Posts Tagged: "forum tips"

The “I Want To Know Everything” Guide To Starting Your Own Forum

The “I Want To Know Everything” Guide To Starting Your Own Forum

So, you want to build a forum, eh? Well, it’s no easy feat. It takes a lot of work to get it right, and even more to create an engaging community. If you still want to do this, there are a few things you should do. I guess the simplest thing would be to start from the beginning, so that’s what we’ll do.

Step 1: Pick a domain

I would say that the first step would be to choose a niche, but considering you are already researching how to start your own forum, it’s probably safe to say that you already know your topic. The next natural direction is choosing a domain name.

Choosing the right domain can take a bit of soul searching. This will be your online identity. This is the name that people will come to know your site by. For this reason, it’s very important to pick one that is not only unique, but is a good fit for the atmosphere of your site.

There are typically two types of domains that people choose for a website: A branded domain name, or an EMD, better known as an exact match domain. Again, they both have their place, so this choice is entirely up to you. Here are the pros and cons:

Branded

Branded domains can be funny or clever, trendy or simple. The benefit of using a branded domain is that it is much more memorable. Think of names like Google, Facebook, or Nike.

While these names didn’t mean much on their own, through proper branding they were able to stand out in the market, rise above competitors, and become names synonymous with their respective industries. If you are in it for the long haul (as most forum owners are), I would encourage you to go with a branded domain.

EMD

An exact match domain is usually not pretty. It’s simply a string of keywords. So, using an EMD can give you benefits in the search engines. If the phrase you use in your domain is what people use to search for what you offer it can be a good choice. The problem however is differentiating yourself from your competitors.

Check out this Google search or look at the screenshot below. See how there are more than one person using this strategy? Unless you own all of the domains, you’ll have to deal with other people creating sites doing the same thing you are doing — which will make it even more difficult to stand out from the crowd.

Forum Search Results

Pro tip – Make sure you choose a name that has not been taken on popular social media channels. Social media is a great tool to drive traffic to your board, so you want to pick a name that allows you to own that name on sites like Facebook and Twitter. This will help you build a cohesive brand that is easily recognizable.

Step 2: Choosing a host for your forum

This is one of the most important decisions you will make as a forum owner. When you first start out, you can probably get by with a budget host, but often times that does not produce the best results.

Here’s why:

Forums have heavy bandwidth and disk space needs. Unlike a blog or regular website, a forum will have people connecting to the site for longer periods of time. Members will be posting in the community, and adding more content. This is a good thing. The problem is that if your host hasn’t configured the server to optimize for the software you are running, you’ll end up with a laggy site. No one likes a slow website. A slow forum can cause you to lose members, so this is something you’ll want to pay attention to from the beginning.

Another thing you’ll want to keep in mind is backing up your files. With a forum, user generated content is churned out daily (hopefully!). People are posting most hours of the day, plus you’ll have new sign-ups coming in. Make sure you are backing up everything. Most large forums either keep real-time backups or back up every hour. In the beginning you can get away with backing up everyday, but once your forum gets more interaction, you’ll want to start backing up your files more regularly.

Most forum hosts understand how important this is. For example, we maintain hourly offsite backups for clients. This is important because we host some pretty large forums, like the official San Diego Chargers forum.

Bottom line: Choose a host that not only understands all of the forum software, but choose a host that can help you manage your backups.

Step 3: Deciding on what forum software to use

There is no right or wrong decision here. It really boils down to preference and what works for you. If you just want to get your feet wet as a forum owner, there are plenty of free forum software options out there. Some of the most notable are MyBB, phpBB, and SMF.

Keep in mind that free forum software is just that — free. You may save on cost, but you might find it more difficult to get the functionality you are looking for. There is also no guaranteed support, as most free software is ran with volunteers and donations.

Pro tip – Take a look at our forum software list to get an idea of what’s on the market.

Of course, there are paid options as well. The top contenders are vBulletin and XenForo. vBulletin was the original “top dog” of the forum game. XenForo came later and was developed by to of the original developers to vBulletin. So, you can say that there are a bit of animosity between the two companies.

