This post was originally written in 2015 and then fully updated in 2019. 2 of the sites previously mentioned were dead or inactive, so have been replaced. The other sites had changed their strategy somewhat. So, what you see below is a fully updated list of 10 membership sites, from all kinds of different niches. Let's see what we can learn. Enjoy!
Sometimes the best way to get the juices flowing for your own membership site is to take a look at others.
I've had many people model what they see here at the Blog Marketing Academy. In fact, I've had several clients and Lab members who openly tell me they're modeling their business after the setup here on this site. That's, of course, flattering and I'm happy to help.
BTW, you can read (and watch) all about my own current membership site setup here. I cover the 4 main software components to the tech stack - and what I'm using.
But, there are a lot of other great sites out there in other markets, too.
So, I went out in search of some membership sites that I could highlight here. And I found everything from yoga, to flight training, to the Magic to Gathering card game (which I admit I never heard of until I was researching this very post 😉 ).
So, I'm going to take a brief look at 10 different memberships from a variety of different markets.
Let's look at their general approach to their membership. Do they offer trials? How do they price it? How do they entice new signups?
For each example, I'll include a few of my own comments of what I find interesting about their site. And we'll end off with 3 takeaways that you can apply to your own membership site.
Reflexion Yoga is quite a developed membership site which does online yoga classes. Like the Blog Marketing Academy, ReflexionYoga is built on top of MemberMouse. The site has a LOT of content online for people who want guidance for doing yoga.
UPDATE: I am actually no longer using MemberMouse. Read the story about switching away from MemberMouse.
A few interesting observations about the site:
- Last time I looked at their site, they were offering a 30-day free trial for their monthly plan. Now, it doesn't look like they do. Trials can be difficult and often have huge drop-off rates. Plus, at $9/month, I would tend to think that it is low-ticket enough where they shouldn't need a 30-day trial anyway.
- I'm pretty impressed with how they have customized their checkout page. As a fellow MemberMouse user, I know what the default page looks like. So, I can appreciate what they did.
- Annual membership is $89/year. That's almost the price of 10 months. I would guess they lowered it to $89 rather than $90 just for the psychological effect of that price..
- I think they could play up their blog and get more sales out of it. The blog is hidden under the "About" menu or down in the footer. When you go to the site, everything is about the membership and any free content on the blog is quite understated. It just shows there are many ways to go with a blog. If it were me, however, I would make "Blog" a main menu item and not buried in a dropdown.
- I like their video background on their homepage. Pretty slick.
If you want to learn a bit more about ReflectionYoga and the marketing behind it, MemberMouse runs a podcast called Subscription Entrepreneur. And, he had Kyle Weiger (founder of ReflectionYoga) on as a guest. It is a good listen. 🙂
Chris Ducker re-aligned his entire brand around YouPreneur. And as for the membership, it is now found at YouPreneur Academy. YouPreneur is a training site and community for budding solopreneurs and people starting their own business.
One of the things I think is smart about what Chris has done is that everything in his entire brand aligns around YouPreneur. His book has the same title. His podcast, too. From a branding perspective, this is quite smart.
Some items of interest about YouPreneur:
- They made the decision to separate his main site from his membership site with 2 different domains. In some ways, this makes things easier. Personally, I have combined it all under one roof here at Blog Marketing Academy and I prefer it that way.
- His sales page is one, single page. The top navigation simply jumps you down to each section of the page.
- Membership runs $59/month or $549 annually. The annual plan is just a little over 9 months of membership.
- The sales page is heavy on social proof and really creating that community vibe.
- The use of bonuses to sweeten the offer is a good idea. Not sure about the high price points put on those recordings, but they are good bonuses.
- It appears that they are running the site on Paid Memberships Pro. I'm not really familiar with this platform and I wonder why they chose to go that route over some of the more established solutions. It does appear as if the code is non-obfuscated, meaning a coder could go in and customize things quite a bit. That's a good draw if you need something very custom.
