Building a Membership Website in 30 Minutes, for $30

By Christopher Ross / On / In WordPress

How to build a Membership Website in 30 Minutes for $30

Live Demo in Ottawa
WordCamp Ottawa,
Photo by Jeremy Clarke

A WordPress membership website is, or it is traditionally thought, one of the most complicated forms of websites due to all the complex parts that it would take to put one together. You would need, for example, some fairly complex logic to handle each of the following aspects of the site:

  • Membership registration, to allow new users to sign up;
  • Ability to login, recover password, etc;
  • The capacity to selectively limit specific content;

I recently gave a talk at WordCamp Buffalo, then later WordCamp Maine on how to build a membership website in just 30 minutes, for $30 using Pippin’s Easy Digital Downloads plugin, with his Content Restriction extension. When I later gave the same talk at WordCamp Hamilton, and WordCamp Ottawa, I switched it up a little and asked a member of the audience to do all the work, while I guided them through the process.

What is Easy Digital Downloads?

Pippin’s Easy Digital Downloads is a free e-commerce framework written by Pippin Williamson, which allows users to easily add digital downloads to their websites, and accept payment for them through online payment gateways such as PayPal. So, if you have a digital product (photos, PDF’s, MP3’s, or files of any variety) that you would like to sell online, you can simply add EDD to your site, upload your files, and configure the plugin to restrict downloads to people who have paid for the right to download that content.

While there are plenty of free, or reasonably priced, options to offer this type of payment gateway, Easy Digital Downloads is a mature product with an extensive history, and has made it easier for my clients to sell digital goods for many years.

What is the Content Restriction Extension?

For a membership website to work, you’ll need both the ability to accept a visitors payment, and the ability to restrict content on the membership website itself. For that, I recommend using the Content Restriction extension to Easy Digital Downloads which will allow you to, as the name suggest, restrict specific content on your website to specific visitors.

At the time of this writing, the Content Restriction extension cost $29, which means that for less than $30, you can build a fully function membership website by installing WordPress (free), Easy Digital Downloads (free), and Content Restriction ($30), but can you really do it in 30 minutes or less?

How to build a membership website, step by step, in 30 minutes.

If you’re following along on an existing WordPress website, you can skip to Step Three of the tutorial.

Step One, Install WordPress

Blank Website DirectorySeriously, we’re going to start this tutorial at the most basic level and install WordPress on a website server from scratch, just to prove that it can be done.

So, let’s start with a blank website directory, and then move all of our WordPress Core files into that directory.

WordPress Files Basic InstallWordPress Install ScreenNow that we’ve copied all of our WordPress files into our website directory, we can load a website browser and setup WordPress.

The install process is fairly straightforward, and will prompt us for basic details such as our language preferences, database connectivity, and admin password. Once you’re done setting up a basic WordPress website, you’ll want to move onto step two, installing test data onto your website.

Step Two, Installing Test Data

WordCamp TestIn order to test that WordPress is working correctly, I highly recommend installing the Theme Unit Test Data, it’s a free download that as I mention in my presentations, will allow you to test the various aspects of WordPress to ensure your theme is working correctly.

Once the test data is in place, you’ll be able to see a fully functioning WordPress website, complete with data of every possible variety.

Step Three, Install the E-Commerce Engine

Setting up a basic membership with Easy Digital DownloadsIn order to accept payments, allow users to create accounts, etc, you need to install a basic e-commerce engine to your WordPress website. Since a membership website isn’t going to be shipping anything physical, I prefer to use Pippin’s Easy Digital Downloads plugin which includes almost everything we need for a membership website right out of the initial install.

Once you’ve installed and activated Easy Digital Downloads, you can add a new download and set the price for that download. As you’ll see in my image above, I’ve called my first download Basic Membership and set a price of $29.95 for the membership.

