How to create a membership site: Structure options, standing out and reducing churn

Caroline Burk

Updated: Jan 26, 2024 · 7 min read

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Membership programs are a reliable source of recurring revenue, but there are a lot of questions that come up when learning how to create a membership site. There are countless things to keep track of as you get started, but that’s why we’ve enlisted the help of a membership expert.

Chris Davis, founder of Automation Bridge and a Keap Certified Partner, knows what it takes to start, run and sustain a thriving membership program. In a recent interview with Keap, Chris shared the most important things he’s learned throughout the years of operating a membership site, including:

  • The different ways you can structure your membership site
  • How to set your membership program apart from the competition
  • Proven ways to reduce churn and keep your members coming back for more

Check out Chris’ advice below and watch his video for even more answers to your membership questions. And don’t forget to read our first article in this series, where Jamie DuBose walks through how to know if a membership program is right for you, how to plan membership content and more!

What are the different membership models/structures you’ve seen?

Chris has years of experience with memberships of all shapes and sizes. From running his own site to observing how other businesses operate their membership programs, Chris has seen it all. Throughout his experience, he’s noticed three main elements of a successful membership site:

Traditional membership site format: All membership sites will start here. The “traditional” site is the core of your entire program. This is where people log in to your website or portal and access the specific expertise you’re offering. “This value is usually in the form of content,” Chris explains. “It could be a blog, it could be blog articles, it could be videos, it could be audio, it could be a private podcast, but there's some type of content that's in there.”

Community: This element gives your subscribers the gift of collaboration. When you incorporate community, your members can engage with you and other members. Chris emphasizes how this element is a great way to bolster your membership site and have a continuous flow of content because your subscribers can share their input, too.

Learning experience: Having a learning experience takes your membership site to the next level. With this feature, you’re able to add classes and courses that users can participate in and complete at their own pace. Chris specifies that this structure usually uses a learning management system software.

As you’re thinking through how to create a membership program, you can pick and choose any of these elements to include and structure your content around. Consider what your expertise is and which element would showcase it best to your audience.

Remember, you’re not tied down to just one of these elements. “You can mix and match all three [elements] to make whatever Frankenstein membership experience you desire,” Chris explains. The most common structures Chris sees are:

  • Stand-alone, traditional membership site
  • Traditional membership site + community
  • Traditional membership site + community + learning experience

Whatever you decide to start with is not where it ends. You can always switch things up by adding elements or taking them away based on what your audience is looking for.

What are the top things the most successful memberships do to separate themselves from your average membership experience?

The most successful membership programs have one thing in common: personalization.

When creating a new membership site or improving upon one you already have, the more personal you make it to each subscriber, the better. Chris does this on his own site by tracking each subscriber's progress. This may sound simple, but the little things can make a big difference.

Chris emphasizes the importance of linking your learning management system with your membership site and having it keep track of each subscriber’s latest activity. This way, when subscribers log in to your site, they’ll be able to quickly and easily pick up right where they left off, and even better, you can automate personal messages for them based on their progress.

“I can easily display a message that says ‘Hey! Congratulations on completing XYZ. Keep up the great work. We've saved your spot,’’” Chris says. “Think about that experience. They don't have to fumble around. They don't have to figure out what to do next.” This tactic simultaneously makes your platform easy to use and provides personalization — two details your members will appreciate.

If you’re looking for more personalization strategies, make sure to watch Chris’ video for easy-to-implement ideas.

What strategies have you seen used to successfully reduce churn or attrition?

Churn is one of the biggest areas of concern for entrepreneurs when they set out to create a membership program. The key to avoiding a revolving door of members who drop out a few months or weeks after joining is to focus on the user experience.

Creating a positive user experience involves a lot of moving parts, but Chris details two primary aspects of your site you should prioritize:


Learning how to create a membership program is a big project, and by the time you launch your membership site, you’ll know how it works inside and out because you’ve spent the most time with it. This is a good thing — you should be extremely familiar with your site, but you should also remember that your subscribers are not.

Chris stresses that you should never assume new members will be able to easily navigate your site and find what they need. “You really need to help them not only understand or reaffirm the value of them being a part of your membership site, but you also need to instruct them where to go.” Chris explains. How do you do this? Consider offering onboarding resources or training that will show your audience where everything is and how they can get to what matters to them. This will allow them to hit the ground running and help them realize the value of subscribing to your site even sooner.

Man with glasses and book

Pro tip

Chris suggests installing a heat map or user session software on your site that will reveal where users are spending most of their time and where they might be getting stuck. Then, you can use that information to guide your onboarding resources.

Content updates

A good membership site will have a consistent flow of new content. This keeps subscribers engaged and active. However, before they can benefit from your new content, they have to first know about it.

When it comes to your subscribers and new content, Chris emphasizes that “you can't assume they've seen all the valuable content. You can't even assume they're logging in to see the content.” So the answer isn’t just to routinely add new content, but to also routinely update subscribers on what content you’re offering.

Chris does this through a monthly email that he sends to all his subscribers. It provides a summary of all the new content for that month and highlights the community conversations taking place. An email is a simple way to make your subscribers’ lives a bit easier and ensure they never have to go searching for the expertise they’re paying for.

Implementing onboarding and content updates to your membership site strategy are proven tactics Chris uses to bolster his own membership program. They’re two great ways to keep your churn rates down and your retention rate and referrals up.

Your next steps

Now you have a game plan on how you can structure your membership site, how to set your membership program apart from the competition and how to create a positive user experience. These are all critical parts of ensuring your future membership program is a success that brings you recurring revenue and enables you to effectively serve more customers.

If you need help implementing, or more specifically, automating, the tactics that Chris Davis and Jamie DuBose provide in their videos, make sure to check out Keap — small business CRM and marketing automation software. Keap also offers business automation capabilities to help you manage the administrative tasks involved in a membership site. Try it free for 14 days (no credit card required).

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