YouPreneur Academy looks to be a nicely developed community, offers a lot of value and is very well designed.
(NOTE: If you need any direct, hands-on help getting the technical aspects of your membership site taken care of, check out our Wordpress Tech Service.)
#3: Pencil Kings
Pencil Kings is a learning site for artists. The "hook" is that they find professional artists to create high-quality online art courses for paying members. According to Mitch Bowler's interview on Subscription Entrepreneur, he's grown the community up to over 8,000 members.
Some observations about Pencil Kings...
- They have a very nicely produced sales video right on the home page. I think it does an effective job of tapping into the desires of their prospect as well as positioning it positively against the alternative (art schools). It is clear that you're getting a LOT for your money by removing the "middle man".
- PencilKings is positioning themselves, it seems, as a real alternative to more expensive art schools. They use professional artists to create their material. They call their training "collegiate-level training". This makes sense because being an alternative to more expensive schools is a good hook. This is also helping gear these artists toward real careers in their craft.
- Membership runs $29.95/month or $299/year. Interestingly, both plans have a 3-day trial. This trial is very short, however I think it is smart as it will help ward off some tire kickers. Long trials increase drop-off because people can forget all about it. A short trial of 3 days, coupled with a 3-day marketing sequence, would help increase the stick rate of the trial.
- They have a public Courses page which showcases some of the major courses from their library right out in the open. It looks like each course shown has it's own landing page and is available for sale separately. This is a similar strategy that I use here at Blog Marketing Academy where certain courses are available separately. Each one functions as a front-end offer, essentially, with the upgrade to full membership as an upsell. They're then positioning the membership as the obvious money-saving option.
#4: Guitar Tricks
Guitar Tricks is a pretty well-developed membership site geared toward teaching people how to play the guitar.
- They have a sales video right on the homepage that is very well done and explains the value proposition of the site in just about a minute and a half.
- They have one call to action: "Try it Free". This is very low friction and also... simple. No deciding between different member levels. Just one pathway in and it is free.
- When you click on that call to action, all you enter is your email address. Once again, very low friction. They even have a way to sign in using your Google or Facebook profile.
- Interestingly, there is no information about pricing anywhere on the public site that I can find. This means that by the time the person sees anything about pricing, they've got their email address and have the ability to follow up. Once I Googled it, however, I found that the pricing runs $19.95/month.
- It looks like people can maintain their free membership, but it has heavy limitations
- They offer gift certificates for the membership. I would imagine this makes sense for them in this market.
- I always look for the blog. 🙂 On Guitar Tricks, it is pretty much buried down in the footer. What this shows me is that their entire site is pretty much designed to become part of the membership. Their blog goes under the "News" section of the membership. It is open to the public. I can see the point of this, though, because essentially the entire site is gated. Unless a person finds them on search, by the time a person finds the blog, they're an email subscriber and have the free membership.
So, what stands out the most to me is the conversion strategy to get people into the paid side of the site. It uses a simple free membership to get people into the funnel, then a pretty tight upgrade path into the paid membership.
#5: Wishlist Insider
Wishlist Insider is the membership site by the creators of Wishlist Member itself. I actually used to be a member of Wishlist Insider and they do a solid job. If you're a membership site owner - and especially if you use Wishlist Member as your platform, it is a great value at only $20/month.
Further Reading: Check Out My Most Recent Review of Wishlist Member. Does it still stack up well against the competition?
One of the big things about Insider is how much teaser content there is. Being that they have the membership and the public site all integrated together, you constantly SEE what members are getting but you run into the paywall if you're not a member. This is the kind of setup you can ONLY have if your blog and your membership site are one and the same.
MZeroA is an online ground school for new pilots, run by an old friend of mine, Jason Schappert. The business has undergone some pretty stellar growth in the last few years. In fact, the company made the INC 5000 list in 2018 at number #578, reporting 873% growth and annual revenue of $3.2 million.
