Why Your Paid Membership Site Can’t Go Without Free Content

A guest article by Ada. You too can be part of this great knowledge sharing community. Take a look at our guest blogging guidelines.

You have spent long months to create your WordPress membership site and you have just launched it but to your (unpleasant) surprise, it doesn’t attract the attention you thought it would. While for newly launched sites low numbers of visitors in the beginning are just normal, if you want to make your site popular faster, you have a secret weapon – free content.

Free content must be your companion not only in the beginning. In fact, throughout the whole lifecycle of your membership site, free content is something you can’t go without. This might sound illogical but as I will explain in the next sections, your paid membership site can’t be successful without lots of free content with top quality.

Free Content Isn’t Cannibalizing Your Paid Content

Many inexperienced webmasters of membership sites will frown at the idea to have huge amounts of free content because they think it will jeopardize their paid content. The logic is that nobody will pay when he or she can get something for free.

However, this isn’t so. Your free content and your paid content are not competitors – or at least your task is to make them non-competitors. You don’t offer the same stuff for free and for a fee. For free you offer the basics, for a fee you offer the more advanced stuff.

If you are familiar with the open source model, the model you need to apply is similar to the model of open source software – great free functionality and paid extras. Depending on the type of your WordPress membership site, the free and the paid components can vary.

For instance, if you have a membership forum, you can allow everybody to register for free, read threads and post in them but reserve access to more advanced areas, such as a job board or a marketplace for paid members only. As you see, the two functionalities aren’t competitors; in fact, the paid ones supplement the free one.

Free Content Helps to Attract New Members

Maybe you still don’t see why you need free content. If we continue the above example with the membership forum, your free content will be visible to everybody on the Web and the people who are looking for a solution will find the threads where their problems are discussed. It is true that many of them will solve their problem for free by reading the publicly accessible areas of your site but if they are pleased with the quality, they might become your regular visitors.

Most of these free members will never upgrade – this is a fact. Still, don’t regard free content as a loss of valuable resources. Even if 1-2% of your free members upgrade, for a site with huge traffic this is enough to become sustainable. Additionally, if you place ads on your site, you do profit from your free members, too (very often you might profit from them more than from your paid ones), so there is no reason to consider the free sections of your site to be lost profit.

Free Content Promotes Your Site

Finally, in today’s competitive world, no business can be successful without promotion. You just need to accept that a certain portion of your budget will go for promotion. You can launch a dedicated ad campaign and pay for it but your free content does a great job in promoting your site without having to pay extra fees.

If your free content is top quality, this increases the chance to rank well with search engines. Search engines are still the best alternative to get free quality traffic and you can’t miss such an opportunity.

There might be a bunch of paid membership sites that offer no free content and still are successful but more often than not, this approach doesn’t work. Free content with superb quality is a must for a membership site – this is how the business goes.

  • whenever the word ‘free’ is involved or saw by people anywhere around the world, it surely gets attention. good and wise use of free content could be a wonderful strategy to follow

    • There is a catch to what should be said ‘free’. If you offer something as free, the premium offer should have a lot more to offer than the free option. Otherwise, most of the guys will take the free option but none of them will try the premium offer.
      This will totally defy the whole purpose of a premium website

      • Ada

        Nobody says everything should be free. 🙂

  • Thanks for your post.

    it’s important to maintain a balance of free and premium content on a membership site. How one goes about that is sometimes more an art than a science.

    Some experts like Brendon Burchard (http://expertsacademy.com/) suggest giving away YOUR BEST content for free because “you often don’t get another chance to prove your value”.

    I find that more general, high-level articles work well for free content. While paid content should always focus on getting a specific thing done or getting a reader/member from point A to point B.

    • Ada

      Hi Jason,

      You are absolutely right, my observation is the same – very detailed content doesn’t work too well with the general audience, while more general articles attract more attention. This is logical – the general audience aren’t experts and they can’t appreciate all the details.

    • that’s a great point Jason. Businesses are always looking for specific solutions. So, these type of solutions should be premium. On the other hand, to prove your expertise in your niche, pillar articles which have elementary knowledge should be given as free.

  • free content is required to get google traffic

  • Ada

    Not only – it also helps to prove to your human visitors that your site is worth reading.

  • Anything free on your site is a traffic magnet. It’s just normal that people would really want to visit a site where they can get something without paying anything.

  • My life experience has taught me the following proverb

    Think before you next time click OK to free stuff online.
    It may be a contract you enter into – and a fat bill to expect.
    – My experience tells me that the only thing that is free in this world is the cheese in the mousetrap.

  • Hi,
    Giving away something of value is a good way to build loyalty and trust. Never give away the whole solution. Keep part of it for your paid membership and maybe entice someone to join. Give some good bonuses for joining.

  • Free content or article online isnot that worthy.when ever you think to place on any new site think twice…is it worthy or not. never you will get genuineness visitors through free weightless content.

  • Ada

    Hi Lennart,

    When it screams FREEEEEEE, then many people are suspicious. But there is free and FREEEE :))). But you do have a point that if free is used blatantly, users shy away because they have already learned, probably the hard way that free can cost a lot. Unfortunately, for a paid membership site it is simply impossible to go without free content because this drastically decreases the number of subscribers.

  • Nothing is free in today’s trends, there is something required to fulfill the needs of free stuffs. I think its a good article to know the perspectives of marketing trends.

  • I think most important criteria of free content is promoting of the our websites. Not only promoting for brand but also it increase SEO of the websites based on backlins.

  • Striking a good balance between paid and free content can be tricky. Some sites have lost my patronage because their free content became so utterly worthless once they created a premium section. I think it’s important to still have a good amount of quality content free while having an equal number more premium content that the reader will want to read after sampling the free ones already. So if two articles are free, two will be premium but they both must be of the same quality.


  • Ada

    Well, not all free stuff requires purchase or action of any kind, so in this sense it is free for the user.
    The backlinks you are getting from free stuff are also valuable because they help to achieve better rankings with search engines and this in turn brings more visitors.
    Jean T. is absolutely right to ditch sites that try to sell crap.You can scam a user once only, nobody is that stupid to continue paying for crap. 🙂

  • Everyone wants free content… haha. Good idea to use free content to get traffic.

  • Great article you have to give them something to entice them in to the paid subscription as well as something to let them know it is worth purchasing the full product.

  • All nice paid plugins, but there is a free plugin called Members that is slowly getting to be quite effective for paid membership sites

  • Ada

    I need to check this plugin, it might be a good one. Does it have enough features?

  • rnd technologies

    Nice view.