XenForo seems to be making a bit of headway. It still boils down to preference, so do your own due diligence. If you want an example of a production site in action Digital Point uses XenForo, while Warrior Forum uses vBulletin.

Step 4: Choosing a design

Creating a custom design for your forum, usually comes down to two things:

  • Experience

  • Money

You either have the experience to do it yourself or you hire someone to do it for you. Fortunately, there are a few more options. If you do a quick search online you’ll come up with plenty of themes. You can even find free themes as well. Either way, you’ll want to make sure you settle on a design that captures that personality of your forum and will appeal to your members.

Step 5: Choosing the best mods and plugins

Most forum software is expandable via mods and plugins from other developers. It’s much like WordPress in that regard. You’ll be able to find both free and paid solutions that help add extra functionality to your forum. What it comes down to is how you want your members to engage in the community. You can add extra mods that allow voting on threads, or even build an advertising into your forums (which can work great for monetization).

Step 6: Defining topics and threads

This is important. Besides a good name and an appealing forum, you want substance. It’s important that you help direct the conversation to where it needs to go, and the best way to do that is by setting up clear topic threads that not only instruct new members as to what is allowed where, but gives anyone visiting the site an easy way to navigate to the conversation of their choice.

This is really a matter of preference. It depends upon your goals for the community and what you where you would like to see the discussion go. When you are first setting up your board, you should visit other popular forums and see how they have set up their threads. It doesn’t matter if you are not in the same niche, just have a look around and see what you think would work.

Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Start with your forum theme/topic.

  2. Break this down into specific areas of interest. These become threads.

  3. Add a General thread.

  4. Add an Off-topic thread to allow members to talk about what they want.

  5. Consider adding a Marketplace or Advertising thread.

I’m quite sure you can come up with some more ideas (as you should), but those should give a general idea of how to structure your new forum.

Step 7: Creating guidelines and policies

This is quite possible the most important step out of the bunch. If you have no guidelines or concrete rules, you’ll struggle with keeping the community on topic — and there’s a good chance you’ll become a spammer’s paradise.

Here is some tips from GetSatisfaction.com:

  1. Know your special purpose

  2. Establish a social norm

  3. Set clear expectations

  4. Cast a wide net

  5. Create productive outcomes

  6. Make it personal

  7. Be a bridge

  8. Don’t feed the troll

  9. Measure the right things

  10. Assemble

Another thing you can do is just go look at what other forums are doing. Check out the community guidelines from popular forums, and see what works. This way you can adapt these to your own forum.

Step 8: Moderating the board

This is where you’ll have your work cut out for you. In the beginning, it won’t be as much of a job. Once your forum takes off however, you’ll want to enlist some help.

This is why you need to have clear, defined guidelines for the community. This will make the moderator’s job easier. The more concise the rules, the easier they are to enforce.

The main thing forum moderators deal with is spam. You can cut down on this through add-ons and mods, but you’ll still need a set of eyes monitoring the board. If you operate a marketplace as well, you’ll also want to vigilante with screening what people are selling. You do not want to open your community to scammers. If forum members are getting scammed on your forum, your site is the one that loses out the most. If trust is loss, you’ll have a hard time of attracting good members. You’ll also have a bad time monetizing your boards.

One way to combat this is to have people that post an advertising thread allow you to review the product, or offer “review copies” to other members.

Finding your mods

The best moderators are usually the most active members of your community — the people that consistently add value to the forum. You should reach out to these people and see if they would be willing to help.

Step 9: Driving traffic

Traffic is a big deal. If you have no traffic, you have no visitors, no new threads, no new members.

You have a dead forum.

This is something you’ll constantly want to be trying to improve. Here are a few tips to help you start driving traffic:

  • Use Twitter to tweet new threads as they are posted.

  • Visit other forums and see how they are driving traffic.

  • Run a contest or sweepstakes to attract people to your site.

  • Guest post on high traffic and high engagement sites related to your niche.

  • Experiment with highly targeted paid ads.

  • Reach out to other site owners in our niche and ask for a link.