The big thing that I can bring forward about MZeroA is the lesson of fulfilling a need and carving out a unique position in a hungry market. The field of learning to fly isn't anything new, but what IS pretty new is the idea of approaching it from a modern standpoint and doing it ONLINE. There is a VERY clear goal in mind with his customers, and the usual alternatives to ground school are more expensive and... annoying.
It is also a fantastic niche, to be frank. Flying is a notoriously expensive thing to do and pilots are used to throwing down quite a lot of money to learn to fly. Much of it is enforced by the government, too.
From the outside looking in, MZeroA isn't much to look at. The site looks incredibly basic. The sales video for their Ground School Academy is a simple screencast video with slides. They do have an in-house video set now where they can (and do) make higher-production videos, but they don't really use it for the sales video. 🙂
Having known Jason personally, I can attest to the fact that he is an action taker. When he gets an idea, he doesn't sit around and think about it for very long. He serves his market and does it well. They've done a great job of building up a real community around what they do. It is obviously a great market. And so, they have a 7-figure membership site that you'd likely never guess if you were judging from the public-facing site alone.
It goes to show you... MARKET is far more important than fancy features on your website. Market.. and offer... is everything.
This is a large membership site for learning bass guitar. The site is very clean, very professional and just very well put together. A few notes about this one:
- Scott offers a free trial and that looks to be the main way into the sales funnel. Trial is 14 days.
- When you go to enroll in the trial, it is a multi-step funnel where the first step only asks for email and password. No pricing plans. The credit card logos are still there on screen, so you know what's coming.
- Interestingly, he doesn't have a monthly option that I can find. Only an annual option for $168, which is a net monthly rate of $14.
- You can see all the courses on offer inside the Academy, but as a non-member, you are prompted to sign up if you try to access it. The interface is really nice looking and very professional. Courses are filtered by skill level and by subject. It is clear they put quite a lot of work into the design and structure of this site.
- Scott runs a podcast as well as a blog, so content marketing is a big part of their promotional strategy. However, as I've seen with several sites so far, this free content isn't found until you scroll down to the site's footer. The main top navigation is all about offer and the paid side of the site. This is definitely an interesting idea. As a "blog guy", my instinct has always been to have that content front-and-center right at the top. Clearly, it can work the other way, too.
- They have a weekly show they call The Academy Show. It sits in the open as a teaser, but you cannot watch the videos without being a member. The call to action is, of course, to start the free trial.
It really is amazing to see a site doing so well in what you think would be a very niche market. It isn't just playing guitar. It is playing bass, specifically.
#8: Study Gateway
Study Gateway is a membership site geared toward video Bible studies. It is a tool not only for individuals, but also religious groups and churches who don't want to produce such material themselves.
- The material is quite affordable. Their individual plan is only $7.95/month and it comes with a 7-day trial.
- The fact that they also serve groups and churches is a good move. When one goes to enroll in one of those plans, pricing is based on the number of logins you're going to need. The idea of group plans is an idea that could apply to many different markets.
- The fact that it is so accessible on mobile is a big part of their value proposition. Their screenshots make this seem almost like a Netflix of Bible Studies.
- The studies are out in the open (although they require membership to view). It has a similar feel to Amazon, where you can view a trailer and see the description and everything.
Study Gateway is a high-end membership (in terms of production), yet a very affordable price.
Ever heard of a card game called Magic to Gathering? I haven't, but apparently I might be the weird one. It appears to be a HUGE thing. An economy has even sprouted up around this card game, with professional Magic players competing in organized tournaments, and even a secondary market for Magic cards.
Damn, who knew?
Well, Quite Speculation is a whole membership community dedicated to the game. More specifically, to people who are engaged in the economic and money-making parts of the game. In terms of my observations about the site:
- The program runs $11.99/month, $28.75/quarter or $108/year. I'd be curious to see how many people take the quarterly option. I know in my own business, when I offered a quarterly it just didn't work. Everybody went for the annual plan. Plus, an annual plan would increase lifetime customer value quite a bit. I don't know the numbers internally, but I'd probably want to test getting rid of the quarterly option and see how it tests out.
