Free Content vs. Paid Membership Model Websites

The free vs. paid content debate is not going to die any time soon.

Each side has its own supporters, advantages and disadvantages. There’s plenty of successful entrepreneurs and businesses that have used both free and paid content models. Regardless of which path you choose, you know you’re following a proven and trusted strategy.

However, the fact is, membership models always struggle in comparison to publishing free content. There’s many reasons why I personally recommend the free content business model. It’s not that I disagree with paid memberships, it’s that I’ve seen the potential of free content and what it can do for a business.

When you’re relying on paid subscribers to provide your income, you have the added hassle of convincing leads that your membership is worth its price. That means increased support, more phone calls and a business that’s less passive and more of a headache. If you’re not providing a product or service with your membership, chances are, you’re better off providing your content for free.

With free content, everything you’ve published is already accessible and freely available to readers. It grows your business naturally by increasing your online presence. With a membership model, you have a whole separate content strategy to develop, in order to promote and grow your business.

Don’t get hung up thinking you can’t get rich off a free content business model. You can be wildly profitable by promoting affiliate products or using a sales funnel to pitch other products or services. Just because you’re not charging for your knowledge and educational value doesn’t mean your business has nothing to offer. If you can produce content that’s valuable and worthy to your audience, there’s plenty of ways to make money.

I’m not here to sell you on the free content model but I will explain why I think it’s better.

Everyone loves free content

Everyone loves free things. People thrive on finding ways to beat established systems just so that they can get free stuff. This mentality is already ingrained in people. Rather than trying to change their minds, give them what they want. Most of us hate spending more money than necessary and what’s cheaper than free? Paid memberships will only appeal to those who love exclusivity and feel that the value in the membership far outweighs its costs. That’s a difficult sell. With free content, you don’t have customers with high standards because you’re not charging them anything.

Remember, your competition will eat into your customers if they offer free content. Customers are inevitably going to get tired of that dreaded monthly or yearly fee. When they do, they’ll search for free content or try to make do with an alternative membership that’s cheaper. Rather than trying to compete in a market that keeps undercutting you, you can be the authority of your industry by providing your content for free.

More traffic and search engine presence with free content

When you charge for your content, that means it’s locked behind a login and hidden on the front-end of your website. Your customers have to subscribe to gain access, which means search engines don’t even know your website’s content exists.

You’re going to have substantially less search engine presence, which means your organic traffic will suffer. If your competitors are publishing free content, they will outrank you and have an easier time building an audience. Meanwhile, you’ll always be juggling between publishing content to drive traffic or publishing content to enhance your membership’s value. If you follow the free content model, you’ll never have to make this decision.

Businesses that offer free content have an influx of traffic and higher rankings which leads to better revenue.

Membership models require monthly upkeep

Businesses that use a membership model have to justify the money they’re charging. When your only offering to your members is content, that means you have to continuously add new content to keep customers from unsubscribing. That’s a lot of upkeep. There’s nothing stopping your subscribers from joining, downloading or copying your content and then immediately unsubscribing. If you don’t provide a continuous stream of valuable content every month, this is exactly what will happen.

Membership upkeep takes time and money. If you don’t have a budget or full-time availability to support it, your business will eventually phase out. What generally happens is you end up publishing your content for free anyway.

Free content is less upkeep because you don’t have paying customers to please. You simply publish content as often as possible and if a reader doesn’t find value in your work, they can find an alternative source of information. There’s no immediate loss of revenue and you don’t feel the sting from their decision to jump ship. You can continue publishing free content in a worry free manner and not have the stress of content hungry customers weighing on your shoulders.

Membership models are complicated

For a membership model to succeed, you need to create and maintain a database of subscribers. You also have to keep track of their financial details for billing. WordPress provides plugins that can accomplish this for you but they don’t always provide the features you need. You will generally have to buy a premium version of a plugin, which still may not be perfectly suited for your membership service. It can get pretty costly and time consuming to deal with the complications of a membership model.

Free content on the other hand requires little maintenance. As long as you pay your hosting bills, you don’t need a membership plugin, nor do you need to keep track of customers, refund requests or any of the typical hassles that come from managing customers. Free content sites are much easier to sustain. They build your brand and authority without needing an entirely separate content marketing campaign.

Free content builds trust

When you have a product or service that’s genuinely valuable, the biggest deterrent that will keep people from buying is lack of trust.

The internet isn’t the most trustworthy of places. Everyone’s trying to earn a living in this world. Between marketers selling false promises and an influx of online scammers, there’s a lot of distrust before they’ve even arrived at your website. Not to mention the threat of a virus or malware potentially lurking behind every popup.

Providing useful and valuable content is your biggest asset toward building trust with your audience. Given how many “bad guys” are out there, it’s surprising how quickly you can build a solid reputation online.

People want to trust someone. When you can solve their problems and provide real value to their life, they tend to gravitate toward you.

Free content builds leads

The best way to grow your audience and develop leads is to publish free content.

Your content serves as a salesman for your business, without having to hard sell your products or services.

It warms your leads, builds trust and gives your audience a reason to support your brand.  If you want a steady flow of email subscribers that you can sell your products or services to, it’s your content that’s going to build your list.

Better value for your audience

Regardless of whether you think free content is better than a membership model like I do, the end goal is the same. Your objective is to provide the best value to your audience. As long as you’re actively working to accomplish this, you’ll be successful one way or another. Hard work gets recognized and rewarded. Stick to your plan and build better value than your competitors and your effort will be appreciated by readers. Within time, you’ll be financially compensated too.

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