  • Publish content your target market would find valuable.

Final Thoughts

Building a forum can be a lot of work, but in the end you can have a site that generates massive amounts of traffic. This can be especially beneficial if you sell products or services that your forum members use.

The really great thing about a forum is that it is fueled by user generated content — meaning the members of your forum are producing the content. When your community is tightly focused around a niche or topic this builds massive amounts of indexable content for the search engines. It also helps your site rank for a lot of long-tail keywords.

The most valuable thing about owning a forum is having a community around your brand. You create ambassadors and fans that know your business, love your business, and help it grow by engaging in your community.

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Using Online Forums To Build Social Engagement And Loyal Fans

Using Online Forums To Build Social Engagement And Loyal Fans

At times it may seem like pulling teeth to get people to read your blog. You could have award winning content and be a social media marketing master and still get mediocre page views and little to no comments. But one reason you may not be gaining the notoriety you crave is because you are simply not marketing to the right audience. Another reason could be that you are not becoming engaged in other communities and blogs.

In order to build loyal fans and traffic it is important to join forums focused around the same niche or industry. As long as you are active in the communities and post relevant content that inspires other people you will stand a better chance of attracting people to your social media channels and engage people with your brand. You must scan through relevant topics, read, and engage in conversations. When commenting, reply with meaningful insight which either inspires others to reply, answers someone’s question, or adds upon someone else’s point.

Google Search Operators

Google search operators are little shortcuts that help refine search results. Examples of this may be the word OR, symbol |, quotations around phrases or stop words, and other symbols such as a minus sign or hyphen (-), asterisk (*), half ellipse (. .), and tilde (~).

There is a whole website which contains a very in-depth guide on how different ways to use Google in order to refine search results to specifically search certain parts of the internet. It contains all kinds of Google search tips that many do not even realize exist. Below is list which should provide helpful examples on the basics of how to use Google search operators to find forums that will be relevant to your business.

Niche keyword “comments”

Putting comments in quotes will specifically find pages that have comments. It will help find discussions related to your niche. Try changing the keyword to a variety of words or phrases related to your industry for different results. Give yourself time to read articles or forum posts and reply with meaningful comments.

Keyword site:wordpress.com

This will search a specific site for results. It may provide better queries than using the websites own search bar and allow you to look for specific types of posts on a forum. That way you can easily filter through results to find the most relevant posts which pertain to your area of expertise.

“Powered by vBulletin” keywords

This is quite possibly the best Google operator phrase you can use to find great niche forums. As the query implies, this quotation will search through all message boards powered by vBulletin. You can of course do the same thing with any forum host that has been around for a long time such as SMF, IBP, MyBB, PunBB, and Phbb.

By combining different operators and trying new things there are a variety of different results you may get. Just experiment with what you know and see what you find. At the very least you will find helpful articles that pertain to your market. So experimenting with search queries can’t hurt.

Include a great bio with a call to action

Before you begin posting on forums that you find while utilizing these tips make sure that you write an awesome bio or forum signature in your author profile as well. Keep it quick and to the point while also inciting others to click on your link. Effective author bios should also include a small call to action.

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12 Forum Marketing Secrets That Work

Forum Marketing Secrets

Forum marketing involves reaching out and engaging with the right audience. Of course, you want exposure, but there is a careful line to walk. You want to gain exposure and establish yourself as an authority, but you don’t want to be annoying. Forcing your brand down people’s throat simply for a link will get you no where. So, where do you start? That is the question a lot of ask when we first start out trying to build a website or blog.

It doesn’t have to be hard. If you’ve been snooping the web looking for some ways to promote your website, chances are you’ve heard about forum marketing. We’re here to blow the lid off the misconceptions and expose 12 forum marketing secrets that are tried and tested.

