I am seriously considering setting up my very first forum and I am determined to make it a success, however I fear that the intended audience may be too small and/or not "addictive" enough to keep it going. The topic of interest is the same as an eCommerce store that I am already running. I have the following goals in mind, although the priorities could change later:
1. Give the general Internet audience a place to go to ask and get their questions answered about my (and my competitor's) products. This will hopefully reduce the number of questions (industry wide) about trying to identify the brand they currently have and other useless customer support calls that never lead to sales. The questions about proper selection, identification, and installation are too specific and numerous to put into an FAQ or anything like that, it would be better to let people ask them and then find the answers based on prior people asking.
2. Generate traffic that can be driven to my store based on long tail search engine traffic from the forum.
3. Generate advertising revenue from Google AdWords and later from banner advertising (possibly from direct competitors).
4. Provide a lot of highly relevant pages that my store can get link juice from to help us get better rankings in the search engines.
5. Provide another revenue stream during our 4 month low season.
I have been doing research and came across this earlier post on this forum: [webmasterworld.com...]
ABC - Authority, Ballast Removal, and Community
Authority is no problem - with my store I was able to get to the first place for one of my most important keywords in Google within 6 months after starting my SEO campaign. I am still in 2nd place now (after more than 2 years). Also, right now there is no forum for this topic in existence - questions usually land on answers.com or in forums that are pretty far removed from the topic of interest.
Ballast Removal is something I will definitely work on when setting up and maintaining the forum, but I have no questions on that at this point.
Community is where I am seeing a possible issue. Most successful forums I have visited on the Internet have a topic that is somewhat addictive, whereas the product I sell is something that the vast majority of people will only buy once in their lifetime and spend a month or two on average during the purchasing and installing process. There may be something like 2000-3000 people in the US who manufacture, install, or sell the product who would potentially be addicts, but I think even if I market the forum directly to them I will only be able to get around 25-30 of them to post on a regular basis (my guesstimation). The rest of the members would be people who are asking questions for the month or two they are in the process of buying and installing, but I doubt many will stick around much longer.
Traffic volume may also be an issue. Even though I am listed in the #2 spot in Google for my most important keyword and I am hitting both SEO and PPC hard, my store only gets around 12,000 visitors in a month during the busy season. During the slow season it is around 1/2 of that.
1. Is it possible to have a successful community forum based mostly (upwards of 95%) on transient traffic that will likely not stick around after they have completed their purchase?
2. I am a little at odds with how close or how far to associate the identity of the forum to my store. On one hand, I could drive a lot of my current traffic to the forum which will help to ensure success. On the other hand, if I make the identity of the forum too close to the store, it could scare people away from signing up because they might feel like they will get biased answers, and also it will scare away my competiors who I would like to participate in the forum (after all, the forum should be an Authority). Your thoughts?
3. How little traffic is too little to make a forum a success? The post mentioned starting off with a small niche and then expanding later, but my fear is that I am starting too small. Unfortunately, in my case the domain name of the forum will be dependant on how narrow or broad my field of questions is - and we all know that changing domain names is not that seamless.
4. Is there some kind of benchmark "acid test" that I can do with my intended audience to get some kind of answer whether the time to set the forum up (and maintain it) will be worth the effort?