Next, installing the Content Restriction extension, we’ll be able to see a new settings area in any of our Posts, which will allow us to restrict who can see this specific Post or Page, based on the downloads we set earlier.

Adding content restriction to a post in WordPress

Congratulations, you’ve now created a fully functional membership website, in less than 30 minutes, for less than $30.

Conclusion

This demonstration, along with my talks at various WordCamp’s on the subject of building membership websites is just a first step, designed to help website administrators appreciate that building seemingly complex WordPress solutions can be relatively straightforward.

10 Tips for Great Facebook Posts

By Christopher Ross / On / In Facebook

Facebook posts for business, possibly more than any other form of online marketing, are most successful when the audience connects in a real, and genuine way. These tips will help you create more effective Facebook marketing posts for your business, and improve your marketing budget.

Use eye-catching images in your Facebook posts

Ross Photography bird on a statueImages and videos really stand out on Facebook news feeds. Make sure your posts feature creative, vivid images instead of flat or bland backgrounds. People will be much more likely to share your posts if they love your photos.

Respond to your visitors!

Nothing beats the one-on-one connection that a reply encourages, so be sure to keep an eye on your page’s notification panel and reply promptly to each and every comment. If you’re not already running it, install Facebook’s Pages app on your smart phone to ensure you never miss an opportunity to build community.

Add a call to action

Help people know how to help you by adding a call to action to your post. Let them know if you want them to share your post, contact you, follow a link to your website, to like your page.

Keep your posts short

On Facebook, users tend to scan text as it appears in their timelines, so try to limit your posts to Twitter length posts instead of losing potential audience members.

Create a conversation

Sample AdSocial media is just that, social. So use your marketing to create a two way conversation instead of simply broadcasting to your audience. In this marketing campaign for Ross Photography, we created a campaign that encourages visitors to both like our page, and reply with a comment that’ll help build our organic traffic.

Schedule your posts

Different businesses require different schedules for their digital marketing, but all businesses need to schedule content well in advance, to ensure your pages are actively promoting your business even when you’re caught up in the day to day operations of your company.

Offer special deals and contests

Keep people interested in your page, and sharing your content with special deals and contests designed to encourage them to share, like, and comment on your posts. To reach more people, offer and incentive to encourage them to click the share button.

Promote special events with events

Facebook pages include events, which allow your business to create mini promotions for your business, share with your fans, and best of all … appear in their timelines for their friends to see.

Use events for Facebook marketing

Post what your visitors want to see

Facebook Insights (available from your page) offers continuous feedback for what your audience sees, and what it wants to see more of. Pay attention to what’s being shared and what’s being ignored, what times of day are best for your marketing, and who’s sharing your content.

Facebook insights

Target your promotions with Facebook advertising

Facebook allows you to target your posts, and increase the value of your marketing dollars, by selecting customers who live in different areas, speak different languages, and have specific interests. When you publish your post it’ll show up in just the markets that you’ve picked.

 

10 Questions to Ask When Building an Online Store

By Christopher Ross / On / In e-commerce

If you’ve already had the experience of selling goods in a physical (“bricks and mortar”) business but you have yet to expand into the online world of eCommerce, you’re missing a sizeable market that isn’t defined by your local geography but like any expansion, has risks that you’ll first want to understand.

Over the years, I’ve been asked a lot of questions by people venturing into online sales for the first time and here are 10 questions that I believe every store owner should ask before opening an online store:

How important is the look of my online store?

With the success of big box retailers, and online mega stores such as Amazon online, the look of an online store has evolved to contain some very well defined features, so while it’s key that your website look and feel like your own business branding, the overall site design is often fairly consistent with the shopping experience of all online stores. You should have for example, a checkout page, and a shopping cart in the primary navigation, privacy and shipping details in the secondary menus, and clear product photos throughout your site.

Your unique colours, logo, branding, and photos will be key to making your eCommerce website look unique to your business. The overall design of your eCommerce website is handled with Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) to ensure your website looks great on desktop machines, as well an mobile and tablet devices.