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Forum Hosting Requirements

Forum Hosting Requirements
Hosting a message board or forum may not be prohibitively expensive, but the tasks of setting it up and appointing competent webmasters and moderators to maintain it could be moderately costly if you don’t shop around for the best deals on the types of services and features you need. There is also a need to allow sufficient time to build up a strong and loyal value-driven community for your site in order to reap the long-term benefits in the future. Every forum and message board community will also have issues with negative posters and negative feedback from time to time. When dealing with these negative elements it is important to realize that while the feedback posted by some of your existing clients may turn off some potential customers and put a damper on your sales abilities in the beginning, instead of getting discouraged, every challenge is a new opportunity to learn from your mistakes and do things better in the future.

Aside from setting up your site, appointing webmasters and selecting the appropriate web host to run it, there are certain other requirements of forum hosting too. A good message board with a strong community of like-minded users will also be a place where the rules are always enforced evenly and predictably. Without a good set of strong rules to ensure the whole operation runs smoothly and a clear set of steps and penalties to handle any violations that everyone can understand, there’s really no need to set up any rules at all.

Board moderation is another area of hosting requirements that can make or break a site. As a site owner, you’ll need to make sure that your moderators are handling their roles clearly and judiciously. All disputes need to be supervised and handled in the same manner for all users and the moderators should not exhibit partiality to any of the members.
When some members feel that they are less important than other users on a board, it can be a constant source of problems that need special handling. It is far better when everyone plays by, and is subject to, the same rules.

It is important to remember that the main point of hosting a forum or message board is to form a healthy community of genuinely interested and committed users that can all be considered as existing customers and of course, potential customers. A good forum with genuine users who are authorities and experts in their fields are the real strength of your endeavor. Other users will recognize this and come back to read and learn more when they trust and value the information provided by your most committed users. This requires maintaining even-handed discipline and
clearly understood rules. Even though a poster may appear to be helping to promote your products or services, when their real intention is posting messages only for the sake of link building or for other financially motivated intentions that are not genuine interaction, it can seriously impair and reduce both the vale and impact of your efforts. If you handle violations in a clear and even-handed manner according to rules that apply the same way to all users, the chances are quite good that you will have mastered the basic requirements of
successful forum hosting.

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Premium Forum Hosting Benefits

Premium Forum Hosting Benefits
Although you can easily find open source scripted discussion boards and HTML set-ups as well as advertising supported free forum hosting services, larger forums with many users really require a paid forum hosting service. If your forum is amateur in appearance and function, it can really put a dent in the commercial viability of a project, and end up costing you both potential customers and dollars too.

A premium forum hosting service provider will take care of all of the details of setting up any type of web message board without you having to install any new software on your own. A good host will know how to address all of the set-up details and provide you with around the clock support too. As with many things in life, when you buy a premium web board hosting package from a reputable supplier, you’ll get what you paid for with more web space and completely hassle-free maintenance for all of your hosting processes, and you’ll usually get a bunch of other built-in features for free too. Just because you’re getting first rate service doesn’t mean you’ll have to pay a fortune for it either, as competition has improved the breed and there are many good board-platform hosting choices available these days. A good provider will provide the installation of any software needed at their end and handle the complete forum/board set-up process while still offering the customer the ability to make sure their new board platform matches the theme of any new or current website they want it associated with. Customization tweaks and other requests should be offered at reasonable costs too.

The more user/visitors a message board or forum has, whether actual or potential, the more it underscores the need for a paid professional hosting service that can help make the most out of it. Both the site owners and the people who rely on their favorite Internet message groups and boards as trusted community resources in the subject area of their particular choice will benefit from a fully functional and professional platform. Web forums provide the worldwide Internet community with the ability to share information and conduct commerce in ways never before possible and they can be profitable too when they are set-up and managed correctly.

A fully functional forum platform will:

  • Encourage users to develop a sense of community.
  • Allow the staff to instantly post announcements.
  • Encourage users to help each other.
  • Active content appears higher in search results.
  • Allow all users to interact in a fun forum atmosphere.

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Hosting a Forum is No Walk in the Park: The Sequel

Marketing a Forum The Sequel
Last week we talked about the steps needed to get your new forum up and running. There we spoke about the nitty gritty of what it takes to get your forum online: web hosting requirements, deciding on a forum software, creating rules, and establishing moderators. Assuming that you followed along and now have your shiny new forum online for the world to see, I’d say it’s time to start navigating some new waters – marketing your forum.

