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The future of paid content and subscription web sites

By: Brock Ferguson at Caribou CMS

Submitted on Wed, Mar 5th, 2008 8:23 am

Much of the general public makes believes that, because many people download movies, music, and software, nothing online has any value. However, this is far from accurate. People just have different criteria for making their purchases online. In a world that seems to believe everything should be free on the internet, how can subscription web sites hope to survive?

In answering this question, I will provide 5 tips that will keep your subscription web site profitable. Whether you are an online magazine, a money-making web site, a private community with memberships, or just a web site with unique, in-demand content, you can earn money selling subscriptions to your web site.

Membership Web Site Tips

Dont be a salesman, be an expert
We have all visited those web sites where, every few lines, we are reminded that we must pay for access to the site. Phrases like Sign up Today!, Only $9.99 per month! and Purchase a subscription! are thrown around the web page with the webmasters hope of making a sale made devastatingly clear to the visitor.

In doing this, the webmaster changes the perceived mission or focus of the web site from the subject of the content (ex. cars, or business) to him/her making money. If you want to sell content online, you are going to need to show that you have a solid grasp on your contents subject matter and confidence in your web site. It is more effective to create good content presented in a clean, clear web site than it is to confuse the visitor and bombard them with subscription links. In this way, youll be seen as an expert and not someone trying to make a quick buck.

Find a niche market
This has been a obvious key to success for many years in business but it is so important that I feel it should be repeated here. A niche subject matter for your web site is one with a relatively small scope. For example, instead of creating a web site about how to make money, why not make a web site about how to make money with open source software. This narrows the scope of your sight, increases search engine traffic, and gives you a chance at a much bigger percentage of the total market sales. If you write on too vague or too broad of a topic, people will not be confident that you will continue to write about things of interest to them. Dont cast a big net in hopes that you will catch a few fish, show that you understand the exact needs of your target market.

Show them that your content is worth buying
Every day, I see sites that are trying to sell a product, usually eBooks on how to make money fast (or another extremely broad topic). The site consists of one page filled with reason after reason as to why the visitor should buy the product, presented in multi-colored fonts and bulleted lists galore. Yet, I rarely see a single example or excerpt from the product that I am being sold so fiercely. With all of the competition on the internet, its just not a feasible business model to expect to reason someone into buying your product.

You must give some of your content away for free. Using any one of todays subscription content management systems, it is easy to make some content members-only while leaving other content open to the public. This allows your visitors to explore your web site as if they were a member while gently being reminded at certain points what the benefits of a membership are. By giving away some content for free, your content can sell itself.

Search engines are your friend, be nice to them
An added benefit of the business model described in point #3 is that search engines will love your web site. This is important because, if your web site can rank high in the search results for your sites keywords, you will receive loads of highly targeted free traffic. Google, and other major search engines, have technology built into their page ranking system that can sniff out empty web sites, or web sites that only attempt to sell content and yet provide none themselves.

You can rank higher in search engine results by making some content freely available and using a clearly-formatted web site. By making some content freely available, you give Google the chance to find your sites keywords while also increasing the likelihood of having other web sites link to you (something Google loves). Also, with a clearly-formatted web site, search engine spiders can understand your sites flow and read your content properly.

These techniques to increase your search engine rankings are a highly-developed topic called search engine optimization (or SEO). Instead of worry about this yourself, it is best to build your web site using a content management system with understanding of SEO. These systems will generate Google-friendly web sites for you.

Presentation is key
It is true that a web sites content will sell subscriptions all by itself but I cant ignore the fact that nice, user-friendly web site will sell more subscriptions that an ugly web site with the same content. This seems to have been forgotten, especially in the subscription web site market. Im not saying that a web design needs to be flashy or filled with images. However, if you expect to sell subscription memberships to your web site, you are going to need to present a professional image.

To me, a professional web site means: a nice logo, clear navigation, and a simple layout with proper content flow. A good subscription content management system should include a default web site design that includes these features so, to get started, all you have to do is add content, change the logo and change the colour scheme.

Conclusion
Many people felt that the open source movement in software would kill the software industry. Yet, the software industry has embraced the idea of open source and created a software as a service model. Now, in the paid content arena, people are saying again that its impossible to sell content in a world where everything is free. Yes, its true that some subscription web sites have not transitioned well into this era of free content. However, if you understand your sites visitors and stay in touch with the free content model as these 5 tips suggest, you can earn thousands of dollars per month with a computer and a passion.

About the Author

Brock Ferguson
Caribou CMS
Brock Ferguson is a young entrepreneur and owner of Caribou CMS (http://www.cariboucms.com). This membership web publishing system allows anyone to start a fully-automated subscription web site without any technical knowledge. Brock understands the direction that subscription web sites are moving and has provided a powerful tool to start a subscription web site in just days. Visit http://www.cariboucms.com for more information.

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