installing your subscription script at the root directory and installing the CMS in a subdirectory, one level down.

Styling your paid subscription sections to match the CMS for a unified look is a trivial matter which can be accomplished with a minimal amount of HTML and some CSS borrowed from the CMS theme. A skilled freelancer from FOO-lance can code the paid subscription area so the appearance can be updated easily.

Choosing a Freelancer to Build Your Paid Subscription Site

While modules or plugins are available for major CMS frameworks that can provide paid subscription functionality, these off-the-shelf solutions may not be ideal for a number of reasons.

  • Limited functionality: You may have specific functionality that you want your for site which may not be included with existing solutions.
  • Subscription fees: Many plugins or modules require a subscription for “pro” features. This creates a fixed, recurring expense for code that you don’t control.
  • Security: As bugs or security vulnerabilities are discovered in plugins or modules, which is a common problem, hackers attack the sites that use these vulnerable add-ons or send bots out searching for these sites.
  • Abandonment: Plugins or modules are sometimes abandoned by their authors, leaving you with code that can quickly become incompatible with a CMS as the CMS is upgraded. This can break the main functionality of the site or lock you into an older version of a CMS that may have security vulnerabilities.

A custom coded paid subscription site or section sidesteps these potential problems, allowing you to build any features or functionality you want with code that you own and control.

If you're using any of the content management systems mentioned above, you’ll want to select a freelance coder who is fluent in PHP, MySQL, HTML, JavaScript, and CSS. Add skills to that list as needed for your specific project.

Cost for development may be a consideration, particularly with a new subscription site that has no existing revenue. However, as with most things in business, price should seldom be the only consideration. Ultimately, you'll often spend less money in the long run by investing either time to find a new but talented and reliable freelance coder, or by spending a few extra dollars to hire someone well-established who has these same qualities.

You’ll also want to plan a strategy for accepting payments. PayPal integration is an option, but you may wish to use another payment Gateway such as or others. Finding a freelancer who can build code to accept payments securely will be essential.

Marketing Your Paid Subscription Site

What good is a paid subscription site if nobody knows about it?

Creating enough content on the free-access areas of your subscription site to attract search engines, and thereby site visitors, will be essential to growing your subscriptions. While you'll need several pages to describe what's available for your subscription service, as well as what each tier provides, too much promotional content becomes dull and repetitive for site visitors.

You'll probably want to begin content marketing, which is a relatively inexpensive way to build traffic and provide value to site visitors, even before they’ve become subscribers. Providing free, entertaining, educational, or useful content builds goodwill and trust. These are important first steps to earning a new subscriber, but your content marketing efforts will also pay dividends by attracting new site visitors.

To compliment your content marketing efforts, you may also choose to advertise through pay-per-click advertising and promote both your site in general as well as promoting specific posts through social media.

You can also get involved on blogs or forums that your future customers might frequent to begin building your brand and reputation. Be respectful, of course. Nobody wants spam on their blog or forum, but if you contribute to the community in a meaningful way, some subtle self-promotion is often accepted.

Pay-per-click advertising can be expensive, but will have the most immediate effect on site traffic. Spend some time educating yourself on this topic or hire an expert because costs for clicks can scale rapidly. Over time, you'll learn how much it costs to acquire a new subscriber, either through pay-per-click or content marketing efforts, and you'll be able to continue building or sourcing new content based on the real-world metrics unique to your site.

From idea to launch, the above steps will require time, patience, and some capital. Once your paid subscription site is complete, you can focus on continuing its growth and on making it more efficient. But first, take a moment to celebrate your accomplishment -- and a bit of passive income. You deserve it.

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