Internet marketing strategies on the internet are a dime a dozen. The ‘latest trends’ can change by the week and you will no doubt find an abundance of information with blatant contradictions. When learning anything I highly recommend doing your own fact-checking. If you stumble upon something that seems like it makes sense, follow up by searching around and seeing if you can find more people professing this same strategy. It’s always best to be objective. Just because it’s on the internet, doesn’t mean it’s true. I actually learned this during my time in France as a fashion model (pun intended).

Now that we have that out the way, I will give you some resources that you can explore yourself for information on search engine optimization and social media marketing. Each of these communities are notable and top ranked in their category:

I wanted to put that right out front, so you can discover the facts for yourself. Indeed, no one can give you the blueprint to success. You have to constantly search for it yourself.

Of course, I don’t mind giving ya some help. So, let’s get on with it.

Marketing Your New Forum

We’ve talked about ways you can advertise your forum in the past. Here’s the reality for 2013: no matter your industry, if you are marketing your business online, you need to be publishing content. Content is the driving force that brings visitors to your website. Whether it is in the form of discussion threads, blog posts, articles, web pages – your forum needs a healthy diet of fresh content to rise in the rankings and grow up to be a big, strong website. People are searching the internet for value. If they can’t find any on your forum you are #%&! out of luck.

Here’s what you’ll need to do:

  • Populate your forum with interesting threads. No one will post in an empty forum. Kick off the conversation and ask a lot of questions. People are more likely to respond when they can give an answer or their own opinion.
  • Leverage your own contacts. If you know someone that would be interested in your forum, by all means – ask them to join!
  • Create a sense of activity. A silent forum will go nowhere. You have to get the conversation going. If you don’t have the money to shell out on advertising like banner ads and Adsense, you should consider hiring paid posters / forum members. You can use sites like Elance or oDesk to hire people willing to post in your forum. This might be the way you’ll initially have to go in order to get the activity going.
  • Approach people in other forums. Prior to launching your own forum, you should develop a presence on other sites that are in your niche or have a topical relationship. This way you can advertise your forum link in your signature and reach out to contacts already participating on these other forums. Of course, you don’t want to break the rules. Keep it classy. Karma can be unforgiving.
  • Create a contest or giveaway. Everybody is a fan of freebies. Consider giving away a prize, creating a sweepstakes, or some other type of contest. Then, build links through guest blogging and articles to advertise the giveaway.
  • Network with social media. It’s here to stay and is just as relevant as SEO in 2013. Build a presence on the popular sites and reach out and connect with people. Of course, optimize your profiles to include information about your forum.

The Big ‘C’

And here we are again. It’s something you’ll hear time and time again in the internet marketing world – content.

Creating a content calendar and planning your posts will actually help you out in more than just the SEO department. The more content you produce, the more content you can share across social media. Essentially, you’ll have an ongoing reason why people should visit your website.

I am reading your mind right now: “Greg, I don’t have the time to write blog posts all day.”

Never fret, young Padawan. (Forgive the Star Wars reference).

The truth of the matter is that most of us, in fact, don’t. But I must challenge you with the fact that most business owners always say that, yet when they are faced with something that has to get done they typically find a way. It becomes more a matter of perspective than anything else. If you do not take it as a priority, you won’t get it done. If you want a screaming forum, you simply have to produce content.

Creating a ton of content by yourself can result in writing fatigue and mental melt down. Well, I might be overstating it, but why not get a little help? Lighten the burden by finding other people interested in contributing to your forum. Give a little – get a lot. If you allow guest authors to post their own links or have an author bio box, chances are you’ll find some regular contributors – especially if your forum matches their niche. Don’t know where to start looking? MyBlogGuest is a free community that helps connect bloggers to other blogs. Take a look, experiment, and see what you come up with.

Lastly, don’t try to be everything to everyone. Keep your niche in mind (your target market), and craft everything with them in mind.

Don’t say I never helped ya.

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