- Their membership includes access to proprietary software called ION Scanner which allows you to scan your card into the computer and then track trading activity and pricing on that card. This is a solid hook for their membership.
- It isn't just their software. They also have reports and pricing charts. It is like Google Finance, but for Magic cards. All this is a solid offer that goes way beyond just premium content.
- They offer a 111% money back guarantee. If a member seeks to cancel, they'll be asked for feedback. If you then request a refund, they'll refund your purchase price PLUS interest. That's a good hook right there and it got my attention. Smart.
- The site is using aMemeber Pro. What a blast from the past for me! The very first membership software I ever used was aMember. I guess they're still around. But, I guess when it isn't broken, don't fix it. In fact, all around, this site looks a little old-school. The design is quite basic. Once again, a solid reminder that offer matters more than looks.
This membership site is a testament to the idea of finding a passion and fulfilling a need. I mean, I've not heard of this card game, but it is an interesting niche and apparently makes for a great business.
#10: Thrive Themes
Thrive Themes is very well known for their themes and their suite of marketing tools... and I've made no secret that I'm a huge fan of what they do. I use their tools all the time.
For more, you can check out my Thrive Themes review. This very post was written inside of Thrive Architect (here's why). I've also switched this site to Thrive Theme Builder. So, yeah.... I like their tools. 🙂
However, I wanted to include them here also as an example of another approach to a membership site. One based in actual software tools and not simply premium content.
While you can purchase many of their plug-ins independently, their Thrive Membership is by far the better deal. You get access to their entire suite of Thrive tools, but they also provide premium content as a member. This includes:
- Monthly member webinars
- Exclusive course content inside Thrive University
- Templates exclusive to members that you can import into Architect and use.
They power the Thrive Membership off MemberMouse as well. They've done a good job of tweaking it and really customizing it to their own needs. In fact, I'd really love to know how they provided downloadable PDF invoices like they do. 😉
3 Takeaways From These Membership Site Examples
As we look at these membership sites, I think we can take a few applicable lessons away.
#1 - The OFFER matters much more than the design of the site.
Not every membership site has every snazzy feature and a killer design, yet they could be doing quite well. The "secret" to doing very well with a membership site isn't really about the design. It is about your offer and whether it is a solid offer for the market you're serving.
#2 - You don't necessarily need a trial offer, but you might wanna try it.
Some membership sites use trials while others do not. Trial offers can be a pain in the butt for site owners and that's why many don't offer it. You may get a lot of tire kickers and it could be more trouble than it is worth.
However, there's no doubt that the lower barrier to entry is going to result in a LOT more people entering your membership. The "secret" is to really dial in your trial followup marketing and pay a lot of attention to retention so that you can maximize the stick rate.
Also, we've seen everything from 30-day trials, to 14-day trials... to even a 3-day trial. Personally, I'd go as short as possible with your trial.
#3 - You don't need to feature your free content.
As much as it might pain me to say this (kidding 😉 )... you don't have to feature your blog or other free content. Several of the membership sites above had blogs that were very understated. You didn't even know they had one until you scrolled to the bottom of the site. Others had the blogs on totally separate domains.
Further Reading: My recommendation on whether to put your membership site on a separate domain or not.
Their main homepage was essentially a sales page for membership. The call to action was simple: JOIN.
This may actually be a smart strategy. When you get down to it, a lot of the point of the blog is for SEO. Much of the traffic will come to the blog either via search or direct link. For this reason, it isn't 100% necessary to feature the blog. If they arrive on the homepage, perhaps you should focus on what's most important: your membership.
So, there you have it. 10 different membership sites in different markets.
I hope you found this helpful as you plan your own membership site and that you took away a few ideas for your own.
If you're ready to move beyond reading free content like this and move into actually getting it done, check out my own Membership Site Blueprint. This courses covers quite a bit of ground and is one of the more popular courses of THE LAB.