Amazon website with mothers day promotionThe Amazon.ca website makes use of fairly accepted eCommerce design principles to help shoppers quickly find and purchase products without distracting visitors with complex branding or unique navigation. Likewise, your business eCommerce website should focus on selling product with a clean, easy to navigate website.

How much detail should I put into each product?

Unlike your retail store, customers don’t get to physically touch the products to determine if it’s what they’re looking for, so quality photographs and clear text are the next best thing.  As part of my eCommerce design services, I offer product photography services for our clients, but if you’re going to do it yourself take the time to use a great camera and photograph the product against a neutral background, as well as some showing the item(s) in context to give people an idea of size, weight, colour, etc.

Product descriptions should be short, but detailed rich. Remember to evoke an emotion and describe the produce uses, or defining details.

How do I accept online payments?

The fastest way for businesses to accept payments online is with PayPal, they’re a respected online payment gateway and have an introductory service which takes 2.9% and 30¢ per transaction for secure online payments. While these changes can add up for small merchants, they are often lower than a dedicated payment processor.

PayPal Pro, Authorize.net, and Stripe are excellent payment gateway providers which, unlike PayPal Standard, allow shoppers to stay on your website during the entire payment process and helps to reinforce your business image. While you’re not storing client credit details online, there are however security concerns which require your store to have an SSL certificate (~$100 per year) before accepting these payment methods.

How are shipping costs determined?

A good eCommerce solution should be able to handle multiple means of calculating shipping, from free, or fixed shipping, to real time calculators which will fetch data from popular shipping companies such as Canada Post, and UPS.

What about customer service?

Responding to customer enquiries quickly, even if you don’t have the full answer for them, is often the most effective way to win the support and loyalty of busy online shoppers. Remember, unlike retail stores, the visitor has seconds to make a decision to try elsewhere if they’re not convinced you have the right option.

I recommend using a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool as part of your eCommerce solution to help keep all client information and chats in a single place for easy searching and followups. These days, tying that CRM solution to an on staff phone, and monitoring social media channels for online enquiries is also key to ensuring your business stays on top of customer questions.

How do I handle returns?

Returns are one of the biggest headaches for all retailers, online as well as in the real world and it’s best to effectively communicate with your customers prior to their purchase what your return policies are, and inform them of any restocking fees. It’s also vital to communicate effectively with the client throughout the return process, to let them know that you’re taking care of their concerns.

Should I allow reviews?

It’s always a risk to let customers leave reviews on products, but if you’re confident in your inventory, and keen to build your business, online reviews offer a trusted third party source for shippers to gain confidence, not only in the product, but in your store’s ability to serve them.

Remember to have a clear Terms of Use policy that outlines how your reviews are collected, as well as a Privacy Policy that’ll allow you to collect their details within your government’s regulations.

How much should an eCommerce website cost?

I’m a big believer is starting small when it comes to eCommerce websites, and building larger once your site proves that it will generate both the traffic, and the profit to warrant more investment. eCommerce websites can start for as little as $1,500 and average about $10,000 to build a quality started website for a small to medium sized store.

How do we generate visitors?

eCommerce traffic is vital to the success of an online store, the more traffic generated, the more changes that you’ll have to sell products to consumers. Creating a marketing campaign for your online store is about generating awareness both online and off. Place your website address in the footer of your email, and on your real world promotional materials, link to your store from your primary site, and send out newsletters to your clients.

Successful social media campaigns designed to generate shares and likes with daily updates to popular services such as Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube are all great ways to increase your online success, as well as optimizing your website for organic traffic with search engine optimization.

How can you tell if it’s working?

The easiest answer of course is, “are you selling enough product” but using Google Analytics and inline tracking tools to determine where your visitors are coming from, and how much money they’re spending on your website is the best means to determine your success rate.

Christopher Ross